I’ve set myself a completely different kind of challenge today. Let me tell you how it all came about. Over the last Bank Holiday weekend, Mr MC and I were reminiscing about the different holidays we’ve had. He asked me which was the best one and although it was hard to choose, one that really stands out is our first holiday abroad as a family when the youngest was very small.
He asked me why I’d chosen that one and there were lots of reasons. It was a really happy time and it was the holiday when we decided we didn’t want to continue leading our frantic London life so it was a pretty seismic one too. I also remembered that other than our honeymoon, it was the only time when I have travelled with a suitcase full of new clothes. Because of this, everything worked together really well and I seemed to have an endless choice of outfits.
You’re probably wondering why everything was new. Well, the oldest (and at that time only) son was in nursery and I was working full time. We were going away in May which meant that I needed to plan the content for Selfridges’ Christmas magazine before we left because we would be shooting as soon as I returned. So, the night before we were due to finish work, I had pulled out my holiday clothes only to find that because I had finally lost my baby weight, everything was big and sloppy.
I told myself it didn’t matter – it was going to be a low key holiday and I would just pack some belts. However the following morning, as I was overseeing a casting of glamorous models, I changed my mind! And so for once I took my lunch hour, ran next door to Marks and Spencer and did a huge trolley dash, buying absolutely everything new.
Yes I could have popped down to the shop floor at Selfridges and maxed my 35% discount but when you take into account the cost of childcare, commuting, a London mortgage etc… you’ll understand that nobody who worked at Selfridges could afford to shop there often.
So, there I was on holiday, the editor of Selfridges’ magazine, dressed head to toe in Marks and Spencer… and it felt great! As we were discussing it I said to Mr MC that I wasn’t sure if you’d be able to do that now – and this challenge sprang to mind. I got in touch with my contact at M&S who thought it was a great idea and said that if I went ahead, they’d send me some of the pieces to review.
I was actually planning to run this in a couple of weeks’ time but everything is selling fast and is unlikely to be restocked so I thought I’d better get on with it quickly.
A note about holiday colour palettes
Before we begin, bear in mind that a light tan means you can get away with colours that you might not wear at home. In fact I have noticed that although navy is the basis of my summer wardrobe at home, when I take it on holiday it remains unworn. Instead I veer towards new colours – it’s almost like having a holiday from my own wardrobe.
Can you create a holiday wardrobe from Marks & Spencer?
I’m assuming that most people now try to travel with minimal luggage so I looked for pieces that are interchangeable between day and night time. Here’s my day capsule. The tops and shorts mix and match and I’ve added two simple dresses to break things up.
- Tasselled camisole – the red of the tassels means that this will work really well with the red shorts as well as the black.
- Black shell top – I always like to have a couple of higher necked tops to give my chest a break from the sun
- Copper star t-shirt– this is very like the t-shirts on offer at one of our favourite mail order retailers but at half the price, plus a donation goes to ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ for every one sold…
- Secret support camis – sometimes it is just too hot to wear a bra. These have inbuilt support and there are versions for smaller or larger breasts.
- Side twist dress – an easy dress to throw on when it’s hot – at an amazing price
- Black cotton shorts – simple chino style shorts in a range of colours
- Red cotton shorts – again these are such a great price, especially if you’re someone who only wears shorts on holiday
- Black trimmed shorts with elasticated waist – these are shorter than the other two but are a little dressier than the chino style. The trim picks up the detail on the tasselled camisole (1).
- Triple heart necklace – I prefer not to take expensive jewellery away with me so something like this is all I need
- Flat beaded sandals – great for hot feet and the toe post is always the most flattering style, elongating the foot
- Beaded crossbody bag – a dash of colour that is easy to carry – and with a light strap that won’t weigh you down
- Sunglasses – the black and grey is a nice change from the standard tortoiseshell
- Khaki swing dress – another dress that is easy to wear either on its own or over a swimsuit
- Black and gold bikini top – part of the new Rosie for Autograph range, it has removable cups and a side wire rather than an underwire
- Black and gold bikini bottoms – thankfully these are not too low on the tummy or too high on the legs
- Halterneck swimsuit – I don’t need a new swimsuit but I really like this one. It is made from sculpting fabric, has moulded cups and the strap is detachable
- Black side twist dress – see number 6 above, this is also the perfect dress for throwing over your swimsuit when you go for lunch
- Maxi dress – as you can see, this is from the same collection as the swimsuit so co-ordinates perfectly
- Sunglasses – see number 12 above
- ‘Beach life hat‘ – for every Instagram lover, this hat has ‘ beach life’ embroidered on the brim – one for your feed!
