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So, last week I told you that our plans for a day in Manchester were changed by the sudden cancellation of Mr MC’s photography course. Undeterred, I soon lined up something just as exciting for us to do instead – a shopping day at John Lewis. As you know, our relationship’s formative years were spent in the dizzy world of department stores. In fact you could even call this a romantic trip because the John Lewis store that I chose to visit was at The Trafford Centre… and it was during the The Trafford Centre’s opening week that our stars first aligned. [For overseas readers, The Trafford Centre is a huge shopping mall in the north of England].
A little back story
As you know, at the time we were working at Selfridges – Mr MC was head of the Creative Studio and I was a Head of Marketing. The launch of The Trafford Centre store was our first outside London and so the entire London marketing team was transferred to Manchester for a week. In our minds, we were going purely to show our glamorous London faces but the Manchester staff had other ideas.
Imagine our collective horror when they greeted us with paintbrushes and left us to pitch in and finish the store. They were gruelling days but as darkness fell, the evenings were ours to explore the city. The rest is history. I’ve told you before how even though we previously didn’t like each other one bit, Mr MC and I got chatting and love blossomed. So I suppose you could say that The Trafford Centre to us is another couple’s Paris – well at least that’s how I pitched it to him on Saturday!
Thoughts about John Lewis
I will always love department stores because to me, the concept of everything under one roof is irresistible. Of course John Lewis do it all so well. They keep sight-lines clear so there is no visual clutter. You don’t enter a battleground of brands each trying to shout louder than the other with flashy, noisy podiums and invasive swinging banners. Everything is kept at a low level which is why there is such a feeling of calm throughout their stores.
With online shopping gaining dominance, department stores are having to reinvent themselves. They are becoming centres of entertainment and interactivity… and that is the other thing that jumps out at you as you wander around John Lewis. There is so much to do. At regular intervals last weekend we found staff members quietly demonstrating products and inviting customers to play with the merchandise. It changes the shopping experience from a passive one which soon gets tiring to an active and absorbing one.
I first started having conversations with the team at John Lewis after I wrote my Winter Florals piece before Christmas. As always it was you who impressed them as much as me. They were gripped by your feedback in the comments and your enthusiasm for a John Lewis X Midlifechic relationship. “What I’d really like to do” I told them, “is to move into John Lewis with Midlifechic readers for a week so we could have it as our playground. I think we’d all be in our happy place!”
A week-long private store opening sadly not being an option, we decided on the next best thing for now: a virtual day out in store. It was useful for me because the nearest John Lewis store is more than an hour’s drive away which means I very rarely go there, choosing instead to shop online. And for me it was a real day of discovery. So join me, let’s imagine we’re having a day out together and see what we find.
Starting with Home and Garden
When I’m shopping with someone else, I always plan the trip in advance, starting with the things that they will enjoy least when energy levels are still high. So with Mr MC that meant beginning in the Home Department. You see in his alternative universe he is a Shaolin monk, dedicating himself to a life of martial arts. As such he would be happiest if our home were completely empty – a futon and a wok would probably be the extent of his material goods. So you understand why he gets twitchy when he sees me entering a home furnishings department. My love of scatter cushions is his worst nightmare.
Over the years we’ve learned to balance my love of comfort with his austerity but shopping trips can be an extended negotiation. There are things in life that I insist we need however and a new bathmat for the boys’ bathroom was where I began. I have a notion that the confidence boosting slogan on this will encourage them to straighten it out when they’ve showered. Hands up if you think I’m deluded.
Moving on, I had a funny moment when I met up with a Midlifechic reader for coffee a couple of weeks ago and she produced one of these Simple Human mirrors from her bag to show me. The whole café clearly thought we were completely mad but it soon had me convinced – and a few other ladies as well.
It’s so good to be able to try them out in store. I don’t know whether you remember me featuring them just before Christmas but they have different magnifying capabilities and they light up as you approach. The best thing in my view is that they mimic natural daylight so you can see if you’ve been too heavy handed with the blusher. There is even one that gives you different results via an app on your phone but my choice is the more basic version.
