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xmasjumpertop
Clothing, Special Ranges, Tops & Tees

“Apart from being very disappointed not to see my favourite reindeer jumper again…”

christmasjumper

Christmas outfit planning began for me on 11th September, when I got a text from my mum that read “No Santa outfits this year. Gotta have a Christmas jumper”. We’ve always been a fancy dress obsessed family, and I do think this photo from last Christmas will take a lot of beating, but if anything can do it, some Mark Darcy-esque Christmas jumpers are probably a good place to start. So began the search for the perfect knit! Enter my festive fairy godmothers, New Look, who sent me my first Christmas present of the year, a stocking of goodies and (natch) a suitably festive Christmas jumper…

Now I’ll be honest with you. This isn’t actually the jumper I’ll wear on Christmas Day. I won’t spoil that surprise (see you on Instagram!) but I actually think New Look’s offering is far too pretty for the big day. Yes, the Christmas pudding is sparkly and the ‘snow’ is 3D, but it’s a lovely soft fluffy mohair-style yarn, a cute pastel colour, and there definitely aren’t enough sequins or lights or clashing colours to pass the Cartwright Family Christmas Humiliation Test (™).

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Instead, I rolled this bad boy out on 13th December, which is Christmas Jumper Day (a charity event for Save The Children). As I’m also still trying to do Dressember, I layered my jumper over a dress to ensure I was ticking all the boxes when it comes to wardrobe requirements. This wasn’t the greatest idea in the world, as someone clearly worked out how to turn the central heating up in our office block the same day and I almost melted . . . but there was no way I was taking off my little bit of festive naffness. I even sat in an interview wearing it. That’s dedication for you. Or perhaps stupidity?

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One of the things I love about this jumper is New Look’s cute attention to detail. The normal label is ditched in favour of a special gift label, so if you have a waterproof pen you can personalise it if it’s a gift. Size wise it’s pretty generous. As you can see, I tried the 14, which fit with plenty of room. The whole point of a Christmas jumper is that it has a classic loose fit, but I’d suggest sizing down if you prefer a more modern, slim fit. There’s no waist, it’s a straight fit with a ribbed hem.

The jumper’s still available if you’re looking for something for the festive season, and I think it’s a great buy if you want to get into the spirit without going all out in a red, green and gold monstrosity. If you prefer penguins, light-up Christmas trees or festive fair isle, New Look has all that too in their Christmas jumpers collection. Today’s their last day for Christmas delivery, so shop quickly!

Disclosure: The jumper was a gift. I wasn’t paid to write this post and all opinions are my own.

bridetop
Special Ranges, Tried & Tested

A bride’s opinion of Simply Be’s plus size bridal range

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It’s time for a slightly different – and very special – post with a special guest!

A while back, when this site was still Big Girls Browse, I featured the lovely range of wedding dresses from Simply Be. This was a collection I felt really passionate about the moment I saw it. Wedding dresses are expensive, and plus size women get a very raw deal when it comes to their big day, often having to shell out for really expensive made-to-measure pieces, or settling for the very few cheaper off-the-rack options, most of which are pretty ugly and old-fashioned. Simple Be managed to produce a capsule collection of pretty, simple and non-frumpy styles in sizes 12 – 32, all costing £100 or less. They felt modern, chic and special, but fit a tight bridal budget. I knew they’d be popular, but I didn’t realise quite how popular! My post about the range quickly became one of the most visited on this site, and perhaps one of the loveliest moments of my entire blogging career so far was discovering that, in a tiny little way, I helped a bride have a brilliant wedding day.

With no further ado, I’ll pass you over to Rebecca…

Simply Be bridal collection Grace dress real life bride

“I was a bride on a budget. At 25 I was marrying my college sweetheart and had set a budget of around £400 for my dress.

At a size 20, I am plus size and was a follower of Big Girls Browse. When I saw Gemma’s post about the Simply Be bridal range I fell in love right away with the Grace dress. With its petal shoulders and simple but elegant design it suited my ‘Spring Tea Party’ theme perfectly. Not only was it beautiful, it was also a quarter of my allotted dress budget!

Plus size real bride in the Simply Be Grace dress

The dress is ankle length on my 5ft 11 frame, which firstly meant I didn’t ruin the bottom by standing on it or dragging it along the floor. Secondly, it meant I got to buy and show off some amazing shoes!

bridal shoes

The fit of the dress was perfect on me. True to size, the measurements on the website were spot on! It is floaty on top and the lining is fitted for a smooth appearance.

I love my wedding dress, it was perfect for me. It made me feel beautiful and bridal without being too fussy. It was comfortable and easy to wear and to dance in, and thankfully I was able to visit the bathroom on my own without any assistance!

I would highly recommend the range to any other plus sized bride on a budget, or even without a budget – why not have more money to spend on other things!?”

