A love letter to Leeds

Well what a fabulous time I had last Friday talking about festive dressing ideas at John Lewis & Partners, I hope that those of you who joined me did too. I’ve been on a high all week, replaying our conversations in my head and just wishing there had been more time for us all to chat. For those of you who couldn’t come, let me see if I can make you feel as though you were with us.

As you know, in the lead up to the event I was surprisingly nervous. First of all I was worried that the tickets wouldn’t sell and that my JL&P teammates would be disappointed. Then when they did, I was worried that I wouldn’t be good enough and that you’d wish you hadn’t wasted your Friday night on me. For the last couple of weeks Mr MC has been shaking his head at me because he couldn’t understand why I was reacting like this. Throughout our careers he’s watched me presenting countless times, often to very high end business audiences but it’s easy for me to hide behind my professional persona. Midlifechic is my passion and it’s personal – I just didn’t want to disappoint you.

However it’s always good for us to do the things that scare us and so I set out to be well prepared. I spent both Thursday and Friday in Leeds, choosing the outfits I was going to talk about and working with the team until at last we had everything ready and the moment had come. Here are my JL&P marketing friends opening the guest list (they’d come all the way from the London head office to be part of it).

John Lewis blogger style event

By this point our rails of outfits were ready…

Festive dressing ideas

… I was too…

festive dressing ideas

… all we needed was our Midlifechic clan. And as they started to arrive it put flesh on the bones of so many of women that I’ve got to know through the comments over the years. It’s been like an old fashioned correspondence as we’ve shared the ups and downs of midlife so it was quite honestly thrilling to hear “Nikki I’m Lynn… I’m Sian… I’m Claire… I’m Monika… I’m Wimereux France!”

Midlifechic reader event

And it wasn’t just me they talked to, quite a few people had come on their own so I guided them to a row together and watched as the touchpaper caught light and the conversation and laughter began.

Midlifechic reader get together

Usually an outing in my blog world is based around an influencer event and I find myself in a sea of midlife women who are undeniably fashionable but often carbon copies of each other. So I was delighted to see that, just as I’d always hoped, Midlifechic readers are all individuals and yet you’re unified by intelligence and tangible warmth. My cup was already running over but when I started to talk, I discovered just how far some people had come to show support.

Festive dressing ideas

I realised that they’d travelled to Leeds from London, the Home Counties, from the Lake District, even struggling through the terrible floods in Doncaster that have dominated the news this week. The rain was biblical but only five readers didn’t make it through.

Midlifechic reader party dressing

So at this point as well as being nervous I felt absolutely stunned and I do hope that what I said made sense. If not, I’ll go through both that and the rest of the evening more coherently now.

I kicked off with a talk about what I believe to be the Four Pillars of Christmas Chic and I’ll explain those in a minute. Next up was Jess, the John Lewis & Partners personal stylist who you often see me working with. First of all she took us through the recently relaunched menswear collection at John Lewis & Partners. It’s been completely redesigned for this season and the pieces mix and match in capsules to give men a chic midlife look of their own – a great option for Christmas present ideas.

She then had a rail of festive dressing ideas prepared for different body shapes and sizes. Of course that’s the benefit of having an appointment with a Personal Stylist at JL&P, they know instantly what there is on the shopfloor to suit you.

festive dressing ideas

When we’d finished, there was a blissful hour where the store had closed and we had the place to ourselves.

Midlifechic and readers, John Lewis & Partners

Before we knew it there was a real party going on in the fitting rooms as everyone tried things on and asked each other’s opinions.

Midlifechic and readers

At the end some people had to rush off but it was lovely that half of you were able to come along for a glass of wine in Issho, a chic bar that gave us our own private area just around the corner from JL&P. And while we were there I took a quiet moment to stand back and watch everybody relaxing and chatting away. My nerves had long gone and seeing how well people got on, I have to say that I feel really excited about the potential for Midlifechic events in the future.

