Autumn wardrobe planning – a new start for a new way of life

I might be a bit later than the back to schoolers but I certainly have a feeling of new term butterflies in my tummy this week – a mix of worry and excitement about what lies ahead. Of course for us this season (and this weekend in particular) really is a new start as we empty nest but I’m sensing that lots of people are feeling the same to some degree. When I was younger, seeing my new uniform, bag and pencil case laid out the night before a new school term used to help me feel more in control and I find that having a defined and organised capsule of clothing for the new season still gives me a similar thrum of confidence. So today I’m continuing to talk about AW21, looking particularly at what John Lewis & Partners have in store for us across their eclectic mix of brands. Autumn wardrobe planning – a new start for a new way of life

As we (hopefully) move further and further away from lockdown, it’s becoming clear that there’s been a seismic change in the way people dress. At the beginning of a new season there’s usually a rush to declare the ‘look’ but as we discussed last Friday, this year there isn’t just one. People are now really starting to own their personal style and there’s a new spirit of individualism. What’s become clear over the last few weeks though is that there’s a desire to dress up again – after months of being at home without fashion’s friction of seeing and being seen, everywhere you look you see people finding joy in thinking about what to wear again. There’s lots of colour and fluidity around, a sense that people are having fun and that clothes are echoing our gradual return to enjoying ourselves again.

However balancing this is the fact that not many people are in a hurry to move away from comfort so although I say there’s a mood for dressing up, it’s very different to classic formal looks. New retail research is suggesting that lots of women feel they’ve got to know themselves better over lockdown with the result that there’s less of a desire to follow and conform and more interest in using what you wear to define yourself.

The starting point for Autumn wardrobe planning

So it’s time for us all to think about who we are now and how that aligns with our look. The easiest place to start with that is by thinking about lifestyle. As we all know, it’s much easier to shop for the fantasy life in our heads than the one we actually lead day to day so let’s put a lid on that straightaway. Instead ask yourself what you’re going to be spending most of your time doing over the months ahead? Has your life changed? Are you going back to the office or are you going to be working from home? If/when you’re not working, how do your days map out?

If you take me as an example, my life is changing significantly because we’re taking the youngest to uni on Sunday (she says sticking her fingers in her ears and refusing to think about that final drop-off). I’m trying really hard to focus on the upsides of the empty nest and there are some. Because we live in the sticks, for the last few years as the boys’ social lives have blossomed ours have been clipped by the need to be available for lifts. It’s made it difficult both to plan ahead and be spontaneous but now we won’t have any of that so our calendar is filling up with theatre dates, concerts, music festivals and trips away. It means that my wardrobe is going to need a much stronger smart casual element to it – and an ‘out out’ one too (hurray!).

There will be no point in cooking a Sunday roast for two so we’ll be making the most of our Lake District landscape and cosy pubs so I’ll need more relaxed casualwear as well. And just this little bit of ‘lifescaping’ gives me direction when I see the dazzling new ranges come in because I’m always immediately drawn to the chic city workwear but I just don’t need very much of that right now. So before you start shopping, do an inventory of your own lifestyle. Hopefully there are no more lockdowns ahead but if there are, I’m sure we all have enough cosy leisurewear to last for a season. This Autumn it’s time to refresh what are probably the more neglected aspects of your wardrobe – coats, ‘out out’ tops to wear with jeans, maybe ‘out out’ shoes with a bit of a heel, new trouser shapes (wide legs are in) and knitwear that will lift your spirits on a chilly day.

Autumn wardrobe planning with John Lewis & Partners

Let’s move on and have a look at the John Lewis & Partners’ approach to all of this. They’re calling this season ‘the comeback’ which I think captures the mood brilliantly. As they did for Summer, they’ve produced a really good lifestyle shoot and it’s something I hope they continue with because it’s so interesting seeing their stylists mix and match the different brands that they have in store. The mood is relaxed but joyful and rather than running to a specific style theme, they’ve created outfits that work for all kinds of different women’s styles. I’m going to show you some of my favourite looks but bear in mind that some of these are previews featuring clothes that will arrive any day. For clarity I’ve marked them with ‘coming soon’ and a link to where you’ll find them when they land.

