Karen Millen boasts a jet, knee-length wool-blend Embellished Double-Breasted Coat

Sexy simplicity

For February, try a palette cleanse


This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

“so, Betts,” I hear you cry, “last year’s low-buy to curtail your style addiction: how’d that work out?” To which I answer: “Look over there! No, really. Oh my God. Did you see it?” Which is to say, it both was and wasn’t a success.

I definitely acquired less, a great majority of it second-hand, making only a couple of fast-fashion purchases (okay, four), which will slow down considerably by being worn forever.

The few-ish new things I did invest in were better quality, hotly-adored and fundamental to my very soul. Viz, the ME+EM Bound-Edge Cropped Blazer (was £350, now £175); Jigsaw Puff Sleeve Knitted Dress (to hire from My Wardrobe HQ from £6 a day); and nrby Patti Velvet Shirt (£160).

As ever, I was staunch in willpower until hormonal. Still, I sold stuff to finance my habit, thus creating something resembling a personal, circular economy.

I engaged more, took notes, deployed the Moonsift app to build in delay, battled, hated myself and, ultimately, benefited, as did the planet. In short: I made progress, but there’s work to be done.

The thing is, those of us who care about this stuff, really care. Compare Selina Hastings on Nancy Mitford:

Good clothes were a necessity, almost a matter of health and Nancy had suffered more than most from the make-do-and-mend policy … Mme Massigli, the … French ambassadress, was a source of great torment on this count. Mme Massigli’s clothes, she told Diana, “make one feel Cinderella in the cinders … She comes into the shop & I can’t sleep on account of her clothes, wondering how mine could be made over … I really stayed awake all one night, it simply bothers me.”

You’ll either be a sufferer of these 4am spirals, or you won’t. I am.

Either way, what is required in Jan and Feb is a palette cleanse via simplicity, but one that still supplies a will to live. What you’re looking for is the coruscatingly quotidian / audaciously everyday / mentalist mundane — what lesser rags might refer to as “basics with a twist”.

Gap’s High-rise Velvet Vintage Slim Jeans

Think quiet luxe plus. Grey is the current neutral — partaking in what the fashion world is referring to as “grandpacore”, but I prefer to think of as “codger creep”. Or black, goth also being majorly 2024.

Accordingly, you might want something in the way of a plain, unassuming pair of trousers. Fine, but make them velvet in the form of Gap’s High-rise Velvet Vintage Slim Jeans (was £55, now £35). Team them with cashmere and flats. And, yes, I know skinnies are s’over, wide trews the thing. But, these are the dog days of winter, and, honestly, we can’t even.

Frock-wise, I cannot recommend Cefinn’s Irina Bias Cut Velvet Maxi Dress (£340, cefinn.com, matchesfashion.com & modarosa.co.uk) highly enough. Fabulously simple, yet unquestionably spesh; modestly covered, yet girlishly flirtatious; the effect is at once demure, yet sexy as hell. Wearing it, you will feel entirely at ease, yet also as if you’re wiping the floor with everyone else — the ultimate February fillip.

The Fold’s Colville Midi Skirt in Silver Metallic Tweed (was £350, now £245, the foldlondon.com) is of the same surreptitiously stupendous ilk: a grey pencil skirt may sound normcore, but this one’s subtly glitzy and sensationally cut. The look may be sharp, however its material is winningly flexible, the back vent forgiving, meaning this is tailoring in which one can move, breathe, collapse.

The Fold’s Colville Midi Skirt in Silver Metallic Tweed

If even these wonders sound too much effort, focus on your outer layer. I’m talking a classic coat, but festooned with sparkling interest: an homage to the kind of décor on view at Chanel’s Métiers d’Art shows (paying tribute to the workshops the brand maintains to preserve couture craftsmanship), or Prada-style embellishment by way of the high street.

Karen Millen boasts a jet, knee-length wool-blend Embellished Double-Breasted Coat (was £529, now £423.20); a grey Tailored Wool-blend Embellished Maxi Coat (was £599, now £479.20); plus this latter design in ivory (was £649, now £519.20). Or merely bedeck your existing coat in brooches and trudge on in splendour.

Failing this, you could accessorise as an antidote to dullness: a vivid scarf, say, or powerfully pigmented pout. Madly-hued hose — tights and socks — are in vogue, scarlet stockings à la Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, and first Sabina, then Gladys in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. The fact that I can tell you this goes some way to indicate why my profligacy proves such a problem.

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