2012 September 26

When a teenager dislikes or feels alienated at a new school it can be a turbulent time for the entire family. Structured systems can help to support a fragile ego through such transitions.

Reward mechanisms – allow a child to earn fractions of a reward each time they complete an entire week of school or college. Make the reward obvious and substantial: if they are ‘earning’ guitar lessons, a new hoody or computer accessories, make life-sized cardboard ‘fractions’ (divide a hoody into arms, body and hood or a guitar into neck, body, amp etc) and pin those fractions up in the teen’s bedroom as they are earned. Then have a bonfire of the fractions when they have obtained the reward so that they can burn the cardboard reward system, have some fun with friends making toasted marshmallows and generally get a sense of the value of doing tough things.

Self-esteem issues – this use to be discussed entirely in relation to girls, but it’s become increasingly clear that boys as well as girls can be crippled by fears of self-worth and have distorted self-appraisal. Simple structures can help: boys may benefit from having some one-to-one coaching in a sport they aren’t good at, while girls often find confidence from trying out some new activities outside of school so that they can develop esteem away from their peer group. Buying new sportswear or activity clothing can help create a positive self image that bolsters the ability to take this new confidence back into school or college.

2012 April 26

The UK’s current weather forecast suggests that we are in for a continuing deluge – so how do you dress for spring rain and still look good?

Rain is depressing – you can lift your mood, and create a different vibe through clothing that is much brighter than your usual choices. Steer clear of warm tones though: light clear blues, greens and primrose yellows give a greater effect of light and space than oranges and egg yolk yellows which can become garish looking through the amount of grey in the ambient light.

Boots are essential – you can even wear boots with shorts, these days, as long as you have rugged enough socks (and tuck the socks down, don’t pull them up your legs until they look strained) but anything else looks silly in a rainstorm. For women, slouch boots and a short cotton skirt work well with a bright hoodie for rain days, while for men, long shorts, desert boots and a sweatshirt under a showerproof jacket give a jaunty image.

Hats work too, but baseball caps don’t look as cool in the rain. A knit cap shrugs off the rain and looks great. If you have long hair, wrap it around your head before pulling on the hat and when you take the hat off, hang your head upside down to shake out the kinks.

With jackets, suede and denim are non-starters as they both look rubbish when wet and suede can be permanently damaged. Fleece is okay but good shower-proof jacket fabrics are even better as the look good, breathe in the wet and preserve the integrity of the clothing underneath.

2012 March 13

Most men would say no. But what they say and what they do may be different things. Called mantyhose in the USA, it’s claimed (somewhat tongue in cheek) that men are getting into tights in a big way.

Several role models are referred to, or maybe blamed, for this phenomenon. Captain Jack Sparrow is definitely in the frame for eyeliner and the unbuttoned ruffled shirts sported by Russell Brand, while Usain Bolt and other sprinters are considered to be driving forward the trend towards men wearing skin-tight leggings, or maybe even tights.

Men tights cost around £12 to £35 and come in matte colours with diamond or skull patterns. They are also specially designed in a more breathable fabric to allow male reproductive regions to be cool enough, given that tight trousers have been held responsible for low sperm counts.

Behind the giggles though is a serious situation – male hosiery is most popular in cold countries where it’s being worn under trousers to act as an insulation layer in winter. And there’s another reason too – men are using tights to act as girdles (or mirdles, as they are called) to hold in flabby bellies and love handles.

So if you’re not willing, or able, to wear tights, how can you get the fashion look?

First, make sure your underwear fits sensibly. If you have bulges or sags in your foundation, they just get magnified as you add layers over the top – good underclothes help to give you a smooth silhouette.

Buying trousers a size smaller than you really are just forces the evidence up over your belt-line. It’s better to wear well fitting larger trousers than too tight ones, for your health as well as your appearance. If you want to look slim, buy straight fitting polo-shirts in a heavyweight weave and a light colour and don’t tuck them in. Then invest in some dark trousers or jogging pants: the pale top and darker trousers have an instant slimming effect. Ringer tops also perform this illusion of making the body taper from the shoulders to the waist.

2012 January 9

The weather is unpredictable and driving can become unpredictable too … whether we’re a passenger or a driver, it’s vital to be prepared for changeable weather and poor road conditions, particularly because traffic police suggest that during bad weather the majority of collisions would have been preventable with better preparation.

