Well hello, I hope you’ve had a good couple of weeks. Ours have been busy – I never want to paint another wall again, especially with Mr MC as my foreman, he has levels of perfection that way exceed my skills (and thankfully I think we’re agreed on that so I may be reassigned to something that plays more to my strengths… such as shopping!). So how has ‘re-entry’ felt for you this week if you’re in the UK? Different or not really? Most people I know seem to be stuttering in terms of getting going and I have to say it doesn’t really seem the same as last year to me. I’m feeling a bit cautious, not because I’m afraid of the virus but because I just can’t bear the thought of getting some momentum going and then having to skid to a halt again like we did last time.
I’m feeling noble because rather than going out for a drink we’ve been to the gym – twice – and it’s been good, apart from the recovery… I’ve been living up to my Lady Penelope nomenclature and walking around like a Thunderbird all week. The biggest relief has been a haircut. I managed quite well with cutting it myself in the last lockdown but this time around I was a too confident and made a mess of it in the middle of January so it’s been a real pain. I went down to London on Wednesday and to fix it Premlee had to cut it very short so I’ll be glad when it grows a bit.
The good thing about being in London this week was that it felt a bit more like its old self, it wasn’t busy but neither was it as deserted as the last few times I’ve been down. What we need now is a change in the weather in the UK – if only we could emerge from this endless Narnian winter I think everyone’s spirits would lift. So in anticipation of Spring arriving in a sudden burst of warmth, today I’m looking at linen for a British summer, working with Uniqlo to focus on their new collection.
Linen for a British summer
Along with down and cashmere, linen is one of Uniqlo’s hero products. As always when I work on writing these focussed posts, I’ve learned all kinds of things so I’m going to share a few. The most important one is that linen is one of our most eco-friendly fabrics because it’s the only one that can be sourced from crops that grow well in Europe. Thanks to the damp ocean climate that we have along our coasts, flax (the plant that linen is made from) thrives here. Our house was a flax farm back in the 1700s which makes sense because we’re near to the shore and it’s certainly damp. Lancaster, our nearest city, was the home of linoleum and so presumably the flax was transported down the canal until it reached the mills there. Anyway that’s all history now because flax stopped being grown for fabric in the UK during the 1950s and so we rely on Europe now.
Uniqlo source their flax from the coastline north of Normandy all the way up through Belgium and The Netherlands. Linen production is much, much kinder to the environment than cotton because it requires very little irrigation other than natural rainwater. Environmentalists have calculated that if flax cultivation was replaced by cotton it would use an additional 650 cubic litres of water. On top of this, it doesn’t require chemical defoliant sprays or genetic modification and very little fertiliser has to be used.
The other good thing about flax is that it’s zero waste; ‘scutching tows’ go towards paper production, the ‘shives’ are used for chipboard or animal bedding and the linseeds produce oil. I had no idea about any of this – or that the more you wear linen the softer it gets meaning that less ironing is required and that’s the thing that’s put me off it in the past. So now I’m just going to wear and wash it until it softens up.
Linen for a British summer – dresses
When Uniqlo first invited me to do a try-on of their linen for a British summer I imagined that by April it would be warm and sunny like it was last year but we then had a week of bitter cold and snow showers so I had to take the photos inside (and I hope they’ll be the last ones ever with home-cut hair!). Usually, with travel in mind, I’d have chosen summer dresses like these because I’ve had three in my wardrobe for years from Uniqlo and they’re great to slip on when you’re looking for something cool and breezy…
Loose linen blend kaftan dress (available in 3 colours)
Linen blend dress (currently on offer, available in 3 colours)
… but as the furthest we’re going to be going for a while is the Northumbrian coast I took the sensible route and opted for pieces that will get plenty of wear.
Linen for a British summer – a try-on
I’m starting with tops and hurray for ivory rather than white which is so much kinder to lots of skintones. This is a simple, collarless shirt that’s easy to wear with jeans like this.
As you can see it has a lovely curved hem so as well as tucking it in, you could wear it loose with skinnier jeans – or even over a bikini on the beach should those days come again. It’s made from linen blended with rayon so it has a softer texture than pure linen. A capsule piece it’s also available in blue, navy or camel but it’s selling quickly. I’m wearing a size small because it’s a generous fit.
This skipper collared shirt is a great design especially if you have a fuller bust because it gives you a flattering V neckline without the problem of buttons that gape. The front pleat means that it doesn’t accentuate your tummy if that’s an area you like to divert attention away from, I’m wearing a medium and it’s true to size.
Skipper collar shirt (available in 6 colours)
As you’ve probably gathered from my last few posts, I’m building up a collection of coffee, tobacco and caramel shades for summer and so this fits in perfectly but as this shirt is one of Uniqlo’s most popular cuts they’ve also released it in navy, black, white, natural, orange and blue. I’m hoping you can see the sheen of the premium 100% linen from this shot, it’s such a lovely texture.
