Category Archives: Clothing

Possibly the best socks in the world

My mum introduced us to bamboo socks, she bought my eldest a pink striped pair. They soon became the socks my daughter looked out for in the clean laundry. Earlier this year I decided to buy myself some, and then some more and they are amazing.

They are super comfy, soft, fit really well and come in various permutations. I use the trainer sock-size for the gym, the classics (called Amazing) for every day, and the walking socks for…walking. The sign that I was a grown up is when I bought myself five of the black classics to have as my every day socks, thereby making redundant all the M&S socks I had that had shrunk or needed darning after a few week’s wear.

Bam socks aren’t cheap but they are, IMO, good (I paid for all mine this isn’t an ad!). The only downside is that they aren’t very quick to dry, so not great if you’re trekking and need socks to try quickly, look at merino wool for that; I recommend Icebreaker for that, I wore all their merino wool base layers when I went to the Swedish Arctic and they may have saved my life.

Note: I wash mine on a delicates wash and line dry.

Little towelling dress, a great buy

This is an absolutely brilliant toweling dress that comes in blue or white (I have it in blue). It zips all up the front and has a draw-string and a hood and short sleeves.

It’s perfect for putting on after a swim/on the beach. (I’d always envied children their toweling cover ups.) Because I am not tall, the style fits me really well (I didn’t want anything too short) and comes to a few inches above my knees. I’m a size 14 and the L fitted me with room to spare. I swim every day and put this on after my shower and when I can’t be bothered to get dressed back into proper clothes, but don’t want to lounge around in a dressing gown, either. I love it, and am resisting the urge to buy two in case anything happens to the first one. But be warned: doing this (buying two of the same thing) will immediately render the first less special.

£35 from John Lewis.

Some good autumn buys to get now for grown ups

I know, I’m all over the place right? Last post was about summer buys, now we’re onto woolly jumpers already.

But if being a fashion editor taught me anything it is that you need to buy things not when you need them (although great if the two coincide) but when they are in the shops. When you see them. And maybe you try them on and think “this looks great, but it’s a jumper and it’s August!” Trust me, come the chilly depths of November when you wished you had a jumper, there either won’t be any, or you won’t feel like going shopping or you won’t find what you want. And you will feel wretched.

I buy any winter stuff needed in August/September, summer stuff in April at the latest (obviously with things like children’s shoes, you do need to buy them close to point of use as I have learned to my cost in the past). And then you can just be horribly smug and people can say, as they increasingly say to me (with no real understanding of my life) “it’s alright for you.”


This post will seem like an advert for Uniqlo. I promise that I get no discount from there, have nothing to do with the store. But it does have some really good buys at the moment. (It also has some crap, so just ignore that.)

I buy very few things for myself clothes/shoes wise. I’m not one of those “I have 100 pairs of shoes” girls. But what I do buy is considered and lasts me for a few years until I get sick of it. When you don’t buy much you can afford to update more frequently. Also I split my life between a very urban one where I have to be presentable, and a deeply rural one where I could be ankle deep in chicken shit. I cycle, I do the school run. My clothes need to work quite hard. Sure I have some fancy dresses for cocktail parties, but mostly, mes vetements can’t be part timers.

A few weeks ago I really needed a black V-neck. Something simple, wool but not itchy and not mentally expensive. It would immediately bring cohesion to my wardrobe. I knew this because I had nicked my partner’s one once too often and my 32FF bosom had given it a shape he wasn’t entirely keen on. I went shopping. Nothing. No wool jumpers to be found. Then last Friday, bingo, the shops were full of knitwear, glorious line upon line of them.

The place to go for this sort of thing – simple, fine, reasonably priced knitwear in lots of colours – this season, is Uniqlo. There is a fabulous merino wool V-neck for £19.90. It’s not madly thick, but then you don’t want it to be. You want something that’s a wool layer and you can scrunch up in a ball and put in your bag. It comes in loads of colours and there is also a scoop neck version which may cost more (sorry didn’t look). I got one in black and was so pleased with it, I went back and got one in navy, despite the protestations of my eldest who asked me to also get it in purple. Gloriously, the small fitted me so that also went down very well.

