Ally, Queen of Shops

Unexpectedly lovely day yesterday as I wandered round the corner to Bedford Place to do a spot of local shopping and ended up spending several hours helping my friend Mama Hep sort out her new collection for her vintage shop, Hepwright’s

I’d stuck my head round the door to say hello and ended up getting sucked into the treasure trove of fabulousness, it’s the sort of shop where rummaging is positively encouraged and you can’t help but want to browse through all the racks, drawers, trunks and baskets. Mama Hep (Catherine) is an ever gracious host and having watched her in action, I can definitely recommend Hepwright’s as a shopping experience. After doing a whole lotta browsing I got down to helping with the folding and sorting of some seriously wonderful pieces incoming from a local Opera company. I’m not exactly what one would call a fashionista and I’m not exactly brave in my sartorial choices, nor do I really have a clue what goes with what and so it was great to be able to talk styling with Mama as we waded through piles of clothing. 

And then it happened… I was left in charge of the shop! *squeals* All my girlhood dreams were coming true as MH popped to get a coffee and I took up my position behind the counter and tried to assume an air of ‘I belong here and I know what I am doing, honestly’ by moving things round the counter and doing a spot of tidying. The façade lasted until a lady came into the shop with a bag of things to sell. Holy crapola was I out of my depth! I stalled and decided instead to show her some of my favourite things on the racks (hellooooooo yellow seersucker dress, I’m talking to you!) which prompted a lovely reminisce from her about some of the things she remembers her Mum wearing when she was growing up and thankfully took long enough for Mama Hep to return with liquid refreshment and her all encompassing vintage knowledge to save the day.

I couldn't resist making myself Ally, Queen of Shops.
I couldn’t resist making myself Ally, Queen of Shops.

It made me realise quite how crap and impersonal shopping on the high street can be, as I watched customers come in and share their stories, each one lavished with individual attention and service. We met the loveliest Irish ladies and by the end of the afternoon, I knew more about the pair of them than I know about some of the friends I’ve known for years. At one point the four of us were sat cross legged on the floor of the shop poring over old maps whiling away time and shooting the breeze. Mama Hep knows her stock inside out and will always go rummaging in ‘Narnia’ (the stockroom at the back of the shop) if she thinks there is something back there that you might fall in love with.

It was such fun getting to play shops and help a friend out all at once, and when the time came to say goodbye I left the shop with a smile on my face and a spring in my step, which was further magnified when a very handsome bearded young gentleman, riding a proper old fashioned bicycle and rocking a wicked tweed suit, dinged his bike bell at me as he sailed past, he may as well have doffed his cap it was so positively perfect to top off my vintage day.

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Hepwright’s is located at 34 Bedford Place, Southampton and is SO worth dropping in to. You can also chat to Mama Hep @hepvintage on Twitter or visit their website http://www.hepwrights.com

Birchbox: A Review

picture taken by Long Tall Ally

Birchbox are the latest beauty box on the block. For those not in the know, beauty boxes are the current favourite ‘monthly fee for fun pushed through your letterbox’ craze following on from Graze and Not Another Bill. New to the UK having scooped up previous company Joliebox, Birchbox have a monthly subscriber base of more than 300,000 in the U.S and are finally bringing their beauty and lifestyle discovery service to the UK starting with this January 2013 offering. There was no mistaking what it was when this landed in my lap – that hot pink just screams rip me open and look at the goodies, doesn’t it.

