Autumn Style – injecting colour and texture to my outfits

Personally, I do enjoy the colourful aspect of dressing for the spring and summer seasons. Now, I know that French and Italian women tend to stick to black, white, camel and navy, perhaps using bags and shoes to add a dash of colour. I certainly take inspiration from their styles but prefer to wear more colours myself, especially in warmer weather. Some of my T-shirts and dresses have floral patterns, and are shades of pinks, blues, yellows etc. But when the weather starts to turn and I swap my summer for my winter wardrobe, it’s striking how plain and colourless my replacement garments look hanging in my wardrobe. In turn, I think this influences my mood and can make me feel less cheerful. Somehow, it’s impossible to look in the mirror wearing a red or pink top and feel glum, don’t you think?

So, I decided to make an effort to brighten up my winter wardrobe a little I bought a few brightly coloured long-sleeved tops to wear under my pinafore dresses. I admit I love pinafore dresses, at the moment I have several cord dresses (in black, camel and burgundy colours) and have been wearing a red or olive green top under the black dress. So far, I haven’t strayed from cream or black tops under the other coloured dresses because I can’t confidently think of a colour that won’t clash!

I have quite a few scarves in my collection, in varying colours and enjoy wearing these to inject colour into plainer coloured outfits. Somehow, just arranging a scarf around my neck makes me feel instantly more chic and presentable. I noticed a lot of Italian women worse fashion scarves when I lived there. I’m making a conscious effort to select more colourful ones if my clothes are already in duller colours.

I’m hopeless on the bag front at the moment, because in the last 6 years I’ve constantly had either a baby or a toddler (or both!) and practicality has won over style- I still have the same black and white printed change bag that gets taken everywhere. I dream of the day that I can choose a small handbag to take out, in the colour of my choosing, rather than the clunky old thing I’m stuck with for now…

At the moment, I’m quite interested in different textures too. My aforementioned dungaree dresses are made from corduroy fabric which I like. In a shop recently, I was looking in the tights section to buy a few new pairs. Automatically, I reached out to grab the usual smooth black, high denier ones. Then I stopped to glance around at the other tights for sale. There were some in different colours, but I was most attracted to some cable-knit tights with a thick cable knit pattern running down each leg in a soft-touch, textured material. I bought a couple of black pairs and have to say that I love them! They are so warm to wear and I love the pattern on them. Sometimes it’s good to stop and try something different.

Lastly, another way of injecting a little colour is by simply painting my fingernails. In Autumn I love shades of bright red and burgundy. Seeing a flash of newly painted colourful nails gives an instant boost.

Do you have anything that you do to brighten up your autumn/winter wardrobe? I would love to hear about it!

 

Life in Italy and the Bella Figura concept

Living in Italy and my Introduction to the ‘Bella Figura’ Concept

A Gap Year in Italy

As an eighteen year old, I decided to take the opportunity during my gap year before starting university to spend time in Italy as an au-pair for seven months. Italy had long held an allure, based on what I had seen on travel programmes on TV, the sound of the language (not that I’d ever had a single Italian lesson, mind), not to mention that pizza, pasta and ice cream were amongst my very favourite foods.

It was an incredible experience to spend seven months in il bel paese and immerse myself into the lifestyle. It was certainly the experience that really opened my eyes to ways of living a more chic existence through incorporating a number of small yet significant changes into my daily life.

An Unusual Home

The family I stayed with didn’t have a typical set up from an au-pairing perspective; they owned a hotel on a promontory almost completely surrounded by the sea and took residence on the top floor. The family comprised three generations- the seven-year-old boy I had to look after and teach English, his parents and the paternal grandmother, great aunt and uncle. Although an au-pair typically lives with her host family, I was allocated a room in a small annexe on the hotel site. Alas, it was on the ground floor so was missing the incredible sea views that the family enjoyed, but I could hardly complain as the sea was virtually on my doorstep. The hotel was located on the edge of a large, historic town full of beautiful old buildings, quaint cobbled streets, a cathedral and a harbour- see the photo above. Yes, I felt sure  that I’d chosen a great placement the day that I arrived!

