Dear Santa

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Please and thank you.

If anyone else would like to own this fabulous creation, you can buy it here.  This fantastic retailer (I ordered this item at 1007 on Thursday, it arrived via standard mail – free delivery – at 1041 on Friday) are also registered with EasyFundraising, so your purchase can raise a free-to-you donation for a charity who are registered with them (I highly recommend Equine Partners CIC, but feel free to make your own choice).

End of PSA.

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The perfect fit

I’ve been having a problem shared by many women: none of my bras are fitting correctly.  It’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve invested a decent amount of time and money into this crucial piece of daily kit, so I set out on the quest which is only rivalled by the search for the perfect pair of jeans.  I ultimately visited three shops, here’s the tale of my labours…

Bra stop the first: Marks and Spencer
I entered a local branch of Britain’s stalwart retailer on a rainy Sunday with an action plan.  As a reasonably clued-up girl, I had made a guess as to how my size has changed, and went on what turned out to be a disappointing hunt.  I’ve worn a 36D for a long time (before you all have an attack of the vapours, I haven’t worn this size because I like it – I’ve had it checked regularly, and have genuinely felt comfortable in it until recently), but was curious about the fact that I may finally fit into a 34, which I knew would probably mean going up a cup size (given that I’ve changed shape, but not deflated, as it were).

I hunted around the (horribly-merchandised) lingerie department and quickly figured out that M&S design bras in two categories: pretty, but for those who only need to support the weight of two peas on their chest; ugly, and in suitable sizes to conveniently double as headgear.  I should have given up at this point, but I knew I owed my bust a favour, so I sighed and gritted my teeth.  I fished through for a selection of bras in a variety of sizes (because, hey, my guess may have been wrong) and headed for the fitting room.

I hovered awkwardly in the doorway for a moment whilst the woman behind the desk at the back of the corridor busied herself with something else, before she – without even looking up – told me to just go in, that they don’t help with fit any more.  I almost fell over in shock, and again very nearly dropped the mic (bras) and walked away.  Instead, I saw myself to a fitting room, closed the door and organised myself.

Then, dearest retailer, I was confronted by something I really didn’t expect to see: I had selected some bras which are sold in pairs, and it wasn’t until I got to the fitting room that I noticed they were tagged together.  Like this:

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I twizzled everything around to figure out the mechanics: should I try them on like this?  I quickly realised this was physically impossible.  Should I ring the bell provided for assistance?  I soon decided none would be forthcoming, given the frosty reception I had previously received.  I chose to break the rules and snapped the plastic.  Something not all people can do.  I tried every bra I had selected on.  Some – in the size I had guessed – were a reasonable fit.  They were comfortable, even.  They weren’t the type of bras you’d see strut down a runway, or in a fashion spread, but I was also going for day-to-day practicality rather than sexbomb on this occasion, so I was willing to ignore that fact.

What I wasn’t willing to ignore was the complete lack of customer service I was receiving from a high street retailer.  And shops wonder why the internet is winning!  I got dressed, having completed my research, hung the bras up on the rail by the fitting room entrance and walked away, vowing never to darken the door of Marks and Spencer for so much as a pair of socks ever again (which is a shame, because their thermal socks helped me survive last winter and their socks with the fluffy padded ankles and toes get me through the rest of the year).

Customer service: -5/5
Fit: 3/5
Value for money: 1/5 (due to poor service)

Bra stop the second: Leia
Unfortunately, the town I was in that fateful Sunday has very few decent options when it comes to bras (as demonstrated by the above!) so I had to persist with my old no-longer-faithfuls for another week, before I had the opportunity to seek out another shopping experience.  I decided that department stores weren’t the way to go – I needed real help from experts in order to feel satisfied and shell out for some decent goods.

Having prepared myself via means of caffeination, I headed to a shop I hadn’t tried before.  Oh happy day, I did not have to ask for help, assistance was volunteered by a member of staff (remember, I work in retail, I am admittedly a picky customer).  She whizzed me straight to the fitting room, asked what I was looking for, what size I was wearing and took a look at me.  She agreed that I needed a smaller band size, but her guess was that I’d require a 34F, not an E.  I was shocked, but decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

I was presented with a bra which matched my brief, tried it on and…well, hello glass slipper!  The bra fitted perfectly.  The sales assistant returned to check the fit for me, made sure I was properly in the bra and comfortable, then asked if I needed anything else.  I was slightly reeling from the experience of suddenly jumping two cup sizes, so I decided that I needed to go and take stock of my underwear drawer before making too many purchases.