- Gold stripe beach bag – this picks up the gold on the bikini and shimmers in the sunshine
- Cotton bag – I always take a cotton bag inside my beach bag so that we can leave the beach balls, rackets, snorkels and everything else with our towels when we go for lunch
- Flat beaded sandals – see number 10 above
- Tasselled camisole – see number 1 in the first set, the hardworking pieces are coming out again
- Black camisole – this is pretty, on trend and less flimsy than most camisoles that are around this season
- Black shell top – see number 2 in the first set. Sometimes you feel more comfortable with a higher neckline if you’re wearing shorts in the evening
- Gold lustre top – this is a definite travel hero, it packs easily, washes easily, doesn’t crease and goes with everything
- Black halterneck dress with embroidery – this is a lovely dress, the longer length makes the open back feel more demure and the embroidery detailing is beautiful
- Exotic floral crops – these are multi-taskers and you could wear them at home as well as on holiday. They would also be good to travel in.
- Gold lustre midi skirt – like the top this is a great travel item. I like the fact that it is only lined as far as the knees which gives it a contemporary feel
- Black trimmed shorts – see number 8 in set 1. These would look great in the evening with brown legs towards the end of your holiday.
- Floral tiered maxi skirt – ‘ra-ra’ style skirts are just coming in and I suspect they will be a huge trend next summer – yes we’re going straight back to 1982! This longer version even picks up the 70s vibe but it’s very pretty (available in two lengths).
- Maxi dress – see number 5 in set 2, it’s as lovely for evenings as it is for the beach
- Clutch bag – a great bag with an on trend Aztec print that goes with everything, the gold adds sparkle for the evening
- Gold ruffle sandals – if you’ve swerved the ruffle trend this is a very easy way to nod to it. It’s often difficult to find a metallic finish in real leather but here you have it.
- Tassel earrings – put these on and you instantly tell everyone that you know your fashion onions.
- Triple heart necklace – see number 9 in set 1 above
- Side twist dress – what a workhorse – see both sets above!
Reviewing some of the pieces
So, Marks and Spencer sent me some of the items to review but please bear in mind that these are not holiday photos. I’m not relaxed and glowing – I’d spent a long day at my desk rather than lazing by the pool!
The side twist dress
Now, the side twist dress is only available in black and it is selling out quickly. They only had a size 14 sample available to send me so it’s a bit big on the neck, chest and arms. However in the right size it would be a bargain and, as we have seen, wearable for sightseeing and the beach with flat sandals or dressed up with the heels in the evening. It’s a good one.
The ruffle heels
I really love these ruffle heels. They’re leather, they have Insolia soles, the low block heel gives your posture a lift (making you look slimmer than flats) and yet they are not too high for dusty streets. As I’ve already said, the ruffle is very on trend this year and they will look great with jeans and dresses in the UK. I think you’ll wear them all summer long, they’re brilliant.
The black and gold clutch bag
Another winner, the black and gold clutch bag is capacious and there is also a rope strap so you can wear it as a crossover if you want to be hands free. The gold adds a little sparkle to plain outfits and it’s another item that you can use at home too.
The khaki swing dress
I had expected this khaki dress to be a crisp cotton material but in fact it is a soft viscose jersey. It is the sort of dress that is great on holiday because it is loose and airy, great for wearing over a bikini. At £15 it is another bargain that can be kept in your holiday bag for trips to the sun. It is a bit of a drab shade of khaki but it is also available in black or a parrot print and both of these colours would work with the capsules above.