And the look of excitement on my face here is not because I have turned into a mad 1950s housewife but because our vacuum cleaner is on its last legs. The pets are starting to moult and I’ve been talking about getting a cordless Dyson since Christmas. It was so good to be able to have a go with it.
Dyson Cyclone Cordless Vacuum Cleaner Gold
One of the things I really liked was the number of John Lewis staff who were rolling their sleeves up and entertaining customers. This chap works in a different department but loves baking in his spare time and so he had volunteered to show how to make simple chocolate roses.
And this lady knows a lot about gin and so had volunteered to run the gin tasting.
So, I was happy wandering around homewares but I noticed that my photographer kept disappearing. I tracked him down in his various happy zones…
… interacting with the new Apple speakers…
…and the MacBook Pros (clearly there is room for tech in the Shaolin lifestyle)…
… and then back with the jolly gin lady!
I let him enjoy his gin because next on my agenda was garden furniture. I have decided that it is going to be a baking hot summer akin to 1976. I therefore have a patio project in mind which involves a complete refurbishment of the whole area and new furniture because our current set is 15 years old and has not come out of this grim winter well.
I have a plan for a quiet spot for sitting and reading…
… and somewhere for chatting with friends…
So far, my enthusiasm has not been reciprocated by my husband… I suspect because my plans involve a certain amount of disruption including the knocking down of walls. Can you tell that I was struggling to get him to focus?
In the end there was so much choice that we had more questions than we’d started with but at least I now know the project is on his radar.
A brief pause
It was time to have a quick stop for a delicious (and healthy) lunch. As we ate we could see the cars pouring into The Trafford Centre. There are 11,500 parking spaces in the car park and they were all full. Footfall is clearly not down in the north of England.
Refuelled, we headed into the fashion department.
As well as a general look around at my favourite brands, I had three projects in mind:
- To find an outfit for my sister for a family party that is coming up soon
- To show my good friend who only shops at one shop that there are other alternatives for her style
- To continue my four year search for a leather jacket to replace my faux number
I knew exactly where I wanted to look for an outfit for my sister, Modern Rarity.
My sister looks very like me but is 5ft 3. Our shapes are also reversed – she has a generous bust and slim hips. We’re all going away for our aunt’s 80th birthday very soon and a low key, elegant look for the evening is required. Modern Rarity has the soft, fluid shapes that she loves and there are lots of options for layering pieces. This is the outfit I put together to show her (ignore the shoes, I forgot to put a pair of heels in my bag):
Silk camisole; Silk blouse; Satin trousers
Modern Rarity seem to carry these silk camisoles all year round. They’re beautiful because they have a generous depth of lace and also a discreet panel at the lowest point of the cleavage. I’ve styled the silk blouse open as a jacket but John Lewis also show it worn fastened and tied at the front on the website.
The charcoal trousers are made from satin and both the cut and cloth are amazing (clearly my sister would have to have them taken up). I was so impressed with them that I wanted to try them with my own top to get a clearer view of them. I had always thought that Modern Rarity was too fluid for me – as you know, I prefer fitted shapes. However next time I’m in John Lewis I’m going to play with some of the pieces as separates because the tailoring is so impressive.
Ooh la la top; Charcoal satin trousers
I then moved on to find something for one of my closest friends. She is the same height as me and a complete size 10 beanpole but she insists that she has a tummy that she needs to disguise. Because of this, she buys all of her clothes from one of the high street chains that tends to populate market towns and I’ve been trying for ages to edge her into something new.
Kin with its architectural Scandi lines should be a great starting point for her. There’s nothing too clingy and yet it would hang well from her rangy frame.
So, this is the outfit I texted her – simple, well cut and graphic. I have to rave about the wide legged crops for a moment (ignore the picture on the John Lewis website, it doesn’t do them justice). Seriously, I have never tried any of the John Lewis brands’ trousers before and I think I can say that they have the best cut of any trousers… in any retailer… anywhere.