Festive dressing ideas – the Four Pillars of Christmas Chic

So let’s talk about my Four Pillars. I believe they cover the four circumstances that most of us are likely to find ourselves in over the next six weeks. In Leeds I showed the outfits from a rail but earlier in the day I tried them all on to make sure that I was confident with what I was recommending. Luckily Mr MC was on hand so he took a quick picture of each one as I was checking it out in the fitting room mirror (the only way we could get enough light). As you’re reading, try to identify which pillars are the most relevant to your lifestyle so that you can work out where any wardrobe gaps might be.

Festive dressing ideas: Pillar 1 – relaxed daytime chic

This covers the build-up to Christmas: gift shopping, buying the Christmas tree and those lovely Twixmas days when you have nothing on the agenda but still want to feel festive. You might pop out for a pub lunch or spend the whole day watching movies and it’s good to feel comfortable.

My choice of outfit carries on from Tuesday’s post when I was talking about velvet jeans being my shortcut to relaxed winter chic. I’ve paired them with a simple jumper which is cashmere but it reminds me of pashminas in the 90s because the knit has a smooth, silky feel. It’s a great buy if you have a low tolerance for wool.

The velvet jeans have more structure than velour. As you can see they aren’t tight at the ankle and this can help to balance out sturdy legs.

Festive dressing ideas

Cashmere jumper (also available in charcoal or champagne);Velvet jeans (also available in chocolate, dark purple and grey)

I know some people prefer a thinner top so here’s an alternative. You can see that I’ve instinctively done a half tuck at the waist but worn loose it’s a great style for apple shapes.

festive dressing ideas

Batwing glitter sweater, velvet jeans

The fitting room lights didn’t pick up the sparkle in the lurex so here’s another quick shot

festive dressing ideas

Batwing glitter sweater, velvet jeans, ankle boots

Festive dressing ideas: Pillar 2 – smart daytime chic

Here I’m thinking of occasions in December when you want to feel smarter – maybe in the office or at a pre-Christmas lunch; a theatre matinée or Christmas Day itself. My first port of call for this kind of dressing will always be a statement skirt because it will work so hard.

In this outfit I wanted to let the sparkly skirt shine so I paired it with something simple. I love the collar on this jersey top with its beaded embellishment, it’s something that you could wear with jeans or trousers too just to give a little lift to a minimal look. Frustratingly it’s in store but it isn’t online at the moment however here’s another option.

festive dressing ideas

Warehouse beaded collar top (available in store); Metallic pleated skirt

As someone who struggles with pleated skirts I love this one and quite a few people bought it on the evening. It’s lovely and light so it moves beautifully and sparkles as you go. The pleats are flat at the waist so they don’t add volume and it’s a great price.

I wanted to see just how versatile it could be by setting a bright colour against it – you could wear this skirt every day in December and achieve a different look each time. This jumper isn’t quite as bright as it looks under the store lights, it’s a flame colour.

Festive dressing ideas

Merino roll neck (30% off at the moment), Metallic pleated skirt

If you prefer a dress, I just want to show you this one. This season JL&P have released their 12 Days of Christmas Dresses, commissioning a different brand to design each one. They’re all exclusive to John Lewis and here’s the one that they’ve nominated to be the Christmas Day dress. With it’s shirred waist and subtle gold star embroidery it’s certainly a good choice for Christmas dinner – I wonder if you can guess which brand it’s from…

Midlifechic Hush Christmas dress

Christmas Day Dress (exclusive to John Lewis & Partners)

Festive dressing ideas: Pillar 3 – Christmas night out

Of all the pillars, this is probably the one I focus on most because I know I’ll wear elements of it all year. This is the sort of outfit I’ll choose if we go out for drinks or if the dress code says ‘smart casual’ but equally I’ll wear it if we’re going to someone’s house for dinner.

Again it leads on from Tuesday’s post because I’m very likely to focus a ‘Christmas night out’ outfit around velvet or coated jeans dressed up with a little extra sparkle like this…

Midlifechic Christmas outfits

All Saints blazer with sparkle weave (available in store); sequin top; coated jeans

All credit goes to Mr MC who spotted the jacket on the shopfloor. I love it because it’s unstructured so it feels as though you’re wearing a cardigan and it’s long so it covers my hips which are the area that I’m slightly less comfortable with in skinny coated jeans like this.