So, what’s in the box?!

picture taken by Long Tall Ally

When it arrived the bow was perfect however yours truly couldn’t wait to be reunited with a camera to take pictures so I dived in straight away and then had to attempt to re-tie the bow as best I could. I was bemused by the Birchbox branded magnifying glass, I thought perhaps it was a dig at my advancing years and looming birthday however the strapline on the press release was ‘Discover Beauty Better with acclaimed US experts BIRCHBOX’, so grabbing the magnifying glass and stroking my imaginary Sherlock Holmes beard, I dived in.

picture taken by Long Tall Ally

I might sound like a bit of a geek but I really like the packaging, it feels good quality and it looks classy enough for me to re-appropriate the box to store earrings in, although I’m not really sure why they felt it necessary to include a drawstring pink bag – unless they knew that I would do this with it:

I know, I'm amazed I'm single too...
I know, I’m amazed I’m single too…

Lurking inside my new rainhat (It totally suits me, right?) were six sample sized products to help me start the new year on the right foot and a postcard telling me what each product was for, and how much a full sized version would cost me.

Pic taken by Long Tall AllyFrom left to right we have,

  • KMS California FREE SHAPE Quick Blow Dry which apparently leaves hair bouncier and shinier than ever and promises to cut down on blow drying time by 50% thereby giving me even less time to try and master blow drying my own hair. I’ll be honest, I’m more likely to spritz this on and then not bother with the blow dry but it smells nice and might give me an extra ten minutes in bed in the morning.
  • Wei Jujube Age Control Serum (no, I’m not sure how it’s pronounced either), a tiny tube but a little goes a long way I hope, particularly as it’s supposed to soften the look of fine lines which appear to be setting up home on my face.
  • fresh Sugar Rosé Lip Treatment SPF 15 – bit of a mouthful here, and I’m hoping it will give me a bit of a mouthful (that boys want to do smooching on). This is the product I’m most excited about trying as it exfoliates, has a hint of colour, smells divine and contains SPF15. What more could you want? What’s that? You want it to apply itself? Well there’s just no pleasing some people.
  • Wild Romantic Body Butter with Shea and Marula. I’m not going to lie, I actually recoiled in fear of losing my nasal hair when I smelt this. It certainly packs a punch given the size of the sample (my pot is about a third full) and whilst it claims to be lightly scented (I beg to differ) it also claims to conquer dryness in a snap. I’m tempted to keep it in my handbag to use as smelling salts, but if you’re a fan of heavier scents than I am, this might just be your thing.
This might bring all the boys to my yard...
This might bring all the boys to my yard…

In addition to those four main items were two ‘extras’, some I Coloniali Deep Massage Body Cream with Myrrh which looks like a standard sample you could probably blag from the counter directly and a Teapigs Tummy Tonic caffeine free peppermint leaves packet. Teapigs are a brand that I’ve heard a lot about which is unusual given that I don’t drink hot drinks and it smells absolutely scrumptious, even though I know it will probably taste like dishwater. Not that I’m dissing Teapigs, I just can’t bear the taste of herbal tea.

Pic taken by Long Tall Ally

In addition to all the goodies there is a Birchbox magazine which takes us behind the Wei brand, gives tips on using some of the products in the box and introduces a monthly ‘Birchbox Crush’, this first honour falling to Gemsmaquillage a YouTube guru and blogger.

pic taken by Long Tall Ally

If you’re in the market for a sample subscription service, I don’t think Birchbox have done too badly with this first offering, it’s not promising the world and delivering far less and it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with in the following months. To get your very own Birchbox will cost you £10 a month plus £2.95 P&P from http://www.birchbox.co.uk

*press sample

Zut Alors, Michael Kors!

I’ve fallen in love. Proper sparkly shiny dry mouth heart poundy not going to be able to sleep tonight thinking about the beauty love.

It’s with Michael Kors. Not the 53 year old blazer wearing American fashion designer, but with the gorgeousness he puts his name to. I’ll confess, it brings out the magpie in me and I want to gather all the shiny together and nest with it whilst whispering ‘my pretties’ over and over.

