Friday, 21 August 2009

H&M spells Heaven

Since working at ELLE, I have come to some conclusions about me and fashion: we have an odd relationship. I like reading about it, seeing the amazing styling and art ELLE puts together in their fashion pages, but I am much more comfortable in features and their cosy territory of books, films and art, with the odd interview research or social trend thrown in.

I am the antithesis of a fashionista. If you want ahead-of-the-pack tips and lingering odes to silhouettes and fabrics, visit the brilliant Notes on the High Street or Sartoriology; you won't find any style predictions here (although still hoping for big comfy hoodies to become a must-have for this winter). While I can love clothes and fashion fondly from afar, I could never live and breathe it - a tiny voice in my head will always mock me: 'They're just clothes.'

I am a totally erratic shopper - when I first started earning a small part time wage from equally stylish institution Woolworths at 16, I used to love spending it on a cute outfit for that weekend, or saving up for a pair of jeans or shoes which I would proudly don as a trophy of my dreary polo-shirted shelf-stacking.

At university, as with many a female fresher, I was both confused and enamoured by my loan - ever the excellent financial planner, I remember hitting Cardiff's H&M hard that first week - unwise, yes, but I found a pair of uber-flattering charcoal skinny jeans which I have worn ever since (for four cheapskate years) and are only just starting to fray at the edges. But by the end of each academic year poverty forced me to become very creative in order to look fresh in my same old dresses. I have never been a fashion obsessive, but I would definitely have downsized my food shopping to economy pasta and veg for a couple of weeks if it meant I would be resplendent in a jewel coloured dress for the summer ball.

Now is an odd time for shopping - on an intern's wage and working just off Oxford street, I have been very careful not to shop too much these last few months. I wander by Selfridges each morning just to check out the window dressings (an increasingly bizarre sort of reverse museum of fashion), and I often peruse the trends that pop up in every high street window - right now the blazer, the body con dress, the high shoulders, the ankle boots - but I don't feel much moved to cram each trend into my daily life.

Having had a bit of a flat week (cancelled plans, huge to-do list, empty house in the evenings), a combination of self-dissatisfaction and boredom prompted me to have a little wander up Oxford street last night, with a definite urge to buy - and for the first time in ages, not necessities. I felt really tired of my Ugly Betty twinges, my tiny budget, even just caring about it, and I really felt like getting something absolutely attention-grabbing and frivolous. This I found (thankfully for my bank balance) at good old H&M, crime scene of my student spending. For the first time EVER, I think, I saw an entire outfit in the window and thought 'I want that'.

I initially thought it was a dress - black, body con, oh-so-now puffed and raised shoulders (but with a flattering rounded neckline rather than cut straight across - a no-no for women of curvy proportions), short, subtly studded skirt, and rounded off with a pewter waist belt tied at the front. Worn with quite scary S&M-like shoe boots - I plan to pair it with slightly more demure strappy black sandals - it was quite an image. After a lot of searching a nice salesgirl pointed out that it was actually a top and skirt, join covered by the belt, and pointed me in the right direction.

I'm very pleased with my new buy; not only was it under £30 (Did I mention I love H&M and want to have its reasonably-priced babies?) but it's just that little bit harder, sexier and tougher than I actually feel right now. Putting it on makes me walk that little bit taller and feel like I mean business. I can't wait to pair it with hardcore smoky eyes and glossy tanned legs (2 weeks until my holiday!) My random, frivolous, just-for-me purchase ended up reminding me why fashion is such a big deal; it's costume, theatre, enhancing and transforming you - and as long as they keep transforming me for under £50, I will always be a big fan of the high street.

H&M's new season: I didn't go quite this far, but think of mine as a more muted, wearable version (and much, much more flattering on someone with a healthy BMI) of this design.

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