Facercise – book review

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Exercises for your face – and yes, they really do work.

blog imageI said yesterday that I’d write about facial exercises, so here goes.

I’ve only really tried one method, which is Facercise by Carole Maggio. I chose this because it got very good write-ups on Amazon, which was more than could be said for some of the other methods that are out there, such as Eva Fraser’s system.

Maggio owned a beauty salon in the US and came up with her system based on working the individual muscles of the face. Videos, DVDs and a book are available. I opted for the book.

When it arrived, I learned one new exercise each day, building up the routine incrementally as I went along. After a month of practising the full routine, I then began adding the advanced exercises one at a time.

To start with, it was curiously difficult. Sometimes you’re being asked to work a muscle you’ve never been conscious of before and this feels very strange. The exercises can also make your face feel weary, like when you’ve been laughing all evening. They’re not actually painful, though. And initially they take a lot longer than the 15 minutes suggested – half an hour is more like it – but you do get faster as you go along.

Some of the Amazon reviewers clearly had problems visualising exactly what was meant by some of the descriptions, and here the book does fall short – it’s extremely underillustrated. It’s also written in an irritating, cheerleaderish fashion, with dozens of non-sequiturs.

However, the shortcomings of the book aside, in my opinion the exercises do actually work.

The first thing I noticed – literally within a day or two – was that my skin felt firmer under my fingers, more substantial. Then, after a three days, my husband said was I doing something new with my skin, as it looked very good. Then other people began telling how well I was looking. Mmn. Not younger, as advertised, exactly, but certainly better.

The truth was, I hadn’t been looking at all well. After a serious illness, I’d lost 33 pounds in weight and although I was delighted by my new slim figure, my face had been looking haggard. The exercises seemed to get rid of this. Over the next few weeks (a very trying time during which I lost a job, sued an employer and a friend died suddenly), I continued to look less and less tired and drawn.

There are actual differences too, to my features. They are very subtle, and I heartily wish I’d taken comparison photos as suggested, but I’m quite convinced that my lips are very slightly fuller, cheeks plumper, chin tighter; my naso-labial fold has lightened and even my nose is slightly shorter. My husband – always a sceptic in these matters – says the exercises "have really tightened your face up and made the most of your bone structure", which is praise indeed from him.

blog imageblog imageIn terms of pictures, these are about as close as I can get to comparisons, and they were taken about two years apart. The pic on the left shows me two years ago, post illness and recovery, but about a year before Facercise. The pic on the right was taken recently, after about a year of following the programme. Note how my cheeks appear fuller, especially under the cheekbone, and that the jawline is also more full. In my lower jaw I now have two large knots of muscle the size of walnuts, which helps fill out this narrow part of my face.

I don’t know if anyone else sees a difference, and where I don’t see one myself sadly, is the lines from mouth to chin – I would have liked an improvement here as I have a lousy overbite. But no matter. What I’ve got is good enough to be going on with, and for the cost of £15 it was well worth it.

I now do these exercises in sections, partly before I get up, partly in the bath and partly while watching telly. I also try to do them when I’m alone, as you have to pull some very ugly faces, and those which involve you touching your face, I do before applying makeup. I’m not what you’d call diligent though – you’re meant to do them twice a day and I’m sure it’s the better option, but once every other day is more my routine now.


Practice makes perfect when it comes to makeup

Not sure about how to apply makeup? Or stuck in a rut? Practice is the key to perfection.

blog imageUntil recently it hadn’t occurred to me to practise applying makeup. It seemed a tad self-indulgent at my age, if not plain silly. After all, I’d been wearing makeup for 30-odd years, hadn’t I? I knew what suited me, didn’t I?

The truth was, no, I didn’t any more. Having grown up in that blusher slashed across the cheekbones, three colours on your eyes era of the 70s and 80s, I now felt in a bit of a rut. Clearly, those looks were outdated, but the new ones didn’t seem to do anything for me. Lipstick didn’t seem to stay on in quite the same way as before, and the colours available didn’t seem to suit me. I couldn’t find a foundation that would hide my rosacea without looking like a mask. My favourite products had been discontinued. I realised that at the age of 42, I was feeling the same way about makeup as I felt about fashion – that it was, in some obscure way, no longer for me.

As I was muttering darkly about this one day, surprisingly it was my husband who came to the rescue. As a photographer, he’d bought a book on makeup for photography, and alongside it, a general book on makeup. This proved to be a godsend – Making Faces, by Kevyn Aucoin.

I had never heard of Kevyn Aucoin, but even if you haven’t either, you’re familiar with his work. Prior to his early death from a pituitary tumour, Aucoin was the leading makeup artist of the nineties, largely responsible for the looks that graced every magazine page and red carpet star during that time.