It started when I thought I’d replace my battered old Fossil watch and clocked a friend of a friend with something gold and chunky on her wrist. Gold, chunky and Michael Kors. Having stalked gold chunky watches for a while, I’ve come to rest on the one that I’m hoping will be a 30ish birthday present, probably from Me, to Me because I’m nice like that.

image courtesy of polyvore.com
Michael Kors MK8077 from £158 through Amazon UK

 But it doesn’t stop there, because it transpires that Mr Kors does a fine line in other beautiful things. Like these bangles which I’d stack up high on my wrist and listen to them jangle whilst I sip cocktails at a glamorous rooftop bar and slink about in a très chic kaftan (naturally I’m a size 8 glamazon with bronzed pool boys catering to my every whim in my bangle fantasy).

Skinny Buckle Bangles, Rose Golden $95 from Michael Kors website
Skinny Buckle Bangles, Rose Golden $95 from Michael Kors website

I’ll tell you a funny story about the night I attempted to wear a pair of shoes similar to the ones below. It was for a ball at Goodwood House, I got all glammed up and felt fabulous, cracked out the shoes and realised as I tottered to the car that a) they made me 6’7″ and b) I couldn’t fecking walk in them. It wasn’t long before I kicked them off under the table and got a friend to fetch my flats when he popped back to the bedrooms for something. Oh how I wish I’d kept the high shoes on. If I had, I wouldn’t have got so drunk that I thought a very famously gay celebrity was chatting me up, spent the best part of a grand in one night and sent Greg James from Radio One an email asking him out. Okay, I wouldn’t change that last part because it was great fun but STILL. I can’t walk in shoes like this, but I can lust after them.

Kaleigh Studded Platform sandal $295 Michael Kors website
Kaleigh Studded Platform sandal $295 Michael Kors website

And the final, most magpie inducing shiny shiny of them all:

Gia Studded clutch $795 Michael Kors website
Gia Studded clutch $795 Michael Kors website

Isn’t it incredible? It comes in black, navy, grey and ecru but if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it properly right? This thing is IN YOUR FACE bling and I love it. So what started with some arm candy in the shape of a watch has now progressed to pretty much the entire Michael Kors website. Oh to win the lottery.

Go on over and have a browse but don’t blame me if your bank manager takes a hit out on you. http://www.michaelkors.com

 

Bum Floss and Big Boobs

That got your attention huh?

When I was at my biggest my underwear could have doubled for circus tents. The elephants could have sought shelter under my pants and the dancing ladies, the strong man and the lion plus tamer could have bedded down in either bra cup. I always thought that there wasn’t a point in wearing nice grundies because nobody was ever going to see them. The usual fare was big greyish apple catcher knickers with loose elastic and a bra that looked more like a “my first training bra” than anything an adult woman would be seen dead in.

My lovely friend OJ would never dream of not wearing matching underwear whereas although yours truly has updated her knicker drawer I’m still a knicker slut because anything goes. Patterned knickers with a black bra, white bra with black pants, even *gasp* black bra under a white shirt. See? I don’t have separate undies for work and for going out, I don’t have lucky knickers or pulling pants, and I’ve never believed in the power of “nice bra juju” whereby donning your fanciest lacy number gives you the cojones to get through an important meeting. In fact, if you take a gander at The Bic Dick you’ll see that I don’t get on that well with underwear in the workplace.

But then Panache http://www.panache-lingerie.com/ got in touch and offered to send me some new pants. Not only new pants, new MATCHING pants to make me feel like a grown up in total control of herself, ready to take on the corporate world and break some balls. As a woman with a large chest I was really impressed with their range, below is just a selection of the goodies on offer. I settled on the Superbra in Andorra Lagoon set (4th picture) and was really chuffed with it, even if it didn’t give me superpowers…

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And no, I don’t look like that in mine and yes, hell will freeze over before I pose in my knick knacks for you delightful lot. I wriggled into the set one morning when I had a pretty full on day at work, a meeting I could do with impressing in, a lot of deadlines, and a smattering of life based drama and blow me down with a feather if I didn’t feel a certain spring in my step knowing that my tatas were nicely cradled in fancy lace and I had some fabric nestled up my buttcrack.

