The Full Nigella (Writing about clothes and make up) 

But you get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
It don’t matter because it’s enough
To be young and in love

It’s enough just to make me go crazy, crazy, crazy

I get ready, I get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough
For the future or the things to come


Lana del Ray – Love

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I now know that posts about what I’m wearing and beauty stuff are a bit marmite, which I totally understand. And it’s not a gender bias either! However, I wanted to share some of my philosophy about clothes and make up, which I suppose partly justifies writing about it, but mainly to explain why clothes and make up are important to me.

We all understand that clothes and make up can be armour against the world. People talk about putting their face on, but really they mean their public face. It starts when you’re a teenager, I guess, dressing to the part of the tribe, expressing who you are, with that band tee, those DMs, those ripped jeans. And scarily I could be describing my contemporaries in the 90s, as well as the Cambridge sixth formers I see every morning. And maybe it’s because I’m still about 17 inside, but I still I love dressing up. I actively enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear, choosing outfits, deciding which me to be that day, or tomorrow, or for that event or in that meeting. I enjoy putting on a favourite outfit which reminds me of a lovely time I had. I keep clothes that are too big, because of the memories. But I know when I’m not feeling so good and certain about myself, because then I start buying clothes like, well, like they’re going out of fashion… And the more clothes I buy, the more insecure I’m feeling. It doesn’t take much amateur psychology to come up with the correlation. There is probably a graph I could draw about it. Oh look, I did! Thank you iNotes!


And on to make up, that public face. I can’t bear that certain kind of male who prefers a fully made up face then gets iffy about women ‘faking it’ or ‘pretending’ because make up makes them look all shiny and glamorous and then the morning after they’re a bit smeared and creased and pale and they don’t live up to the hype. I would say that displays an inherent misogyny, of course, and as a feminist, I’m more concerned that women have the right to choose whether to wear make up or not for *themselves*, and it’s not about the male gaze at all.  I look much the same with or without make up. My nose shape is the same. My eyebrows and eyelashes are still there. My skin isn’t ever going to be perfect again, thanks to air conditioning and pregnancy and years of not being able to resist picking it. I like my face, I have nice eyes and lines and a wobby nose and I look like my mum mixed with my dad. My smile is goofy and I’m getting lines. But it’s my face. Never say never on botox, or even an eye lift, in the future, mind…

My favourite make up stories have got conflated over time. The first is when I visited the Bobbi Brown counter in John Lewis before my wedding and said to the make up artist I’d like some nice make up to wear on my wedding day (I did my own, by the way). When I dared to voice my concern about the two products she was using under my eyes, that I didn’t want to look caked in make up, she uttered the now immortal words:

“Better to be caked in make up than look tired on your wedding day.”

This has since apocryphally lost the “on your wedding day” final part of that advice.

 The second story is related to the fact that Rosa and Persie’s dad once met Nigella Lawson. I asked what she was like, because Nigella is totally one of my idols, and he said “She was wearing a lot of make up.” So Bobbi Brown counter levels of made-up-ness are now known as “The Full Nigella”.

I appreciate the way make up has the transformative power to turn me turns me from undead zombie mother in to relatively fresh looking working person. But I realised that my recent purchasing and Full Nigella approach to slapping on the slap, it’s because I was unhappy. I knew I was feeling better on my holiday when I spent a day make-up free. And yeah, it may have been the day I spent mostly in the car, but still, make-up free. I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t worn make up. And then this weekend, I didn’t reach for the products once. I moisturised… and done. And that’s when I knew I was really finally feeling a lot better. I even went to Tesco bare faced. Now that doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the search for the perfect coral lipstick for summer, or that I’m going to stop experimenting with my eyeliner (nearly got the flick down), but you know, it’s a less combative approach to the world.