Aucoin seems to have had a rare ability to bring out a woman’s inner beauty, and his approach to makeup was both catholic and inclusive, "makeup should be fun and not fascist". You won’t find any ‘shoulds’ or ‘must’s in his books – only clear instructions on how to get the effect you’re looking for.

I have two of his books (though I hope to buy the rest): Making Faces and Face Forward. In them, you’ll find looks for young and blog imagewhite women, it’s true, but also older women, black women, Asian women, outsize women, even men. Nude looks, fantastic looks, coloured looks, neutral looks, drag makeup, makeup for special occasions, quick looks for daytime, makeup for women who hate makeup.

In Making Faces, Aucoin deals with the different areas of the face, detailing different looks for eyes, lips, cheeks, skin, eyebrows and then the face as a whole. From this, I learned a better way to apply my mascara, and how to use my eyelash curlers correctly. In Face Forward you get more of the same, including different ways to balance the face (dark eye, dark lip; dark eye, light lip etc, which finally taught me quite why I can’t wear 60s-style makeup) but also familiar famous faces made up in very different ways – check out Martha Stewart as Veronica Lake.

However, in both books, the faces that I find the most interesting are those that belong to ordinary women, whom he transforms into great beauties with only subtle changes. If nothing else, every woman over 60 should look at how amazingly glamourous Aucoin’s mum is once he’s finished with her, even allowing for the airbrushing.

I read each book from cover to cover, then worked my way through the individual eye looks, lip looks, whole-face looks etc, in the privacy of the bathroom. Some didn’t suit me, but many that I thought wouldn’t, actually did. It really pays to shake up your routine a little like this, to try a ‘Hollywood’ eye, or to mix your own shade of lipstick. The bottom line is, it’s FUN. It’s like rediscovering your love of dressing-up.

It’s also useful. From the styles I tried, I now have half a dozen different ‘looks’ that I can quickly apply without really having to think, rather than the one look I’d been using for years. I use far fewer products but make more of them. And I know what to do if I’ve only got five minutes to switch from day to night, or if I’ve had a bad night and it shows.

Kevyn Aucoin’s books are available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Classic clothes part 1 – coats

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Classic clothes are the backbone of your wardrobe.

blog imageThere are types of clothes, and themes, that keep recurring in fashion, and garments that keep making a reappearance with only slight alterations. If you have at least a few of them in your wardrobe, they make great staples around which you can ring contemporary changes so that you always look current.

There are several things to watch out for with ‘classic’ clothes. One is the fabric – it definitely pays to buy a classic silhouette in a good fabric rather than a cheap fabric, as otherwise the fabric will show its age before the garment does.

Another is the colour. Any garment that you expect to live in your wardrobe for a long time should be in a neutral colour that goes with everything else. However, if you’re comfortable with a particular style, ringing the changes with colour and fabric is a great way to add a twist to your wardrobe.

The third consideration is the fit and here, it’s the shoulderline that is critical. Garments that fit to your shoulderline will age better than fashion extremes. It can be very irritating to have a beautiful item that still fits, is in a good and flattering cut, but where the shoulders have become too large for current fashion.

Today I’ll look at coats, as these are often among the most expensive items in a wardrobe, with a good winter coat entailing serious outlay. Here, more than ever, a good fabric is worth paying for and will repay the investment with a reduced cost per wear. The cost per wear on my Burberry polocoat and Aquascutum camelhair car coat have been minimal – both have been in my wardrobe for over a decade, alongside a range of Barbours in dark blues and greens, and a Jaegar car coat in dark cream leather. Meanwhile, scarlet, pink, purple and green coats have rotated in and out of the wardrobe for a bit of fun, but often proving very expensive purchases, given the amount they were actually worn.

blog imageWith coats, a raglan sleeve is very versatile, as in this leather coat from ShopNBC (sadly not available in Europe). A raglan sleeve has a seam running from the underarm to the neck, and gives you a lot of leeway in the sleeve head (sewist speak for shoulder padding), as does a ‘kimono’ sleeve, where there is a seam running down the outside of the arm. A competent tailor can reduce the shoulder width on these kinds of sleeve without too much trouble if fashion moves from big shoulders to small, whereas altering the sleeve head on a set-in sleeve is more difficult and costly. This type of sleeve also gives you a lot of room under the arm – useful when you’re wearing an item over tailored clothing.

Altering a coat from a narrow to a full cut is much more difficult, so try to avoid very narrow cuts in coats, especially when fashion is on the cusp of a change, as it is right now. If you’re not sure, go up a size, then if you switch to clothes with more volume in the next year or two, your coat will still fit over the top.

