The controversial case of the 'overgrown student': When friends criticised her 'baggy' look, Isabel Wolff consulted a style counsellor

'I HOPE you won't mind my saying this,' said a close male friend to me at a party recently, 'but I'm not at all sure about your outfit. You see you're rather a small person, and I don't think long things really suit you.'

'I'm five foot four,' I replied accurately, smoothing the front of my ankle-length Katherine Hamnett skirt. 'And actually five foot four is a perfectly normal height. You just think I'm small because you're very tall. Anyway, I like this skirt.'

A small crease momentarily furrowed my friend's brow. He inhaled thoughtfully before venturing further. 'And that jumper; I don't like to criticise, but it's awfully big and, and . . . baggy. It totally smothers you. You don't need to cover yourself up like that. You're not fat.'

'I'm not trying to cover myself up,' I countered. 'I happen to think it looks good.'

'Yes, but the proportions are all wrong,' he insisted, 'It makes you look like an overgrown student. I'm just not mad on all these long fashions,' he added darkly, before we diplomatically changed the subject. 'And I think quite a lot of men would agree with me.'

Now this last statement had a certain resonance. Paul Johnson was fulminating in the Spectator recently against the 'fashion frogs' of Paris who dress women in 'black, ankle-length cretonne bin-bags' and 'different versions of the pyjama-suits and nighties currently worn by experienced Calcutta street-dossers'. In offices where I have worked recently I have often heard men disparage the voluminous ensemble of their female colleagues. In one newspaper office a slim young woman journalist turned up to work in a flowing, tent-like dress and was jokily asked by no less than three of her male colleagues when the baby was due.

The current trend in fashion is definitely towards length and bagginess. 'Fashion has really loosened up', says the Independent on Sunday's fashion writer Tamsin Blanchard, enthusiastically. 'It's moved away from all that tight-fitting Lycra stuff to much longer, fluid styles which a lot of women feel comfortable in. But men don't always like it.'

In my own case, independent sartorial advice was to be forthcoming in the form of an unexpected Christmas present, a gift voucher for style and design counselling at the House of Colour in London. According to the brochure, I would have a full analysis of my body frame, and be given advice on which shapes, lengths and outlines to wear. I would also be advised on what necklines, fabrics and patterns to stick to.

House of Colour occupies three floors of a narrow building in Soho. There, stripped to my underwear, I stood against a large mirror while Alice Prier, the designer, analysed my frame. I found myself staring at her black and shocking pink check tapered trousers and asymetrical zippered jacket. 'What we want to establish is what body type you are,' she said as she made black felt tip marks on the mirror all around me. 'Like most people, you're a mixture,' she informed me, as she replaced the top on her felt tip pen. 'You're sharp on top, and rounded below. It's rather like putting a triangle on top of a circle. And you've got rather long arms,' she added.

'Should I wear long or short things?' I inquired, anxious to have this question resolved.

''You can certainly wear long skirts,' she said. But you would need to wear heels with them.'

'What about jackets?'

'You should wear a longer length,' she said, to my relief. 'A peplum would suit you, or an Edwardian-style riding jacket.'

As we went through the consultation, Ms Prier was making marks in a folder.

'What about shirts and jumpers?' I asked her.

'Your jumpers should be long but fairly clinging, not loose and baggy. You should be, as it were, reclining on a chaise-longue, not slogging up Ben Nevis.' I resolved to throw out my knee-length, size 48 chest, M&S man's jumpers.

'Your overall style should be big, bold and glamorous', she said. 'I feel that you're somehow hiding.'

'Glamorous. Does that mean Joan Collins?' I inquired.

'No, more like Kim Novak,' she replied. 'It's a sort of 1950s glamour.'

Having mentally donated to Oxfam more than 80 per cent of my wardrobe, I went upstairs to see Ms Prier's workshop. Her designs may not follow current trends but, she says, they are guaranteed to suit the wearer.

'What sort of thing would you design for me?' I ventured. She started to scribble quickly on to a pad. 'I think a bubble- gum pink two-piece ribbed wool suit would look great,' she said. 'The jacket would be tailored with a peplum at the back and the skirt would be short and neat. And because you've got long arms I'd put some spiralling detail from elbow to cuff.'

'Interesting,' said Tamsin Blanchard ambiguously when I showed her the sketch the next day. 'Bubble-gum pink . . . I wouldn't really like to venture an opinion. I suppose it might look OK but it's not exactly the height of fashion.'

'What do you think about style counselling?' I asked her. 'I'm not mad about it,' she replied. 'Fashion isn't just about what looks right, it's also an expression of personality. Women should wear the kind of clothes that they feel most comfortable in.' I asked for her professional opinion on my 'overgrown student' outfit. 'I rather like that,' she said.

(Photographs omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing