Thank goodness – on Sunday we’ll reach the Spring equinox and then in a week’s time the clocks go forward. These are the little things that mean such a lot at the moment because they’ll make a significant difference to the lives we’re living. Today’s post is all about new season, this time with a focus on more everyday outfits that will take us from lockdown to beyond. I’m pleased to be working with one of my favourite retailers again today, looking at what’s going on at John Lewis & Partners and bringing you an update on everything that’s happening on their fashion floor.

While the newspapers have been talking about potential store closures the style teams at JL&P have been beavering away behind the scenes preparing to launch a very different new season. For a long time now we’ve been used to the stable of well known brands that they stock, both their own and third parties. Alongside Kin and Modern Rarity we know we’ll find Hush, Boden, Reiss, All Saints and lots of others, making it easy for us to play around and put outfits together from different labels. This season though JL&P  will be shaking up their fashion offering by introducing a number of independent brands and we’re about to see over 50 new fashion and beauty labels joining the JL&P flock. Some such as Baukjen are old friends; others such as Albaray and Thought may be new to a lot of to us – we’re about to have much more choice at our fingertips.

JL&P’s strategy has been to look for brands that are small and sustainable and some of the companies they’re supporting are complete start-ups. The two friends behind Ro&Zo only began working on their ideas last summer during the pandemic and Albaray, a new sustainable collection from some of the team behind Warehouse, is launching for the first time this season. And when you think about it JL&P, with its established retail set up, is in a position to offer the opportunity of a lifetime to small brands, helping them to get going and giving them access to their website which has a reach that they could never have dreamed of otherwise.

There’s a benefit for us as customers too. As so many retailers move into the marketplacing model offering a soup of the same high street brands, we’ll be able to find something different at JL&P. We’ll have confidence that we’re buying from brands that are working sustainably with ethical supply chains… and we’ll know that we’re doing our bit to support small businesses at the same time. The retail industry has been devastated over the last twelve months but as the old way of shopping collapses, it brings with it an opportunity to start something new with better values than ever before. Now’s the time to think carefully about exactly where we spend our money because every pound is going to be a vote for the retail landscape we want to see.

There are some small brands that I’m particularly excited to see coming on board. In womenswear one is Kemi Telford. As you know I love Yvonne’s skirts but I’ve always been nervous of the returns policy which states that they have to be packaged exactly as they were delivered. With her fabulous full midi skirts that isn’t easy so it’ll be great to have the the JL&P distribution arm to hand. In menswear another of my favourite brands has already arrived. Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing creates employment opportunities in run down areas of Lancashire and other counties. The collection is based around very cool, high quality but affordable pared down garments all made in the UK – let’s hope womenswear follows soon.

All of the new brands that are coming in are the next step on in JL&P’s plan to modernise their fashion offering. You’ll notice that most of the ranges are fluid as the buying teams acknowledge that the way we live, and therefore dress, has completely changed. We now need to be able to move through a day that might veer from work Zoom meetings to walking the dog and then (hopefully soon) to sitting in a wine bar with friends. The old boundaries between work and home wardrobes have completely blurred and we have different demands from our clothes – they need to give us the confidence lift that we want while still being comfortable and adaptable.

What’s going on at John Lewis & Partners – their own collection

As well as introducing more diversity with new brands, the fashion team have been continuing to develop the John Lewis & Partners own brand collection. In the comments quite a few of you often say that the one thing that’s missing is a line of simple but well designed and affordable capsule pieces. Well now that gap is being filled in. Jo Bennett, Head of Womenswear, explains the thinking behind it:

“For this season and beyond, we’ve put the emphasis on beautifully made wardrobe foundations that reflect the world we’re living in now and we’ve also re-evaluated our price points. Every item is very competitive, whether it’s versatile loungewear or an uplifting dress, and in the context of these staples working together with an existing wardrobe, it offers extremely good value.”

One of the first pieces for SS21 was the velour hoodie and joggers that I featured in January and lots of you have since raved about it, saying you’ve bought it in a range of colours:

What's going on at John Lewis & Partners

Velour hoodie & joggers

More of the collection has been released now and it includes pieces such as ‘the perfect white shirt‘ and ‘the perfect basic t-shirt.’ There are jeans, a breton, a simple mac and squared off ballerinas as well as a spring release of knitwear (and I do think that JL&P’s own brand knitwear was the best on the market for AW20). So this week I put a few pieces through their paces to see if they’re as good as they suggest.

