Having introduced you to the Over40Collective at the end of May, I'm sharing another collaborative project with you from this group of seven over 40 bloggers I'm so happy to be a part of. My fellow O40Co co-workers and I set ourselves a styling challenge: Could we show that anyone - and in our case women in their 40s and 50s - can style the basics from British staple brand Marks & Spencer?
The brief for "The Marks & Spencer Challenge" as we called it was simple: Purchase a white top from the M&S website or store and style it with denim bottoms. Easy, I thought - but the reality was that the challenge turned out to be a lot harder than I imagined, for all sorts of reasons. (See the end of the post for all the white top/denim bottoms outfits that the other members of the O40Co styled.)
THE REALITY WAS THAT THE CHALLENGE TURNED OUT TO BE A LOT HARDER THAN I IMAGINED.
I'll start by saying I'm incredibly happy with the final outfit: A white bell-sleeve shirt with wide-leg jeans (also Marks & Spencer, I'd been wanting a pair like this for a while), accessorised with a skinny scarf, bright bag and those crazy-comfy mules. But I thought I'd give you an honest opinion of the process of finding and buying the right basic piece to style, and doing it with M&S.
SHOP THE LOOK:
I'm actually quite a recent convert to Marks & Spencer: Unlike many I've never really bought my underwear there, nor do I grace their food halls (probably something to do with the fact that I do the majority of all my shopping online, not on the high street).
Last year I worked on a campaign for M&S, and part of the project was to do a "supermarket sweep"-style trip round the flagship Marble Arch store in London and choose 20-odd pieces to style for a photo shoot and video. In doing that sweep I found that there were so many pieces that I absolutely, truly adored, and as well as being gifted a few pieces I also bought many that I just couldn't go home without.
(See the floral jumpsuit, Monday's pattern mixing with the red strappy sandals or the orange animal print coat, to name but a few.)
Since then I also went a bit nuts on the Archive by Alexa range, their much-hyped collab with Alexa Chung.
So I thought our challenge would be easy: Choose a white top I liked, pair it with some jeans, job done. Or so I thought.
IT CAUGHT MY EYE IMMEDIATELY DUE TO THOSE GORGEOUS BELL SLEEVES. M&S HAVE TAKEN THE MOST BASIC OF WHITE SHIRTS AND GIVEN IT AN EDGY TWIST - THE QUALITY WAS GREAT TOO.
I'll start by saying how much I loved the white shirt I'm wearing here: It caught my eye immediately due to those gorgeous bell sleeves. M&S have taken the most basic of white shirts and given it an edgy twist - the quality was great too. However, it went into the sale and sold out straight away, so availability was my first problem with all the pieces I was considering. Why has such a classic-with-a-twist piece not been stocked as part of a core range?
I've always found this to be a problem with M&S. I can understand high-fashion retailers like Topshop and ASOS going out of stock quickly because they're so on-trend and intentionally have a high turnover, but I find even their pieces stay in stock longer than those at M&S. In the end I placed two orders - in the few days between them, two of the three tops I ordered (that I needed to reorder due to sizing problems) had gone out of stock.
A similar problem happened last year: I couldn't get the new pieces I'd been wearing on the blog quickly enough before they all sold out, so my readers ended up disappointed in many cases because they couldn't buy what I was wearing.
Which brings me onto the biggest problem I faced: Sizing. Marks & Spencer clothes tend to be huge when you buy your normal size. But it's not everything, it's random pieces and not by one size, it's sometimes two sizes.
Luckily lots of people had left reviews of this shirt to say they'd returned it because the sizing was so big. I always buy a 10 in tops (to accommodate my bust), but the 8 wasn't available. It actually came in a size 6 and I debated whether to go two sizes smaller, but took a chance anyway. Turns out it was the perfect size - as you can see the fit isn't at all tight, so how can a woman who's 5'7" with very square shoulders and a 30F bust fit into a size 6? Without those reviews I would have bought a 10, maybe exchanged it for an 8 (if it had been available) and probably been too fed up to go for a third attempt with a size 6.
THE WHITE SHIRT WAS ALREADY GREAT VALUE FOR MONEY AT £39.50, SO I COULDN'T UNDERSTAND WHY IT WAS REDUCED TO £12.99. WHY WAS IT GOING INTO THE SALE AT ALL? WHY WAS IT NOT IN A CORE COLLECTION?
The white shirt was already great value for money at £39.50, so I couldn't understand why it was reduced to £12.99. Why was it going into the sale at all? Why was it not in a core collection? So many questions.
The wide leg jeans I bought at the same time were perfect, but the irony is I'm an 8-10 in trousers so ordered an 8 but I (surprisingly) found them a little tight. I then ordered them a second time in a 10 and the fit was perfect. My shirt was two sizes smaller, my jeans one size bigger... so frustrating. However, on the plus side they come in three lengths which is something I love about M&S (in case you're wondering I went for the short length because I wanted them to look cropped).
I've listed the other white tops I ordered below and written a little about what I thought of each of them and the problems I faced, mostly about sizing again. Unlike some, I really really love so much of the Marks & Spencer range, and again unlike some I find their website easy to navigate and use. If you can narrow your search by style, size, price, colour and then be given various sort options then I'm a happy girl. It means I can navigate quickly - look for what I want, get in, get out, and do it fast.
THE REVIEWS LEFT ARE MOSTLY LEFT BY WOMEN IN THE 45-54, 55-64 AND 65+ AGE RANGES, WHICH GOES TO PROVE THAT OLDER WOMEN ARE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER.
