Well hello! As promised it’s a bit of a catch-up today and then I have a lovely cornucopia of emerging brands run by midlife women for you. With work and the boys coming home and the various bits of travelling we’ve been doing, 2023’s felt a bit like a bobsleigh ride so far and I have all kinds of things I’ve been meaning to talk about here. I’m warning you now that this is quite a long one, in fact I have too much for one post so I’ll do another cornucopia next week but before I go on to reviews, let’s start with a whistle stop tour through my camera roll.
Midlife lately catch-up, highlights from the last few weeks
1970s fancy dress party
This was right at the beginning of March, the weekend after we got back from Kenya. We were heading out to a party and as I’m sure you can guess, the theme was disco. Mal loves any kind of fancy dress as you know so he’d gone for full-on Saturday Night Fever. I’m usually less enthusiastic but I was happy here because I finally had the chance to wear a pair of trousers that I’d bought for festival season in the ill fated year that was 2020. You’ve seen the shirt quite a few times before, it’s one of my night out favourites but usually worn less alarmingly with jeans. The sandals are the ones I mentioned from Hush last week. After just one wear most of the gold had rubbed off at the toes and admittedly I did dance a lot because it was a night of fabulous music… but not enough to burn through my shoes! My complaint is proving a bit tricky because I bought them from John Lewis rather than Hush direct but we’ll see how it goes.
Free People sequin shirt, festival trousers both past season; Platform sandals
We sent this to the boys for the pure joy of making them cringe but I’m just adding it because although I’ll keep them in my arsenal, I won’t have many chances to wear these trousers and I do love the rainbow effect.
And perhaps I should try harder to play the Instagram game of approval but people either like me or they don’t. I’d worn that skirt all day for a big planning session with a retailer and nobody had batted an eyelid. We have to keep challenging this pervasive ageism – nobody has the authority to say what anyone else can or can’t wear. And of course that stands for what anyone chooses to wear, regardless of age.
This was the following morning – those of you who’ve stayed at our Baltic Nest will know what a lovely view there is from this window and the sun always seems to shine on The Tyne when we’re there. Don’t forget we rent it out exclusively to readers of Midlifechic – you can find the details here.
Boden silk blouse AW18; White Stuff tank top SS22; Me+Em jeans SS21; Boden boots AW20
Mum-in-law called to tell us that she was too busy to see us that day – she had an afternoon of bingo with friends ahead and felt she’d be too tired by the time she’d finished so it left us with an unexpectedly free day. We had our first outdoor lunch – this was the weekend when it was cold and snowy but there’s a riverside container bar just a five minute walk from the flat that has brilliant street food stalls, great music and lovely warm braziers burning. It feels strangely Dickensian as you huddle next to the fire and look out across the river.
Boden coat past season
Then we wandered up through Newcastle’s lovely centre…
Boden coat, Me + Em jeans, Boden boots all past season
… and finally found time to visit the Great North Museum. I was hoping for a spot of local history but strangely it has very little to do with the great North – we walked in to be greeted with elephants and giraffes which felt a bit surreal having just arrived home from our safari.
Boden coat, Me + Em jeans, Boden boots all past season
We finished with a trip to Everyman to see the wonderful Emma Thompson in What’s Love Got To Do With It – one to watch when you can. She’s such a midlife icon.
And this is the next morning – the Sunday market spreads the length of the Quayside with lots of different stalls and there’s more great street food of every kind. A Geordie banger on a stick is always a good way to start the day and we stocked up on freshly baked goodies to take over to Mal’s mum.
Whistles camel coat; John Lewis scarf (both past season); Flared jeans; Trainers
We spent the rest of the morning with her, she continues to have good days and not so good ones. We seem to be quite lucky with the Alzheimer’s and Dementia at the moment, it isn’t progressing too quickly and she says she quite likes the hallucinations that come with Lewy Body – she feels she has the company of Mal’s dad quite often which she finds comforting. So here she was cheerful but in a lot of pain with her back and legs – it’s a stage I remember with my own parents where it’s hard to keep on top of the different health problems. She was pleased to see her boy though.
I think you’ve already seen this photo in a jeans post but we had a late lunch with the middle one and caught up with all of his Newcastle news, then headed home for another week of work.
Whistles camel coat; Boden cashmere jumper ( past season); Flared jeans; Trainers
Work, I’m quite sure, is something you don’t want to hear about. I know some of you ask for more work outfits but I’m a compartmentalist and tend to forget to take them when I’m busy. Here’s one though. A two day train strike meant that we had a bit of jiggery pokery if we were to have the weekend in London that we’d planned so we carried on from a meeting in the Midlands and booked a hotel in Buckhurst Hill (Essex) for the night. I’m just telling you because if the strikes don’t stop, this is a great way of managing a London trip – you can leave your car at the station there for less than £4 a day and take the Central Line straight into the West End.