Having bought the bra I tried on, I went to another shop for different items…and swiftly returned to Leia, having realised that my underwear drawer would require a total overhaul.  I tried on a different bra (as I had additional requirements!) and again, a sales assistant helped me to fit it and made sure it was the right one.

Sadly, the “fun” and “glamorous” end of the shop’s range wasn’t really pushing my buttons this time, so I stuck with a nude t-shirt bra (to add to the black t-shirt bra I’d previously purchased) and was on my way.  But I’ll be keeping an eye on what they have in stock, and was quick to recommend the store to a friend who is a similar size to me…

Customer service: 5/5
Fit: 6/5
Value for money: 4/5

Bra stop the third: Victoria’s Secret
VS cops a LOT of flak on both sides of the pond, but I’ve had some great experiences in there.  First pro of VS: it’s fun – it’s not short on colour, sparkle, glamour and atmosphere.  Yes, it’s like shopping in a nightclub (though without the sticky floor and dry ice), it’s very very dark.  But it’s well-staffed and, although the merchandising could be better, once you know what you’re doing, it’s straightforward (just frustrating that they rarely have all colourways in stock in all sizes).

Having been re-sized, I knew the VS range wasn’t going to fit me very well any more (they generally only stock to a D cup, with some ranges going to DD or DDD), but I was desperate for something fun, so thought I’d try a few bras on.  I repeated my M&S smash and grab, not being too fussy about colour at first, I was just trying for fit.  As I knew the cups would likely be too small, I avoided anything with too much padding or push up (which made me a little sad – I’ve had some great push ups from VS, even though it’s not something I really need) and headed for the fitting room.

The fitting room was well-staffed, I was shown to a room and left in peace, with the offer of help if I needed it.  I worked my way through my selection, trying the different styles.  Unsurprisingly, two of the five gave me some definite “four boob” (where there’s too much breast for the cup and you spill over the tops), but some of the roomier styles weren’t as bad as they might have been.  It was tempting to go back up to a 36 and see what happened, but I decided not to tease myself, and returned to the shop floor armed with my findings to have another look.

I returned to the fitting room, figured out which of my choices felt best and decided to get the opinion of the sales assistant, partly to see whether they confirmed what I knew or tried something else!  The girl who helped agreed with my assessment (and commented that she liked the colour of the one I’d chosen).  It’s tough – the cynic in me thinks she was upselling, as I know the bra could’ve fitted a touch better, but when all you’re dealing with is the range you have available…was she in a position to know any better?  Possibly not.

Customer service: 3/5 (this would actually be a 4/5 for the store staff, but see below for what drags the company as a whole down)
Fit: 1/5 (sad but true)
Value for money: -1/5 (VS, who are you trying to kid with your “charge the same number in Sterling as you do in Dollars” strategy?)

I wanted to go through the good points first, but now it’s time to throw some constructive criticism at VS – I would really love the people in charge to listen to this, because I think this store is good, but it could be so much better (and, get this, more profitable) if those in charge listened.

  1. We do not feel like Xtina in Burlesque in your dressing rooms, we feel like we forgot to pay our electricity bill and it’s December. We want to see ourselves in your products, so that we know what we look like!  We cannot do that when we feel like we’re wearing filter category four sunglasses.  Yes, you have a brand; no, we don’t actually want to get dressed in the dark
  2. Repeat after me: big breasts deserve pretty bras. More cup and back sizes = more customers = more sales.  If you even think about charging more for sizes above a 34C, we will turn tail and run, and we will take the lovely A and B cup ladies with us because, guess what?  Stores like Leia stock everything from a AA to a…well, I don’t know, but I definitely heard mention of K cups when I was in there.  Leave the chicken fillet-filled B cups for your Christmas meat market show and give the high street the E+ cups it needs
  3. Linked to the above: cut it out with the security tag obsession. I admitted that your bras don’t fit me all that well, but the tags hinder things even further.  I was thisclose to asking your lovely staff to take them off, but I honestly thought they’d say no, so didn’t bother.  This too, will be making you lose sales (see a pattern, here?)
  4. This is the most important point, so please listen carefully: IT IS 2015. Stop insulting the UK and crippling your staff by failing to allow them to order stock in, and not allowing us to shop online (in fact, not even having your range online in UK prices is a heinous crime too).  Get yourselves a UK distribution centre STAT.  How you’ve survived this long with a placeholder website is beyond me.  Why you aren’t keeping your costs low and your profits high by offering online shopping is also mind-bogglingly stupid.  The UK loves VS, as do all of the tourists who visit us.  You’re an aspirational, cool, sexy brand with masses of appeal.  And you’re sticking a machine gun to your foot on a daily basis