The first thing is to remember that speed limits on road signs are maximum ones, set for ideal road conditions when the surface is dry and the temperatures are warm. Slick surfaces require a longer stopping distance and poor visibility can result in collisions.

Top tips for safe driving include:

1. Checking road and weather conditions before departure and, if necessary, postponing travel.
2. Ensuring the vehicle has enough fuel to reach the destination with some to spare for detours.
3. Taking a mobile phone, blankets, food and water and sensible clothing is essential – remember that you may need layers to keep you warm and then allow you to cool down as temperatures change.
4. A winter jacket in a high vis colour may be a life-saver in poor weather if somebody has to leave the vehicle to put out a warning triangle.
5. If you do have to leave a vehicle, and it’s never recommended, then keeping warm and dry is vital: warm hats, high visibility clothing and gloves and socks with good thermal properties will allow people to keep their body temperature at appropriate levels while out in the weather.
6. Take a clockwork torch so that you can use it if you have to leave the vehicle, and remember to pack a first aid kit in the body of the vehicle so that any small problems can be taken care of without having to pull off the road and open the boot.

2011 December 13

Hoodies don’t work for everyone. Your gran might not be comfortable in something that she associates with heavyweight fighters clambering into the ring for televised boxing matches. Your teenage nephew may have strong ideas about what a hoodie should look like: and given how easily kids become mocking or outright hostile if clothing doesn’t fit perfectly into the current style, he may be right to worry.

On the other hand, a sweatshirt is uncontroversial. From cute girls, to crusty elders, it’s eminently wearable. It’s warm and comfortable and the elasticated cuffs and snug hem ensure that cold winds don’t invade the garment to cause chills and discomfort. But because it’s not bulky, a sweatshirt still looks good under a jacket or fleece. And when you head indoors, the weave radiates heat away from your body so that you can cool down rapidly, unlike a wool sweater that can remain uncomfortably warm and sweatily prickly.

When choosing a sweatshirt for another, the colour is really vital. Blue works for almost everyone; black is good for teenagers and if you’re confident about colour, you can push the boat out and choose something that enriches winter skin, such as a rosy red shade for pale redheads, a rich tangerine for brunettes or even a fuchsia shade for those with greying hair.

2011 November 17

Hollister has become synonymous with twilight retailing: and teenagers seem to love buying casual clothing in such dark conditions that they don’t actually know what colour their new garments are until they’ve got them out of the store. According to the Daily Mail, parents are complaining about not being able to see the true colour or the price of what they’re buying, and even of losing track of their teenagers in the store.

The ‘greeters’ whose six packs are on display even if there is snow on the ground are also viewed with suspicion by some parents who feel they are tacky or maybe even that the young men are being exploited.

Even so, the Hollister experience seems to be a popular one, so what can parents learn from it about teenagers and shopping?

  1. Casual clothing needs special focus – because teenagers spend most of their time in jeans, joggers, hoodies and trainers, these, not party outfits, are the focus of their attention, and the party atmosphere of Hollister can make them feel they are getting more for their money. To get your teen to shop in less expensive outlets, or even online, arrange for one of their friends to come round, let them play loud music and lay on pizza, snacks and multi-player gaming in between bouts of online clothing browsing. This makes them much more likely to engage with the idea
  2. Colours matter – Hollister are coy about the number of returns they receive but it does seem to be the one part of the shopping process that disconcerts teens. Point out that online shopping allows teens to look at all the colours, sizes and options, to do comparison shopping and even to google potential purchases and see reviews on their wearability. This encourages a picky shopper to realise that they can spend as long as they like debating a black T-shirt versus a red one, online but in the shop it gets annoying to family and friends!
  3. Feed the senses – Hollister spray perfume around their shop and on their customers to make the experience memorable. Do the same for your teen shoppers by squirting the room with their body spray before they start shopping – believe it or not, psychologists say that a favourite scent can  prejudice us in favour of an experience by up to 46%.

2011 November 4

This is the time of year when parents start asking who is going to visit whom for Christmas. It’s a real snake pit: do you go to your own parents or instead stay with your boyfriend/girlfriend’s family? If you’re a senior, do you ask the kids to visit again, or admit that you’d rather stay with a friend/take a cruise/sit at home in your underwear and watch TV?

In any case, one feature of the holidays will be photos – the obligatory family picture that gets filed in the family album. What do you wear for the photo – and if you have little children, what should they wear?

