One of the things that I often hear people say about Marks & Spencer fashion is that there’s just too much of it, that it’s too hard to know where to begin. So I’ve spent some time going through the current collection identifying the particular strengths that I can see at the moment. Of course it makes sense to look at what I see as being their hero areas, however they’re pretty strong on some of the new season trends such as the 70s and 90s looks too. So at the end of the post I’m going to have a play around with them to see how well styles that are having a revival work on a midlifer (or at least this one in particular).
My own view on Marks & Spencer
As always, for the sake of clarity I want to say that this post is in collaboration with M&S however the following thoughts are entirely my own and come from my personal experience.
I have to say that because I spent a year working there, I have a lot of sympathy for the eternal M&S predicament of needing to cater for everyone – let me give you my own personal insight. A few years ago I was hired as a consultant to turn the Home catalogue around. It meant that I spent a lot of time getting to grips with the customer but I also had to understand the retail environment both on and offline – and it’s one of the most complex retail challenges I’ve faced.
You see a large percentage of people in the UK identify as M&S shoppers. They each have high (and very personal) expectations of the brand and yet their lives, outlooks and buying habits are all completely different. In addition to the idiosyncratic customer base, there are lots of shops to fill with stock every season. Many of them are legacy stores rather than purpose built and so they are all different sizes… and the cities that they are based in often have very different demographics. People in Kingston-upon-Thames for example tend to look for quite different things to people in Kendal.
Although they’ve recently started to stock a few third party brands, the majority of product is own-brand, it’s what customers expect. So unlike other department stores, they don’t have the luxury of buying in ranges and piggybacking off other companys’ brand work. They have to source, develop, design, produce and deliver all of their ranges themselves.
There are so many other factors that don’t occur to customers – it’s only when you work there that you realise what a complex retail proposition it is. So you see that’s just a small insight into why there’s so much product: the age group they’re catering for covers cradle to grave and within that lifelong parameter, they have to appeal to almost the entire UK social demographic. So basically everyone really! And yes it’s easy to say that they should narrow it down but you can’t with a brand like M&S, it would be wrong to exclude people because it has always belonged to everyone.
Having said all of this, I do often put my consultant’s head on and ponder over the potential for doing things differently but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead I want to go through the AW18 collection and do an edit specifically for the subsection of consumers who are Midlifechic. In other words, let me show you the most wearable looks that I’ve seen this season.
Midlifechic edit – Marks & Spencer AW18
I’m starting off with a reminder of some that I’ve already shown you. This one is so simple, it pulls in some of the season’s key trends such as wide leg crops, mock croc slingbacks and the checked coat but pairs them with a classic polo neck jumper. The luxe, oversized scarf is going to be winter’s big thing and at this price it’s a star buy. It’s an easy way for you to bring any winter coat up to date. Also available in yellow and pink, my advice is to go for this winter green if you can carry it off because it’s a colour that’s building in strength as we approach December.
Scarf; checked coat; jumper; wide cropped jeans (coming soon); shoes; bag
More key trends here – the checked coat again, cords, the layering of coats and autumn 18’s key hues of toffee and spice.
Coat (coming soon); Quilted jacket (just seen); Trousers; Bag; Trainers (coming soon)
Here are some ‘coming soon’ looks that I haven’t shown you before. Sequins are going to build in popularity as the nights draw in, even worn as daywear like this. It would be easy to pare this look down with a slightly more fitted cashmere hoody like this one and shoes or boots if you’re not a trainer fan.
The teddy bear coat was a look that began last winter and it’s going to be popular again this year. The AW18 update on this outfit is the snake print blouse and the coffee coloured loafers. There’s no escaping shades of brown this season.
Longline faux fur coat; snake print blouse (£29.50 coming soon); jeans; leather loafers
Here’s the forest green again, the colour of winter pine trees. I really love this outfit. I’m sick of flowery midi-dresses but I do love an asymmetric hem so I’m waiting for this to come into stock so I can try it.
Clothes and bag coming soon (jacket £69; dress £39.50; bag £35); Loafers
And finishing with more green in a coated knife-pleat skirt with a fluffy jumper – not sure about the necklace though.
Clothes coming soon (jumper £49.50; skirt £39.50)
A capsule coat collection
So, that’s given you a taste of what’s to come, now I want to highlight what I think are the real hero areas for M&S at the moment. I’m going to start with coats, something I’ve been thinking hard about recently because I’m trying to define the perfect coat capsule. Coats are a key part of an AW wardrobe up here and I try to have a balance between workhorse coats that go with everything and statement coats that lift a simple outfit on a grey day. This would be a simple approach, covering the essential bases.