Gregarious, Welcoming Italians

It’s true that I’m a little introverted and tend to avoid large group situations and most very noisy places, but had to overcome these natural tendencies as I found the Italians in general to be very sociable people who love large gatherings with family or friends. Perhaps because of the groups often being large and needing to be heard, people often spoke quite loudly and gesticulated with their hands a lot. I found the gesticulating with hands to emphasis points quite endearing and found myself doing it too, after a while! Despite my natural preferences I was pretty grateful that the Italians are a sociable and welcoming bunch on the whole because it made it easier for me to pick up the language, make friends and build up a social life, without which my time there would have been pretty lonely.

Fare la Passeggiata– more than just a stroll

The same day that I arrived, after unpacking my belongings, I was invited to join the family to ‘fare la passeggiata‘ – this transpired to be a late afternoon/ early evening walk around the neighbourhood. It didn’t take long before I realised that everybody else seemed to be out doing the very same thing- this daily walk was a chance to socialise (as various friends and often extended family members would be encountered during the stroll) and everyone made an effort to present their best self. Even though the majority of people had probably been at work all day and they would just be heading back to their own homes for dinner after the passeggiata rather than to a restaurant, they all looked very smart, with women wearing either dresses, skirts or a nice blouse with trousers or jeans. Men invariably wore shirts or polo shirts with trousers or smart jeans, no shorts. A lot of women wore a noticeable amount of jewellery- not in an excessively flashy way, but enough to be noticed. The shoes that people wore were smart, mostly leather rather than trainers. Even though it was the end of the day everyone’s hair looked immaculate so they had probably re-done it specially before leaving for their walk.

The start of my education on La Bella Figura

I can’t deny that this experience of ‘fare la passeggiata’ was quite an eye-opener for me, who was still wearing a printed sundress more for daywear than evening wear (and not the sort of dress I spotted the Italian ladies wearing). I felt distinctly underdressed and wished I had made more of an effort with my hair (more than a little windswept from not having been brushed since that morning) and worn a bit of jewellery. Still, at least I knew for next time!

This evening passeggiata was my introduction to the Italian concept of creating ‘la bella figura‘, loosely translated as ‘looking one’s best’ or making a positive first impression and extends to putting one’s best face forward in any situation. Kristi Belle explains this concept and much more about living an Italian lifestyle in her wonderful book. I would highly recommend a read of it if it interests you.

There will be more posts about my experience of life in Italy and what I learned about how Italian women create la bella figura. Please add your email to the box on the right to follow my blog and be notified of future posts —>

 

Hair colouring and styling on a modest budget

Nothing beats that wonderful feeling of just having had your hair done and walking out of the salon knowing that your hair looks its best, does it?

Every now and again I decide that I am bored with my hair colour. I can’t claim to have ever changed to particularly exciting or wacky shades, and the pattern seems to be that in the summer I enjoy my hair being a dark brown shade when my skin darkens a little. Then when my skin pales in the autumn, I find that going a lighter, blonde shade is more flattering and I look less ‘washed out’ than I do with dark hair over the winter.

When I used to get a full head of highlights in a hair salon, I was usually pleased with the end result but found it a less pleasurable experience to pay a huge sum at the end. When your hair is classed as ‘long’, which generally includes anything below shoulder-length, you generally get charged more (I guess due to extra long lengths of foils being used and it taking a little longer to carry out). I found that £80-£100 was pretty standard to be charged, especially if I was having a trim as well.

Now, I appreciate that hairdressers often do a great job and have to earn a living, and when I was earning a full time salary I didn’t mind paying that price (too much). However, now that I am a stay-at-home-mum only working a few hours a week in private tuition, we have less money coming into the house and it makes sense to cut back on discretionary spending such as hair and beauty treatments.