The tank top

I really love this one. I mentioned last week that the tank top is back – and yes I’m calling it a tank top even though the street-stylers say sweater vest because I remember it so well from the 80s. It takes me straight back to a particular moment after after an O Level exam when I wore a tank top for the first time. I was sitting against a sunbaked wall in the school quad with my best friend Deb our skirts rolled up to our thighs and Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” blaring out on her (banned) transistor radio.

As ever, I digress but yes, tank tops are a shortcut to happiness for me and this one is great – neatly cut on the shoulders (watch out for that) and fitting in with the Alpine theme with its cable knit. It’s a very easy way to update your look for Autumn and it’s versatile, you can wear it with jeans (see how good it looks here with pale denim), skirts or over dresses.

Great looks for women over 50

White Frilled Pintuck Blouse; Wide legged Jeans; Blue Tank top  – Coming Soon

Warm textured fabrics – cord

Moving on, cord has been making its way back for the last few winters and it’s really arrived now. Lots of brands have devoted large parts of their collections to it and it’s partly a response to the demand for sustainability because not only can it be produced from organic cotton but it has great longevity, getting better with every wash. And hurray for another cord shirtdress, this is a good option for you if you steer away from frills and volume. Khaki is always strong in Autumn but this year you’ll see even more of it around along with olive, moss and emerald green.

what to wear over 50 2021

Cord Shirt Dress – Coming Soon; Boots

Zoom standout

Lots of people are still relying heavily on Zoom and so big collar details are here for another season. This one has been elevated a step further with the use of a fluffy animal print cardigan for extra standout.

Autumn looks 2021

Collar Blouse (blue option arriving soon); Boyfriend Jeans; Cardigan – Coming Soon


Boilersuits, the more relaxed sibling of the jumpsuit, are here to stay. This one with its solid dye and neat fit is particularly strong because it doesn’t veer into garage mechanic territory. Metallics are going to be huge as we get closer to party season and so this silver bag is a good buy, I love the way it pops against the column of black.

AW21 trends

Boilersuit – Coming Soon; Leather Camera Bag; Western Boots

Slinky midi-skirts

This is such an easy look. You’ll find that there are a lot of animal print midi-skirts around this season as an alternative to florals and they’re often in a slip skirt style which is great for anyone who avoids volume on their lower half. To balance the look, the loose knitted hoodie gives it a relaxed edge.

Autumn wardrobe planning

V neck hooded jumper; Animal Midi Skirt

The shacket

I gave a silent cheer when I saw this shacket because it’s the first one I’ve seen so far this season with a neat rather than oversized fit. It’s also in a soft fabric so it will mould more closely to your body, giving you more shape than the usual stiff canvas or twill. The trousers are a jogger hybrid with the more formal element of a stitched crease (a personal love of mine as you know) and yet they still have an elasticated waist. Great trainers too – it’s hard to find a good pair in navy.

Autumn wardrobe planning - a new start for a new way of life

Shacket – Coming Soon; Cardigan; Joggers; Trainers

Knitted dresses

Knitted dresses are another huge trend this season – they’re soft, relaxed and comfortable so they fit in with the mood and this is in one of the key Autumn colours. It’s a wool blend so it shouldn’t be itchy and it has a midi-length with side splits to enable you to walk easily in it.

Autumn wardrobe planning

Wool Dress


This is rapidly becoming a classic look because it’s so easy to wear. A floral midi-dress in warm Autumn colours, made from sustainable viscose – it has a lovely, fluid dipped hem which makes it easier to wear with ankle boots because it avoids the calf-thickening ‘chopped off lines’ look.

Autumn wardrobe planning - a new start for a new way of life

Midi Dress – Coming Soon


Denim jackets are an easy way of adding light layers at this time of year and ivory is always more versatile than blue. Some shackets are much longer this season (I’m not sure if that makes them shoats) but they’re going to be great proportionally for anyone who’s looking forward to wearing a mini-skirt.