1.    Begin by deciding on the basic theme of the photo – when it will be taken and does that mean it will be casual or dressy? If it’s over the dining table, take the photo at the beginning of the meal not the end, when gravy splashes and family bickering may have spoilt the tablecloth and the mood.
2.    Browse online to pick some colour themes: black and white look a bit like a funeral but festive red and green don’t suit everyone. If you can suggest a basic colour scheme to everybody who will be in the photo, it’s a nicer way of reminding them to dress up than just asking them to look smart! If your family are totally non-cooperative, ordering individually monogrammed Christmas polo shirts or hoodies for everyone can be one way to get them to look reasonable in the photo album!
3.    Remember that whether shopping or appearing in photos, children have short attention spans so get everything ready in advance, and rather than dragging them round the shops, put together some outfits online and then let them choose from the items you’ve already pre-selected: it’s a two minute job and nobody gets stressed.
4.    Get everybody to try on their clothes for the photo well in advance of the day, so that tears or stains, grubby collars or outgrown items can all be dealt with before they become a last-minute crisis.

2011 October 28

Starting today and running until 30th October 2011, the British Ski and Board show is taking place at the Birmingham NEC. It includes an amazing amount of interactivity, including an indoor skill slope with expert instructors and a climbing challenge on two specially constructed climbwalls with fake ice. There will be a winter film festival, several trick shows and a fashion show too.

If you’re looking for bargains in ski-wear, you can balance fashion with frugality by investing in base clothing that supports winter-sport outerwear without breaking the bank:

1)    Thermal underwear is vital because it transfers moisture out to the next layer of your clothing and keeps your body warm and dry.
2)    Ski socks – like other work socks, have two functions: to keep the feet warm and dry and to protect feet against hard impacts such as knocks and bouncing. The thicker and more padded the better as far as socks are concerned, as long as the socks fit comfortably inside your ski boots.
3)    Fleeces, whether jackets or jumpers, are the second layer of protection after thermal underwear – they need to be lightweight but a tailored fit so that they are snug against the underlayer and don’t bulk up between the thermals and a specialist ski jacket or salopettes.
4)    Ski boots need to be specially designed to work with bindings or boards – getting them specialist fitted at a ski show is a good way to make sure you have boots that work well for you and keep you safe.

2011 October 6

The New Straits Times reports an interesting fact – Japan’s energy crisis, following the earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster this year, has been partly addressed by changing the country’s dress code!

Replacing the traditional two- or even three-piece suit generally worn by both men and women in Japanese offices, instructions were given to all staff to dress casually as there was not enough energy to allow air-conditioning systems to run in offices. Government departments led the way by having ministers turn up for work in cotton trousers and polo-shirts. Amazingly this may save between 40-60% of the energy costs for an office building, as that is the level of energy required to cool a building to acceptable levels for formal clothing wear.

It’s not unusual to walk into a government building in the UK and find it uncomfortably chilly, as the air conditioning is often set to formal wear and staff can be seen wearing cardigans or fleeces over their clothing because it’s so chilly. Perhaps many organisations could take a leaf out of the Japanese book and consider offering their staff the chance to wear polo-shirts in summer, and jumpers in winter so that cooling and heating systems aren’t put under such strain and company profits aren’t eaten away by controlling the building’s environment unnecessarily. This could save the organisation money, and allow individuals to spend less on clothing by wearing casual items that are more appropriate to the daily weather conditions.

2011 September 27

If you think you’re one of those who looks fantastic in sportswear, JD Sports may be looking for you. They are searching out “real people with real style” to replace their usual models for their next promotional campaign. Using Facebook and an app that allows people to log in, enter themselves, or friends in the contest, and vote on the winners, they will choose a top twenty potential models, who will be whittled down to the final eight winners.

To look good in sports clothing, it’s important to wear items that are properly weather-appropriate. Clothing should keep you warm, but not trap sweat, allow you to move freely and – to look really good – be in colours and styles that make the most of your features.

Consider the winter sports look by layering. A bright-coloured polo-shirt looks great worn under a fleece and allows good arm muscles to be revealed without the goose bumps marring the appearance of the would-be model. Pink, orange and bright green are good colours to wear, although if you have an excellent tan and good teeth, a pure white polo-shirt or T-shirt may give an impression of extra health.

For women, wearing long shorts with trainers is a good move, as this is considered to be one of the hot looks for 2012, so showing how well you can work the look may move you into the shortlisted twenty.