In our town, there is a further education college that runs hairdressing courses. There are two levels of study: NVQ2 and NVQ3. The NVQ2 is the basic level of hairdressing qualification and towards the end of it, from April-June, the students have almost qualified so I am happy by then to book in for a hair colour treatment. Even better though, the NVQ3 students have already passed the NVQ2 level of study and many of them already work in salons as hairdressers – they may have their sights set on becoming a salon manager or acquiring additional skills in hairdressing to add to their bows. I must admit that for something as skilled as highlighting, especially as I have long hair and sometimes ask for two or even three colours to be woven in at once, I tend to ask for an NVQ3 student to carry it out. When you call your local college hairdressing department you can ask when the NVQ3 classes are to ensure you book for one of those if it’s your preference.

The main benefit of having your hair done by a student is obviously the low price. On my below shoulder length hair, even with 2 different colours woven in I don’t pay more than £25. If the student who does my hair does a good job and/or has a friendly, pleasant manner, I make a point of slipping them a tip too, mindful that they are students (or recently qualified hairdressers).

Understandably, lots of people are rather horrified at the prospect of a lesser qualified person setting to work on their precious tresses. There’s no need to be afraid, though. Overseeing every class is a tutor, who I have found without exception to be very exacting and sets high expectations of the students. She checks over the initial consultation and will voice any concerns she has before the colour etc is mixed. I have to say that on a few occasions the tutors (who are themselves highly experienced hairdressers) have made some thoughtful and valuable suggestions about my hair, that I hadn’t considered previously and led to a better end result.

So this is all sounding great, right? Getting your hair coloured at a snip of the salon price, are you wondering what the downsides to be mindful of are?

The main one is the additional time to allow for the treatment to take. The nature of the student needing to consult with their tutor at every stage, often having to wait while the tutor is occupied with other students, means there is extra waiting around. Plus of course, the fact that the student is less experienced means that certain procedures such as foils can take them longer to do. Personally though, I am quite happy to sit and read a book or magazine and see it as a treat to get some time to myself!

The second thing to factor in is that colleges only open during term time and have long summer holidays. So from mid June to mid September you probably won’t be able to get yourself booked in there and will need to either wait it out or make alternative hair treatment arrangements.

Still, for myself, the benefits outweigh the inconveniences, especially considering the money I save each time. I enjoy speaking to different students as well, most of whom express gratitude that clients such as myself make the effort to attend the college to get my hair done, as they can’t pass the course without carrying out a certain number of treatments on real people.

Simple trims and cuts I usually ask my mother to do, as well as for simple home dye kids when I apply a whole-hair colour. I should mention that my mother did actually train as a hairdresser many years ago before her current career, but wouldn’t feel comfortable attempting foil highlights as it isn’t a procedure she was ever taught.

Do you spend a lot of money on your hair? Perhaps you would consider giving your local hair college a try, too? If you are a non-UK reader, I imagine that there are similar setups with hairdressing colleges needing members of the public to come in and work on. Perhaps you have your own moneysaving hair tips to share- I would love to hear them.

 

 

Use wall art to personalise your home

How to Use Wall Art to Create a More Personalised Home

Home sweet home

Making our home an inspiring, relaxing haven for us to spend time in is important to us, so my husband and I take care when deciding what deserves to furnish and decorate it. That’s not to say that everything we own is expensive; a large percentage of the furniture we own is from IKEA, and we are not averse to purchasing used items if the quality is good. In fact, our living room sofas were bought second-hand well over ten years ago and still going strong.

Wall art to reflect your personality

I must admit that I have a bit of a thing for wall art. Maybe you do, too? It’s often one of the first things I notice in hotel rooms, people’s houses and other places such as cafes and restaurants. I love observing the way that individual hobbies and interests are often reflected by what people display on their walls. So perhaps it’s not surprising that my husband and I have spent more time and consideration into choosing the art which graces our walls than on most of the furniture in our home. To be honest, many of the art pieces could well outlive some of the furniture items.

A personal thing…

Obviously, art is an intensely personal thing. What appears beautiful to one person could appear hideous to the next. Some couples who live together have rather opposing tastes, which must make it challenging to try to agree on what to decorate the walls with. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I met and married a man who happens to share virtually identical taste to me. Honestly, it’s a bit bizarre. On a few occasions, we have taken it in turns to look around small art galleries or shops and reveal our top three favourite works afterwards. They are virtually always the same ones! This is mostly a positive as we never argue about what to buy for the house, but there is the downside that we have on occasions talked ourselves into splashing out on quite high value pieces because we both love them so much!