You see, I want to express myself with how I present myself to the world. I don’t want to look like everyone else, even if thanks to fashion and the high street, I absolutely do.  I want to wear my shift dresses to work, and tone my eyeliner to the blue check in the tweed. I want to coordinate my red boots with my lipstick, and put my yellow cardigan on and make people smile.  Certain clothes have the power to give me instant confidence.  Wearing my camo jacket makes me feel cool. Wearing my denim dress reminds me of standing in someone else’s kitchen and being told I looked pretty. I still wear a maternity dress I bought in the early days of pregnancy with Persie, and the memory is of me of keeping a secret, snug and safe, in my tummy.

I haven’t gone to the extreme of having a uniform or a signature outfit. Some men end up that way by default – always the same colour suit, the same colour shirt, and really they only mix it up with ties and cufflinks, and that’s the advantage of formal work attire, I suppose. I read an article about this woman and I considered developing my own real uniform, for about two minutes. Because I really admire those who take this approach. To do it, you’d really really have to know what suits you, and what you like. I understand that much of the appeal of the uniform approach is to do with the removal of the stress of having to make a decision on a daily basis. But, very quickly in my considerations, I realised that to dress only one way, and commit to it, properly, it means you’re jettisoning the opportunity to be someone different that day. And maybe you could do that on the weekend, and that would increase the pleasure of the days you could make that choice, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there, just yet. Maybe it’s that I don’t yet know how to say “this is me, and this is how I want you to see me, every day”. 

So if I post some pictures of what I’m wearing, or my great new lipstick, it’s not that I’m shallow, it’s not that I’m vapid, and it’s not that I care especially about how I look. Although I am as vain as the next vain person. It’s that I’m telling you something about myself and the me that dress, that lipstick helps me be, who I am and how I feel when I’m wearing it. Right now, I’m wearing yoga trousers and a non-wired bra, my least flattering glasses and the remnants of today’s make up. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real.

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Emptrix Nata Sum

I had to start with a little Latin joke for all my Classicist friends out there. Back in the day, Past Times sold a shopping bag which had this slogan on it, and it means “I am a born (female) shopper” literally, so… born to shop.

Shopping is not a pastime. I like to remind myself of that when I find myself just tootling out on to the high street, with time to kill, a song in my heart and my debit card in my wallet. Shopping is not a pastime, I remind myself when I browse idly on fashion websites instead of writing. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I tell Rosa when she begs begs begs to go to Bury, or to Westfield in Stratford, so that she can go shopping. Shopping is NOT a pastime, I convince no one when I make my regular pilgrimages to Ikea and Costco.

Oh, but who am I to blow against the wind? Because I am a really good shopper. For myself and for others. I love nothing more than a shopping mission, than to track down the perfect something to a brief, I love to research and can spend hours weighing up the pros and cons of one version of the same thing versus another. But I know my tendencies (thanks Gretchen) and I am a satisficer, not a maxmiser and I love abundance, not simplicity, so I am not actually that discriminating a shopper. And if I don’t have something in mind, but am just browsing, I will quite happily make rash impulse purchases. In fact, it turns out, I’m pretty much a rash, impulsive kind of person.

Loving shopping and cheap fashion might make me shallow and unethical, and I probably ought to worry about bigger things. But sometimes, you need to think about the things that don’t matter, because if you thought about the things that really matter all the time, you’d go mad. I love the book The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, as glossing over the fact it’s about a young woman with an addiction and a debt problem, it’s the on the funniest, whip-smartest books of its kind, and if it had been written by a man would be called satire. Anyway, in it, she just longs to be ‘the girl in the Denny and George scarf’, hoping that becoming that girl will mean she is transformed into the person she feels she really is. I totally get that. We all know that having that pair of boots, that top, that dress, that hat won’t fill the holes in our souls, nor will being the girl in the red boots/ with the kick ass lipstick make life’s decisions any easier, or get someone to love us when they’re emotionally unavailable, or make being a mum any less relentless and exhausting. It’s just a plaster on the wounds. But plasters stop the wound getting infected, while your clever body gets on with mending itself. So I guess that makes shopping Savlon for the soul. It doesn’t fix anything, but it helps briefly, while you work out how to fill the hole in your soul or mend your broken heart.

With that little spot of self-justification over, I have some exciting new purchases, bought in about half an hour on the high street, and it’s all very exciting.

