Scores of books have been published on why we should all be bowing down to the high priestesses of Parisian style, while Italian women are widely regarded as some of the sexiest dressers on earth. American television shows celebrate the sleek Manhattan aesthetic, and it felt as if the whole world went out and bought a patterned wool jumper after getting into Scandi Noir.
While British fashion, like British food, has quietly become some of the best on earth, we have never quite had the adulation of other nations. But we have one particular skill set that even the French could benefit from, and that’s the life-changing magic of dressing comfortably.
Case in point – the Chelsea Flower Show. An occasion doesn’t get more British than this celebration of gardening. Here via some seriously stylish midlife women in attendance, we reveal the winning looks that showcase the six rules of stylish – but ever so comfy dressing.
1. Make sure your trainers are box fresh
Cross the Channel and it will take your eyes a few moments to adjust to the lack of white from the ankle down. That’s because the British love affair with trainers has been so all-encompassing that the exercise accessory is now a summer fashion staple for women of all ages – one that not only soothes tired feet but dresses down the fanciest of outfits. Take Joanna Lumley. Her sleek blue suit, smart pink top and glamorous gold earrings are all undoubtedly stylish but might have looked a little too much for a daytime event if she’d worn them with heels. With her brand-new Nike AirForce Ones (ratty old trainers would have looked all wrong), her outfit was modern but age-appropriate, relaxed but fashionable and above all, comfortable enough for her to do an impressive two tours of the stands and make a quick escape when the storm clouds rolled in…
2. Denim duster coats flatter us all
In this muggy ‘can’t decide if it’s hot or cold’ weather, denim is the one material that will keep you warm in a downpour and sweat-free in the sun. Showing the material’s range is Judi Dench who, instead of picking a Nineties style cropped denim jacket, opted to wear a thin duster coat over an all-white outfit with a sprig of gypsophila pinned to her chest. Denim coats are a welcome trend this summer – so much so that MaxMara has even released its famous camel coat in the material. They’re easy to throw over a floral dress or a silk skirt, much more fun than a cardigan and – being impervious to stains and creasing – are delightfully maintenance free.
3. Bright suits are brilliant
Pink as a hue flatters almost everyone; it’s a perennial trend that stays with us from girlhood to old age – and if a pink dress is too reminiscent of your sixth birthday party, then a trouser suit could be the answer to your summer woes. Take Zoe Ball and Sophie Wessex, two women in their 50s who opted to wear lightly tailored, wonderfully comfortable-looking pink suits. Ball paired her £275 number from high-street staple Me+Em with a pair of white trainers and a vest top, while the Countess of Wessex opted for fashion pack favourite Gabriela Hearst (for which the jacket alone costs £1,741). They may have been on different ends of the price spectrum, but both suits were cheerful and memorable, and with loose trousers and long sleeves, are the kind of pieces they’ll want to wear again and again.
4. An updated classic never fails
Zoom in on Laura Carmichael’s pinstripe suit and you will see each line of white is made up of hundreds of daisies – what could be more Chelsea Flower Show appropriate than that? The cut is flattering and clearly comfortable while the biscuit coloured silk shirt and the blue wedges compliment the suit perfectly; no single piece is wildly fashionable but together they combine to make the Downton Abbey actress the top contender for Best in Show.
5. Jumpsuits are like wearing pyjamas
Attend any party in Britain in the summer and it is a statistical guarantee that at least half the women will be in jumpsuits. And why not? You can throw one on in the morning without having to consider what goes with what, cinch it in at the waist to create a more flattering silhouette or enjoy loose-fit shapes for days at home. You don’t even have to worry about shoes – Birkenstocks, ballet flats or good old trainers work perfectly with even the dressiest styles, as shown by former Catatonia lead singer Cerys Matthews who looked wonderfully laid-back in her silk Lisou design.
6. Always take heed from the Queen
There’s plenty to write about this image – the ebullient, cheering shade of bright pink, the knee-length floral dress underneath and the trusty low-heel shoes, but also the Queen’s wide grin as she rides her plush buggy around the show. As if we needed any more proof that this island’s comfort-first approach is the easiest way to have fun…