It was quite nice immersing ourselves in the Friday night of a London suburb and as we watched the visible relief of the commuters pouring out of the station, it took us back to our old days. Now that the boys are older and life would be easier for them if they had a safety net closer to London, I sometimes find myself wondering if our 2004 relocation was the right decision. It’s good to return to the snarl of the city’s perimeter – however pretty some of the clusters are, it reminds me that we made the best choice for us.
So back to the Friday work outfit – another mini. Just because.
Jaeger coat, Boden jumper and skirt, LK Bennett boots all past season
Saturday lunchtime now, we’d left the car and travelled to Stratford where I’d booked us in at The Gantry. Now there’s a lovely London hotel – one of the best I’ve stayed in for a long time. Great design, the most comfortable beds and pillows ever and a cool rooftop bar – it would be particularly good for a shopping weekend because it’s right next to Westfield.
John Lewis coat; Boden jumper; Me+Em jeans all past season; Trainers
We made a pilgrimage to our old home on Oxford Street – now that the Westons have left and our own former MD is back in the mix it’s fascinating to see Selfridges slowly regaining its warmth and soul. As I’m sure you can tell this isn’t Selfridges though – it’s just proof for M&S fans that I do take you seriously when you rave about their jeans – but however many versions I try, they don’t work for my body shape.
John Lewis coat; Boden jumper; Me+Em jeans all past season; Trainers
The main point of being in London though was this. A few weeks earlier I’d worked out that we’d see each of our boys on different weekends in March but the one when we wouldn’t catch up with any of them was Mother’s Day weekend. It was going to be the first time that I’d ever spent it without either my own mum or my children so Mal asked me what I’d like to do. I was determined to avoid any Mother’s Day venues and Abba Voyage sprung to mind. It was another chance to wear a pre-lockdown outfit that still had the tickets attached. I bought it from an online festival pop-up that doesn’t exist any more but one of you who saw my Instagram Story found it online – not with a retailer that has very good values in terms of sustainability and it costs double what I paid for it but I’ll link it for you anyway.
I was asked lots of questions on Instagram about whether to dress up or not, what to wear if you do and asking ‘is Abba Voyage really worth it?’ so here are my thoughts. As far as dressing up is concerned I’d say that more than half of the people make an effort and I think it helps you to get straight into the spirit of it. If you’re dressed up you find people immediately start talking to you and that’s unusual for London. We made friends on The Tube as you can see below and as we were walking through the stations, people who weren’t heading towards Abba still smiled and quipped, “I wonder where you’re going” or “can we come?” The crowd is mostly midlife couples or midlife mums with daughters and the occasional, slightly bewildered looking son. A lot of the women I spoke to had been given their tickets as a Christmas gift by their older children – a Mother’s Day weekend together to look forward to… and I thought I’d avoided it!
You aren’t allowed to take photos when the show begins but this is what the arena looks like inside. It’s quite spectacular given that it’s the world’s largest movable building and will travel with the show when it moves on in four years’ time. Not having a daughter of my own it was lovely to borrow one for a chat for five minutes when she came to ask about my jumpsuit.
A couple of minor details – being temporary the building’s pretty draughty so take a coat to wear while you’re waiting to go in – there’s a very efficient cloakroom system for dropping them off when the show starts. Mal had splashed out on the Oceanbird Lounge which was a warmer place to wait but apart from that it wasn’t worth it. The pre-show buffet consisted of a few platters of dried up ham, cheese and crackers with the odd bowl of anti pasti. The free cocktails were grim as was the wine, and the beer selection was a choice of either a canned lager or IPA. There weren’t any separate VIP loos and the fast track entry wasn’t especially fast. So don’t bother.
Is it realistic? Yes, even when you’re quite close to the front as we were. My advice would be to keep your eyes firmly ahead without glancing at the side screens where there are close-ups because when I looked at those, I did struggle to suspend my disbelief. When I kept looking ahead at the avatars though it was exactly like being in the collective effervescence of a live event.
And in my view, seats or dance floor isn’t even a question. It’s only a 90 minute show so unless you’re with somebody who has mobility problems I can’t imagine why you’d want to be away from the action in the seated areas. There’s lots of space on the dance floor and the atmosphere’s electric.
One last tip, like all good things it feels as if it’s over too quickly and before you know it you’re collecting your coat. However if you head across the road to the container hotel Snoozebox, you’ll find the party goes on in the bar until 11.30pm with a great 70s disco. Everyone who’s in the know heads over there and it’s a lot of fun, almost as much as Abba itself – in fact we’re tempted to go again and we’ll probably stay at Snoozebox if we do.