I have to say that I always feel slightly nervous when a brand asks me to review a range that they’ve put so much time and energy into. It’s like the times when the boys show me a piece of coursework that they’ve already handed in and I read it with the dread of spotting a typo or something that could have been picked up if they’d shown me earlier. However, I pulled together a sample request and I’ll start by saying that I didn’t request the perfect shirt or tee because they’re both white and as I said last week, white is too harsh for my skintone unless it’s tanned. I didn’t choose the bretons for the same reason but I do just want to show them to you because I know a lot of you will love the neckline, the half sleeve and the range of bright spring colours that are available. I really hope they’ll release an ecru version of all of these pieces next season.

What's going on at John Lewis & Partners

Half sleeve breton; Navy chinos

Relaxed wfh wear

So what did I go for? Starting with the most casual outfit I chose, relaxed chinos are going to be popular for SS21 but finding a good pair is difficult. These already have five star reviews and have sold out in some sizes, I can see why because they have a great straight leg that isn’t too wide or too narrow and they’re such good value. They’re the perfect weight for spring and summer, the khaki is a shade that will work well as a neutral with lots of colours and they’re also available in navy. The cotton that they’ve used by the way supports the BCI (Better Cotton Initiative). I’m bang on a size 12 in most brands at the moment having lost most of the weight I put on during lockdown and they were a neat fit at the waist so if you’re between sizes you may want to order a couple of pairs to compare.

Casual chinos outfit for women over 40

Sweatshirt; chinos

The sweatshirt is one I’ve had my eye on for a while because I like the way that it hangs straight rather than gathering at the hem. In fact it’s slightly dipped at the back and has split sides which makes it even more flattering, especially if you’re going to wear it with something like leggings or skinny jeans. It’s designed to be a loose fit so if I was buying it I might size down, simply because I don’t like things to be too baggy. However it’s soft and lightweight and again supports the BCI, it comes in a stunning olive colour which keeps selling out along with light blue, mid blue, charcoal and natural.

Best women's khaki chinos 2021

Sweatshirt; chinos

Spring weekend

Now the jeans were the piece that I was most worried about trying. So many retailers claim to have produced the perfect jean and yet nine times out of ten they haven’t. These I’m pleased to say are really good. I’d call them slim rather than straight but that could just be my sturdy legs – they may be straight on you. If you’re looking for a simple pair of flattering jeans they’re an excellent choice, better than a lot of very expensive pairs I’ve tried recently. They fit me well with plenty of stretch, the waist is between a mid and a high rise on me (just below my tummy button) and there’s no gaping at the back. They’re also full length which is a look that’s probably going to be mainstream later this year – if you want to wear them cropped for now, roll them as I have here. I was sent a mid-wash to try and I’m going to order the indigo because it’s so hard to find a good pair of jeans in a solid indigo wash, they’re also available in black.

The denim shirt is great, I like them to have a small detail that takes them out of the Wild West saloon and the frill at the neck does just that. It’s a lovely shade of summer blue and I have a similar one from another of our favourite retailers that was much more expensive so this is a great buy if you can get hold of one – they’re selling fast in some sizes.

This to me is the very definition of a capsule wardrobe outfit, something that I would happily wear every day. The moss green cardigan I absolutely love. Do you remember us talking about Edith Pretty chic? Well this will give the EP effect to all of your spring outfits and it will bring something like a simple jeans and breton bang into 2021. I’m thinking it will also take the edge off some of my prettier summer dresses so that they don’t look frumpy (and I recognise that there’s a certain irony to this because it’s rather ‘landgirl’ but that’s the way that fashion rolls).

Midlifechic John Lewis & Partners basics review

Moss cardigan; Denim shirt; Jeans

It’s soft, it doesn’t itch and it’s warm, perfect for a British spring and I like it so much that I’ve just ordered this cardigan from the same range – I’m hoping it will work as a summer version of the camel cardigan with dinosaur buttons that I’ve worn to death this winter.

What's going on at John Lewis & Partners

Soft cardigan

There’s also a choice of great value macs in the JL&P capsule collection. Here I’m wearing the Easy Mac which I chose because I really like the buttermilk colour. The usual stone colours that trenches come in don’t suit my skintone so I was pleased to see this shade. It’s a simple, washable piece made with cotton from the BCI, easy to throw on like this or wear over a blazer or hoodie for extra street style. If you prefer something slightly longer the collection has another Mac that comes in five colours here.

John Lewis & Partners own brand review - Midlifechic

Easy Mac; Moss cardigan; Denim shirt; Jeans

And last of all, here are their simple square toed flats – as they were samples I didn’t know whether I could shoot them outside so they’re in my usual spot on the well. They’re a simple, classic shoe made from very soft leather so I don’t imagine they’d need wearing in. They don’t come in half sizes so they’re slightly too big for me which tells me that they’re true to size.

What's going on at John Lewis & Partners?