I also might have accidentally bought a few more things. A man’s wool round neck in a lovely chocolate brown. The fit isn’t as good as the woman’s (I got it in XS but it’s still not as good a fit). Again for £19.90.

And there are some really great padded down jackets that fold up into small bags but seem really warm. These will be ideal for cycling.

They also come in longer length versions which are brilliant (I didn’t buy one as I have something similar already). These ultra light down garments manage to look slimming despite all indications to the contrary.

And a waterproof parka that founds up small but somehow (despite being water repellent) also manages to make me look passable.

Ice grippers for your shoes

The walk to school.

I have, once before in this blog, lamented the loss of the apres ski boots I bought when I was 14. They were by a Canadian make called Blondi (or something like that) that were the most amazing boots for the snow and the ice that I’d ever come across.

They had what seemed like a sticky rubber sole and for years I thought I had imagined this.

But I hadn’t.

There is indeed something called ‘sticky rubber’ which is used on snow boots.

Anyway, the boots are now long dead although they lasted about 20 years. But I contemplated buying a replacement until I saw that really good apres ski boots cost about £150 and for only occasional use, that seemed a bit luxurious when I had my Ecco boots and my sheepskin boots.

But my research led me to ice grips that you slip onto your boots or shoes. They are really good to keep in a bag when the weather gets like this. They slip relatively easily onto footwear, are good quality and are nice and grippy on ice. But, on normal pavements they can make you feel very unstable so if you’re walking on and off icy surfaces do be aware of this and decide whether you want to have them on or off.

I got mine in December (because I am ORGANISED) and they cost £3.19, now they’ve gone up a bit according to what size you want. Still cheap though and useful to have.

I am a size 37/4.5 and the medium fitted me perfectly.


Thermals for girls, or pyjamas

Autograph for M&S girls’ thermals. Not overly easy to see design but pretty floral stuff.

As a veteran fisherman, I can tell you that no-one makes thermals as efficient as Damart. But the problem with Damart thermals is what makes them so good: what works outside doesn’t really work inside and you end up sweating like a pig on market day indoors.

Anyway. For every day wear I wear Uniqlo heat tech. But this isn’t about me, it’s about thermals for children or more specifically, girls (much as I’d love to say boys too, the set I’m going to suggest is flowery and no boy I know would wear them under the age of five. If yours would then great).

When my eldest was small, I’d buy her thermals from Petit Bateau. They are brilliant: wool on the outside and cotton next to the skin. But expensive. All her old PB thermals have passed onto the youngest now.

What I was looking for were some thermals as layers for my eldest, for when it gets really cold here in the country and I found these in M&S Autograph section. The reason I want to tell you about them is that they have proved a huge success with my girls. I ended up buying them for the nine year old, but the youngest wanted a pair too and even though she has the Petit Bateau hand me downs, I ended up buying her a pair too. I even bought myself a pair in age 15-16 and they almost fitted but not quite..

They are comfortable, really cosy, warm, pretty and they wear them as thermals, PJs and the tops as outwear too. So a pretty hard working two-set. I recommend. Buy.

In sizes from 18mths to 16 years, £11-£14.

Two things I really want to tell you about: boots and socks

I’m going into my third/possibly fourth winter with the best boots I’ve ever bought: Ecco Voyage.

I first wrote about them here.

When I say going into my third winter, I mean I wear them every day from end of September til about April.

They may be slightly superfluous if you live in a city (you’d still find them useful though), but living in the country as I do they are fantastic and vital and here’s why:

They’re warm
They look smart
They’re waterproof
They’re comfortable
They have a great grippy sole

I have a love/hate relationship with Ecco in that several of my walking boots that I bought from them (and my partner has had this same problem) have fallen apart after only a couple of years (not what I’d expect). But these seem different. Not cheap at £160 this year but on a price per wear basis they’re a bargain.