The following morning we checked out of our hotel and I expected that we’d be heading back to the car for the long drive home. Instead when we got to The Tube Mal told us we were going in the other direction for a spot of lunch first. Of course this is exactly what I’d hoped to avoid so even when I discovered that he’d booked a table at the hotspot du jour, The Culpeper, I was feeling a bit disheartened at being surrounded by all of the Mother’s Day lunches going on. But then I looked around and spotted the eldest – he’d told me he was busy with work but he’d come along as a surprise. So after going to quite some lengths to avoid Mothers Day, I was lucky and did have one to celebrate after all.
John Lewis Coat, Sezane blouse; Me+Em jeans all past season; Trainers
Sorry, this is getting a bit long isn’t it? There’s just been so much going on that I haven’t told you about apart from grumbling about being tired but now you know why. Anyway I’ll speed up so that we can move on to the cornucopia. So, imagine another week of work and fast forward to the next weekend. Now you find us in Leeds – you may remember that I mentioned that it was the youngest’s final weekend before his four terms abroad. He and his friends had planned one last Otley Run as a farewell and he’d invited us along with other family and friends.
So, the legendary Otley Run is a series of between 15 – 19 pubs (depending on your stamina) along the Otley Road from Headingley into Leeds city centre. Groups of students do it in their friendship groups once or twice a term, always in fancy dress with a theme. Ours was movie characters which thankfully gave us plenty of scope and it was easy for us to find an alter ego couple that we were both happy with. Here’s Mal getting into character outside our AirBnB…
… he takes his part much more seriously than I do. I did my best to look suitably fierce here…
… but I’m not very good at it.
If you haven’t worked it out yet, we were Neo and Trinity from The Matrix. Here we are with the feted youngest who had also chosen one of his favourite characters and the middle one who’d spent as little money on his outfit as he could! He was Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise from Risky Business) and yes, he was frozen.
We’re with two of the boys’ godfathers here Obi Wan Kenobi and Captain Kirk (I bet not many people can make that claim!) – and one of the middle one’s uni friends who’d come down with him from Newcastle (he was Edward John Smith from Titanic).
Here’s Mal with his best friend from uni, best man at our wedding and godfather to the middle one. We hardly ever see him so they were delighted to be reunited as you can see (even though he refused to do fancy dress). And on the screen behind us, Mal’s cousin’s daughter was playing for the England Women’s Rugby U20 team so we had more of the family there in spirit (that isn’t her by the way which is a pity).
You’ll remember I was feeling a bit daunted by the prospect of 15 pubs but actually it was fine. There’s a long walk between each one, a long queue to get in followed by a long wait at the bar so you’re only really getting a drink once an hour if that.
Even so, we spent Sunday rather quietly so that takes us round to John Lewis on the Monday morning which you’ve already seen but a few people asked about the coat and jumper which are both past season – coat from Cos in about 2015, jumper Mango Dec 22, now sold out.
Cos brocade coat ; Mango jumper; Me+Em jeans; Boden boots all past season
Emerging brands run by midlife women
Ok, that’s more than enough midlife lately. In the background I’ve been testing all kinds of products that have been sent to me and over the next few weeks I’m going to tell you which ones are worth knowing about. I thought I’d start by supporting fellow midlife women who are changing career or making the most of the skills they’ve learned over a lifetime. I’m going to begin with beauty and I know you’ve just had a post about this in my session with Dabbie at John Lewis but this time you’re going to see me trying to build on the techniques she taught me with some of the products that have impressed me recently.
Studio 10 – a superb glow primer and medium to full foundation
First up is a brand called Studio 10 which was launched by Grace Fodor. She’s developed it specifically for mature skin and has a fervently pro-age narrative. Now I’m never sure what I think about the beauty industry and the whole pro-age buzz that’s going on at the moment. I was listening to an interview with Anna Murphy last week and she mentioned that she feels a lot of beauty companies are jumping on the bandwagon and simply going through the motions of replacing the words ‘anti-ageing’ with ‘pro-ageing’ or ‘menopause’ on all of their products and I’m inclined to agree. We’re a valuable market and so potentially an easy target.
That’s just an aside, I’m not pointing a finger at Studio 10, they launched long before the current buzz. The products I’m going to show you now are genuinely good and I think they probably do work better on mature skin. There were some I wasn’t so keen on, in particular I found the mascara disappointingly clumpy but their true focus is on restoring the ‘lit from within’ look and I think they do that well. Let me show you.
This is both a highlighter and primer in one. That means you apply it before foundation and as Debbie advised, it’s best placed where you want to see glow so avoid the T-Zone.
I’m starting here with a bare face, all I have on is a sweep of eyeshadow and a little bit of eyeliner. I’m going to give you short bursts of video because you seemed to find it helpful.
