Well hello, I’m back and if you’re reading this it means you’re still here. I thank you for sticking with me during my absence, I just needed to take some time away. Anyway, I’ll update you with a ‘midlife lately’ next week but today I’m easing myself back in with a look at one of my favourite brands, Uniqlo. You see as I’ve been collating your feedback on some of the retailer-specific posts that I’ve done this season, the cry that I’ve heard more than any other is for a collection of good quality wardrobe fundamentals. And the thing is that you can already find most of them – at Uniqlo. I think it’s a brand that we often overlook because it doesn’t have a bricks and mortar presence outside London so today, I’m going to talk you through my edit of the winter wardrobe building blocks that they do so well.
I’ve been working with Uniqlo for three years now and the facet that I most admire is their drive for perfection. Rather than simply producing a new range, selling it through and then moving on to fashion’s next whimsy, they doggedly review, readdress and refine. So every year the core essentials get better and better. In terms of retail innovation, they then overlay their own brilliant basics with collaborations with other designers ranging from Disney to Christophe Lemaire – and of course our much loved Inès de La Fressange. By running these quirky capsules as limited editions, they manage to span a huge customer base over the course of twelve months and provide something for everyone. They keep it clean by only having one or two collabs running concurrently so there is no retail clutter. As you’ve gathered, it’s a retail model that I really admire but today I want to look at the unsung heroes of their core offering, specifically with the upcoming need for winter layering in mind.
Packable Ultra Light Down – great for layering
I’m starting with the range that plays a huge part in my life from October to April and that’s the packable Ultra Light Down. These are items that offer a slim, insulating layer of down that can be worn almost invisibly beneath other layers. It was when I was in Paris a few years ago that they first caught my eye. Despite being May, it was unusually cold. On the Metro in the mornings I noticed that almost everyone seemed to be wearing down layers beneath a blazer or a peacoat and yet by evening, when it had warmed up, they had vanished. I was puzzled until I saw a lady packing a jacket away into its pouch one afternoon and it all came clear. And the following day I spotted a display of the jackets in the window of Uniqlo’s Marais store.
Since my first purchase then, in true Uniqlo style, the design has been tweaked a few times. And that’s the thing about Uniqlo – other retailers may have copied the ULD concept but no-one else does it quite as well because they don’t pay the same attention to detail. Key features now include a neckline that can be converted into a V by clever use of press-studs, a more flattering shape and a better fabric that is water-repellent. I never go anywhere without one of the compact jackets in my bag during the winter. These three pieces are my pick of the range for layering:
- Ultra Light Down simple gilet: easy to wear undetectably, even under a blazer with fitted sleeves. Just convert it to a V-neck. Handwashable, packable, also available in pink, navy, off white, grey, red, beige and olive
- Ultra Light Down compact jacket: for layering with more warmth – I use these for the gym too because they’re easy to pack away on my way home. Handwashable, packable, also available in pink, navy, off white, grey, red, beige and olive
- Ultra Light Down compact coat: layer under a longer coat, these are particularly handy for anything that is unlined. Handwashable and packable, also available in black, grey, dark green and camel
It goes without saying that these layers are also really great for travel. This is me in one of mine looking a little giddy when we arrived in Transylvania this year. It was just the right thing for the transfer from the airport.
And I also wear them on their own for dog walking like this:
Standalone down jackets
Moving on, some of these are packable so can still be used for layering but they have more structure than the basic ULD.
- Ultra Light Down water repellent jacket – updates include the use of slimmer down for a more streamlined fit and water repellent fabric. The back panelling creates a fitted look. Packable, handwashable, also available in red, olive, off white and grey.
- Ultra Light Down seamless parka – this one is designed without seams making it extra weather resistant, keeping rain, snow and wind out. Packable, handwashable, also available in red, navy grey, black and petrol blue
- Ultra Light Down stretch hooded coat – innovations include added stretch for comfort, elasticated cuffs and hem plus interior collar to give extra insulation. Handwashable but not packable, also available in grey, black and navy.
- Seamless Down long coat – the luxury option: new fabric and improved fit, detachable hood, inner phone pocket with headphone slot, hidden seams for a streamlined look (available in navy, taupe, grey and black). Also available in a shorter version here. Handwashable but not packable.
Seamless down long coat (size medium and TTS)
When you have one of the luxury down coats, you find yourself choosing it over traditional wool versions. It really is like going out wearing a duvet rather than sheets and blankets. If you’re thinking of opting for down as your main winter coat, these are the styles I recommend.
- Lightweight down hooded coat – new features include a streamlined, belted fit which adds less bulk than other styles, fleece lined pockets and removable fur trim. Also available in black or white. Handwashable but not packable.
- Non-quilted down coat – a more chic version of a parka: no quilting to ensure a slim fit, durable water repellent coating, removable fur trim, jersey cuffed sleeves. Handwashable, also available in black, navy and olive.
- Lightweight stand collar coat – this has long been one of my favourites because the flattering oversized collar looks good and keeps your neck warm (see below). Handwashable, also available in green and taupe. Updated this year with a water repellent coating and belt for a slimmer silhouette.
Fleece – but not as you know it
Fleece seems to be making a comeback but it’s difficult to find styles that don’t scream ‘hiker.’ However Uniqlo have created some good options for this winter by developing a slimmer, more streamlined fabric that still gives plenty of warmth. This on trend teddy coat has to be one of the most stylish (and unbelievably cost-effective) that I’ve seen this year. Also available in camel.