Firstly, Maybelline Vivid Matt Lip Colour in Nude Flush. I read about this on The Pool and I am currently all about the matt lip, so I decided to give this a try. It’s not got the staying power of the Revlon equivalent matt lipcolour, but it’s relatively long lasting and I love the colour, a pleasing slightly bubblegum tinged springy pink, that looks good with grey eyeliner.

Secondly, Rimmel Insta-fix 2-in-1 primer and finishing spray. I picked up one of these at the supermarket on Saturday and have been so impressed with the results so far that I bought a second for my handbag for work, where the air conditioning wrecks my skin, and seems to evaporate my make up regardless of what base I wear, cheap, expensive, light, heavy, liquid, powder, liquid-to-powder, cream, fluid… you name it, the work air conditioning evaporates it off. So I have high hopes that this can stop that happening, as you can use it under your make up, to fix your make up into place after applying, and during the day to refresh it, so I’m hopeful this is going to solve that problem. There are more expensive versions of this kind of thing out there, but I like cheap and cheerful and being able to buy two guilt free.

Thirdly, I’m a bit obsessed with pink and grey this week. I can’t wait to wear these cheapo New Look tops with my grey jeans. Remember I was fretting about not having a pale cardigan to wear with the yellow cold shoulder top? Well, this crochet backed long-length number will be perfect, and it’s got a slightly boho look that I really enjoy. Alongside it, I couldn’t resist the printed tee-shirt, which says Rosa Fortuna and a picture of a playing card – two of my favourite things, roses and cards…

Finally, the sun came out and my ancient M&S sunglasses had seen better days. I don’t buy expensive sunglasses, because I have children, and also I like to wear them in my hair a lot, but I am thinking of getting a prescription pair for driving and also, seeing… but in the meanwhile, these two pairs at Boots from their own range are cheap enough not to worry if you lose them, but not as cheap as New Look where all the glasses sat wonky on my wonky nose and ears. The Ray Ban style pair have floral patterns on the arms, and the cats eyes are suitably oversized for pretending you’re a 50’s film star going incognito. Oh, that’s just me?

This week I wore… all yellow

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah they were all yellow

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn
Oh what a thing to have done
And it was all yellow

Coldplay

Don’t scoff at the Coldplay reference, that song has been in my head all week! On Monday morning, I was feeling pretty uninspired. After the triumph of the statement lip last weekend, the dungaree goodness, how could I top that excitement when I had to dress for work? As a result, I didn’t really try, I went for a grey Boden jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boring, unthoughtful dressing. I did the statement lip to cheer myself up and… POP! Suddenly that yellow cardigan was looking awesome.

I love yellow. Apologies to Caitlin Moran, but yellow is a neutral. My feeling is that it works on the principal that because yellow doesn’t go with anything, it goes with everything. It is my favourite colour, I love it because of sunshine, happiness, daffodils, sandy beaches, sunflowers, autumn leaves, and champagne. It’s vivid mustard, warm and golden, or pale lemon, creamy, zesty… When I imagine death, I imagine yellow.

So I set myself a challenge – I shall wear yellow all week! I thought, and then immediately felt the pressure of the restriction. Luckily, I actually own quite a lot of yellow clothing, but I found in the end that the issue wasn’t wearing yellow per se, but styling it without black as the second colour. 


Day 1 – jersey dress and yellow cardigan. Boden, both items, so the palette toned, and the grey and yellow are a fresher combination than yellow and black.
Day 2 – pleather skirt with yellow chunky jumper *tucked in*! Very exciting, until I realised it was a big work exhibition that morning and I had to keep my mac on inside as my skirt was really really short and there were lots of important people there.
Day 3 – Roadtrip day, so comfort. Jacquard shift dress in yellow, layered over black thermal top as I set off at 6:30am and arrived home late – didn’t want to be cold. I don’t normally wear midi-dresses, so this required a higher heel than usual (not shown) – platform shoe boots. 
Day 4 – cheating, really, a spring floral dress (M&S several years ago) with significant amounts of yellow in the floral, with a beige jumper layered over the top, and brogues for a change from my ankle boots. I love this outfit, loving the jumper-over-dress preppiness of it, but it was the least yellow of the days. Oh, and I was absolutely bloody freezing – not warm enough yet for a thin cotton dress!
Day 5 – Dress down Friday! Yellow cold shoulder top (New Look), over khaki jeans, showing ‘the sliver’ at the ankle (brrr!) and a black shawl cardigan over the top. I wished I’d had a pale cardigan with a shape that worked, to make the outfit a little less black, but my boots were black which sort of pulled it together.