The classic coat designs are:

blog imageTrench – in beige, navy or black cotton or polycotton. Manufacturers like Burberry and Aquascutum (left) are among the best. A trench should fit comfortably over a jacket without creating enormous shoulders that look like you left a coathanger in there, and if you buy one with a zip-out winter lining, you’ll more than double its usefulness. A classic trench is double-breasted, has visible buttons, a back gun flap, button-down epaulettes, a front storm flap, a belt with a buckle, sleeves that can be closed with buckled straps and a buttonable back vent to the skirt. Currently, the cut is also narrow, as you can see at left. Choose one long enough to cover your skirt for the most mileage, or ring the changes with thigh-length or mini-trenches. If you have a large bust, consider a single-breasted trench, and if the style suits you generally, look out for it in unusual fabrics.

Polocoat – in beige, navy or black cotton or polycotton. Again, manufacturers like Burberry and Aquascutum make the classic ones. Ablog image polocoat differs from a trench in several ways. It is single-breasted and slimmer overall and works better over sweaters than over jackets. It has a ‘fly’ front (ie, the buttons are hidden by a placket when the coat is closed), there are no epaulettes, there is no pleat to the back, and the belt is optional (there are no belt loops). Polocoats give a cleaner, more slimming line than a trench but can look very frumpy when done up if you have a large bust – they are best worn open, or by those with small breasts.

Overcoat (right) – in beige, navy or black camelhair, wool or cashmere. Here, a raglan sleeve is the best design as an overcoat is designed to go over other clothing, and a raglan gives you more room under the arm. A single-breasted button front or a wrapover with a belt are the most versatile – a wrapover gives you more options for what you wear underneath and is useful if your weight fluctuates. A shawl collar is classic and doesn’t date, but if you can’t find one, choose revers and a collar that are not exaggerated or rounded (Peter Pan-style), or a contrast velvet collar inspired by the man’s Chesterfield. Overcoats are great if you need to wear a suit to work or have to travel on public transport, where the longer length is useful, but if you mainly drive, you’ll get more mileage out of a car coat (see below).

blog imageWaxed jacket – in dark green, navy or brown waxed cotton. Barbour produces the most famous range of waxed jackets but there are many other, cheaper manufacturers producing similar garments. The most useful waxed jacket comes to about mid-thigh, has a heavy zip that can be zipped from top to bottom or vice versa, wind flap with heavy poppers, moleskin-lined handwarmer pockets, large bellows or ‘poacher’ pockets, a corduroy collar and either elasticated cuffs under an outer cuff, or cuffs that close with a strap and buckle. Traditionally the lining is tartan, and there are pop-out or zip-in liners. The main difficulty with waxed jackets is their upkeep as they really need rewaxing every year to maintain their looks and impermeability but there are now fabrics that mimic the impermeability of wax without the upkeep.

blog imageParka. The parka appears every year in a different guise or fabric. The classic parka has a hood, often with a contrast lining and a fur edge which may be fake or real. It has a front closure and possibly a drawstring waist and/or hem. Bright colours and good wools give a twist to this classic, which has come a long way from the picket lines of the 1980s. To avoid that look, don’t buy dark green ones with an orange lining but go instead for something like this nifty blue number from Grattan. Alternatively, try out a padded version in a short or longer length. In this type of parka, the fold-away hood is usually hidden in the collar and there is often an internal drawstring waist. I notice that here in France, the lightweight, padded fashion parka is one of the most popular options on the street, worn with a fur-trimmed hood. 

blog imageDuffel coat. Like the parka, the duffel is always available – each year in a different colourway or fabric. The classic duffel should be made from boiled wool or woolmix, have a hood, large patch pockets and toggles on leather frogging. One about knee length is very versatile and doubles as a car coat for casual use, and the patch pockets are very handy in winter if you’re wearing gloves, as they’re easier to use than inseam pockets. This yellow one is from this year’s Grattan catalogue.

Car coat – this describes a length, rather than a style, but is any coat short enough to sit in comfortably when you’re driving. In a good car coast you should be able to raise your arms easily and it shouldn’t get in the way of the seatbelt or gear shift. All the above styles are available in car-coat length, but for a general purpose car-coat, a slightly loose, tent-like cut with a raglan sleeve is a good bet and leather is a useful material – my dark cream leather from Jaegar has been going strong for over 10 years now and has been worth its weight in gold.

Classic clothes part 2 – jackets

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Clothes that don’t date are the backbone of your wardrobe. Here’s what to look for in jackets.

What exactly constitutes a jacket is rather a moot point, with a short coat meeting a jacket somewhere around thigh level, but there are certain styles that recur again and again. Most are derived from menswear.

As with coats, whatever style of jacket you choose it will date less if you avoid extremes such as big floppy collars, unusual sleeves and wide shoulders. Jackets that come to exactly your shoulderline can be worn for years, while the sleeve should be one or two piece, with or without a separate cuff.

blog imageblog imageJeans jacket (far left) – in denim or chino fabric. The classic jeans jacket has a collar, heavy studs or a zip, two high breast pockets with flaps, wrist-length sleeves with a one-button cuff and comes to about hip length. An extremely versatile jacket for casual wear, you can dress this up by a simple change of fabric, such as black leather, red vinyl etc. If you’re busty, look for ones with vertical seaming and don’t make the mistake of buying too large.