- HEATTECH fleece crew – with all the thermal properties of Uniqlo’s renowned HEATTECH, this fleece tee is great for layering when it’s cold outside or simply for throwing on as loungewear on a chilly evening. Available in a rainbow of colours: orange, lime, dark green, navy, petrol blue, light blue, purple, off white, grey, black and beige.
- Soft knitted fleece – my favourite style with its flattering turtleneck (that doesn’t touch your skin), you can see me wearing this with Uniqlo’s brilliant ultra-stretch lounge pants on a relaxed Sunday morning below. Available in dark or light grey, deep or light pink, black, navy and olive.
- Fleece roll neck – warmer still, this is one for when it gets really cold – this vibrant red would be great for December but it’s also available in an amazing selection of colours.
- Fleece lined hoody – great for wearing on its own, under a leather biker jacket or like the street stylers, under a coat. This has been cut to a feminine silhouette and is lined with boa fleece as far as the underarms to keep you warm but not too hot. Also available in dark pink, dark grey, off white, black, camel, petrol blue and navy.
I confess that between November and March, I rarely get dressed without adding one of these layers. If you’re insulated from the inside, you don’t need to wear bulky clothes. Uniqlo’s HEATTECH fabric stores and recirculates your own body heat and it comes in three different grades – basic, extra warm and ultra warm. There are different styles and it’s best to have a selection that will work with different necklines. The most popular tend to be the flesh colours because they’re invisible, even under relatively fine gauge cashmere.
- This ballet neck cut is one of my favourites because you can wear it with dresses, even if they have a dipped collar front and back.
- Slightly higher at the back is the scoop neck and it comes in both a standard and extra warm option.
- The turtlenecks are brilliant – there are no opacity issues so you can wear them on their own as well as layering them. Once again they stand away from your neck so the air can still circulate.
- Uniqlo also do all sorts of HEATTECH tights – plain but also ribbed, cable and these glitter tights which I particularly like
- There are HEATTECH socks too – it isn’t easy to find attractive socks for women and there are lots of designs in differing lengths including knee-socks and over-the-knee socks which take me straight back to my school days.
I had extreme Uniqlo layering going on in this picture when we were at Dracula’s castle. Obviously you can’t see the HEATTECH thermal leggings or socks but you can see the other layers!
We all know that Uniqlo does great quality cashmere – a couple of years ago I did a review that included a washing test to see how it fared both in the machine and also when I washed it by hand. If you missed it, it’s here. I find that I can wash my Uniqlo cashmere in the machine on a cold wash and it comes out fine. They also specialise in lambswool and extra fine merino. However the thing that I find most interesting is that they’re innovating in terms of production and have introduced 3D knit technology which enables a garment to be knitted from a single thread without any seams, giving it a very fluid look. It’s more sustainable because there is far less waste when knitted items are produced this way.
- The extra fine merino range is available in lots of different styles and a huge range of colours but my pick is this sweater with its flattering, clavicle-accentuating boatneck.
- Merino again, this dress is an example of the 3D knit technology – can you see how well it works for the structure? It follows the contours of your body for a superior fit, a word of warning though, it’s selling out fast so you’ll have to be quick. Also available in a light navy, pine green or black. I’ve tried it and it runs small so if in doubt, size up.
- This dress is another example of the 3D merino knitwear with a mock neck and cinched waist. Available in brown or navy as well as the pink.
- And cashmere – well what can I say? More affordable than most other retailers and yet good, soft quality available in a range of styles and colours. I choose from the women’s range when I want a neat fit and the men’s when I want something looser and longer to wear with jeans – the men’s v-necks are particularly good.
Here I have one of the merino 3D dresses to show you. I’d say it’s particularly good for pear shapes because it’s fitted on the upper body and generously shaped on the hips.
And that leaves me with just one more simple basic to bring to your attention and that is the ‘Ezy flannel ankle length trousers‘. Yet another example of a design that has been thought-through. They look like ordinary tailored crops and yet they have a mock fly with an almost invisibly elasticated waistband which makes them incredibly comfortable for sitting in. Available in charcoal, black, camel and olive.
And here they are on me, worn with a pine green cashmere crew neck and one of the brilliant layering shirts – another building block hero thanks to the fantastic rayon fabric and grandad collar which doesn’t interfere when you’re wearing a coat or jacket on top. I’m wearing a medium in each piece and they’re all true to size although I’ll probably have the trouser hems taken up slightly so that they hit my ankle bone.
So there you go, a guide to some of the improvements that Uniqlo have made to their core pieces this year along with a few winter wardrobe building blocks that you may have missed. There are things they could do better – I’ll keep on saying that the website needs a lot of work. It’s very difficult to navigate unless you’re on a desktop – it’s even hard work on a laptop never mind a phone screen. However I persevere with them because you can’t beat them in terms of price and quality – they’re where a lot of the UK high street retailers should be. I respect them for listening carefully to customer feedback. They’ve really expanded their sizing and most pieces are now available in a range from XS to XXL, they’re also working hard at adapting to the Western frame and I’m finding that things are a much better fit all round. As a guide, I found that a medium is now a size 12 which is another adjustment because previously it was a large. All we need now is more stores across the UK… or do we prefer to keep them as a well kept secret? Maybe Uniqlo’s lack of national exposure can be seen as our personal gain!
Disclosure: ‘winter wardrobe building blocks’ is a post in collaboration with Uniqlo. However the concept, content and lifestyle photography is all my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help to keep Midlifechic online.
Great new offers
Boden’s diminishing discount starts on Sunday21st October here – 25% off plus free postage when you spend over £30. Use 6T2C at checkout. Ends Thursday 25th October.
Other Autumn/Winter 18 posts you may have missed
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