And then at the weekend, trusty dungas and that yellow jumper again, AKA “the sexy minion” look.

I have actually gone into my storage bags to retrieve some more yellow clothes from my spring/summer wardrobe, although it is definitely too cold to be thinking truly spring-like clothing. thoughts. I could have done another week of yellow, but I’m thinking next week to go for a different challenge… maybe florals, which is also not too much of a stretch with my wardrobe. Probably the challenge should actually be “no black”- maybe that’s for another time when I’m feeling especially creative. 

This weekend I rocked… the statement lip. 

I don’t own these pyjamas, but anyone with kids recognises the sentiment!

Saturday morning I awoke to Persie sweetly whispering in my ear “I luff you mummy too”. Adorable. And we were up in plenty of time to get ready in a leisurely fashion and have breakfast and not be late for Rosa’s 8am swimming lesson.  So why then did I end up running out of the door, late for the swimming lesson with unwashed hair in a ponytail? Good question and definitely one of my truths of adulthood: the more time you think you have the later you will be! 

But it’s ok because I threw on jeans, a khaki coloured tee and my 90s throwback camo shirt/jacket, and I topped it off with true red lipstick, applied poolside (like my whole face of make up that morning). Pretty cool, I think you’ll agree. Real red lipstick, not a gloss, not a sheer balm, but gets everywhere red. Reapply frequently red. It’s a commitment. But it was worth it! Practical weekend clothes transformed into a look, simply by colouring my lips in! The transformative power of make up, etc. Plus the feminist reclaiming red lipstick thing. Girls dress and make up to please themselves and other girls, and my girl Rosa was in raptures. Mum glam, I was rocking it. 

Buoyed up by the success of the red, the following day I struggled to top the camo so went for monochrome – black dungas, striped Breton. Lip wise, I decided to go a bit Leonard Cohen (you want it darker) with a rouge noir/black cherries colour, another 90s tribute! Not quite as cheering as red, and definitely a throwback to the Rimmel black cherries and inside-the-eyes-liner, but it pleased me. 

My Eyelashes!

The girls at The Kimono are eyelash extension aficionados. I was always fascinated by their flirty, fluttery long lashes, but hadn’t realised that they weren’t natural. Then I was there when each of them made the effort to get a taxi across Cambridge to Salon at No. 5, the lash and brow bar, which also has a second branch where I live, and I knew then that both the lashes and the salon must be something special.

I resisted the lure of the lashes for a long time, but then one day there was a Groupon offer for a full set of eyelash extensions at Salon at No. 5. I can not resist a good Groupon! I snapped it up, booked myself in and (after a patch test) excitedly succumbed to having four fake eyelashes glued to each of my individual eyelashes in the spirit of flirty, flutteriness.

In a strange twist of fate, the day after my appointment, I ended up having a very serious job interview, but didn’t want to cancel the lashes as it had been a bit of a nightmare to book in due to my schedule and the salon’s. So I did actually end up being interviewed for my big important job role with slightly burlesque looking. I don’t know if any of the interviewers noticed or if the associated slow blinking (the lashes are a bit heavy) helped or hindered!

The extended lash look was indeed full and lush, but a bit too full on for me, for everyday. Plus there’s the fact that you have to be careful with the eye make up you wear. I like creamy eyeshadow, smudgy kohl pencils, and these are not your eyelash extensions’ friends – nothing with oil in is. You can’t wear mascara on top of them, for example – you have to really commit to just the extensions. So after an aborted infill session for the extensions, and a full and frank discussion about my love of eyeliner, Bella, the lash technician, recommended that instead I try an LVL Lash Lift instead. Pretty much, it’s a lash tint and perm.