Autumn wardrobe planning - a new start for a new way of life

Ivory Shacket – Coming Soon; Cotton Blend Cardigan; Ruffle Skirt; Shacket – Coming Soon; Cross Body Bag; Floral Dress

Pleated skirts

And the pleated skirt is here to stay too, seven seasons and still going strong, this is such a simple outfit to put together.

Autumn wardrobe planning - a new start for a new way of life

Roll Neck Jumper; Cross Body Bag; Pleated Midi Skirt – Coming Soon

I think the thing that really stands out for me is that most of these outfits would take you to most places. They’re timeless and ageless and they blur the old division between the work / weekend wardrobe.

Autumn wardrobe planning – try-on

When I started writing this post, John Lewis & Partners asked me if I’d like to do a try-on of any of the new looks. Not everything had arrived so there were some pieces in the pictures I’ve already shown you that I really wanted to try (especially the tank top outfit) but it wasn’t to be. Instead it made sense to focus on outfits for the areas of my wardrobe that I’ve already highlighted: working from home, Sunday walks and relaxed evenings at the theatre or a concert.

Working from home

We’ve decided that we’re now very unlikely to go back to having city centre offices. Over lockdown we’ve developed a good way of working remotely with a bank of freelancers and we’ve found we can pull in some really talented people that we used to work with at Selfridges too if we need to. Not having the pressure of full time staff and office overheads is a relief and as we’re about to have the whole house to ourselves we can either go down to our garden office or sit in a different spot in the house every day if we feel like it.

So, if I’m not going out to meet a client I can wear whatever I like but I still prefer to have a capsule of things that immediately drive my head into gear in the mornings and you won’t be surprised to hear that jumpsuits play a large part in that. I was looking through what I have the other day and decided that if I was going to have one of those slogans in my dressing room it would have to be “you can never have enough red dresses or navy jumpsuits.” I have many iterations of both as you know – but each one makes me feel slightly different. One style that I haven’t branched into yet is the boilersuit and this is a good option. It’s made from sustainable lyocell but it feels like cotton sateen so it’s lovely next to your skin. It’s showing low stock already and this is going to be a problem everywhere you look this season I’m afraid so if you see something you like it’s best to be decisive.

Lyocell boilersuit; shearling clogs (Dining chairs, Carver chairs, benches and dining table – because someone will ask)

And now I understand why everyone went crazy over these in lockdown. I have the other big brand’s version of sheepskin slippers and I bought them because I thought they’d be softer but they don’t have the footbed to support your arch that these do. What a fabulous option for a ‘house shoe.’ Excuse the cobwebs in the well, it’s spider season so they’re really busy down there; it’s a huge job lifting the heavy toughened glass off with sucker cups without chipping the edges so they’ll have free rein until the boys are all home and we can clean it.

Shearling clogs

Moving on to the Sunday afternoon stroll and pub lunch look, I know I keep saying this but nobody does affordable knitwear as well as JL&P. This is a cotton blend so it’s comfortable to wear and even though it’s a midweight knit, it shouldn’t get too hot. I love the structure of it which is really flattering to the body – a special mention for the raglan styling on the shoulders, I get so fed up with dropped shoulders on knitwear because I don’t have the small, dainty bones that carry them off well. And it’s just the perfect shade for wearing with denim, the warm flecks in it bring it into Autumn even though azure blue is often more of a Summer look. I’m also very tempted by the black version with warm amber flecks; there’s an oatmeal one too with the colours of Autumn leaves dotted through it. I’m wearing a size 12 and it feels right.