DIY options…

Not that wall art has to be expensive, of course. Once I cut a small piece from a wallpaper sample to size and framed it as it matched perfectly with fabrics we already had in a room. In the past I’ve enjoyed making some of my own, using a cheap plain canvas, a roll of plaster of Paris and oil paints. Now, I’m by no means a talented artist (I didn’t even take Art to GCSE level!) but I think that anyone can have fun experimenting with a few art materials that take their fancy and may just surprise themselves with what they can produce when their creative juices get flowing. It can be so rewarding and satisfying to produce something yourself and instil a sense of pride when you see it every day. Have you created something yourself? Here is one of my creations:

file-20

Photo canvases are expensive but popular, especially with parents of young children. However, as it’s tempting to replace them with updated ones as the children grow older, we find it makes financial sense to regularly buy cheaper poster prints (rather than canvases) of our children, which can easily replace old posters in simple frames.

Local Art

Once a year there is an event called Art on the Prom in a local coastal town. As the name suggests, it is held all along the sea promenade which makes it a hugely popular event. My husband and I love visiting this as it is packed with (mostly local) artists showcasing their work for sale. It is so inspiring to admire stand after stand packed with beautiful, original pieces of work and if we were rich (as well as having a house with enough empty wall spaces available) we would probably end up filling the car to the brim with multiple pieces. For the moment, we have to make do with just ‘window shopping’ and allowing ourselves to splash out on just one piece per year if that.

Two years ago, we attended the Art on the Prom event and both my husband and I were captivated by the work of a wonderful local artist called Rachel Shohet. Rachel produces art in a rather unique way: by painting with enamel onto metal, typically selecting quite bold colours and she incorporates various types of animals, as well as 1930s Art Deco characters, into her work. Some of her pieces include iconic architecture from our local area (the county of Suffolk), and my husband and I both particularly loved those ones. We decided pretty quickly that we preferred the one depicting the wide-spanning Orwell bridge, well-known to residents of our county, complete with sailing boats in the river and a flock of sheep in the foreground. The photo doesn’t do it justice:

file-17

A year later, we had been discussing the possibility of acquiring an additional piece of wall art for the kitchen. We considered attending Art on the Prom which was only a few weeks away at that point, but then decided that as we both loved Rachel’s designs so much, we would buy another of her pieces.

A Tough decision

When I phoned Rachel to enquire about this, she invited me to her home just a few miles away. Her house was wonderful, because she has filled almost every available piece of wall space in the downstairs rooms and stairway with her works of art, literally dozens of them! This wide selection of course made it more challenging for me to select just one, but after ten or so minutes of pacing through the rooms several times, I whittled the options down. However, in my heart of hearts I hadn’t spotted what I had hoped would feel like ‘the one’ and I think Rachel sensed that. She switched on her PC and showed me a few additional designs that weren’t currently displayed on her walls. When I set my eyes on one of those, I knew immediately it was the one we were meant to take home. The only slight problem was that Rachel remembered it was currently on display in a local café, but was insistent that she was happy to walk the few minutes to the café to fetch it for me. This she did, and Paul was delighted with my choice when he arrived home from work that evening to find this in the kitchen:

file-18

 

Make your own FREE wall poster

In the run up to Christmas, I may also take advantage of the clever poster maker that the lovely Cass Bailey from ‘The Diary of a Frugal Family’ blog recently wrote about. Her blog is very informative and inspiring so I wasn’t surprised when she shared this great idea. You simply select around 15 phrases, perhaps the favourite things of someone you would like to create the poster as a gift for, select your colour preferences and the poster will be generated ready to print. Cass is very kindly offering the use of the poster generator for free, see it here. Just add a simple frame and this makes a stylish, personalised gift.

Do you have a favourite type of wall art, or artist? Does it reflect any particular interests you have? Do you find it difficult to agree with a partner what to display on your walls? I would love to see your favourite piece of wall art, feel free to add a pic in the comments.

Thanks for reading, see you again soon 🙂