And these are the socks to wear with them from Uniqlo. Warm, comfy, keep their colour in the way that other black doesn’t (because they’re synthetic but don’t be scared of this, synthetics are so much better now). And they’re not overly thick.

Not easy to see detail but they’re these. £9.90 for two.

UPDATE, October 2013

I’ve had so many enquiries about these boots because I wear them in my full length byline picture in the Guardian. The link above no longer works. But I haven’t corrected it because although Ecco still makes Voyage boots, they are not the same. If you Google them it’ll take you to the Ecco site and you can find them. But they’re not the same as the ones I write about here – the design is different and of course, I have no idea if they are as good. I feel a bit sad that I didn’t stock up on them last year, but I’ve also long learned that there is no surer, faster, way to go off something than to buy more than one of them..

Update, September 2014

Joy. Ecco has brought them back. From what I can see from the picture they are the same, just now called Voyage V. But they go in and out of stock..

Snuggle suits, aka all in ones

Fleece snuggle suits. Be warned, they also come in adult sizes.

All in ones are an inescapable feature of your wardrobe when you’re a baby. But as you get older, these frankly super useful items of apparel are jettisoned in favour of separates.

Some years ago, Gap sold waffle cotton all in ones for grown ups. Think cowboy style long johns and long sleeved vest combined, in jolly colours like red. Reader, I had some and they were fantastic. I wish I could tell you that I saved them for nights in alone. But no, I didn’t.

I won’t go into any further detail on this.

Last year my mother, who is able to find items of clothing I never find in shops, that my children both love and find incredibly useful, found an all in one navy PJ thing for my eldest (who is eight). Okay, it had a picture of Mickey or Minnie Mouse on it but my daughter loved it. She felt all cosy in it and it was great for after a bath in the way that draughty separates just aren’t.

We live in a small, draughty house in the country and after a bath, I wanted something for my children to be able to put on that would be snug, so I was thinking: fleece. These all in ones with a front zip are so easy to find when your child is under 24 months, but over that? Forget it.

I eventually found the All in One Company.  I ordered two – made to measure as they all are. I ordered them in a colour that had chocolate in the title, because you can’t really go wrong with this I thought. I was right. Although my children do look like small bears wearing them.

Do please read the sizing instructions as you can’t return them unless they are faulty, but you have to order a basic ‘age’ size and then you can customize it so if your child has particularly long legs or arms or bodies – they can do it accordingly. The variations – colours, combination of colours, add ons (tails!?), etc, are a bit mind boggling. But you’ll get there in the end.

They are all made in the UK, so they’re not the cheapest you can get. But let me tell you that the customer service was INCREDIBLE and the quality of the finished items superb. The only extras I had were hoods, to keep the costs down.

Cashmere cowl necks

Clearly  nicked off the M&S website and I can’t get a better picture but here’s the cowl neck which is £99.

My penchant for cowl necks probably dates back to one of my primary school teachers, Miss Evans. She used to wear angora cowl necks (they had a high fluff factor) and she used to read us stories on sleepy afternoons. Some of us used to sit behind her, perched up high, and comb her hair.

She was a particularly benign and gentle teacher. But I don’t remember a single other thing about her other than these lovely dozy afternoons and her jumpers and hair (flicky, blonde).

Now that I’m fully a grown up, and not scared of womanly things (although I still have problems with writing words like ‘womanly things’) I can embrace the wonderfulness of a cowl neck. It’s a big, blousy jumper you can play with, hide behind, pull up the neck on if you’re cold. And for the last three years, I’ve searched, not extensively, but enthusiastically, for a cashmere cowl neck in some wonderful jewel colour.

The other day, when I was already late, I was in the corner entrance of the M&S in London’s Marble Arch. Possibly one of the busiest shop entrances in the world. And some lazy shopper had not put back a cardigan, a long cardigan the sort that would be part comfort blanket, part apparel. A cardigan which I happened to touch and which immediately told me this was no ordinary cardigan.

