It’s a retailer try-on today with my first M&S edit of the year so let’s have a look at what’s going on there. As we discussed back in September, there’s a new womenswear team on board with a strategy to address the basics. Their view is that the marketplace is already well served with fast fashion retailers chasing the latest trends so the role of M&S should be to get the core basics right – which is something I think we’d all agree on.

One of their primary tasks has been to address denim. When it comes to jeans, M&S are market leaders in the UK – they sell more pairs than anyone else and this week saw them launch a new TV campaign to celebrate the progress they’ve made. So for today’s post, it made sense for me to order some of the bestselling styles for a try-on, along with some of their other key pieces.

Background to denim

Denim is strong for SS20 and was seen in differing executions on just about all of the catwalks. There’s a continuing steer towards a more casual way of dressing for work as well as for weekends and it’s great that we’re all dressing comfortably in a fabric that is long lasting but the issue with denim is sustainability. In fact I’m making a pledge this year only to include denim on Midlifechic if it has been carefully sourced.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that it takes about 7,000 litres of water to produce a pair of jeans which is equivalent to one person’s supply of drinking water for three years. As you’ll know there are also damaging pesticides that are used to protect cotton crops and toxic, carcinogenic metals that are used in the denim distressing process.

M&S were leagues ahead of other retailers when they launched their Plan A project back in 2007, I know because I was working closely with them then so I feel well qualified to talk about it. As far as clothing was concerned, cotton was their primary concern because they use 0.2% of the world’s cotton supply and yet research insights showed how important natural fibres are to customers. It’s probably the core fabric in all of our wardrobes and so they were way ahead of other brands when they decided to find a better way of producing it.

All of the cotton for M&S clothing is grown according to Better Cotton Initiative standards and sourced from more sustainable sources.  They also provided key funding into the development of the Cool Farm Tool, an online greenhouse gas, water and biodiversity tool that is being used by the WWF in India to improve the impact of Indian agriculture. When it comes to denim, they’re reducing the amount of water that is used in the dyeing process too.

Of course quite a few brands are making a noise about ethically sourced denim this year but most of them then charge a premium for it – and this is where M&S are really winning by managing to produce better jeans and still retailing them for £19.50. So let’s look at the three best selling styles.

M&S SS20 – core denim try-on

The slim leg jeans

First up, the slim leg jeans. I requested these in the same ‘indigo mix’ wash as the others that I’m trying but as reviews are saying, they’re a darker shade than I expected. Having said that I quite like them. If Parisienne is your thing, darker jeans often achieve that slicker look that works so well with anything navy. Although darker denim has been in the catwalk collections for the last two seasons, it still hasn’t really filtered through to the high street. I think it’s because it can be difficult to get the cut right. Without figure flattering fading, fitted denim can make your legs appear thicker but this style isn’t skintight.

I never really know what ‘slim’ leg means and personally I’d call these a relaxed skinny. They have a good high rise with plenty of stretch and I like them more than I expected to. A lighter wash is the mainstream trend but these work far better with the navy breton as you’ll see from the pictures that follow.

The breton

Before we go on to the next jeans I just want to mention the breton which is part of the try-on. The quality is outstanding, it’s a mid-weight viscose mix fabric and it manages to stay looking crisp even when you’ve had it on all day. It feels just like the bretons from a well known French brand that retail for £65 plus. There’s an envelope detail at the neckline which some people might not like but it’s functional, giving weight to the style so that it sits properly. My only criticism is that the sleeves are an inch longer than I’d like (I’ve pulled them up for the photo) but I’d still give it five stars. If your simple striped tops are in need of a refresh this is a great update for spring. More colours please M&S.

M&S SS20 - core denim try-on

Slim leg jeans (indigo mix) – four other colours available, simple breton top (also available in grey)

The skinny jeans

Let’s move on to the next pair of jeans, the skinnies. I’m showing all of the jeans with the same pair of low heels so that you can do a direct comparison but I wouldn’t wear them like this – my skinnies are always stuffed into either knee high boots or wellies. I’m wearing the medium indigo and this time they’re a lighter tone than I expected. I like the subtle shading at the front though which is always visually slimming.

They’re true to size, high rise and comfortable – the best selling jeans at M&S, what more can I say?