They are beautifully finished – both of the pairs I tried (Kin and Modern Rarity) had stitched-in front creases and a great weight to them. They both came to exactly the right point on the waist to avoid any hint of a muffin top. Whoever is behind the pattern cutting is very clever. The ones I’m wearing here are made from a heavy jersey so they swung as I walked. I’m not sure if you can tell because the store lights have upset the colour balance on the camera but they are navy.
Wide leg crops; White blouse (not available online but plenty in store); Japanese workwear jacket (low stock online)
Here’s the outfit with the jacket off. The top is a bit too voluminous for me, I would size down but my friend really liked it.
Wide leg crops; white blouse (not available online but plenty in store)
I also tried the Japanese jacket with my normal clothes because I’m looking for a casual alternative to a blazer for summer.
Just out of interest I whizzed over to Hush to compare it with their navy jeans jacket (I was laughing because a midlife lady had been so absorbed in everything Hush that she’d crashed straight into Mr MC). So, looking at this jacket, it is clearly designed for the new silhouette and it would have worked really well with the wide leg crops and a tucked in top.
See, it already looks a bit better with the top rolled up to waist height. Imagine the jeans as a wider cut and you have summer 2018.
And this really is where John Lewis comes into its own isn’t it? You can spend an afternoon playing with new looks and new shapes, mixing and matching all of your favourite brands to see what works and what doesn’t.
It was the perfect place for my leather jacket hunt. I was able to compare lots of different brands including Whistles, Ted Baker, Jigsaw, Oasis, Mint Velvet, Finery… taking a quick snap of each one as I went around. I won’t show you them all but there was one which was a clear winner for its simple cut, minimal hardware and the softest, glossiest leather by far …
Yes, I went round in a big circle and ended up back at Hush. It will be a while before I make that kind of investment but at least I can stop wondering about it now.
Here are two wardrobe capsules that I’ve pulled together in case you don’t have a John Lewis store nearby.
- Simple silk top: dress up your jeans for a relaxed night out with lovely, drapey, washable silk
- Military jacket: this will work with both straight legs and wide crops, skirts and dresses, adding a little chutzpah to a dressed down outfit
- Sky blue bib-front shirt: even if it isn’t sunny outside, you can lift your spirits by wearing sky blue
- Red frilled sleeve top: a versatile top that works for both daytime and evenings out with a mid-length sleeve that is too stylish to look matronly. It’s good value too.
- Great straight legged jeans: these are reader recommended! Since I featured them before Christmas, a few people have been in touch to say they are the ultimate fit. They come in black too and I was hoping to try them but they weren’t in the Manchester store.
- Heart t-shirt: this year’s stamped heart keeps on being reinvented. This is a really easy way to add an ageless edge to a jeans outfit.
- Rainbow t-shirt: as we’ve discussed, if it isn’t hearts, it’s rainbows this year. This one has a vintage vibe.
- Box white trainers: now a classic, if you’re short of leg these will also elevate you slightly
- The slingback is back (again)!: following on from white ankle boots, white shoes are a trend this summer. If it all feels too eighties, the black strap breaks it up (also available in yellow and black).
- Ampersand t-shirt: a lot of people prefer graphics to slogans and this elegant ampersand is a sophisticated take on the trend
- Silver hoops: everyone needs a pair of silver hoops, less flashy than gold, you’ll find yourself wearing them every day.
- This high necked blouse looks like a polo neck but is made from crisp shirting. Such an iconic design – add a simple pair of trousers, heels and you have a ‘look.’ Also available in yellow.
- If you prefer a looser style, this silky boho number is a blast of summer sunshine.
- A chic red dress that is a step away from bodycon but not a ubiquitous floaty midi.
- Here’s a trend coming through for fans of the tailored crop. A design detail – just a split at the front of the calf but it transports you from 2015 to AW18 in a flash. I’ve found it in a ponte trouser here.
- Palm prints replace last year’s pineapples and flamingoes this summer. Embodied here in an elegant blouse.
- A red silk blouse with a statement neck. In one swoop it covers your neck and behind but cinches in at the waist for figure defining curves (also available in blush).