This wasn’t even an M&S cardigan.

This was the cardigan. Of course it looks like nothing here, but it is snuggly and has pockets and is warm and you’ll live in it this winter. It costs £129. Gasp.

It was something better.

It was 100% cashmere with a price tag to match and the label said M&S Woman. A title I found a bit nauseating but I ignored this. So I went in search of the rest of the M&S Woman stuff and found it tucked away opposite the Per Una collection (not my favourite bit). There was so much cashmere. Cowl necks, short cardigans, long cardigan, ribbed cardigans, round necks, twinset cardigans, sweatshirt and hooded jumpers. Cashmere cashmere cashmere. In blacks and navys but also COLOURS, including pinks and purples and greens.

I’m going to cut a very long story short. A story which sees an assistant called Maree spend an hour with me (not then, but later as I had to go back) watching me whilst I tried on every colour of every jumper. Watching me in a helpful way, not in a security kinda way. I learned about every place she’d ever lived so it was a reciprocal arrangement.

It involves my friend Karen, a professional personal shopper, altering her plans to come and meet me to watch me trying on lots of knitwear in various colours. It, further, involved a quasi 3hr stay in the M&S cafe with Karen whilst I deliberated over what to buy, in what colour and gave myself my own advice: about how you should always buy something when you see it, because when you need it, you can never find anything you like to wear. (We did also talk about other things. I’m not that self absorbed.)

So. I bought some cashmere. I can’t tell you how much as people I know in real life read this. And if my mother is reading this, I DIDN’T buy any cashmere.

Anyway, what you need to know is this: this is a good collection with some lovely pieces. But in the way of the world, by the time it’s cold enough for you to be thinking “I need a cashmere jumper” they will have sold out and swimsuits will be on sale. So if you need cashmere, buy it now. The cowl necks are gorgeous, so much better on than off. And cashmere is so warm, you can delay putting the heating on.

I’m sweating as I write this because I feel so guilty, although it could of course be the heat retaining properties of 100% cashmere.

Sun-San Sandals

Navy Salt Water Originals

Really, for quite a long time now, I’ve been looking for “Jesus sandals” that were popular in my youth. I couldn’t think of a more perfect sandal for a small child.

But they were nowhere to be seen. The closest I ever got were Birkenstocks, but, in truth, I was tiring of the overly large foot print.

Then, quite by chance, @sunsansandals started following me (@AnnalisaB) on Twitter and there they were. My perfect child-hood sandals: Sun-San. Which I hadn’t imagined at all. (And the style I remembered is called Surfer, shown in red below.)

They were American, but date back to the 1940’s. They came to the UK last year and they’ve become, I hate to say this, the sandal du jour for children. I don’t mind this since they are

a) incredibly practical – they can withstand salt water and can be washed in the washing machine
b) sensible – I’m not a Lilli Kelli kinda mum
c) gorgeous looking in that understated way – I’m not insane
d) proper sandals, therefore not cheap (average price: £34) but comparable with StartRite or Birkenstocks.

(Otherwise I just hate following trends, I am so contrary.)

Although I wanted to get both my children a pair – how cute would a three year old look in the Surfer style in red or tan? – in reality the youngest has some already that are perfectly okay and I can’t justify spending £70 on two pairs of sandals.

But I did want to get my eldest some, since she needed something for the summer anyway (and Birkies, what she usually wears, cost the same). Today we found ourselves in Liberty with her Godmother who, so so kindly, bought her a pair. We got the Saltwater Original, which weren’t the actual Jesus sandal I had planned on getting for her. But I left it between my daughter and her Godmother. Some transactions a mother shouldn’t interfere with.