I think we’ll all agree Rebecca looks gorgeous in the dress, and hopefully this ‘real life’ review will help anyone else thinking about making a purchase from the range. I’d like to thank Rebecca so much for taking the time to write this post and share the photos from her beautiful big day. If you’d like to pass on your congrats to her or ask any more questions about the dress, she’s on twitter as @msmagic.

You can shop the Simply Be Bridal Range by clicking here.

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Celebrities, Special Ranges

Claire Richards for Fashion World

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A few weeks ago I was invited by Fashion World to meet the new face of the brand, Steps star Claire Richards. Fashion World, for those who’re unfamiliar with the brand, is a catalogue shopping brand aimed at busy women sized 12 – 32. As a working mum with a busy life, Claire is a great fit for them, and what has begun as a simple collaboration where she chooses her favourites from an existing range should extend to Claire co-designing her own range in the near future.

Claire’s yo-yo dieting and battles with her weight have been highly publicised over the last few years so I was interested to hear what she had to say about body image and acceptance. After years of trying to slim back down to where she was in her Steps days, she seems to have finally accepted that she’s not meant to be that size now.

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It can’t be easy being ‘the one who put on weight’ in a pop band. Regardless of how Claire looks now, she will always be held up against her teenage self, strutting about in a bikini top and combat pants with a waist the same circumference as one of my thighs. The press event was held at a cake shop (BB Bakery – yum) and at the photocall the photographers couldn’t have made it more obvious that they wanted snaps of Claire that made her look as gluttonous as possible. “Can you hold the whole cake stand, Claire?” “How about two cakes, one in each hand?” Claire was a consummate professional throughout, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t the one standing up there – those cakes might have ended up smashed onto some very expensive camera lenses!

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I got some time to sit down with Claire and a couple of other bloggers towards the end of the event, and despite the fact she’d probably been answering the same questions for hours, Claire was open, honest and more than happy to chat clothes, curves and body image. She’s frank about her body and how she feels about it now – that it’s taken a long time, but she’s realised the only person she has to answer to is herself, and she feels happier now than she ever did starving herself in her Steps days. I asked if there was a lightbulb when she finally realised that your weight does not equal your worth, but she said it was more of a gradual thing, that she slowly learned not to care so much.

When you have battled with your weight (in public) for a decade, you can’t just one day say “I AM HAPPY NOW” and expect that to be it. It’s a long process, changing a lifetime’s worth of negative thoughts. I truly do think she’s found a happy weight, but years of being told she’s fat or that she has to lose weight have obviously affected her.

This was evident in the fact Claire’s fashion advice was straight out of the unspoken ‘how to dress your curves’ guidebook. Choose things that “work for your body”, that are slimming, flattering, cinched at the narrowest point. And don’t forget the shapewear! She loves her shapewear.

There is obviously nothing wrong with this (I love my shapewear too) but I know there is a large portion of the plus size community, particularly online, which hates this approach to dressing. Claire is not part of the ‘f*** flattering’ movement, and I don’t think she ever will be. She’s the ambassador of a mainstream brand that aims to make dressing well easy for busy women who don’t have the time to spend hours shopping, nor any big desire to be ‘trendy’ if it doesn’t work (in traditional terms) for their body shape or age bracket. And she seems to be doing a good job of that so far, whilst gently pushing the boundaries. I liked that in her picks from this season it wasn’t all wrap dresses and illusion panels. There was a jumpsuit, a textured bodycon style dress, and skinny red jeans – all slightly more adventurous styles for those with a fuller figure.

My last question for Claire was, of course, what her favourite Steps song is. It’s the same as mine…

ps. I still know the entire dance routine. And I’m not ashamed.

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Dresses, Special Ranges

Simply Be launches gorgeous plus size wedding dress range

Words can’t begin to explain how excited I am about Simply Be’s new plus size bridal range. I don’t have plans to marry any time soon, so I’m not looking at these with my big day in mind, but I’m hugely impressed at the quality and variety that they’ve managed to pile into such a small range. There are only four dresses so far, but if they’re a sign of what’s to come, this could be the start of something very special.

This could have gone so wrong. It could have been a pile of horrible, frou-frou strapless numbers and ugly toilet roll holder shapes with cheap embellishment. Instead, I really feel like the Simple Be team have done a wonderful thing; they’ve created a capsule plus size range of wedding dresses that will genuinely make people who wear straight sizes go ‘wow, I wish they did that in my size’.

Not only are these dresses pretty and modern and wearable, they’re affordable too. Coming in at around £100, they make looking amazing on a budget for the plus size big day a real possibility. They’re available in sizes 12 – 32.

Grace petal trim wedding dress £100

What I love the most is that there are dresses with sleeves. But not ‘guys, we’d better make one with sleeves for the people who want to hide their arms’ sleeves. Proper, pretty dresses that look special, and beautiful, and unusual, but just happen to cover the upper arms. The Marilyn is a gorgeous example, a formal take on the much-loved wrap dress.