Square toe flats

So that’s my try-on from the new John Lewis & Partners capsule and it’s great, I look forward to seeing the range expand. All of the pieces are likely to slot straight into your existing wardrobe giving you great cost per wear. In terms of both style and value it’s exactly what we’ve all been wishing JL&P would do for so long and it’s good to know that they’ve taken their time over getting it right.

What’s going on at John Lewis & Partners – new brands

A going out or staying in dress

Moving on, I also had the chance to have a play with two of the small brands that are new in. The first one I chose was Ro&Zo which strikes me as sitting somewhere between Hush and Sosander. They’re a very new start up and so I can’t tell you much about them but you can see the full collection at JLP here. It was this green dress that stood out to me, it’s the colour of Springtime so I thought I’d give it a try. This is how you can see the new fluid approach to getting dressed working – you could wear it with trainers during the day and then slip on a pair of heels for a glass of wine in a bar (these things will happen).

Ro&Zo review - Midlifechic

Green ruffle dress, also available in black

It’s made from sustainable viscose and the ruffled hem gives it weight so it has great movement as you walk, it does crease a bit though. The waistband looks fixed from a distance but it’s actually shirred making it extremely comfortable to wear. The detail that I particularly like is the dipped hem at the back which gives it a hint of flamenco – you can be your own dancing lady emoji.

Ro&Zo dress review Midlifechic

Green ruffle dress, also available in black

Relaxed chic jumper and jeans

My wild card outfit actually ended up being a favourite. Thought is a brand that I’ve lingered over quite often but I’ve never ordered from them because they tend to present their clothes worn in an oversized way which doesn’t work for me. And this is where the magic of having brands like this at JL&P comes in, because you know returns are straightforward it’s worth going out of your tried and tested zone every so often.

I really like wide leg cropped jeans but you can never tell how they’re going to hang until you try them on. For the neatest line you need stiff denim, otherwise they tend to bunch around your thighs and look a mess. This pair is absolutely fantastic. There are no classic jeans pockets at the front and that can sometimes make you look wider but not on this pair because they’re so well cut. There’s no unnecessary volume at the top of the thigh and they fit beautifully at the back. I believe them when they say they’re made in the very best denim factory, the wash is chlorine and chemical-free and they’re fully GOTS and OEKO-TEX® certified.

Thought clothing review Midlifechic

Ecru denim crops; Organic cotton jumper

When I requested it I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make the jumper work, I expected to have to tuck it in but it’s actually so beautifully cut that it sits perfectly. I can’t quite express how lovely it is to wear so I hope you can tell from the photographs. This is where it’s going to be so good for these small brands to have JL&P behind them. I would never have picked this outfit from their own website because of the styling but I’m so thrilled with it that I now want to try lots of their other pieces.

Thought clothing review

Ecru denim crops; Organic cotton jumper

So there’s lots of exciting newness ahead at John Lewis & Partners this season and as we’ve seen, a refreshing new approach to retail. You’ll notice the new brands appearing on the website over the next few weeks – Baukjen and Kemi Telford have still to arrive, as have Girlfriend Collective, Aab and lots of others. Change has been accelerated in the world of retail as a result of lockdown and the rethinking that’s had to be done – but if other brands emerge with as much intelligence as JL&P, I think we’ll find that good has come out of a difficult time.

Midlife lately

Not much news to report this week other than that I have had my Covid jab which is something I feel very grateful for. As soon as I got my notification I stalked the site every ten minutes and managed to get a cancellation for last Saturday so off I went. I had the Astra Zeneca vaccine and had no qualms about it. Everyone reacts differently but quite a few people I know have had feverish side effects, some quite badly so I took a couple of paracetamol before I went and kept that up for 24 hours so that didn’t hit me. I did have crazy, almost hallucinatory dreams all night though and I felt wiped out on Sunday which gave me a good excuse to spend Mother’s Day on the sofa being tended by my offspring. On Monday I was ok but didn’t feel up to a run (nothing new there!)… by Tuesday I was back to normal.

Midlifechic Mother's Day 2021

We’re so lucky to have the vaccine rolling out so quickly in this country and if you haven’t had it, I hope you manage to get yours soon. As somebody who very much comes from an arts background, this year has given me a whole new appreciation of everybody who works in science and medicine. And I hope they feel the same way about the creative industries. Without science and medicine we wouldn’t be coming out of this but without the arts we’d never have got through it – films, TV, music, books and websites have kept most of us sane in lockdown. Let’s hope there’s an opportunity for both sides to flourish again in 2021. Have a lovely weekend and I’ll be back next week.

Disclosure: ‘What’s going on at John Lewis & Partners?’ was commissioned by JL&P. As always I was given full freedom over outfits choice and discussion points. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Midlifechic.

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