After another patch test, I rocked up at the salon last Saturday and after removing all my eye make up with a baby wipe (effective but stingy!) the treatment took about an hour, and was actually very very relaxing, as you might imagine lying back with your eyes closed for nearly an hour might be! Like any kind of perm, you can’t get it wet for 24 hrs afterwards, and there was a touch of rain as I left the salon, but as recommended, I wore protective eyewear in the shower the following day, and I think that the effect is lasting very well.

I already have dark eyelashes, so I’m looking to enhance my lashes prior to mascara, rather than to be able to skip mascara altogether, which might be the aim if you are very fair lashed and don’t wear much make up. My next eyelash adventure is going to be with a very exciting product… but more of that another time.

Here is my before and after picture! Thanks to Bella for the photography!

 

eyelashes

On the importance of… the nail salon

You’ve seen Legally Blonde, right? Of course you have, everyone’s seen Legally Blonde. Legally Blonde had a very deep impact on my life, because when I saw it during my university years it inspired me to take action in a very important area: I taught myself to touch type. It has been an invaluable skill! The ability to look at the screen, or even better, *at another person* and carry on typing, generally hitting the correct keys as I do so, has stood me in good stead, first writing essays at university, then emails in my work, and even now as I sit on the train typing this on a mini ipad keyboard. So I’m grateful to Legally Blonde for giving me a life skill!

But the relevance to this post is not about the joy of being the fastest fingers in East Anglia, but the importance of Elle’s friendship with Paulette at the nail salon. There will be no bending and snapping in this post, but I will admit, yesterday’s nail salon conversation did include the world “girlfriend”. And I used it only semi-ironically…

I’ve been frequenting the same salon for a couple of years now, the first time I ever had my nails done there was in advance of a big awards ceremony. But after I had my youngest baby and returned to work, having my nails done felt like a really important non-mum treat thing to do and I became a true devotee of gel nail polish. When I’m really on top of things, I have a standing appointment during my work lunch break. I can run out, get my nails done, and get back to the office. And because I have gel polish, once it’s set under the light, there’s no worries about smudging it or having to wait around for it to dry. Perfect! Now don’t be telling me all the bad things about gel polish and how I’m probably wrecking my nails underneath, and that light is probably cancer causing, blah blah blah… when I have my nails done, I feel polished, and that makes me feel kick ass. Frankly, ten years ago I’d no more have had a regular manicure than flown up in the air. But times have moved on and so have I. Having my nails done makes me happy (and more on happiness another time).

I’ve had my nails done in an emergency at the nail bar at the end of the road where I live by a man who didn’t speak great English and wore a mask, and the whole experience was not happiness inducing. If it weren’t for the girls at the nail salon I’d not have tried eyelash extensions, I wouldn’t have discovered The Weeknd, and known that I like listening to Kiss FM, and I wouldn’t have squeezed a pair of fake boobs. This blog may be a bit fabulous, but I’m actually a pretty serious and intense kind of person, so getting out in my lunchtime for a dose of normality is grounding. Remember that scene in Legally Blonde when the fierce professor swivels in her chair and she’s been having her nails done too?  That’s me…

You don’t see people every other week without talking about the real stuff too. Like hairdressers, there’s a zone of confidentiality when you sit in the chair with your nail technician. So when, last week my OPI “I’m not really a waitress” (red with a shimmer) chipped on four nails out of five, Cindy and Wendy, my guardian nail angels repaired me each time I turned up with a sad denuded nail and also threw in fifteen minutes of listening, all for free.

This week when I went for my regular redo, I was thinking ahead to Thursday night’s event I’ll be attending, and my chosen outfit. So I went for OPI Ink, a dark sparkly blue. Cindy put a coat of black underneath to help the sparkle really pop, and the depths of the blue are almost violet. Gorgeous!

nails