Moving on to trousers, simple linen pants like this are a summer staple whether you’re staying in the UK or travelling abroad. This year they’re made from 50% cotton with 50% linen and they have a flat, trouser-style waistband so there’s none of the bulk at the front that you get with a drawstring waist however there’s an elasticated back for comfort. I’m wearing a medium and it’s a comfortable size 12.
Linen blend tapered trousers in natural (8 colours available)
I don’t know why but I always think that tapered linen trousers look better with the ankle rolled.
Linen blend tapered trousers in natural (8 colours available)
And this pair has pinstripes which always look lovely in summer, there’s something about the formality of the stripe in a relaxed fabric that just works.
Linen blend pinstriped trousers (2 colours available)
It’s hard to see from a distance so here’s a little more detail, these are a medium again and they’re true to size.
Linen blend pinstriped trousers (2 colours available)
Linen for a British summer – shorts
Other pieces that caught my eye were the shorts and I know if feels a bit early to be thinking about them but when the sun appears they’ll sell out in a day. This year thankfully the trend for shorts is longer and fuller which is going to make them so much easier to wear. This linen and cotton blend pair also has a flat front with a small elasticated panel at the back to improve fit. You’ll notice that Uniqlo have matched quite a few of their fabrics in tops and bottoms so that you can have a fully co-ordinated look like this…
… or separates. I saw these in the window of the Oxford street store and they look great, they appear to come down to the flattering point where your thigh narrows. I couldn’t go in and check because the queue outside was too long but it was so interesting – whereas the queues for all the other stores seemed to be lines of giggling 15 year old girls, Uniqlo’s was truly diverse in terms of both age and look – just as you’d expect it to be.
Anyway back to linen, of course there’s always the classic linen shirt with denim shorts look, perfect for any British beach holiday.
The collection is full of brilliant, well priced staples for the weeks ahead – the kind of relaxed capsule that will work hard for a summer that lots of us may well spend largely in the UK. You can see the full women’s range here and linen for men here.
Colour Consultation Winners
I’m delighted to announce the winners of the competition that I ran a couple of weeks ago with Sue Clayton, lovely reader and colour consultant. We’ll be contacting you individually but just in case you don’t check your emails very often, the winners are:
- Sarah Makkink
- Catherine Gormley
- Brigid Fahy
- Elizabeth Murphy
- Karen Harrison
Congratulations, I hope you enjoy every minute of it and if you weren’t lucky this time, remember Sue is offering readers 50% off her services until the end of April. You can find out more about what she does and her prices here.
It does feel as though change is afoot. I’ve found that work has gone from just ticking over to running at 100 miles per hour over the last ten days which is a good thing but a bit of a shock. I do wonder if we’re all going to find that we’ve changed fundamentally over this latest lockdown or if we’re just going to pick everything up again and run as fast as we used to. Personally I’d quite like to see things going slow and steady for a while, with the virus levels staying down and everybody taking time to unfurl again just like nature’s doing as the buds start to burst. We’ll see – when you work for yourself as we do you have to seize the opportunities as they come along so who knows what this summer will hold.
I don’t usually mention current affairs because I’m aware of how divisive it can be, especially at the moment. However as I’m hoping this blog will outlast me as some kind of social record for the future I can’t let the death of Prince Philip go by without saying anything. We were over in Newcastle when the news came through, busy painting and half listening to a drama on Radio 4 so at first we thought the newsflash was part of the play. And that’s the thing about the news of a death isn’t it? Even though it’s often anticipated as Prince Philip’s was, it’s still a visceral shock. It takes you back to the bad news phone calls that you’ve received over the years and suddenly all of those emotions rise up. I learned not to cry from a very early age so my reaction took me by surprise and I’ve been trying to work out why it hit me in the way it did, especially as he wasn’t somebody I’d given a lot of thought to before. In the end I concluded that it’s because Elizabeth and Philip have been there as part of our structure for the whole of our lives and as everything else has changed around us, they’ve aged but never altered.
They remind me so much of my mum and dad who were the same age as them and soon we’re going to lose that generation of quiet strength and stoicism – qualities that are so undervalued these days. And, whether you’re a fan of the royal institution or not, on a simply human level there’s something beautiful about a marriage that has endured from youth to old age. I’m sure you’ve seen these but they’re the pictures that encapsulated it all for me.
His death mirrors the losses that we all suffer over the years – in every family, all over the world. I think we feel sorrow for them because, for once, we can absolutely relate to what they’re going through. The death of somebody we love is the biggest kind of loss; we all face it sooner or later and it’s the only one that really matters. Grieving alongside them can be a cathartic way of remembering and releasing our own sadnesses. I’ll be watching the funeral tomorrow, thinking back and valuing my parents’ generation because there aren’t many of them left now… and the wheels of time are turning.
With that thought I wish you a good weekend and I’ll be back next Friday – thank you, as always, for reading.
(PS – as I sent this post live the news about Helen McCrory came in, what a wonderful actress and midlife woman. There are no words).
Disclosure: ‘Linen for a British summer ‘ was commissioned by Uniqlo but as always all thoughts and photos are my own
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