Bomber jacket (left) – in black, brown or tan leather. Modelled on the Second World War flying jacket, the classic bomber jacket fits to the shoulder and has epaulettes, and snug knit cuffs and knit bottom band, worn at hip level. It should have a collar and may close with either a zip or heavy studs. A good leather will last virtually a lifetime, while a cheeky satin number is handy for a bit of zip for evening. If you like the bomber jacket style, get it in a range of colours and fabrics – it’s a great, youthful, windproof option.

blog imageBaseball jacket (right) – in any colour of main body, and often white or cream detailing. A baseball jacket has roomy raglan sleeves and usually a matching knit cuffs and waistband. It has a small, round collar and closes with a front zip and traditionally has large numbers and logos both front and back. The classic American baseball jacket is a heavy garment with leather sleeves, but fashion versions come in lightweight cottons and synthetics. A useful, fun style for casual wear.

blog imageblog imageBiker jacket – in black or dark brown leather. A motorcycle jacket is close-fitting (for wind resistance), with raglan or set-in sleeves and usually a very short stand collar. It closes with either a central front zip or an asymmetric zip running from hip to shoulder, and often has two inline vertical pockets (ie: set into the front seams). The real thing comes in a range of vinyls, leathers and rain-repellent finishes and the garment is often sectioned off into different colours along the seamlines, while the high-fashion version may have other bells and whistles such as epaulettes, a more conventional collar, or a more feminine cut to the side seams. The biker jacket is a very slimming garment and well worth a look if you’ve never considered one, especially in a quality leather.

blog imageHacking jacket – in a plain wool or tweed. The hacking style of jacket – the most basic shape used for women’s suits- looks good on virtually every woman, with its classic collar and open revers, single-breasted construction, slight nip at the waist, 1-3 buttons and wrist-length sleeves. It may also have a velvet collar, and the pockets may be horizontal, patch or inline. Modelled on Victorian riding clothes, this is the classic jacket for business wear but also, in a casual fabric, smartens up casual trousers such as jeans. The crucial thing to watch out for with this style of jacket is the height of the ‘stance’, which is where the two front edges meet. If you’re petite, keep this quite high, preferably around bust level, and opt for three buttons – if you’re taller it can be lower and you can get away with 1 or 2 buttons. Modern versions come in almost any fabric but are more wearable if there’s a degree of stretch.blog imageblog image

Paletot (far left). The paletot rotates in and out of fashion. Big in the late 50s and early 60s, it’s been seen again comparatively recently with the trend towards volume. ‘Paletot’ basically denotes any jacket that is short and roomy. It usually has three-quarter sleeves, falls at the high hip and may be collarless or have a round collar band. Paletots are best worn by women with small breasts – on a larger woman they are very unflattering. They also look better on short women than tall women, who can look Olive Oyl-like in the three-quarter sleeves.

Bolero. A bolero is a very short jacket that may come as low as the waist or be as short as a pair of shoulderpads, when it’s usually referred to as a shrug. Boleros are a great cover for small-breasted women but are very unflattering to everyone else as they hang to the bustline and then sail straight out from there. They also leave the waist fully exposed. If a dress style comes with a sleeveless top and matching bolero, pass on this if you have heavy arms or a large bust – opt for a wrap evening cardigan instead.

The above items are available from La Redoute (bolero, paletot, jeans jacket, hacking jacket), Debenhams online (biker jackets, bomber jacket) and Amazon.com (baseball jacket).

Classic clothes part 3 – skirts

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Classic clothes are the backbone of your wardrobe – here’s what to look for in skirts.

Skirts come in all shapes and styles, but there are certain skirt styles that don’t date easily, so if you have three or four of these in your wardrobe in usable neutrals, you should get endless wear out of them.

When you come to try on a skirt, don’t buy it too tight – you should be able to slide two fingers inside your waistband easily, and this is especially important if you’re prone to bloating. If your figure fluctuates or you retain water before your period, look for skirts with an elasticated back waist. Avoid those with elastic at the front though, unless you plan to always hide the waistband.

Classic designs

Pencil. Best blog imageworn at knee length for endless versatility, the pencil skirt is a classic that works in virtually any colour or fabric. For daytime it’s great in a dark wool with some stretch, while a black velvet one will take you from day to evening. It’s the best shape for a mini, works well at ankle-length with a back slit, but is less flattering at mid-calf-length unless you’re very tall and very thin. Opt for one without a waistband, if you can find it, and 4 to 6 gores, especiablog imagelly a front panel like this one (right) from La Redoute. If you have a tummy, consider a skirt with a built-in tummy support, or a slip in the same style to be worn underneath, or opt for a pencil with two tiny pleats at the front.

