Although she'd cringe at the thought of it—and shake her head vehemently in disagreement—my mum really is my number one style icon. While I may be swayed from time to time by the clever outfit skills of, say, Olivia Palermo or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, more often than not, I turn time and time again to the sage snippets of advice I've absorbed over the years from my mother. In all honestly, she's the only person I trust to tell me the truth (with some tact) about any given outfit, and definitely the only person I feel comfortable shopping with.
Courtesy of Hannah Almassi
We both clearly share a love of red! Left: My mum in 1987 holding me and wearing a red knitted dress that her mother made in the '60s. Right: A recent photo of me wearing my favourite new jumper from Finery.
My mum has always looked pulled together, even if she hasn't felt that way. Her mother was the same; not once did I see my grandma without a pair of earrings on, even in the hospital during her later years. As a family, we've never had an excess of cash to spare on clothes, but they've been a priority nonetheless—whether it's a case of whipping something up from scratch or adapting an existing purchase, sewing machines have been just as wise an investment as any handbag.
So let's get to the point: Just what has my mother advised me on over the years? And what could you potentially learn from? Keep reading to find out—and to shop the relevant pieces for each key style tip.
1. BEING COVERED UP IS ALWAYS MORE ALLURING
Roll-necks are my greatest obsession—this one is from MSGM.
We've all had the "you're not going out in that" comment from someone in the past, but except for one ensemble I really wanted to (and did) wear on a night in Malia aged 18 (a look that shall remain a secret), I have heeded my mother's guidance. It's a no-brainer, really: Being exposed makes you feel more exposed. I'm not one to judge, so reveal as much as you dare, but for me, being covered up allows a little leeway to get more creative with clothes.
I think my mum has always been pretty sassy, but she knows when enough is enough—décolletage is fine, but you don't need your legs out at the same time. I usually rely upon high-coverage pieces in body-skimming shapes to feel the most confident. Keep people guessing, right?
2. DO NOT LEAVE CLOTHES ON THE FLOOR
This was something I was particularly guilty of during the classically angsty teen years—it may sound familiar to you too. My mum continued to impress upon me the importance of looking after one's clothes, and the idea has stuck. We live in a throwaway society but there's really no excuse for dismissing what you spend money on. Treat your pieces well, and they will serve you in turn.
Nowadays, everything in my closet has its place: I like to ensure that shoes stay in their original boxes and that garments are not forced to share hangers with each other (sacrilege!). This forms part of my daily routine, and I find it hard to hide my shock when I hear of friends or colleagues with incredibly expensive items strewn across their bedrooms. My clothes are like my children, and I shall not ignore them—you too can keep neat with space-saving velvet hangers, separate storage boxes and garment bags for the really big buys you don't wear that often.
3. SHOES MAKE OR BREAK AN OUTFIT, SO SPEND WISELY
I spend ALL my money on footwear, and that trait definitely comes from my mother. As obvious as it sounds, a good pair of shoes can uplift and reinvigorate any existing outfit you might own—they can also make or break one. And, in case you didn't catch my enthusiasm, you really DO need different shoes for different occasions.
Most of all, it's important to look after your feet and walk confidently and comfortably. Look for leather-lined styles at all times, and vary what you wear each day: podiatrists have informed me that it's a great way to keep your feet in check. If that doesn't give you an excuse to stockpile, nothing will.
4. UNDERSTANDING THAT CERTAIN ITEMS JUST DON'T SUIT YOUR FRAME
All big shapes need some waist definition and a flash of ankle for me to look a teeny bit taller than my 5-foot-1-inch frame—this Barbara Casasola tailored suit does the trick.
There's no way around it, your height can screw up your fashion options. Those gigantic Scandi-style silhouettes or chunky jumpers I dream of wearing will never cut it. Both my mum and I have had to acknowledge that the best way to dress as a shorter lady is to accept being short!
That means you're always going to have to take up hems (sleeves and trousers, the works) because there are so few petite ranges available anymore. It's also a case of remembering little lengthening tricks, like waists needing to be nipped (especially if you're more of an hourglass figure), and that long-line items, such as maxi skirts or jumbo trousers, benefit from having a higher waistline than a low-slung one.
5. DON'T WEAR THE SAME THING AS EVERYONE ELSE
This is one of my favourite skirts. Why? Well, aside from the fact that it's hugely colourful and fun to wear, it's also a complete one-off—a random thrift buy I managed to find somewhere down Brick Lane once upon a Saturday shopping stroll. Also to note: The belt was once my mother's, and I admit to appropriating many an item of hers.
Since a young age my mum has encouraged me to think outside of the style box: From making many of her own, and my, clothes in the '90s to helping me pick out the wildest thing in H&M Kids (I fondly recall a pair of yellow checked trousers), it's always been about balance: Choose one bold conversation-starter, and diffuse it with a selection of understated classics.
Quality vintage pieces are, of course, one way to make your grown-up fashion repertoire feel more unique—and Who What Wear UK has an entire guide on how you can start thrifting when you don't know where to begin. I'm personally a fan of the vintage section of Vestiaire Collective, where you'll often find that rare Yves Saint Laurent items will be far more competitively priced than a designer piece from last season.