More fun fashion inspiration for you this week in the form of a truly original 76 year old called Esme Newton Dunn.
I first met Esme when she came to one of our customer evenings in our Wimbledon shop. I was immediately struck by her very original and quite quirky style. As you can see Esme favours bright red hair and a vibrant lipstick colour, so she made a decision a long time ago to keep her wardrobe almost entirely monochrome - restricting it to (lots of) black with the odd dash of white. For our photo shoot at Anna’s house, Esme arrived wearing a gorgeous bright orange coat from Jigsaw but, apart from some whacky earrings and a few colourful scarves, almost everything that spilled from the huge suitcase she brought was in her beloved black.
Esme proceeded to give both Anna and I a masterclass in the ways that monochromatic dressing creates a style which is endlessly flexible because all her pieces work together for any and every occasion from the most mundane to the most glamorous.
I asked Esme to describe both her lifestyle and fashion style. After a career in various creative capacities, including a stint writing about fitness for Cosmopolitan Magazine, a year in Selfridges Press office (which she likens to Ab Fab), and over thirty years working in the healthcare division of a large PR company, Esme now supplements her pension by working part-time in a men’s boutique in Chiswick. Outside of which she exercises regularly (hence the enviably trim figure you can see below) and she also enjoys time with friends attending the theatre, galleries and exhibitions.
Esme told me that she loves glamour and to a certain extent she likes to dress up every day as she’s rarely invited to anything properly dressy. She told me: “The way you dress is an expression of yourself. Being older can be freeing because you’re less restricted by work and other conventions. I don’t think age should limit what we wear as long as the clothes are flattering and you feel comfortable and confident wearing them”.
Esme describes her approach to fashion as a combination of Function, Form, Fabric, Funds and Fun.
Function: “Because clothes cover you and keep you warm, cool and dry and they also have to be comfortable to wear”.
Form: “Because I like shapes that are interesting and look good from both the front and the back. As a petite woman who is 5’1” tall, I look for clothes that fit well especially at the shoulder and hips as everything falls from there. I also think that foundation garments, including a well-fitting and supportive bra are essential.”
Fabric: “I love the feel, fall and texture of different fabrics. Sometimes when I’m browsing round shops I’ll see something that looks really interesting until I touch it…”
Funds: “I have limited funds, but try to buy the best I can that will last and last. I’m still wearing things I’ve had for over 30 years. I now buy more of my clothes from charity shops, where I can find quality clothes I couldn’t otherwise afford - and I have clothes swapping sessions with my daughter. Also good for the environment.”
Fun: “Dressing up should give you - and others - pleasure. Enjoy your clothes. I don’t take myself too seriously so it’s the perfect way to express this with some chunky earrings, a big shawl, or a cheeky little hat!”
As you will see, Esme buys her clothes from all over the place. She looks for bold shapes and fabrics that feel good to touch. She often finds things in Cos and a shop in North London called Mainly Black which sells Japanese influenced clothes and if she could afford to, she’d buy from the Japanese designer Yohi Yamamoto. Nowadays her only criterion for buying something new like the beautifully fitting Zara black jacket with a cutaway back (see below) is that it’s ‘too good to leave behind….”
The red hair and short bob have been Esme’s signature look for most of her life. She started wearing makeup at 13 and has loved experimenting with it ever since. Her favourite LFF lip colour is Hollywood Red and she likes to wear either our grey or purple palette of shadows on her lids. Jewellery is mainly big bold earrings, many from Toolally and her light sensitive eyes mean that big round sunglasses are a year-round necessity. Biggest bugbear is what to wear on her feet as sexy high heels are now a complete no-no. The solution is therefore mainly found now in either Converse or Dr. Martin boots.
Essential foundation garments for warmth in winter - worn under most outfits.
The thermal polo-neck top from M&S. Esme also recommends ‘HeatTech’ vests from Uniqlo and black tights from Snag.
Skirt: Mainly Black, Jacket: Cos, Jersey: Woolovers, Sunglasses: Mrs Ertha, Doc Martin Boots
Trousers: Bought in Phyllis, a shop in Palo Alto, California, Jacket: French, bought from a boutique in East Sheen, Orange long drop metallic earrings bought in Spain
Orange coat: Jigsaw, Beret: Locke’s, Scarf: British Museum shop, Sunglasses: Mrs Eartha
Shiny plastic Mac: Bought online from Swedish brand Stutterheim, Hat: Agnes B, Scarf: Marrimekko, Sunglasses: Mrs Eartha, Boots: DMs
Looks for Christmas and New Year Events
Blouse: Very old Paul Smith white blouse, Jacket: Very new Zara jacket with short back (£49.99), Earrings: V&A shop, Trousers: Phyllis (Equestrian), Boots: Jigsaw
Trousers: Phyllis (Equestrian), Silver Jacket: Eileen Fisher, Earrings: Toolally
Jacket: Black and silver Armani Collection (Years Old), Trousers: Yacco Maricard, Shoes: Thierry Robotin (also very old)
Skirt: Actual ballet skirt bought by costumers in Covent Garden and worn to Grange Park Opera!, Top: M&S, Shawl: Indian Kantor stitched and bought from ‘Egg” in Kinnerton St. London, Boots: Jigsaw, Earrings: Bought from V&A after an exhibition featuring Frida Kahlo
Top: Bought in Melbourne in Barbara Wilson 15 years ago, Long Skirt: Bought 5 years ago in an Indian shop in Fulham, Pearls: V&A shop, Boots: DMs
Esme has invited her son, daughter, their partners and her two grandchildren to celebrate Christmas in her home in West London. She tells me that various dietary requirements mean that she’s doing a pescaterian Chistmas lunch. “I'm not an enthusiastic cook and prefer decorating the table! I'm planning to roast a sea bass and to serve lots of different vegetables - and hoping that others will bring festive food to supplement. There will also be Champagne and games... On the day I will wear a pair of trousers from Mainly Black - which my daughter bought me for Christmas, but which I've already worn - and some festive earrings for fun.”
I wish Esme and her family a very happy day together and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that whatever Esme wears she will look absolutely wonderful in her very individual, very distinctive and slightly kooky style!
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