As the new season makes the ultimate case for change, three ELLE staffers decide to leave their wardrobe staples behind and try autumn's trickiest trends. If there was ever a time to leave your fashion comfort zone, it would be now.
The Velvet Suit
by Hannah Swerling
The last time I wore velvet was 1995. I was 12 and celebrating my Bat Mitzvah. The look in question was a bottle-green crushed velvet dress with a puffy black net underskirt. Don't be jealous. John Major was Prime Minister, Pulp's dominated the charts and I hadn't even heard the words 'personal style' used together. But I did love that velvet dress.
Fast forward 21 years and I'd like to think I have a pretty good idea of what I like and what looks good on me. A rotating palette of grey, navy, black and white denim, cotton or leather. A high waist, a great pair of boots or trainers and a classic jumpsuit or cocktail dress if I'm going out. Easy.
My youthful flirtation with velvet apparently expired with my childhood and it hasn't featured on so much as a scrunchie since. In fact, texture rarely figures in my repertoire. I'm not a fan of shearling, never did mohair and even struggle with a cable knit at times. I like simple, comfortable, unfussy and (I suppose) smooth. And yet as I watched the trends emerge from the AW16 catwalks, I couldn't shake the feeling that the return of the velvet suit on virtually every catwalk (Alberta Ferretti, Vetements, Topshop, Valentino, Stella McCartney, Preen, the list goes on and on) was a sign.
I'm a stubborn person but any time I do deviate from the monochromatic safety of my wardrobe, I love it. But I always insist on retreating back to my comfort zone.
AW16 is all about tearing up the rulebook, so I've decided to embrace the spirit of adventure and channel my fearless 12-year-old self. Before you can say 'Austin Powers', I'm standing at the bus stop wearing a turquoise Mango velvet trouser suit. I don't usually dress to stand out, so I narcissistically believe that everyone else waiting for the number 82 must be staring at me. Of course, they're not. No one is giving me the side eye for what feels to me like ostentatious showboating, but I do get a few approving nods as I walk into work.
Really, this look is incredibly simple. The cut of the jacket and long, fluid trousers create a sharp silhouette which feels very me and, paired with a vintage-style T-shirt, I'm really not a million miles away from my everyday style. The velvet feels luxe and the romantic in me begins to channel my inner dandy. There's something quite romantic and sophisticated about a velvet suit. I walk a little taller, feel a little braver and promise myself that I won't make these style departures such a rare event.
Next time I wear this look, I may even try a plaid shirt (hello, Vetements) and trainers. I can't wait. Velvet has left the underground.
The Frilly Piece
by Lotte Jeffs
I normally wear clothes I can trust: trousersuits, shirts, jumpsuits… items I don't need to give a second thought to during the day as I know they've got my back. It means I can relax and do my job confidently. But today, I'm wearing frills.
They're multiplying and I'm losing control. Forgive the reference, but I can think of no better way to describe the day I spent in a ruffled Philosophy by Alberta Ferretti polka-dot dress, a look put together by the fashion team. The dress was romantic and hyper-feminine, but skewed, a very AW16 idea as seen not only at Philosophy, but Fendi, Isabel Marant and Gucci.
And I've never felt less like myself. I liked the sheer Roksanda polo-neck that the dress was paired with, although when I asked to wear a vest underneath, ELLE's Accessories Editor Donna Wallace looked at me as if I'd just suggested teeming it with an Eighties fleece. I was totally bare-chested, my modesty only just kept in tact by straps that threatened to slip off at any moment.
In this dainty dress I feel precarious and, frankly, a bit silly. It's fine when I'm out on the street for the photo shoot, as I twirl and try to look nonchalant while posing in a newsagent. It's so different from my normally androgynous sense of style that the only way not to completely buckle under the embarrassment is to 'own it' and make like the girly girl. I discover I actually enjoy feeling pretty and feminine.
But back in the office it's a different story. In my role as Deputy Editor of this magazine I go to lots of important meetings and have to make quick decisions with confidence. Sitting at my desk in this dress I can't concentrate; I keep catching the frilly sleeves in the corner of my eye and it honestly makes me feel less authoritative and able to do my job. When our Art Director Andrew (and only straight man in the office) asks my opinion on a layout, I stand up and suddenly feel like a little girl talking to a grown-up at a birthday party – I cannot take myself seriously, even if he is clearly making a concerted effort to do so.