- A simple summer dress with a hint of Parisian chic. Cotton poplin with gentle gathers and it falls beneath the knee. I can imagine wearing it endlessly in the hot summer that we are going to have!
- Three trends in one shoe – slingback, cone heel and V vamp… what more can you ask for? Oh yes and it’s metallic so it goes with everything. Also available in khaki.
Are you still with me? Not long now. We had one area left to cover and that was beauty. There was lots going on in the Beauty Hall and the Chanel counters at John Lewis offer complimentary flash makeovers so I thought I’d give one a try. You’re invited to choose between lips, eyes and cheeks. I opted for eyes because I never wear very much eye make-up.
It was lovely being pampered with all of the different Chanel products. Mr MC by the way kept himself entertained by telling the ladies on the Chanel counter that I am world famous and that his job is simply to follow me around taking photographs!
The end result was very handy in advance of our evening out…
And with that I looked at my flagging photographer and decided it was time to call it a day. There was just time to stop at a fashion show on our way out.
Once more it was modelled by John Lewis staff of all ages and sizes who seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
Please share your thoughts with me (and John Lewis)
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual day out with me. John Lewis are every bit as lovely to work with as you would expect so whilst we have their ear, do take the opportunity to talk to them via the comments. In fact they’ve told me that the comments are what they are specifically looking forward to.
I’m going to start by asking them to create a John Lewis own label collection of ‘Parisian chic’. I feel they’re missing a trick by not creating something sassy yet simple and well cut for women like us. I’m thinking of something along the lines of Inès de La Fressange at Uniqlo but on a year round basis. I think they’d do it beautifully – do you agree?
And of course I would hope that there would be an exclusive launch event for Midlifechic readers! In fact a Midlifechic event at John Lewis would be a great idea full stop wouldn’t it? We could shop together in real life – would you come?
Please give me your answer to this and share any other thoughts you have in the comments – I really want them to know that they have a strong audience here.
The Easter weekend
As you know I had all of my boys home over Easter. Because of the bad weather we didn’t do much but there were a few little moments that I treasured. It was a nice surprise when they were all as enthusiastic as ever about our annual trip out to choose their Easter eggs. They all took part in the egg hunt in the garden when they got up on Easter Sunday (and they got there before our resident squirrel this time). Other than that I just enjoyed watching them settle back in together with the usual playfighting (to see who’s strongest now)… height marking (to see who’s tallest now)… and a new thing – debating (presumably to see who’s smartest now)!
All of us were ready for a break and it was a real wrench on Monday evening when we had to wave the eldest off. I think even he felt it and the joys of his London life are waning… just a little. Despite the cold weather, he spent all weekend with the windows in his bedroom wide open because he was enjoying the fresh air so much. He also drank gallons of water because he can’t stand the way London water tastes. Let’s hope he feels as pleased to be back in July when his exciting Nike internship comes to an end and he has a long year of being an impoverished, provincially based student ahead!
Anyway, I promised them that I’d take the whole weekend off blogging so no photos were taken apart from this one which I was allowed as a souvenir of our family weekend.
I hope you had a good break too. Please don’t forget to leave a comment for John Lewis and thank you, as always, for reading and for everything that you give back to this blog.
Disclosure: Spotlight on John Lewis is in collaboration with John Lewis however the words, photography and thoughts are all my own
Disclaimer: as with the majority of blogs, products featured on Midlifechic sometimes (but not always) include affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase, you are helping to support the site because a small referral commission may be paid. This contributes towards hosting fees, software costs, site maintenance and other plug-ins. Midlifechic could not exist without these small payments, so every contribution makes a big difference.
2018 posts you may have missed
Inspiring thoughts from a style icon
A great weekend break and a new drop from Hush
Trying on my Boden order – keepers and returns
A Spring Smorgasbord – gelato colours
Reasons to be cheerful and outfits of the week
What I’ve been wearing – and how I carved out an extra day in my week
Thoughts on Mother’s Day as your children grow older
5 things to do in the Lake District when the weather’s bad
Spotlight on Inès de La Fressange at Uniqlo
Midlife adventures – Transylvania review
Some thoughts about our midlife Valentines