If you find a pencil skirt but it needs to be shortened to the right length for you, it will probably also need to be nipped a little at the side seams to avoid a bulky silhouette, so take it to a tailor unless you’re an experienced seamstress.

Straight. A popular skirt, but actually quite difficult to wear unless you’re slim. If you like straight skirts, keep them shortish – at a longer length they can look very frumpy, especially in a heavy fabric. Pencil skirts and A-lines are generally more flattering. 

A-line. The most forgiving skirt for daily wear, especially on British women, who tend to be ‘hippy’, an A-line skirt glides easily over your hips and thighs. It can be any length, and those with 4, 6, or 8 gores, or with a button-down front, give verticality to your silhouette, as seen in this version from Monsoon (right). An A-line skirt should fit neatly at the waist, with or without a waistband, but get one without pleats, which add needless bulk.

Bias-cut. Bias cutting simply means turning a woven fabric to 45 degrees so that it stretches, and it can be used for any style of garment. The bias cut when used in a skirt is very feminine and floaty, but it creates cling, especially around the backside. Bias cut skirts are very flattering if you have slim hips and a flat stomach, but are unforgiving to those with large hips, thighs or tummy.

blog imageIf you like the flare created at the bottom of a bias skirt but have saddlebags, you can get a similar effect without the cling by wearing a gored ‘tulip’ skirt, where the fabric is cut in straight panels that then flare out from the knee to give a bit of a kick. This suedette one from Damart (right) also has a forgiving elasticated back.

blog imageTiered. Skirts in multiple tiers are always available, though they move in and out of fashion. Always reflecting their bohemian origins, these skirts work best on those with an arty disposition, and it also helps if you’re tall enough to carry off their width. The gypsy skirt is a fun option for casual or evening wear, but those in one colour are more elegant, or try one with some vertical broomsticking in the fabric to offset the horizontal trimmings. This purple version is from La Redoute.

Pleated skirt. Possibly the most unflattering skirt shape for anyone who isn’t tall, thin and has a defined waist, this is also the most popular style for middle-aged women. This would be inexplicable if this style was not so comfortable. Although always modelled on a tall, thin woman, in real life it’s seen far and wide on portly women, including with a full elasticated waist, which only creates even more bulk. If you really MUST wear a pleated skirt, make sure it flares rather than dropping straight down (ie: a style such as a sunray pleat), and buy one with a flat front waistband.

Circle skirt. A very feminine style of skirt which flares on the bias from waist to hem. Popular in the 1950s at mid calf length, it moves in and out of fashion at varying lengths. At knee length, in a relatively heavy fabric so that it doesn’t fly away, it can be a useful option for women who aren’t keen on A-line skirts. In a light chiffon, it’s a sexy choice for evening, while longer, as here, it’s fun and retro. Always keep your top half simple and short with this style of skirt and only wear it if you have a well-defined waist.

blog imageKilt. The traditional kilt can create a huge amount of bulk around a feminine silhouette, though the flat front panel can also be flattering and the weight of the garment makes it a useful winter option. Kilts work if you’re tall, thin and have no waist, but should be avoided by other figure types, especially short women, heavy women and hourglass silhouettes. Sadly, plain kilts are in short supply: if you buy one in plaid (a Scottish, rather than an Irish kilt), watch out for the size of the ‘sett’ – a large tartan can create a strong horizontal that cancels out the verticality of the pleat, particularly if the kilt is pleated ‘to the stripe’. This ‘kilted skirt’ is from Heritage of Scotland.

Classic clothes part 4 – trousers

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Classic clothes are the backbone of your wardrobe. Here’s what to look for in trousers.

Well-fitting trousers are among the most difficult items for a woman to find and good trousers also cost considerably more than skirts, so it’s an area where mistakes can be painful. My advice is – if you find trousers in a cut that suits you, buy the same shape in every fabric and colour that you find useful rather than searching fruitlessly for different shapes. Everyone’s pet manufacturer is different – Boden’s curvy cut and long back rise seems to suit me, while my more boyishly built best friend favours Next, which for me is a tad tight on the thigh.