Side view, you can just see the fringes of my mother’s incredibly ornate carpet
You can find stockists here. Although I’d personally advise trying them on in person first if possible: we tried them on in white first and they were huge, same size in navy fitted perfectly; otherwise pretty true to size I’d say. They range in price from £34-£40 and come in six designs/twelve colours, sizes 0-adult 3.
Apparently they are way cheaper in the States so if you know someone who lives there or are going there, that may be a way to save some pennies!Update: I couldn’t resist and bought my youngest a pair too. I don’t regret it, they are gorgeous and make me happy every time I see them.

I love these sandals so much I want to eat them.
An update in late August 2012. Well Sun San has now launched its own online shop, which should help with the stock situation. I relented and bought myself a pair, in silver (£55 which included p&p). Me and my girls have worn almost nothing else but our Sun San sandals all summer and I cannot tell you how brilliant I think these sandals are. We have gone in the sea with them, gone surfing wearing them, built sandcastles and they look like new.
Weirdly, also, considering I find really flat shoes hard to wear all day, my feet don’t hurt (anymore than they would anyway walking all day) in these. I get asked about them all the time and my friend Wendy bought seven pairs (or thereabouts) the moment the shop went live.
You do need to buy them so they are slightly tight I think. I’m a true 37 which is a 4.5 UK and I was unsure whether to get a 5 or 6 in Sun San. When I first tried on the 5 they felt too tight – as in not wide enough (obviously the length has to be right, they don’t get longer!) I also tried the 6 and they felt really comfy from the off. But instinct told me the 5 would stretch and they did. Plus once you get them wet – and I recommend you do – and they dry on you, they’ll be no more rubby bits. I never once have had to wear any sort of plasters with these.
Is it clear how much I love them? And just so you’re absolutely sure no-one is telling me to say this let me assure you that I have accepted no freebies or discounts in relation to these sandals *
The sandals after surfing
My sandals.
A family of Sun San sandals. Now we just need a men’s version.
* Well, this is no longer true. The UK distributor gave me a pair for free as a thank you (she had tried to give me a free pair in the spring and I said no) and I’m afraid, this time, I said yes thank you. Because I’m greedy, and a little bit broke after all the shopping I’ve done.

Snow Boots

My very best snow boots were bought when I was fourteen from a ski shop in Kensington, London.  In preparation for a school ski-ing holiday to Caspoggio in Italy. I forget the make of them, but they served me for about twenty years (my feet didn’t seem to grow again til I got pregnant). I do remember that they were Canadian, made of leather, lined in sheepskin and with an extremely thick, rubber sole that seemed to stick to sheet ice. Eventually, they fell apart.

I don’t have snowboots as such now. I wear my neoprene wellingtons, my sheepskin boots or my Ecco Voyages, which are brilliant (best buy!). But living in the country, we feel the winter more keenly than we did in London.

Raindrops is where I buy my children’s snowboots. Every year I ring them up (excellent service) and trying to get them to work out what size I should buy, because I try to eek out two winters’ wear out of them.

The eskimo boots, £42, look like they’d be the best boot of all, but for my eldest I bought the Molo boot (the design has changed this year, it used to be nicer: these ones, which they still do for £20 but in limited sizes), which is plenty warm and practical enough for a Suffolk winter.

Last year, for my youngest (who was a size two then), I bought her these baby snowboots, £32, which were utterly brilliant. The baby snowboots have a tight ankle, so they’re quite a struggle to get in to, so go larger if need be, whereas I think the Molo and the limited stock ones come up quite big.

To help you with sizing, my youngest is a size 4G in StartRite and I got her a six in the baby snowboots – they are huge, but she can walk fine in them and there’s a hope they’ll still fit in February. Maybe even next year. My youngest is an 11.5F or G in StartRite and I got her a 12 in the Molos and they are big, but I’m not sure I’d go smaller. Thick socks and all that. Both these styles can go in the washing machine and I really rate them.

In fact I’m selling last year’s baby snowboots in grey, size 3 if anyone is interested: email me annalisa dot barbieri at mac dot com.