Now I’ve looked at these jeans so many times but always been put off by the fact that they’re labelled as boyfriend jeans, a cut I avoid because the extra fabric that they usually have at the hips doesn’t do my sturdy thighs any favours. However this style doesn’t have a lot of volume, in fact they’re just a really great pair of straight leg jeans in my opinion. They have enough stretch to make them instantly comfortable and yet not so much that they’ll lose their shape. The darker dye is great for Winter because it balances the deeper colours we often wear on colder days. I know pale jeans are high trend but when I wear mine with a darker colour on top I spend the day feeling as if I’m somehow upside down. Reading the reviews they seem to work for women of all shapes and heights too so I’d give these a ten out of ten – which is rare for jeans believe me. Oh and I’m wearing a size 28 and they’re a perfect fit.

Funnel neck chevron jumper; straight leg jeans

It won’t be long before we’re needing a coat to throw on and the borg style teddy is still big this year because it’s so reliably warm and of course the texture lifts any Winter outfit. It’s also a good way of wearing a lighter coloured coat in Winter (which always looks luxe) because the bouclé doesn’t let the dirt show easily. Note how a lot of coats are worn longer this year so that they work with midi-dresses as well as jeans. This is a loose relaxed cut in the medium that I’m wearing here and I’d say it fits as it’s intended to but I would size down to a small.

Teddy coat; Funnel neck chevron jumper; straight leg jeans

And I’m finishing with a look for a play at our local arthouse theatre – we have quite a few booked for the season ahead. This skirt! I know I have a similar one in black but I’ve always wanted a navy one and finally here it is. It makes you feel like an exotic bird as you sashay along because the tulle moves with your body like plumage. I like the fact that it has a silky jersey backing so it won’t stick to your tights and ride up as you walk and I can’t help thinking how good it will be for travel too because it won’t crease. Perhaps I should have added a belt to this outfit… I have a love/hate relationship with belts because depending on where you like your skirts or trousers to sit, I find they can make your waist look thicker so I’d probably just arrange the jumper to flop over the waistband a little better. It sold out as soon as it came in but I’ve spotted some returns on the site today so if you love it as much as I do, move quickly. I’m wearing a 12 and it’s true to size.

I’ve paired it with a jumper and boots because although I do like to dress up for the theatre, it’s very informal here so I’m balancing the skirt with something less extravagant. When it comes to December I’d be adding a camisole or sparkly top and heels – all the signs are that provided we don’t have another lockdown this festive season is going to be a big one for dressing up. Anyway we’re not there yet, for now it’s just a relaxed jumper and this is yet another JL&P marvel with its lovely neckline, deep ribbed cuffs and supersoft knit. It’s midweight so it’s warm and yet not too bulky to tuck in like this…

Boatneck jumper; ruffle midi-skirt; suede boots

… but you could also wear it loose with jeans – the picture below is just to show you the deep ribbed hem, I wouldn’t wear it with the skirt like this. I’m wearing a size 10 here by the way because I wanted it to work tucked in. The boots are mine and you see me wear them constantly through the Winter. I have them in both navy and black because I love the way they work with a full skirt, the suede hugs your calf and brings the architecture back to your body. The low heel means they’re easy to walk in; they’re an investment but I’ve had mine for four years now and I’ve easily had my money’s worth out of them on a cost per wear basis. You can buy them from JL&P at the moment but be warned, they always sell out early in the season.

Boatneck jumper; ruffle midi-skirt; suede boots

So now it’s over to you to do your own Autumn wardrobe planning. Think about your own Autumn/Winter lifestyle and how you’re going to shop for it… look at where the gaps are and what will slot in with the pieces you already have. And please think of me on Sunday when we’ll be taking the youngest to Leeds and leaving him there, no doubt I’ll log the moment on Instagram. I’m managing to compartmentalise at the moment, busy getting him all packed up and yet not thinking about the fact that next week he won’t be here… none of them will. I’m sure you already know what next week’s post is likely to be about, bear with me – I know I’ll get through it but just at this moment I’m not sure quite how. I hope your weekend is far less emotional than ours is going to be and I’ll see you on the other side!

Disclosure: ‘Autumn wardrobe planning – a new start for a new way of life’ was commissioned by John Lewis & Partners but as always my interpretation of the new season collection is my own


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