Top to bottom, left to right
Down coat with Stormwear – great for walking the dog, it has Stormwear and a hood if you get caught in the rain and it can be layered under other coats as seen in one of the earlier pictures. The angled chevron quilting is more flattering to the figure – padded coats with horizontal seams can make you look wider. Also available in black; mocha and teal.
Camel wool blend coat – if you’re going for a plain coloured coat, it’s best to stretch as far as your budget will allow. Look for a minimum of 60% wool content because it will have a better sheen to the pile. This one is a classic that will work for years, available in all of the key colours: black, navy, camel and grey.
Down jacket with Stormwear – great for popping out to the gym, despite being down-filled, this is both machine washable and it goes in the tumble dryer. Available in a whole rainbow of colours.
Checked single breasted coat – checks and tweeds are such a strong trend that they might be completely over by next year so this is a way to dip your toe in. It’s easier to economise on fabric that has a pattern or check because of the warp of the weave.
Herringbone fleece – this is a bit of a wildcard because who doesn’t love the warmth of a fleece but they aren’t exactly chic are they? Well this one is covering off the tweed trend, it would be good for wearing on its own or layered under the checked coat for example. I haven’t seen it in store but it looks great online – also available in a plum mix.
Leopard faux fur coat – I have a leopard coat, it isn’t something I wear often but I do find it elevates a simple ‘jeans and jumper’ outfit in the winter. This looks to be a good slim fit which is what you need because faux fur can add a lot of bulk.
A capsule shoe collection
Moving on to another of my favourite M&S stop-offs, the shoe department. It’s hard not to love M&S shoes with their Insolia linings and increasingly strong designs. The only thing that drives me a bit mad is the fact that they often create some of their best styles in a wide fit only. I can’t understand why they don’t come up with a range of styles that they then offer in different width fittings in the same way that they do petite and tall fits for clothes.
Anyway another capsule for you here – if you were starting a wardrobe from scratch, these are the six essential styles I’d suggest. The only thing missing is party shoes because they haven’t been released yet. As always I’m recommending that you use shoes as a pop of contrast to lift your outfits.
Top to bottom, left to right
Leopard loafers – as I often say, I can only handle leopard in small doses (unless I’m in the mood for the coat). My favourite way to wear it is on my feet because then it’s as far away from my face as I can get it. I’ve had the same pair of leopard loafers for about 7 years – they’re just a wardrobe classic.
Green high vamp shoes – I tried these on last week in purple and they’re incredibly comfortable. The leather is soft and the high vamp means that they cling to your feet so they’re much easier to walk in then the average heels. The only reason that I didn’t buy them is because I’m trying to be careful and I just couldn’t justify them – I hope you can though. Also available in purple, pewter and black.
Block heeled boot – a knee high boot is pretty key to this season’s look. These aren’t leather which makes them more affordable and the low block heel means they’re easy to walk in. Available in oxblood or black.
Block heeled leather loafers – this is the heel height that I find most comfortable, not high but not completely flat either. Of course a low heel also makes your legs look a little longer and it has a slightly slimming effect too. The vamp is higher than on many loafers which makes them easier to pair with socks or tights on cold days. Patent leather is a returning trend this year so it will probably be strong for a few seasons to come. Also available in black.
Ankle strap courts – another spine-protecting low block heel and with a comfortable square toe, this time in fashionable mock croc. These are good for wearing with dresses or trousers, also available in silver.
Leather Chelsea boots – it’s difficult to find a good Chelsea boot that hasn’t been fiddled about with. The ones that I have are from M&S, I bought them years ago and I bring them out every winter. In my view these have simple but perfect proportions. They’re available in chestnut brown or black.
New checked trouser selection
I think we’re starting to adjust to the trouser of the season: the Rupert Bear (as Mr MC delights in calling it). M&S have a particularly strong selection – if you haven’t already tried a pair, this is my shortlist and you’ll see me experimenting with them in a minute.
Brown and grey check trouser: these have a slim leg cut and are machine washable. They’re an easy way to integrate a touch of brown into your wardrobe – you can see how they look on me in the shots below.
Everywear checked trouser: if you prefer a more subtle check, these are a slim fit navy with just a slight Prince of Wales check.