Marks and Spencer, this advice is for you:

  1. Hire a new Head of Lingerie who has run a successful store before. Give your staff products they can be proud of and the confidence to fit and sell them.  Jump on the VS bandwagon and take the advice I have given them (well, you already have a website, so you’re ahead there.  One less thing to do).  Alternatively:
  2. Stop selling bras. I mean it when I say I’m not buying another sock from you.  I will find fluffy socks somewhere else.  And no-VPL pants (because, damn, they are good, but I will hunt down some other ones now).  Admittedly, I may continue to buy the odd bottle of Prosecco or a sandwich.  But you really can forget the rest, unless you seriously change.  My experience was utterly diabolical and, like many British women, I have been buying your bras since I first needed one

After two arduous shopping trips and one long blog post, I feel relieved.  Anyone care to share their own experiences?  If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please go ahead and ask – as you can probably now tell, this is a topic I’m not shy about!

Product review – Berlei riding bra

Being quite famously attached to my Panache sports bras, I was sceptical about trying the Berlei one, but I needed a nude-coloured bra for the summer, and the Panache doesn’t come in nude. Time to push my comfort zone (quite literally!) and give Berlei a whirl.
In addition to being brand-loyal, the other reason I was suspicious of the Berlei is because it doesn’t look much like a sports bra. It looks very much like an everyday t-shirt bra, particularly in the nude version. I visited the Less Bounce stand at Total Confidence Live to try a bra on, and was perfectly advised by the staff (although I am a slightly confusing case, as I wear the same size in sports and everyday bras – most women are different): the advice was to go up a cup size, as the Berlei comes up small in the cup, and the advisor was spot on. The bra fit like an absolute glove, but I was still suspicious that it wouldn’t offer a sport-level of support. But, a nude sports bra was what I needed, so I decided to buy it and give it a fair trial – my logic was that, if it didn’t work out exactly, I’d save it and purely wear it on the occasions where it was absolutely necessary (I mostly wear dark clothes around horses, which means the vivid Panache colours aren’t a problem).

Well, I’m delighted to say that I’m having to eat my words! I worse the Berlei the following weekend, ran around doing ground work and therapy sessions, had a ride (albeit only in walk) and was shocked – the bra doesn’t look like much, but performs brilliantly. Having a great fit helps, but this seemingly-flimsy sports bra does actually give great support (my bust is a not-insignificantly sized 36D).

My tests continued recently with some more dynamic riding (trotting! For the first time since October!), and some very energetic ground work (having the horse I was working with canter on a circle – horsemanship-style, rather than lunging, which can involve quite a lot of leaping and running). I may be converted! I won’t be ditching the Panache, because I still love it and, although nobody knows, the fun colours are great, in addition to the fit and function. But the Berlei is surprisingly brilliant. Supportive, comfortable, easy to wear… what’s not to love? I’m yet to be swayed by riding underwear – I think they’re a total swizz and am more than happy to wear everyday underwear for riding (also because I have quite a selection, catering for any occasion or outfit, and have yet to find a set I wouldn’t ride in), but the necessity for sports bras is clear.

Life has again demonstrated that we shouldn’t disregard things without trying them. Lesson – comfortably – learned!

For the sake of clarity, this review hasn’t been sponsored in any way – I paid for my bra and am happy to declare it worth every penny.