Sadly, manufacturers never seem to have cottoned on to the fact that a woman’s body is different from a man’s and the majority of women’s trousers still have a fly front as if a woman needed access to her penis, rather than side or back zips, which give a cleaner line. Currently, plain fronts that don’t add bulk are in style, which is fortunate, but with the trend to volume, I predict we’ll see the return of baggy trousers with bulky pleats that will do none of us any favours.


blog imageblog imageblog image A slightly low waist (far left) is probably the most flattering trouser waistline for the average woman – that means one sitting just below your navel, often called ‘mid-rise’. With the waist set here, there’s less fabric to billow and pouch around your stomach when you sit down, your torso is slightly elongated, making it look thinner, and the leg is barely foreshortened. Many women over 40 believe, however, that high-waisted trousers (sometimes called ‘classic waist’ – centre above) are more comfortable than low waisted. If you think this, it may partly be that in your ‘heyday’ the waistline was set at the navel or above and you haven’t changed your ideas. OR, it may be that you’ve been trying trousers with too low a waist (a huge trend among the young, right above) or with too short a rise in the back – even a low-waisted trouser should come up higher at the back than at the front, so that it doesn’t slide off your arse when you bend forward. There is, unfortunately, no way to decide which is the most comfortable rise for you other than to try on shedloads of pairs of trousers and find out. Once you’re found your correct rise, measure it, then carry a tape measure with you when you’re shopping and measure pants before trying them on – it will save a huge amount of time.

Avoid these

Because they are based on menswear, many of the commonly available trouser styles are unflattering to women, especially those who are short or carry weight on their lower half (ie, most of us). It’s my personal belief therefore that all women should avoid shorts, cropped trousers and trousers with ankle detailing, and should also be wary of other pants designs that add bulk to the legs, such as cargo pants. Not only do most women not have the height to carry off these garments, they are also often made in cheap materials that slouch around your body.

Fit and maintenance

Never buy trousers in a shop without trying them on and when you’re in the changing room, squat down – if you can’t do this easily put them back on the hanger as they will not be garments you can spend all day in comfortably. It helps if your trousers have a degree of stretch – say 3 per cent elasthane/lycra, even in formal pants, and if you’re buying a suit, get two pairs of pants, as they take more of a hammering than the jacket. Always get the two halves of the suit dry-cleaned together.

Forgiving trousersblog imageblog image

These are trousers that look good on most women

Jeans. Recognised by fashion designers as the most important garment of the 20th century, the standard jean is made from tough cotton twill that came originally from Nimes in France, hence ‘serge de nimes’ – denim. Originally a man’s garment, classic jeans have a front zip or button fly, a back v-shaped waist yoke and five pockets, including a ticket pocket. Seams are flat-felled and stitched in yellow thread, and all points of wear are reinforced with metal studs. From this point of origin, of course, there are endless variations in colour, fabric and width of leg.

The best all-rounder for most women remains the indigo-dyed bootcut jean, seen at far left in Levi’s Relaxed Fit bootcut, where the slightly heavier bottom to the leg balances your hips. You can get away with flares if you’re tall, but skinny-fit (left) are dangerous territory for almost all women.

If you can find a cut with the side seam set slightly to the back, it will give more ease, while designs with the side seam set slightly forward can elongate your legs – for ideas on what might suit you, visit www.levisstore.com and click on the Jeanfinder.

Wear your jeans with democratic footwear such as leather boots, loafers or sandals, or a walking shoe or trainer, not with court shoes – this look is currently very trendy but is ageing on mature women: it just looks like you forget to change out of your work shoes and are uncommitted to a casual look. This jean shown above right is possibly the worst combination for women of average height and weight – high rise, skinny fit, worn with shiny court shoes.

blog imageSleek, fitted trouser. By far the best trouser shape for most women, cut with a slightly loblog imagew waist and a bootcut or full leg, and a touch of stretch in the fabric, these trousers are still curiously hard to find with a side zip. When you do, snap them up. The waist and hipline are much cleaner than pleated trousers and give you more options for your top layers. If you can’t get the side zip, a fly front will do, however, and it’s much more readily available. These pinstripe ones (far right) are from La Redoute, but try Debenham’s for a wide range.

Palazzo pants (right). In chiffon or other fluid fabrics these are a good evening option for women who aren’t comfortable in skirts, while the same cut in a knit fabric is also good for lounging about in. Don’t wear the flare too wide if you’re short. This double-layer chiffon pair are from John Lewis.

Less-forgiving trousers

These are trousers that work for some women, in some circumstances

blog imageFly-front, pleated trouser (left). A commonly available trouser for women, especially in suits, which is a shame, as it creates unnecessary bulk around the waist and hips (if you’re unconvinced about this, try sitting down in them and see how much excess fabric pools around your gut). If you can’t find anything else, at least choose pleats that are as small as possible (allow for extra give at the back if needed with an elasticated waist), a full leg and a dark, fluid fabric. In black, with a side stripe in satin, these are the classic tuxedo trouser to be worn with a ‘smoking’ jacket for evening.