The straw hat
I haven’t tested it but I think this straw hat would pack really well. It is soft and rolls easily so that you could pop it in your suitcase. I hate having to wear a hat at the airport because it’s too tricky to pack, I always feel like such a plonker. The beach life embroidery is a nice detail.
The cotton tote
As I’ve mentioned, I always take one of these cotton totes so that I can separate our valuables and leave the boys’ clobber on the beach when we go for lunch. I really like this one which says ‘Beach’ on the front…
..and ‘Bar’ on the reverse. The youngest was taking these photos for me. “Look as though we’re on holiday and we’re going to the bar Mum,” he said. So I smiled nicely. “No – you need to look as though you’re going to have a cocktail.” This is the expression that looked right to him. It would appear that I need to swerve the margaritas this year…
Now, you will remember that I included shorts in the evening set as well as the daytime. Shorts can look great when they’re dressed up, even if you’re over 40. If you’re not sure, the best way to try them is not too short and with a top that is not too revealing – it’s the old legs or cleavage maxim. These are cotton chino style shorts with a turn up. Again they’re simple, great value and come in a good range of colours.
The shell top
I liked this shell top more than I expected. I tend to avoid round necks but the fact that this has a keyhole opening fastened with a little gold button somehow breaks the neckline up. I would say it is a good buy.
The maxi dress
Like the khaki dress, I had expected this maxi dress to be cotton but it was jersey. I think I prefer the jersey because it is softer to wear – a ruched cotton bodice can be irritating. The colours are a little less vibrant than they appear to be on the M&S website which is a shame but I still recommend the dress.
It has a drawstring at the bottom of the bodice which means you can pull it in at the flattering point before your tummy begins. This is a great detail that adds definition just where you need it. The split up the side was a pleasant surprise making it feel a little more casual.
The wild card
This was my experimental number. I knew in theory that this gold top and midi skirt should be great, I wasn’t confident that it would translate in real life. I think M&S have a dressy occasion in mind for this. However for me, it is something that I would probably only wear on holiday.
When it arrived, it was everything I hoped it would be. Yes it is highly synthetic so if you only wear natural fibres it won’t be good for you. However the fact that it is synthetic means that it springs straight from your suitcase ready to wear. Even if you spill your margarita down it(!) you will be able to hand wash it and just hang it out to dry.
You can wear it tucked in like this…
…or loose like this.
And the top and skirt will work with so many other pieces. I am obviously not the only person who likes it because the stock is showing very low. Over to you.
I should point out that I know the breakfast room behind me is very untidy. I tried to block out most of the mess with my girth but didn’t quite achieve it. Despite having a desk in his bedroom, the middle son has claimed it as his revision HQ and there are papers absolutely everywhere. He also has satellite spots all over the house and we never quite know where he’ll pop up next – as you can see!
I’ve admired the way that Marks & Spencer have marketed their Beauty Department since they ramped it up a couple of years ago. The great value beauty boxes that they release every so often, and, of course the advent calendar, have seemed too good to be true. Now I realise that they developed them strategically as ‘loss leaders.’ I am hooked on so many of the products that they introduced me to and, of course, I keep going back there to buy them!
Like John Lewis, they have a section on the website dedicated to travel beauty and these are the items from their range that I’m packing this year.
You don’t need me to bleat on about the importance of this. What I didn’t know until this week was that after 45 we produce less melanin which means that our skin has less natural protection. So using good quality sun cream will have a huge impact on whether you end up with a face covered in patchy age spots or not. I like Ultrasun purely because it isn’t greasy and so you don’t end up with a shiny face that makes you look as though you’re sweating profusely.
- Ultrasun Face tinted sun cream – I find that the Ultrasun face creams are particularly hydrating and this one is like a tinted moisturiser which is useful when you are building up a tan slowly.
- Ultrasun Eye UV protection – I don’t have sensitive skin but the combination of bright sunlight and strong suncream has always meant that we have to wait half an hour in the mornings when we are on holiday for my eyes to stop streaming before we can go out. I used this last year and it didn’t happen.