Superbra, I salute you for convincing me of the power of the underwire and for giving me a certain sense of Panache (geddit?) when I go about my day. I’m off to upgrade my knicker drawer!

*PR sample. Panache underwear is available at http://www.panache-lingerie.com/

Ooh What A Lovely Pear

Having recently discovered my dress mojo and spent a week flouncing about in a variety of outfits swishing my skirts and generally acting like I was in some sort of Jane Austen book the heavens then opened and I couldn’t slink round in a series of summer dresses anymore so retreated back to the comfort of my jeans. Also three dresses and a skirt in four days was more than enough for my legs, slow and steady wins the race and all that so it was nice for them to go back to their denim haven.

If you know me though you’ll know that jeans don’t fit me. They resolutely fall down because there is a lot of junk in my trunk and I have a teeny waist. This means I have to buy jeans to fit my arse and thighs and this makes them baggy as sin round my waist leaving me hoicking them up whenever I stand up and flashing my Dagenham smile when I sit down. It’s not a good look and as someone who really doesn’t like wearing belts I needed a solution before I was arrested for indecent exposure

Enter Evans the shop I always hated, hated because it was the only shop I could frequent and at the end I couldn’t even fit their clothes. Today they changed my life* with a pair of pear jeans. Evans have been pushing the idea of finding your body shape and dressing accordingly and so their shops are plastered with style advice and tips to help you navigate your way in store. Having used their online body shape calculator I found out I am a “pear” with 15″ difference between my waist and my hips – that seems like an overly large scary number and a definite reason to pound the treadmill – and so was intrigued by their jeans specifically designed for women like me who have a booty to rival Kim Kardashian.

Cut smaller and higher on the waist to hug your curves, they claim that the new magic shape will change your life and might also make you drop down a dress size. They’re not wrong. Having grabbed a size smaller than I currently wear I was definitely holding my breath as I pulled them on. It felt like there was no chance in hell of them fitting but oh my goodness they fit like a dream. No baggy waistline, no butt crack on show, no yanking them up, no muffin top, it’s like they were designed for me.

If you’re blessed in the curves department like me then I can’t recommend these jeans highly enough. Sure the product photo is pretty horrific as it looks like the Pilsbury Dough Boy has been squeezed into them but they have magical properties and they’re only £22. Bargain.

*probably an exaggeration but I heard cherubs singing in the changing rooms, honest.

Skateboard shoes aren’t sexy.

Being so tall I know I’d fall over if I had tiny feet, I’d be walking down the pavement and WHAM I’d over balance and end up eating pavement but there are days when I wish I could chop off my toes to fit into a smaller size shoe, like the ugly sisters from Roald Dahl’s Cinderella.

After wearing size ten shoes for as long as I can remember, I’ve had to go out and buy a pair of shoes that fit me properly in a sexy size eleven *coughs* however as you can imagine you don’t just stumble across a pair of beautiful shoes and find out they come in an eleven. Instead you swallow your pride and go to the men’s section of the shoe shop where you wade through piles of very manly shoes to find a pair that can look unisex and not make you feel butcher than a very butch thing.

I was looking for a pair of casual shoes that I can fling on in the morning and be comfortable in. I found them and I don’t like them but my god they’re comfortable which is important because all this wearing shoes that are slightly too small has given me a bunionette. That’s not me trying to make it sound cutesy by calling it a bunionette, it’s the real deal of bunions but it’s just on the wrong side. Trust me to deviate from the norm.

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Not exactly sexy are they. In fact they make me feel like a teenage boy who should be out riding round on his skateboard before smoking a roll up behind the bike sheds and talking about chicks.

All I wish for are nice shoes in a size eleven that aren’t the equivalent of a month’s rent or designed for street walkers… Is that too much to ask?

Talonted is Talented

I’m a secret nail art fan even though I’m as cack handed as they come and can just about manage to paint my own nails without going all over the lines. I love the bright colours, intricate and crazy designs some people sport however I prefer to stick to muted colours with the odd red or bit of glitter thrown in sometimes. I’m always looking for ways to indulge my secret love which is why it’s a good thing that the super talented Lex came into my life via Twitter because man alive, she gives good nail!