Burgundy mix check: if you’re not a fan of pattern, you may find these wool mix trousers easier to wear because the check is regular – they’re lined too. A matching jacket is available if you’d like the option of a trouser-suit.
Windowpane check: these are navy with a lovely chalk stripe, a slightly less slim fit than the others, cropped above the ankle. A matching jacket is available.
Trying it on
So, as I was writing this post, M&S asked me if there was anything I’d like to try. I could have gone for a collection of clothes to match my instinctive personal style but I decided not to take the safe path. I haven’t really had a chance to play around with the new checked trend so I thought I’d experiment with a casual weekend outfit and a work one. You see the style adage that keeps popping into my head is this one “if you’re old enough to remember it the first time, give it a miss.”
For the weekend, I wanted to recreate this look:
The jumper wasn’t available in pink (it is now) so I tried it in yellow – the pink would have worked better, toning with the burgundy in the jacket (I didn’t try the shoes – there’s no point in me even considering velvet loafers up here in the winter!). The whole look really reminds me of what I wore in the early 90s when I was three stone lighter and 30 years younger which makes me instinctively veer away from it. These days I stick to single breasted jackets for a more defined shape.
Gingham double breasted blazer; jumper (now also available in pink); high rise straight ankle jeans (now in the sale); M&S Chelsea boots (ancient)
Moving on to workwear, I wanted to play around with this season’s key colours, Tan and purple. Here’s a reminder, Grazia concluded that you should wear them both:
I’ve been looking everywhere for a Cadbury’s purple coat and I found it. The bad news is that even though I only photographed this last week, it’s now disappeared from the website so I’m sorry I can’t link it for you – but it was from Autograph if you want to keep an eye open for it. The trousers are the brown and grey checked ones that I discussed above and the jumper is a fabulous silk mix which makes it feel lovely to wear.
Purple Autograph coat (Autograph AW18; Silk mix jumper; Brown and grey check trousers; M&S Leopard shoes AW17
So here’s the twenty-something in the trousers and jumper…
And this is how it looks on me. It reminds me of my mum in the 70s, I’m sure she had a similar outfit that she used to wear when she was teaching. I know it’s absolutely on trend but I just can’t make up my mind about the trousers although I do love the jumper – you saw me wearing it at the weekend with jeans in my last post. Interestingly when I asked the men in my life for feedback, Mr MC liked it, the eldest fresh from his London fashion hotbed thought it was cool, the middle one wasn’t sure and the youngest said I looked like… a teacher – make of that what you will.
Silk mix jumper; Brown and grey check trousers; M&S Leopard shoes AW17
One thing that strikes me about M&S is that they’re working at targeting 30-somethings and, of course, continuing with the older customer. I’d say that their celebrity relationships reinforce this. Their new alignment with Holly Willoughby will attract the attention of (roughly) the 25 – 40 year old along with anyone who watches daytime TV. Twiggy is there to appeal to anyone aged 60 plus. This, in my view, leaves an important gap that’s not currently being referenced… and that’s us. I’m never entirely convinced of the value of celebrity associations but thinking in line with their current campaign strategy, I’m just going to say Keeley Hawes… Emilia Fox… Mariella Frostrup…
So there you have it, in one post we’ve moved through the easy comfort zones of coats and shoes to something a little different. As you know M&S are in the throes of their mid-season sale which means that the new winter stock is due to arrive any time. As I’m typing, Storm Ali has just blown in across the Irish Sea and it really does feel like winter. I’m focusing on the positives – cashmere and candles – sounds like the name for a blog…!
Have a fabulous weekend. Ours should be a fun one because a big group of our old London friends are arriving for a party up here… and we aren’t hosting so it’s a win:win. I’ll tell you all about it next week but before I go, please do comment while we have the attention of M&S. Tell them what you think – it’s your voices that retailers come to Midlifechic to hear. And with that, I’m off to catch up with replying to your latest insights… thank you… as always.
Disclosure: ‘Midlifechic edit – Marks & Spencer AW18’ is in collaboration with M&S but as always my thoughts about the brand, my experience of working there and my edits are my own.
Other Autumn/Winter 18 posts you may have missed
What I’ve been wearing and a midlife lately catch-up
John Lewis & Partners new women’s clothing review
Colour trends AW18 and how to work them
How to wear Hush when you don’t do slouchy
Inès de La Fressange at Uniqlo AW18 review
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