- Ultrasun Family – I now use Ultrasun on the boys as well – partly because they feel there is an injustice if I have a different suncream to them and so it puts an end to the ‘banter.’ Of course with the younger two being blondies, their skin needs extra care for the first few days too.
4. Daily Defence. With the increasing amount of time and money that I spend having my hair coloured as the grey becomes ever present, I am determined to protect it. I have always used Swimcap which is great for swimming. However, because it is a thick conditioning cream that you leave in your hair, isn’t good for days out. I’m going to try this Daily Damage Defence this year.
7. Smooth and Shiny Travel Pack. I’m sure you know the story about Philip Kingsley developing Elasticizer for Audrey Hepburn. I use it about every 4 days when we are away to make up for the chlorine and saltwater that I have subjected my hair to. It’s quite a nice thing to do for 20 minutes, sitting with a gin and tonic before you get ready to go out for the evening.
This travel pack comes with a shampoo and conditioner too – I haven’t tried them but they look to be about the right size for a two week holiday. There are packs for lots of different hair types.
5. Skyn Cleansing Cloths. I know wipes are bad for the environment and I only ever use them on holiday. I love all of the products that I’ve used from Skyn Iceland so I’m going to try these this year.
6. REN Evercalm. The sun often makes my skin feel sensitive so I take this REN moisturiser away with me. It’s very soothing and it decreases redness. This is a 20ml travel size which will last for a holiday.
8. Clear cosmetic bags. I think the smaller two of these will be the right size for airport security and nicer than a plastic bag!
Unfortunately we can never leave our business behind when we go on holiday. There is always a client who, despite knowing we are away, suddenly needs something. So, we end up taking all current projects with us on a hard drive as well as our laptops and, of course, the tech that the boys cannot live without.
Mr MC usually takes it on board in a rucksack but last year we had a disaster when he dropped it 30 feet over the edge of the gantry as we were queuing to board the plane. The laptops and iPads were protected by a padded compartment (thank you Herschel) but we lost two hard drives and my Kindle which meant I couldn’t finish my book on the flight home (I know – the very definition of a first world problem)!
So, this year I was very pleased to see that M&S have developed a range of ‘mobile office’ suitcases that are cabin sized.
They sent me one to review and it is brilliant. It has a hinged front section for your tech so that you can access it easily on board without revealing your laundry.
There is still space in the other compartment for clothes – well maybe Mr MC’s clothes, I don’t think I’m willing to sacrifice valuable outfit space for tech requirements.
There are security zips, TSA locking (which complies with global security systems) and, most importantly for us, it has been tested by being dropped eight times. We will have to check the laptops and hard drives into the hold for our return journey this year so it needs to be more than just Mr MC proof.
So, at the end of my self-imposed challenge I will say that it is still possible to put a capsule holiday wardrobe together from M&S. I’m glad. I know M&S isn’t perfect; there is too much stuff and they are still trying to serve too many masters. However having seen Jaeger go the way that nobody thought was possible, I’m maintaining my stance that it is important that we support the cornerstones of the British high street.
As you have already seen, the middle son has been doing his best with the GCSE revision but may now be going slightly mad. The other day I hunted him down to see what he was doing and found him like this, not doing his maths revision but designing a range of stickers with various exam avoidance solutions…
He has not been attacked by a pack of wild dogs. He bought this sweatshirt with his first wages from his job as a runner at a local restaurant. He went to Primark, a shop that he knows I refuse to set foot in. I will say no more!
You may also notice that all of our pictures are covered in flipchart paper. They have poetry terms on them. It is my final attempt to get things like ‘plosive alliteration’ to stay in his memory.
You will probably be as relieved as I am to know that the GCSE exams finally start next week – which is a big one in our house because there is also a landmark birthday… We’ll deal with that one when it comes! In the meantime have a wonderful weekend.
Disclosure: “can you create a holiday wardrobe from Marks & Spencer?” was my idea but it is in association with M&S and I thank them for sending the samples for review. As always, the concept was my own and, regardless of who I am working with, I would never give a product a false or dishonest review.
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