M&S SS20 - core denim try-on

Skinny jeans (seven other colours available)

The straight leg jeans

Now these arrived later so I shot them on a different day – and with shorter hair. I have to say that on me they’re my least favourite however they would look better if they were cropped. I often take my jeans to a dry cleaner to be hemmed so that they fall just above the ankle bones, it costs about £12.

M&S SS20 - core denim try-on

Straight leg jeans, seven other colours available

View the complete range of M&S jeans here.

Other core denim pieces

As denim is such a key staple this season, I thought I’d try some of the other denim pieces M&S has to offer.

The denim jacket

I left it too late to buy a good ecru denim jacket last summer and in the end I compromised because the only one I could find was this one with a raw hem. As you can see though, they’re really good for throwing on with summer dresses in place of a cardigan which would look matronly.

Midlifechic airport outfit

So I highly recommend this as an early summer buy, I wouldn’t wear it with jeans but this is how it is for fit. Inès de La Fressange has a style rule that suggests you always size down for a denim jacket so I did – this is a 10 and it fits well. I might not be able to fasten it, I don’t know because I wouldn’t wear it closed. Like the jeans, it’s made from sustainably sourced materials.

Ecru denim jacket

Ecru denim jacket

The denim jumpsuit

Now as you know I love a jumpsuit but I’ve never tried a denim one before. This is a soft fabric and a great fit so it gets five stars, my problem is that I’m not sure that either this or the next one have a place in my life

M&S SS20 - core denim try-on

Denim jumpsuit

The denim boilersuit

Cue all of the jokes from the men in the house but I don’t care because I really, really like this. If I was working in a more urban environment and able to get the wear from it, I would absolutely buy this. You could dress it up with heels if you needed to and it would take you through to early summer. A great cut and great quality with no unnecessary details, a simple piece that would cost far more if you were to buy it from somewhere like Cos.

Midlifechic boilersuit

Denim boilersuit

The denim midi-dress

Dress them up or dress them down, denim dresses go anywhere and this is an easy piece to wear. Again it’s beautifully made with good quality denim poppers down the front, pockets and a D-ring belt so that you can adjust it to fit perfectly at the waist. I give it four stars because I’d like it to be an inch or two longer but if you’re 5 ft 7 or below, it’s a great wardrobe hero.

Midlifechic denim dress

Denim midi-dress

Other key pieces

It’s still too early in the season for the main spring range to have dropped but there were some other core basics that caught my eye. I spend a lot of time either in gym kit or clothes that are appropriate for walking Teddy at the moment so I was drawn to useful pieces.

This is a brilliant waterproof parka. I particularly like the fact that I can wear it with jeans and wellies like this but it would also work for a commute because it has such a slick, techno finish. There’s an internal drawstring if you want to pull it in, a stormproof hood, poppers as well as a zip, deep pockets…

Midlifechic walking coat recommendation

Waterproof parka

…. and that all important detail, a parka style hem. This stops it from drawing an unflattering straight line across the back of your legs and of course it also adds that touch of Mod detail. Another five star product in my book, also available in caramel for people who don’t have pups with muddy feet.

Chic waterproof coat 2020

Waterproof parka

I was less keen on this sweatshirt from the Good Move range. I need sweatshirts to throw on when I leave the gym but this creased easily and it would work better without the ribbing at the bottom – it would be more flattering if it hung away from the thighs.

Good move sweatshirt

This jacket on the other hand is another excellent techno feel piece – for some reason it’s described as a fleece but it isn’t, it has a smooth finish. I would have liked it in the cobalt but it’s sold out in my size however black will work well layered with my down jackets – or the waterproof parka. It has everything you need for working out or walking including a quick dry finish, an internal pocket for your phone and a headphone slot. (Teddy had been howling behind the stairgate in the kitchen while we took these pictures so here’s the joy of being released!).

Midlifechic puppy

Power stretch zip up fleece

So there you go, my first M&S edit of the year, looking at core basics. I really think they’re making progress and there are some real successes here. There have been new deliveries this week and you’ll see more signs of early change – the styling of the website shots is improving and quite a few of the clothes are getting cleaner and simpler. I know you’ll give me your feedback, you can see it all here. Have a good weekend everyone.

Disclosure: ‘M&S SS20 – core denim try-on’ was commissioned by Marks & Spencer but all try-on choices and thoughts are my own.

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