Something I noticed when looking through the reviews of most pieces on their website that's interesting to note: The reviews left are mostly left by women in the 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ age ranges, which goes to prove that older women are their core customer. It's almost a tradition in the UK to "buy your undies from M&S" and we (and our mothers) have grown up with this brand, so really they should be reaching out to this age group in a big way and offering them what they (we) want.
To be honest there's a lot more I have to say but I think I've made this post long enough already... maybe I'll save it for another time. I have it on good authority by another member of the O40Co that the Marks & Spencer AW16 range is strong - how the sizing and the availability fare remains to be seen, but I'm looking forward to seeing what it'll be like.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCES OF SHOPPING AT M&S, AND WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF THEIR COLLECTIONS, SIZING, QUALITY, ETC? COMMENT BELOW, OR TAKE IT TO TWITTER @NOTLAMB!
(In case you missed the first post about the O40Co, we are seven professional over 40 bloggers working together to bring you relevant, interesting information and campaigns and working with brands to hopefully challenge the norm where older women are concerned. We'll be launching later this year some time so watch this space :)
Marks & Spencer flared sleeve shirt (sold out but this BCBG Max Azria shirt is very similar and has 50% off) | ASOS skinny scarf (I like this floral skinny scarf) | Marks & Spencer wide leg cropped jeans | Daniel Footwear cage heeled mules (read how supremely comfortable these heels are in this post) | Dorothy Perkins bag (loving this similar orange leather bag) | ASOS oversized 70s sunglasses (half price!) | Daniel Wellington watch c/o | Nails: Nails Inc 'Porchester Square'
Marks & Spencer white tops - a mini reviewHere are all the tops I ordered and what I thought of each of them. Although some are sold out I've still included links to them all as sale items often go in and out of stock as people return things.
TOP ROW, L-R:
Oversized Double Layer Lace T-Shirt: This one was quite mumsy. Other retailers have lace tops and this one just didn't seem modern enough.
Loose Fit Sprig Print Pleated Blouse: A lovely blouse but it was incredibly see-through - almost transparent.
Pure Cotton Flared Sleeve Shirt: My shirt. Although I didn't love it at first I think it's because I did up the top bottom like the picture on the website. As soon as I undid the button I loved it. However, if the reviews hadn't said go a size down (or two) I would have ended up with a tent of a shirt.
BOTTOM ROW, L-R:
Fit & Flare Smocked Peasant Blouse: This was a close second. My only bugbear was that the sleeves were the exact same length as the top so it made me look very wide. I often get round this on other tops by rolling up the sleeves, but these weren't roll-able as the fabric was floppy.
Lace Trim Crinkle Effect Shell Top: I quite liked this but my usual size was far too big. Plus it had some pen (biro) marks on it, but the size down was sold out so I couldn't reorder.
Bubble Lace Vest: This top was ridiculously big. My usual size sagged under the arms so much it looked like it came with extra pockets, and the smaller size had sold out.
The Marks & Spencer Challenge by The Over 40 CollectivePlease do click through and check out what my fellow Over 40 Collectives have to say about their experience of shopping with M&S and this challenge... There are some very interesting opinions!
Liz - What Lizzy Loves
"I've lost count of the number of times I've seen something in a magazine or on a fellow blogger that looks like a designer piece, to discover it is in fact from M&S. Desirable, well-made and well-priced, I've wanted several such items, but they have proven nigh on impossible to find." Read more >>Follow Liz on Instagram @whatlizzyloves
Michelle - RetroChicMama
"As I suspected the 10 was a perfect fit, meaning if you’re a 10 it'll be slightly large on you. The quality is terrific as is the cut which you can probably see from my photos. The length of the blazer is perfect and the little gold button details elevate its high street status." Read more >>Follow Michelle on Instagram @retrochicmamablog
Michelle - The Barefaced Chic
"As for the 40-65 year olds who are at the core of the M&S customer base, we want stylish, flattering clothing which is good quality and great value for money. We DON'T want what our mothers and grandmothers want(ed)." Read more >>Follow Michelle on Instagram @barefaced_chic
Lisa - The Sequinist
"As for the Marks and Spencer shirt, it is nice quality and does the job well. I don't find this top to be particularly flattering on me, but that is only because my shape works better with fitted tops than loose ones. In my experience of shopping with M&S, I always find the fashion-forward hero pieces are gone if you aren't super fast." Read more >>Follow Lisa on Instagram @thesequinist
Annette - Lady of Style
"The aim of our style challenge was to prove you can look good and trendy in a basic white top and jeans in your own individual style. For me that was sticking to my favourite elegant touch even when I am wearing jeans! There have been several tops and blouses which I really liked but in the end I went for this bodycon top as I am in love with off-the-shoulder and boatneck lines." Read more >>Follow Annette on Instagram @theladyofstyle
Nikki - Midlife Chic
"The blouse in this outfit was my wild card. It's from the Classic Collection which, as you'll know, is targeted at the older, more conservative lady but in my view it's bang on the 'tie neck trend.' It arrived with the neckline tied in a neat pussy bow which I instantly undid." Read more >>Follow Nikki on Instagram @midlifechic
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- HOW TO STYLE THE ARCHIVE BY ALEXA RUFFLED BLOUSE
Disclosure: This post was not written in collaboration with or sponsored by Marks & Spencer in any way, nor were the clothes gifted.