I like wearing dresses but they have to be black or navy blue and none that I own feature any kind of embellishment. The fact that my new outfit is red- and blue-spotted, and has ruffles and gold straps is a real challenge. Who am I in this? It makes me wonder. Thank goodness for the black stomping boots which I'm wearing with it: the added height they give me is the only thing that is making me feel anything like an adult.
Make-up artist Lou Teasdale pops into the office – we've never met so it's a good test. She chats to me perfectly normally but afterwards I ask if she paid any particular notice to my outfit. 'I just figured you were one of those fashion girls. You know, you look like how people imagine women on fashion magazines look. But I figured you were cool.' Well, that's something. Later I post an outtake from the shoot on Instagram with the caption: 'Weird day'. My mother comments almost immediately: 'Why are you in the launderette in a posh frock?' I can't quite bring myself to explain.
While this quirky yet highly feminine look works for the Fendi, Philosophy or Isabel Marant girl, I just feel a bit like the flamenco dancer emoji: the universal symbol of a good time, but essentially meaningless.
The Stomper Platform
By Billie Bhatia
I rely on a plethora of trainers (ranging from the pristine to the downright, ahem, distressed). ELLE's sartorial Mark Zuckerberg, I like a fuss-free approach to dressing: clean lines, block neutral colours, not a sign of print, and absolutely no heels.
Me in stilettos is not a pretty sight. I stagger, I stumble, and my already tiny strides devolve into a shuffle. I look awkward. But above all else, I just don't feel like me. The solitary pair of heels I do own sit in a corner of my wardrobe, reserved for the most special of nights out. I've worn them exactly once: for 10 minutes, at a wedding. And for the record, I have 24 pairs of trainers.
So it was with severe trepidation that I was roped into wearing a pair of the season's new tall shoes for ELLE. I was dragged – kicking, screaming and barefoot – away from my comfort zone and thrown to the fashion lions. My challenge: a day wearing a platform stomper boot. Why? See Marc Jacobs and Balenciaga for the ultimate platform goals. After five years at the top of the footwear food chain, flats now have some fierce competition in the form of the spindly stilettos and sky-high double- and triple-soled shoes that appeared on AW16 runways.
I naturally had some feelings about this, and those emotions would be fear, angst and exasperation. The heels or flats debate comes with a list of old clichés.
But I've always been intrigued by the power of fashion to change the way you feel. Because personal style is often less about the clothes and more about the state of mind behind the wardrobe choices, right?
So I pulled on a pair of multicoloured House of Holland ankle boots. They were everything I was terrified of: six whopping inches, loud, shiny and graphic. And because I figured I might as well commit to this little exercise in sartorial mindfulness, I decided to wear them with a billowing blue vintage doll dress. And just like that, as Accessories Editor Donna Wallace said, my 'pretty goth punk' alter-ego was born.
But I felt silly. This was so far removed from what is usually normal for me. As much as I can be a big personality in the office, I don't like to dress for attention. A contradiction, I know. Trying my best to avoid my usual adjectives of stubby and chubby in my new outfit, I desperately tried to channel gracefulness and elevated cool as I wore my new look at work. In these clothes, I couldn't just plod. They forced me to be more womanly and I liked that. Or at least I did in the safe confines on even carpeted flooring. Out on the cobblestones of Soho was another matter. As I walked outside on my lunch break, I could almost hear people cackling at me. I felt like my clothes screamed, 'Look at me!'
Inevitably there were some stares and confused looks to my rather bold get-up, but there were also smiles which seemed to read, 'Sure, it's Soho.' And one guy who belted out, 'Sing it Aretha!' You can't take life too seriously when you're wearing Ziggy Stardust knockout boots and a dress that vaguely resembles a Fifties house coat, so I went with it: a wink here, a smile there. I kind of liked my sassier alter ego.
What this experience has taught me is that much to my surprise I can walk in heels, not particularly elegantly, but I can do it. And it felt good, like I was the grown up I had always aspired to be. Not the clichéd woman running in heels, one hand furiously texting, the other hailing a cab whilst simultaneously building an empire and curing world hunger. Instead, I felt like a woman with a broader arsenal of choices to reflect my mood (normcore one day, a maximalist the next). I might have to sacrifice the sky-high height for the pared-down version to save my ankles (and pride) from a potential bruising. But I think on occasion I might embrace the platform and, shockingly, I might actually enjoy it.