However if I need to take the jacket off, the biker zips on the jeans help to break up the width of my hips and the sparkly top draws attention upwards. At the event we noticed that this halterneck is a good option for everyone because the sequins are silver but they reflect the ivory backed fabric so the colour works whether your skintone is warm or cool.

Midlifechic Christmas party outfits

Sequin top; coated jeans

Festive dressing ideas: Pillar 4 – Black tie

I probably have about four black tie events every year and I think I look forward to seeing what other people are wearing more than anything else. I’ve decided that cocktail dresses are a no-go for me. Yet again it’s because our generation has one foot in the formal era of the 80s and 90s and so most classic formalwear can immediately age us by ten or even twenty years.

Instead I think it’s better to go for timeless elegance and, in order to minimise cost per wear, to choose something that you could also wear in a less formal setting. These were my favourite choices for Friday’s event.

I’m starting with one that I’d ordered personally, it’s another JL&P exclusive from the 12 Days of Christmas collaboration and it’s the one they’re calling the ‘after hours.’ I often find that a jumpsuit feels more sassy than a dress and this one with its references to men’s tailoring is just fabulous. Imagine wearing it at an event where everybody else is in a classic frock, it has real chutzpah.

Midlifechic black tie outfits

Tuxedo jumpsuit (exclusive to John Lewis & Partners)

If, however a dress is still your preference, I have a wonderful option for you. Jess helped me to find this, I would never have picked it up off the rail because it doesn’t look much on the hanger. However it’s been in my head all week and I’ve been trying to come up with an event where I could wear it but almost all of my Christmas falls into Pillars 1, 2 and 3. I absolutely love this dress so if you’re having a posh party please invite me!

Midlifechic party outfits

Grecian style dress

Annoyingly it isn’t available online in the teal but you should find it in store and I’ve linked it in apple green or black. Incidentally the personal stylists warned me that this comes up pretty small so I’m wearing a size 14, everything else in this post was true to size.

When my trying on session was finished I had to choose something to borrow for the event and it was really difficult. In the end though, as you’ve seen, I went for the Christmas Night Out option for the talk and then for our trip to the wine bar I changed into the tuxedo jumpsuit that I’d already bought. Here we are, ready to leave.

festive dressing ideas

My outfit; Jess’s top; Jess’s skirt

Personal Styling at John Lewis & Partners

You may not know that all of the Stylists at JL&P have their own Instagram account. A few times a week they put outfits together from stock that has arrived and model it themselves so it’s a really good way to find ideas. You can find them all by following #WeArePartners and Jess’s Instagram is @jl_jessicaa.

For an even more personal service you can book a styling session with them and they’ll give you a makeover with no obligation to purchase. You can go on your own or with friends and you can even enjoy a glass of free prosecco while you try things on. There are various style makeovers available, more information here.

A big thank you

Before we finish I need, of course, to say a big thank you to everyone at John Lewis & Partners for hosting our very first Midlifechic event, it was the perfect venue. Lots of people acknowledged that it must have taken a lot of effort for them to organise it, staff it and keep the store open just for us and we all really appreciated it.

I want to thank Jess too for her festive dressing ideas, her hard work beforehand and for keeping me calm. She also arranged for me to have my make-up done by the new Beauty Society at JL&P. It’s run by independent beauty advisors who can help you to cut through all of the beauty brands available at JL&P to find the products that work best for you so do try it out in your nearest store. There are a mix of free consultations and paid appointments that you can choose, more details here.

Thank you to Mr MC who gave up two of his work days to help with the event. You’ll notice that there aren’t any photos from the bar because he’d fully relaxed by that point. He always tells me he married me because he finds older women more interesting… so I think you could say he was in his happy place!

And the most important thank you goes to everyone who supported me at my first big event. I really appreciated the lengths you went to to be there and you’ll always have a special place in my heart. Now all we need is another venue so we can do it all again…

Disclosure: ‘Festive dressing ideas’ is in collaboration with John Lewis & Partners but as always, all thoughts and content ideas are my own.

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