Style tricks for new mums
When you're limited on time you don't have the luxury of thinking about what to wear - but a smart wardrobe strategy means you can still look great, writes Claire O'Mahony
There's a uniformity to everyone's New Year's resolutions and quite often they centre on getting healthy, losing weight, sorting out your finances, ditching a bad habit or the vaguer but heartfelt desire to "be a better person". Perhaps smartening up your sartorial act this year is one of yours and while it doesn't sound like as onerous a task as getting in shape to run a marathon, when you're a new mother, it can seem just as daunting as planning to scale Everest.
Lack of time and often money and low energy levels mean that how you look is not a priority but at the same time, it's undeniable that when you feel relatively confident about your appearance, you generally feel better about yourself.
"The key thing for a woman is that she needs to be comfortable. She needs to not put herself under pressure and I think women are very hard on themselves," says Maria Macklin, House of Colour Monaghan and Louth image consultant. The mother of four provides colour analysis and style development classes for clients, which look at body shape, body proportions as well as personality and says that it's all about being visible for the right reasons.
Knowing what colours work for you is the starting point. "When you're in your right colours, the worst you will look is good," she says. "When you're a busy mother, shopping in your colours means you shop more quickly, you spend less money as well as spending less time deciding what to wear."
Another of her beliefs is that women need to dress for their body shapes. "Lots of women forget that they have a waist but if you put on a tent or an all-covering garment, it generally adds bulk where you don't need it to. If your pregnancy stomach hasn't gone yet, you can camouflage that with print, or some drapes so that there is a ruche at the side, drawing the eyes there rather than to the front of the body."
Most of us, she says, wear about 15pc of our wardrobe, 5pc of the time, and this is where a well-planned capsule wardrobe makes sense.
Maria suggests to never venture clothes shopping without making a list first and likens unplanned retail excursions to 'grazing'. "We never go food shopping without a list," she points out. "It means taking stock of what you have; seeing where the gaps are and if you look at the capsule wardrobe (see panel above), this is where you start ensuring you have everything you need. I had a client recently who went home and took stock of her wardrobe and realised that she had 25 tops, all exactly in same style in different colours, and her comment to me was that she had been grazing rather than having a full meal."
The notion of a capsule wardrobe - whereby you pare back your wardrobe to timeless essentials that you love to wear - is a very seductive one but its components will vary from person to person. A white shirt is regularly touted as being a key part of everyone's capsule wardrobe but Maria advises that white doesn't work for everybody.
"Choose cream over white because cream is softer," she says. "For the same reasons, choose navy over black because it's a softer colour and less harsh. There's a navy in everybody's colour palette but not always a black. Everybody has a set of neutral colours and it's useful to know what your neutrals are because once you know these, they go with everything else in your wardrobe. Everyone should have a good coat in a neutral colour because sometimes that's all people will see and you can throw it over whatever your baby has dribbled down your front."
In order to make your wardrobe work harder, it's important not to forget about accessories, which according to Maria are your points of interest. "A good set of two or three scarves to wear with that coat will make it look different every time and people will think you have three different coats instead of three different scarves that go with the same coat," she says.
Accessories add authority to your clothes, something which has its antecedents in medieval times and sumptuary laws, where what you were and weren't allowed to wear depended on your social status - the more adornment, the greater the social ranking.
"This is why when you see somebody in a very structured jacket, with necklace, earrings and good hair, they carry a lot more authority than someone who walks in wearing an unstructured pair of trousers and a t-shirt," she says. "A necklace, for example, protects your jugular and shows that you're in control and nobody can 'get' you -similarly, a man wearing a shirt and tie looks more authoritative than a man in an open neck shirt. Your jacket is your armour, so the more structured that it, the more protected you are and therefore the more authority you carry."
And while she does stress the need for making that list for clothes shopping, this is not to say you can't buy something that you know will suit you, even if it's not on the list.
"It's like the store cupboard in the kitchen where we have items and although we don't use them every day, when you need them you have them there. When I see something that I know is right for me, whether it's on my list or not, I will buy it because the occasion will present itself at some point and I know I have that dress. You're not then buying under stress and when you have three or four children, you just don't have the time to buy under pressure."
FIVE of Maria's styling tips
1 Don't wear clothes that don't fit even if you are a bit bigger than you once were. Drowning in over-sized clothes is never a good look so don't worry about your size and wear clothes that fit.
2 Pick fabrics that are easy to clean and are washing-machine friendly but also feel fantastic on.
3 Get some comfy shoes in your style, so you feel relaxed but still have your identity. You will be walking lots when they are small and running lots when they are toddlers.
4 Wearing a patterned top can hide a multitude of problems from stains to feelings of bloatedness. Choose a pattern that suits your personality in colours that suit your palette.
5 Use jewellery to lift your outfit in any situation. There will be times you won't have time to sit and apply make-up for even 90 seconds before you need to dash out that door, but anyone can grab a necklace and earrings (unless of course your youngster is still at the 'pretty thing, let me grab it' stage).
Capsule wardrobe essentials
- 1 great fitting jacket
- 2 well-fitted cardigans
- 2 jeans or casual trousers
- 2 skirts in your neutrals and one in a basic colour
- 2 pairs trousers
- 8 tops — varied
- 2 dresses or tunics — can be worn lots of ways
- 1 lightweight mac
- 1 timeless winter coat
- 1 good quality stylish leather bag
- 2 good quality belts
- 5 pairs of shoes to include knee-high boots, ankle boots, heels, flats and sandals
- Jewellery in your metal