Jones Road – my pick of the range
Ok, moving on, I’m sure you’ve heard about Jones Road, the pared down range launched by make-up guru Bobbi Brown after she sold her eponymous company to the Estée Lauder group. I’ve been desperate to try it but you can only buy it online or in Liberty and the counter’s been three deep in people playing with the samples whenever I’ve popped in. Anyway, in February I was sent a selection of products to test and I’ve been using them for a while. I always do that with samples before I write about them because new stuff is exciting but if I stop using it and move on to something else, I know I haven’t loved it enough to recommend it.
Jones Road is all about ‘cool, clean make-up,’ it’s very transparent about its ingredients and everything is cruelty free. Bobbi’s theory is that the world doesn’t need more beauty products, it just needs a few that are better and that’s what she’s set out to create. So let me tell you what I’d recommend. The mascara is very good – not perfect – I do occasionally find it clumps a bit but if you’re looking for a relatively high impact product, it applies well, giving your lashes volume and definition and it stays on.
Jones Road Mascara
Now the Bobbi Brown bronzer of yore used to be the best you could buy but I’m sure Lauder must have changed the formulation because when I’ve bought it recently, I’ve found it cakes. This is back to the original, if you like a powder bronzer I don’t think there’s a better one. As you can see I’m remembering to apply it Debbie’s way, on the top of the cheekbones for a visual facelift. I’m using light tan.
We were in the car on the way down to Abba when I opened Sophie Slater’s email introducing her beachwear brand So English and I gave such a gasp that Mal thought I’d won a competition. I went straight to her website and read everything she had to say because it was one of those moments when your life aligns with someone else’s and you immediately understand and respect what they’re trying to do.
Sophie and I walked parallel paths in the retail world of the 90s. She left the London College of Fashion to become a bridalwear designer and was stocked by Harrods and Liberty. She then downshifted to Sussex, running a business around her family as they grew. Then when lockdown came along, like so many other midlifers she decided to start a new niche business based around nostalgia for her 70s childhood and in particular, towelling. Now you’ll remember last summer when I was overjoyed by the number of towelling pieces that appeared. I bought and wore quite a few so you’ll know why I was excited when I read this:
Our signature look is a block colour, 70s retro vibe and a shaped but easy fit. We design around lifestyle. Our pieces are functional, yet stylish and distinctive.
Towelling was just the best thing for a British holiday in the 1970s. Messing about on beaches and boats and that glorious feeling of clambering out of the sea and being wrapped in cotton towelling. Carefree days and long summer evenings with memories of my mother and her stylish friends wearing dresses in vibrant colours and prints.
It’s exactly what I kept saying in my posts last year because towelling is wrapped up in nostalgia for me too. Anyway here’s Sophie in one of her designs from her So Classic collection – solid colours in different designs with varying lengths and vibrant trims.
Kiss beach dress
And I’m wearing a design from So Limited, a collection of special fabrics produced in small quantities. When I read that Sophie had found one of the only remaining old school textile printers in the north of England to produce limited runs of vibrant prints, I was even keener to support her. I absolutely love this beach dress, it’s perfect for breezy English beaches or sunset drinks in warmer climes when the temperature drops. As you know, I have a tight beachwear collection that I wear year after year after year and this is now going to be a much loved part of it.
Emerson beach dress; straw basket (also available in pink)
There aren’t many of this design left and what I will say is that you need to read the size chart. This is a small and it fits me perfectly but only because I don’t have a very ample bosom. There’s no zip so if you have bigger boobs, you’ll need a bigger size to be able to pull it on. I’m hoping some of you will be able to support Sophie and her new business, whether you’re a wild swimmer, a sailor or just somebody who is building a beach capsule that will last for years of happy holidays to come. As a little encouragement, Sophie’s offering an exclusive 15% off her range for Midlifechic readers using code SOCHIC15 – it expires on Friday 28th April.
Emerson beach dress; straw basket (also available in pink)
And finally in my focus on emerging brands run by midlife women I just want to give a shout out to Soapsmith. Launched by Sam Jameson in 2010, Soapsmith is a cruelty free range of products that are made by hand in London. Now stocked in Liberty and Fortnum’s as well as some of London’s most exclusive hotels, Sam has just introduced a discovery kit because she knows how difficult it is to choose a fragrance online.
Having worked in the fragrance industry, I’m always very wary of anything homemade because the quality can vary so much but I can honestly say that these products are lovely and I really like the fragrance of each one which is unusual. They’re also a bit of fun because they evoke the fragrance of the area they come from so as you can imagine, Bloomsbury is very different to Brick Lane. Anyway the discovery kit would make a particularly good gift for anyone you know and you’d be supporting a black owned British brand run by a midlife woman. You can find out more about it here.