Licentiate Column 31/01/13: Monochrome and How to Wear it

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l-r ASOS, Marc Jacobs, Zooey Deschanel in vintage

Sometimes a person will look at a trend as it materialises on a runway, and have a distinctly maternal reaction to it. By maternal, I don’t mean the urge to comfort and coddle whatever stern-looking tween is wearing said trend (as much as she might need it). That’s a bit creepy.

This is maternal in the Irish Mammies sense, which is the unwanted thought explosion of “Mother of Jesus, she’ll get a cold in her kidneys/I wouldn’t let any daughter of mine wear THAT at the table/My Jimmy had a pair of dungarees like that when he was small, didn’t he?”. The Irish Mammies reaction is one borne out of incredulity – and there’s enough of that going around for all of us these days without even touching on the Prada flipflop/sock/wedge combo that Elle Fanning is so enamoured with.

One trend which may not put the scares up your mammy is monochrome. Black and white, worn together, in one item or in separates. It’s just that simple. “Sure, Father O’Reilly down the way has been wearing that kind of stuff for years and I always said what a distinguished looking man he was” should be a typical Mammy reaction – either that or “You’re looking a bit pale, you’d want to get a bit of colour into you”. Any owner of an Irish Mammy, whether real or as the voice of reason in your head, knows that once the ‘looking pale’ card gets whipped out, all bets are off and you have automatically lost whatever argument is to be had.

Ignore her. She does not know that monochrome is for all skin types. It is especially suited to very pale or very dark skin, giving a slightly unnerving checkerboard look if done correctly.

The easiest way to wear monochrome is a combo of black trousers and white shirt. Unfortunately, you may have to deflect unwanted male attention. Don’t worry – it’s not unwanted sexual advances you’ll be dodging, it’s orders for a rare steak and a bottle of Pinot P’lonk, thanks. Because, of course, you look like a waiter. Reclaiming the look from the service industry is made easier with the application of heels, liberal amounts of jewellery and a kick-ass black jacket that says, “I take no (food or drink) orders from no man”.

Of course, you may not want to wear what looks like a sombre suit, and that’s more than ok. Thanks to Marc Jacobs and Chanel, whose Spring/Summer 2013 shows were chock-a-block with monochromatic dresses in stripes, zig zags, chevrons and trippy Op-Art inspired prints, there is a monochrome tone for everyone. If you have an urge of go all Gallic and channel Brigitte Bardot in a horizontally striped tee, you can. If you want to make the maximum impact and look like a living magic eye picture, you can do that too.

It’s a trend that is brilliantly versatile in its simplicity. Pick two neutral colours, and wear them however you like. It could not be easier. If only we could see all other aspects of our lives in such black and white terms.

Licentiate Column 29/11/12: Vouchers for All, and to All a Good Night

Vouchers don’t always provoke this response, you know.

It is now the last week of November, so we have reached the third stage in the hellish Advent calendar titled ‘The Run-up to Christmas’. This is the part where you start to feel guilty about not having bought any presents yet – surprisingly, this is a good place to be. We still have another three stages to go, the final one culminating in fighting with panicked Secret Santa-ers over the last Ted Baker sock set in TK Maxx.

I am duty-bound to tell you what kind of party clothes to wear (sparkly over sheer) and what kind of lingerie to buy for your significant other (sheer over sparkly) but, in truth, the best Christmas present to buy pretty much anyone is a voucher (my preference is Amazon, being mercifully bereft of sheer or sparkly stuff).

It is hard to wrap a voucher – or surprisingly easy, depending on your outlook. On asking my sister for an Amazon voucher, she instead asked for a list of books that I wanted so she could wrap them herself. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to me when I could have just bought them myself with my voucher. Then again, I probably just need a Christmas special to warm my cold, dead heart.

They may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but I love getting vouchers as gifts. I am such a persnickety, contrary person that it’s often hard for loved ones to choose something for me. I also suffer from a condition known as ‘Weird Boob and Leg-itis’ which means that I’m such a strange shape that clothes rarely fit the way they should. If you need help with which vouchers to buy for who, I’m here for you.

The Cover All Bases Person – The Secret Santa person, the person who has eclectic but decidedly mainstream tastes, the vaguely trendy male cousins, the friend who is so worryingly preoccupied with her dress size that you are now scared to ask what it is – get an ASOS voucher. For those not in the know, ASOS is a global shopping platform with its own mainline range as well as a glut of other retailers. You can also support vintage sellers and just-got-started designers in their Marketplace section.

The Person Who’s Always Banging on About Needing Thermal Underwear – Marks and Spencer. People who think about thermals also think quite frequently about comfort food (I am one of these people) and Marks has an admirable selection of both.

The College Student – Topshop. Is an explanation necessary?

The Person Who has Recently Decided to Dress Like a Grown-Up - There is a crossroads in a woman’s life at the intersection of ‘Good Quality’ and ‘But I don’t Have Any Money’ and Cos is the recently-constructed bypass. The Swedish label sells its wares in Brown Thomas, so buy a BT voucher and point her in the right direction come January sales time.

For everyone else – a book token. Fashion can’t be the solution to every problem (but God knows at least I’m trying).