The Perfume Society Discovery Box

For one reason and another, this post is much-delayed, but it’s here at last!  One of my Christmas presents was a subscription to The Perfume Society, which is a great little club offering all sorts of exclusive events and news to “perfumistas”.  In addition to year-round events and online magazines, subscribers get a “Discovery Box” when they join!  Variations on this box are also released throughout the year (as I’m on a budget at the moment, I’ve had to seriously restrain myself from buying two already!), but the original one is designed as a kind of starter kit.

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The box is beautifully-presented, and arrived prior to Christmas, in addition to my personalised membership card.  The box contains: blotters (for testing perfumes on) and instructions on how best to use them; a lovely little notebook; several fragrance samples, along with “smelling notes” cards for each one; a travel-sized hand cream sample (we all know how much I like to look after my hands!)

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the goodies! Testers, notebook, blotters and “smelling notes”

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a new favourite for me? These testers are all defined as florals, my go-to fragrance category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent a few days the other week testing out all of the perfumes on the blotters and myself – I decided to smell the blotter without reading the relevant note card, to see how good my sense of smell actually is.  Unsurprisingly, the answer is “not great”!  Beyond “I like this” or “I wouldn’t wear this”, I didn’t get very far, but I tried, even if my descriptions were “smells like soap” or “reminds me of my Grandma’s house”.

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I didn’t want to like this, but I did! Even though I described it as smelling like shower gel…

 

In the interest of science, I did also try every single perfume out on myself, to further try and attune my senses.  It took a while, as I wanted to try them two at a time (one on each wrist), so had to make sure it was a day that I wasn’t going anywhere!  It’s great to try fragrances out over an entire day though, to see how they develop on you and how long they last.  I had fun trying everything out, and surprised myself a little.  I don’t think there are any fragrances in the box which I’d buy or ask for as gifts – the testing served to confirm that I’m very firmly a florals girl!  That said, there were a few florals in the box, but none of them really grabbed me (in fact, I was actively disappointed by the Chloe fragrance, as I’d heard great things about it).  It was exciting nonetheless, and a gift I loved “playing” with – something very grown up on the outside, but allowing me the chance to be a big kid and do something I enjoy.

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Dali Wild: I thought this smelled like a pine cleaning product at first, but it developed a little clearer and reminded me of cucumber water.

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I was a little underwhelmed – I have another Versace fragrance which I enjoy, so perhaps why I was unimpressed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once I’m more settled again financially, I’m sure I’ll treat myself or someone else to a box later in the year (they’re £10 each for subscribers, £15 for non-subscribers but unfortunately only able to ship within the UK due to liquid restrictions), and I look forward to learning more and trying more things out.  It was a nice surprise too that not all of the fragrances were little tester vials, but some were miniature bottles, so that you get more fragrance and a beautiful dainty replica of the real deal.  If anyone needs me, I’ll be busy whipping out blotters and sniffing my wrists…

War paint

Despite growing up as a comprehensively “girly girl”, I don’t identify in that type to the point where my makeup kit involves a trowel.  My attitude towards cosmetics is actually more trepidation than anything else: I think many girls form lifelong habits in their teens, and in my world, it was the “pretty” girls who wore makeup daily, whereas I was in the “bookish” (I hate words like geeky and nerdy) category.  I didn’t feel able to compete with them, or that it was necessary, so for the most part I stayed away from beauty products.

Another thing I dislike is the world’s tendency to blame the Internet for everything, but in this case, it is one of the causes.  When I was at university, I realised that I stood out the morning after in night before group shots on Facebook, because I still had a shiny red face in the middle of sweaty clubs and bars, whereas my friends looked serene to the point of being Photoshopped.  And that’s when I realised one of the transformative powers of a full face of makeup.

I began to experiment with foundation, blusher and later bronzer as a way of enhancing my natural complexion for nights out.  Another reason I’d managed to resist previously where friends hadn’t is that I was blessed with pretty impeccable skin (I had to get something good in the genetic lottery!), so I’d never felt the need to spend hours covering blemishes and imperfections, though I did quickly figure out how to look less like a glowing tomato.