Carblog imagego pants (left). Although these are a useful garment for casual wear, you can stray into the area of ugly and bulky very easily, so watch out for the pocket construction and choose ones where only the pocket flap is on the outside of the leg, rather than the whole pocket box. These Boden ones shown are nearly as sleek as jeans.

blog imageJodphurs (left). A riding garment from India, real jodphurs in stretch cavalry twill or other options such as denim are a very elegant garment on thin, taut women who are out riding, but are really best avoided if you’re not on horseback unless you want to put up with stupid comments all day long about where your horse has got to…

Sweatpants. The go-to trouser of the desperately uncomfortable, traditional sweats with a gathered ankle make even athletes (who have fabulous bodies) look terrible. Traditionally they were worn only blog imagefor warming up on the field but today they are ubiquitous lower-class wear. However, there are more stylish options. For sports, getting to and from the gym and even lounging about at home, opt for the more flattering yoga trouser shape, with a deep non-binding waistband, loose leg (some have zips at the ankle) and side stripes, like these ones from Adidas (left), which also have a stomach-flattening wrap-over front.









Unforgiving trousers

These are trousers that are generally best avoided

blog imageCapris (left). One of the most unforgiving trouser constructions known to womankind, the cropped, tight leg on a capri makes all but skinny women look like pigs on stilts, especially in a pale fabric. Best avoided unless you’re thin, and not too tall – they were originally popularised by Grace Kelly, who fitted both of these descriptions admirably.

blog imagePedal pushers (left). Even worse, pedal pushers are bulky trousers that crop women in half along the leg, right where she needs it least. A youthful style that doesn’t work on mature women.

blog imageZouaves (left). A garment that might have been created just to make women look ridiculous, these are based on men’s military pants from Algeria. Extremely loose to cope with the heat of the desert, they really shouldn’t be worn by women as they make you look three feet tall. If you really get this hot in summer, wear a dress or skirt instead.

blog imageHarem pants (left). These high-waisted, gathered trousers rotate in and out of fashion but are really best rejected by anyone with pretensions to personal style. The gathered fabric adds huge bulk to your silhouette and the high waist foreshortens your torso. Combined with a tapered leg or a cuff, they reach the heights of the truly horrible and if you think you’re hiding your fat rolls, you couldn’t be more wrong. Avoid like the plague.













Culottes, wrap trousers and trouser skirts are all options if you have difficulty finding trousers you like.

blog imageCulottes and trouser-skirts (right). These vary in style a good deal, but at their best are very useful garments for women who like skirts but need the practicality of trousers. Culottes and trouser-skirts differ from cropped trousers in their cut, which should be gently flaring in the leg, never tapered. Look for the same attributes in trouser-skirts as you would with your normal trousers and skirts – a clean waist with either a small waistband or none at all, a gentle A-line, good drape and a flattering length. The danger area is pleats, as many manufacturers add waist pleats to cope with the fullness of the leg – avoid this if you can. This neat denim trouser-skirt is from country-clothing supplier Orvis.

blog imageWrap trousers. These are hard to find in ready to wear (the black ones shown here are from La Redoute) and the woman searching for them is better served by sewing patterns. Obviously, this means you either blog imageblog imagehave to make them yourself or take them to a tailor/seamstress, but the end result is a unique garment that is made to your measurements. These patterns are from independent pattern company Sewing Workshop: the Origami Skirt (shown in brown print) is actually trousers with asymmetric legs and a wrap front, while the Tahoe Pant (shown in blue) has one leg which is cut so wide that it wraps at both front and back. The garment looks like a wrap skirt until you take a stride and is one of my favourite options for summer.

Before and after Photoshop

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My DH found this yesterday and I just had to post it on here. You can find the full versions of these pictures, along with others of Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria et al at Hemmy.net, though the images appear to be taken from Ellf.ru.


These are close-ups from two photographs of Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan. Just hazard a guess which one has been Photoshopped?

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I’ve said it elsewhere on here, but I’ll be saying again – EVERY editorial photo you ever see of a celeb and every photo you ever see of a model has had this kind of work done. I’m married to a photographer and I know – the very basics that any photographer will do to a portrait shot are:

whiten the eyes (everyone’s eyes look bloodshot in pictures)

lighten, saturate and intensify the eye colour (so that they ‘zing’ out of the picture)

sharpen the iris (intensifies the eyes)

whiten the teeth (everyone’s teeth look yellow in pictures)

remove spots and blemishes (why leave them in?)

selectively blur the skin (softens the contrast, covers lines, shadows and imperfections. Loses your freckles in the process)

lighten the skin (gives it a glow. Also, most models and actresses suffer from adult acne, partly because of their age but partly because they’re constantly wearing makeup, which isn’t good for their skin.)

For beauty photography, they also sculpt the face, widen the mouth, lengthen the neck, lengthen the body and airbrush the body as required.

In this photo, even though I’ve lost detail by zooming, you can clearly see there’s been treatment to the hand to remove veins and wrinkles, stronger highlights added to the lips, lines removed around the mouth, eyes and on the neck and the image has been warmed overall to make her skin glow and her hair blonder.