She regularly updates her blog Talonted with the latest design she’s rocking and I’ve put a selection of my favourites below but really you need to head over to her site to see her entire portfolio.

How Cath Kidston kitsch cool are these?
Busy busy bumblebee...
Autumn leaves
In a galaxy far far away...
How much love for these loved up nails?

The best thing about Lex’s love of and talent for nail art is that she has recently started a service whereby you can request your own acrylic nail extensions painted to your own specifications. If you have a design you want Lex to work her magic on, head over to the Talonted Facebook page where for a mere £10 you can have your own personalised extensions. A bargain!

Movember Manicure

If you’re like me, you’ve only got to take a look round your office at the sprouting facial bushes to realise that something funny is going on. That funny that is going on is Movember when gentlemen round the world get sponsored to cultivate some face furniture to raise money for The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research.

But why do the gents get all the fun? When I stumbled across this video by Cute Polish I knew I wanted to sport a moustache mani for the rest of the month.

Looks simple hey? I have the nail art skills of a one armed arthritic squirrel so if I can do it then anyone can. Not having a dotting tool like the lady in the video I had to improvise so I ended up using the head of my poppy pin and a cuticle stick with the end flattened a bit.

First I used the pinhead to do the big dots...
Then I used the cuticle stick to do smaller black dots

Then my friend lovely Laura did some nail extensions for me in order to practice her skills so I had to start again with the dots but then….

Then I redid the dots on my new nails and using the cuticle tool I sort of smeared the polish into tiny 'taches!

I think it looks cute and it’s sooooo easy to do. A couple of the girls at work have asked me to do them a mo’ nail so of course I’ve agreed, for a donation!

Maybelline Volum’ Express the Colossal Cat Eyes

What a mouthful and I’m not quite sure what Maybelline has against the correct spelling of ‘volume’ but we shall, for the purposes of this review, overlook them being bad at spelling.

As part of my shopping ban the idea was to use up my make up stash before buying anything new. Upon cruising my drawers for a mascara I was somewhat dismayed to only find a bright green available to me. Suitable for big nights out and fancy dress, not so much for the 9-5 so I nipped into Superdrug and grabbed the first basic black mascara I could find, which turned out to be the mascara with the longest name in the history of the WORLD.

The Colossal Cat Eyes promises flicked out fierce lashes that are up to 7x more volumised. So far so normal mascara spiel that tends to promise but not deliver. The packaging is what caught my eye, the classic bright yellow Volum’ Express Colossal chunky tube with a smattering of bronze leopard printon the lid. The brush, sorry, the CLAW, is designed to help you flick your corner lashes out to get that feline feel.

image courtesy of maybelline.co.ukBut does it work? Unfortunately there’s only one way to find out and that’s to look at a truly awful photo of my eyes resplendent with early morning eye bags (even taking the photo in HD couldn’t see them off!) to see my lashes in their naked stubby state. Et voila!

It was REALLY early and I took it myself...
It was REALLY early and I took it myself...

And after a generous coating of (deep breath) Maybelline Volum’ Express the Colossal Cat Eyes mascara?

I hear being boss eyed is all the rage...

Well at least I have eyelashes now but they’re not exactly feline or flicked out. The small claw brush does make it much easier to reach those tricksy corner lashes which can does make me feel slightly feline for the first five minutes after applying until my eyelashes go back to being their normal straight not cat like jobbies.

It’s interesting that there is a tip on the Maybelline website that says to use a stroke of gel liner winged out at the corners for a more ‘intense look’. To me they might as well have said ‘it’s a decent black mascara but won’t give you sexy cat eyes. Buy some individual falsies and bung them at the outer corners of your eyes if you want to look like Catwoman’. All in all it’s a decent bog standard black mascara but hasn’t set my world on fire.