Towards the end of the fixed term of my first events job, I had to stand next to the pretty (read: heavily made up) girls again.  We worked with some serious promo girls for a few events, and I started to feel like the bookish one again, so I decided it was time to learn about game face.  The first time I wore a full face of makeup for a day at work, I was disgusted at how much it lengthened my morning routine by, but I found myself with my shoulders a little further back and my head higher.  I still didn’t look like the other girls – I didn’t want to – but I felt more confident, protected and assured.

I can’t see myself being the girl who sits at the dressing table applying primer, concealer, base, highlighter, shadows and bronzer on a daily basis – because at heart I am, after all, a horse girl and horses, mercifully, really do not care what you’ve got on your face – although given my changes of heart in the past, I’d never say never.  But I have recognised and harnessed the transformative effect cosmetics have.  If I’m going to an interview, or have an important day (date?) planned, I’ll make the extra effort.  Sometimes – more when I worked in events, because I get that feeling these days, but won’t bother for the horses – I’ll wake up feeling less than stellar, and before I even get out of bed and look in the mirror, I know I’ll be reaching for my trusty CC cream as a pick me up.

On the days when I use it for an extra boost, that really is what my makeup gives me – once I’ve got my face on, I feel a jolt which is often far more powerful than the strongest caffeine I’ve ingested (and this from the girl who was a barista for several years and used gelatinous confectionery to get through her degree).  The effect doesn’t normally last all day – in fact, I’m still the girl who forgets after a while and itches or rubs her face, ruining the overall look somewhat… – but it’s enough to get me started.

Broadly speaking, I have three faces:

The real deal
This is how the horses, people in the newsagent/butcher/post office and anyone who finds me at home on a day when I don’t have to be sociable will see me – bare-faced.  On the days when I don’t feel the need to enhance myself, I’ll sometimes look after what’s there – face mask, eye cream, whatever I feel needs doing (there’s something really satisfying about peeling off a pore strip and checking out the results… or is that just me?).  There’s just no need.  Nobody cares.  I even forgo my beloved perfume…

The little extras
For my average day, I’ll start with my brow kit, then reach for mascara, under eye concealer, bronzer and maybe some primer (just on the worst spots of my face, rather than going for a full layer of foundation).  Finished off with one of my favourite fragrances, I’m soon ready to go.

The full monty
Important occasions or down days mean the entire arsenal comes out and I spend more like ten whole minutes on putting my face together.  The routine evolves occasionally (my favourite top tip is to do your eyes first, rather than your base: eye makeup nearly always involves dust/residue falling on other parts of your face, which you must tidy up and, if you’ve already done your foundation, that then needs a re-touch.  So reverse the steps and you solve the problem).  So it’s brows, concealer, primer, mascara, eye shadow (and maybe highlighter), CC cream, bronzer and lip gloss.  These kind of days probably warrant one of the more special perfumes too.

Some people are okay with giving themselves a pep talk, others among us get our confidence from a bottle.  I say: whatever works, and if you catch me in the full monty, you now know that it means you’re either worth the effort or I needed picking up.

Wordless Wednesday – festive outfits

As I did last winter, I’m working in retail at the moment.  My dress code at work is “anything black” (plus company-provided apron).  Sequins, glitter, appropriately festive kit… it’s all allowed.  So last year, I ensured I possessed a Christmas jumper, and have kept it for this year… as well as adding to my collection.  And during the final weekend before Christmas and on Christmas Eve, well I just go for broke and add headgear.  Because subtlety doesn’t normally get you very far.

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This Friday (12 December) is Save the Children’s annual Christmas Jumper day – wear your Christmas jumper and donate to a great cause.  More information can be found here, let’s spread some joy!  I’d love to see what my readers’ jumpers are like

Wordless Wednesday: fashion superhero

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how much I love my winter coat (or, to be more accurate, my cape), and I promised a picture.  It’s not a great one, as I had to employ the use of a mirror in order to take this selfie, but I adore this thing.

I bought my cape the winter I graduated when I wanted a smart, comfortable, but more fashionable coat which was suitable for work.  It felt expensive at the time (I think it was about £75, which isn’t a lot of money, given that it’s now seeing a fifth winter!), but it’s one of the best clothing purchases I’ve ever made.  I’ve cared for it lovingly, had the buttons sewn back on more times than I can count, and relish ripping off the dry cleaning cover at the start of each winter.

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