This kind of tweaking of an image is nothing new – the old Hollywood photographers did fantastic tricks with their subjects, including over-exposure to burn out skin imperfections and using shift lenses to make the subject taller and slimmer.

But the problem is, I wonder if we are now so bombarded with these images of perfection that we’re starting to forget what real people look like. It’s not as if Nicolette Sheridan isn’t beautiful to start with. But she’s a beautiful woman in her 40s, not her 20s – why try to make her look 20? Why remove all signs of life and experience from her face? Hasn’t she earned the right to her wrinkles?

Having my say – Richard Dawkins on the BBC

Yesterday I was on the BBC phone-in programme Have Your Say.

It was a strange experience. I imagine I was wheeled in as a token atheist for a remark I’d posted on the Have Your Say website in response to Pope Benedict’s latest daft encyclical. At a guess, the Beeb watch the boards, as it was only about 10 minutes after I’d posted my comment that I was rung by a member of the production team and asked if I’d be willing to air my views on the programme. An interview followed of around 10 minutes and I agreed to go on, imagining they would ask me something about my membership of the British Humanist Association and whether atheists can live in hope (a patronising question if ever there was one).

It was Friday afternoon and I spent the rest of the weekend regretting the decision. I’m a shy and nervous creature in general and would rather have my teeth out without anaesthetic than get up on a podium. But I did once have the experience of being interviewed in the street by German television on the subject of the British Royal Family, which was an enjoyable opportunity to air my republican sentiments and I thought Have Your Say might be something similar.

Come the day I’d reckoned without being laid flat by a cold. I spent pretty much the entire weekend in bed and only crawled out grubbily in my thermals and dressing gown, to conduct the interview live on television (phone-in only, thank heavens, rather than by Webcam), half an hour earlier than scheduled and about a subject I’d not been questioned on – the supposed atheism of Hitler and Stalin.

I struggled to string together a coherent sentence while my teeth chattered together in terror but fortunately I’m interested in Second World War and Holocaust history and had read widely enough to know that Hitler was a Catholic, and that many of his closest entourage were practising Christians, so I said my pretty piece, was thanked by the producer and that was that. Feeling completely pants, I headed back to bed.

I didn’t see the programme, of course, as it was live, but the DH had taped it, so some hours later I had the surreal experience of hearing myself expounding on the subject of atheism on the telly, which was very weird indeed, particularly as I sound nothing like myself, if you know what I mean. In the end, I didn’t make too bad a fist of it, though as usual in these circumstances, there was more I wish I’d said. However, the incident has at least galvanised me to say something about moral and spiritual values on this website, so I’ll be posting more of this nature in the future.

But until I feel up to it, it’s back to bed with an aspirin and a hottie…

Knife crime – victims are getting younger

Knife crime is not on the increase in Britain – but its victims are getting younger.

There have been a lot of headlines recently about knife crime in Great Britain. Over a dozen teenagers have been killed by knives in London so far this year, which is the kind of crime spate that is generally unheard-of. What knife crime does exist, we associate with cities such as Glasgow, or the rougher parts of Manchester, not with the nation’s capital.

But the fact is, violent crime is still decreasing in the UK. It’s been decreasing steadily for over a decade. What skews the statistics is that the victims are getting younger. When a middle-aged man cops it outside a Glasgow pub, it doesn’t make the headlines, but when a youth who was in a Harry Potter film is murdered, it shocks everybody.

Knife crime occurs because knife-carrying occurs. And teenagers carry knives because it makes them feel safe. We all know this is idiotic, but how is the matter to be addressed?

It made me think back to when I was I was a teenager. I carried a knife every day of my life from the age of 13 to the age of 18. My weapon of choice is sitting on my desk right now – a Sheffield steel letter opener with a blade about 6 inches long. Although designed for ripping open envelopes, sure as eggs is eggs, it would kill you if you got it in a major organ.

The reason everyone carried a weapon back then was the Yorkshire Ripper, and it’s difficult to explain to anyone who didn’t live through it quite how this serial killer could hold a whole area of Great Britain in fear. For five years, girls tried to go everywhere accompanied; you never took short cuts; you walked home with friends, in groups; and if you ever found yourself alone, you walked out in the middle of the road rather than pass by a hedge or a parked car, or a garden into which you could be dragged.

Did carrying my knife make me any safer? Of course not. Sutcliffe topped his victims from behind, with a ball-pein hammer, and a petite teenage girl was not then, nor now, any kind of match for an able, athletic, full-grown man. But did it make me FEEL safer? Absolutely. It’s only with hindsight and maturity that you come to realise it’s all rubbish. What children need to be taught, says Karen xx of the Strathclyde XX, is how to walk away.