Marilyn wrap detail 3/4 sleeve dress £100

I’ve seen so many plus size bridal offerings that look incredibly uncomfortable. This annoying idea that anyone over a size 12 spends their entire life wanting to look as thin an possible has meant it’s corsets and boleros all over the shop. But a corset is not right for everyone and that Simply Be have recognised the need for comfort and prettiness over waist-cinching properties is fabulous. They’ve even paid attention to trends. My favourite from the collection, the Isabella dress, combines a touch of Downton Abbey with a splash of Gatsby for a lovely vintage-inspired look. I really wish this came in colours so I could buy one for my next formal event!

Isabella vintage style beaded wedding dress £90

And they haven’t forgotten those who don’t want to marry in white. The final dress in this collection (which I hope grows over time) is a pretty pink number.

Evelyn knot front wedding dress £100

Shop the whole collection now at Simply Be. And have an AMAZING wedding!

preggertop
Clothing, Special Ranges

Ask Gemma: How do I dress my post-pregnancy curves?

I don’t usually do request posts (mostly because I don’t get any good requests!) but I’m always happy to help a friend in need. So when Katie called on me for help dressing her post-pregnancy bod, I got straight on the case. I’m sure she’s not the only woman who’s strugged to dress as her body has changed following pregnancy, and as I’m hitting the age now where lots of my friends are starting families, so I get the feeling this post might be useful to a fair few other people in times to come. Katie said “I used to be slim with modest boobs. Then I had a baby. Now I am slimmish, but with a flabbier stomach that pops out after I’ve even looked at some food, and a pair of magically enhanced breasts, a couple of sizes bigger. Nothing fits me any more and I don’t understand how or where to shop!” Now, I like to think I know a little bit about dressing for a body with ample boobs and a tum (baby or not) so, without further ado…

For work, I think the key to this is to look for softly tailored items that make the most of the soft curves you have, but still give you room to move (and give your body room to change). For play, stick with things that are comfy, made from nice, quality fabrics, and are adjustable so you can keep wearing them through any fluctuations.

Here are some fab frocks to start with…

Purple/Cream cowl 2-in-1 dress £42 Closet at Dorothy Perkins
– Long-term readers will know I really rate Closet for work dresses, as they get the smart/casual thing perfectly and the cut is really good for a curvier figure, though you may have to go up a size as the waist is usually quite small. Going for a darker bottom and lighter top draws the eye upwards and the cowl neck is really good for making the most of a great cleavage.


Fanfare Jersey tie dress £67 French Connection

– Jersey is a great fabric that’s easy to take care of, doesn’t crease and hangs brilliantly. French Connection have a great way of draping it to make universally flattering frocks, and this one, with its gathers at the waist, would look amazing on a petite, curvy figure without being too revealing at the neck.

Anya Cowl dress £85 Monsoon
– I love the colour of this and the shape reminds me of much pricier dresses from Whistles. Again there’s a cowl which gives it a bit of a glam feel without being too over the top, and the gathered skirt gives it a bit of a fashion-y edge to stop it looking too baggy and dull.

Knot front dress £120 Vero Moda Very at ASOS
– If you’re conscious of your tummy then dresses that are nipped really tightly at the waist might be a bit scary because you risk a ‘bump’ underneath. But anything too shapeless can be boring. I think this dress is the happy medium. It definitely skims the middle section, but the detail at the front stops it looking like a sack. Great colour for brunettes, too.

Dart fan detail dtress £65 Warehouse
– This dress really makes the most of any curves, but the gathers mean it doesn’t cling too much to any small lumps or bumps so it’s a bit more forgiving than something more Joan Holloway-esque and doesn’t require loads of shapewear underneath for a smooth line. Post-baby curves are gorgeous, so you may as well make the most of them and get your wiggle on!

And now, for play…


Multi striped Askern wrap dress £129 Hobbs

– You know I love a bold print, and there’s no reason why you should dump colour and print just because you’ve gained the odd pound. The idea that horizontal stripes add ‘bulk’ is a myth. This dress would look amazing on any figure.

Mid-wash skinny flare jeans £15 Dorothy Perkins
– A good classic shape that makes the most of a good bum and balances the figure brilliantly. I am the queen of gently flared jeans. Bootcut might be a bit old-fashioned and mumsy, but the skinny flare is great, and I love a dark wash which can sometimes be ok for work too (if work allows denim).

Two-tone orange and navy dress £35 Zara
– This is a great colour and the darker panels streamline it perfectly. The shape is inherently wearable and easy to throw on at the weekend when you don’t fancy jeans. I’d team it with navy wedges or a pair of little ballet flats for a really simple look.

Black stripey long-sleeved V bow top £91 Love Moschino at My-Wardrobe
Yeah, it’s expensive, but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives! This is a nice take on the classic breton striped top, with a bit of a girly touch. It’d look just as good with a pencil skirt for work as it would with jeans for the weekend, and the shape skims the hips and waist without digging in.

Twist trim grey blouse £35 Miss Selfridge
– This is another great multifunctional top that would go with all kinds of different outfits, and the detail will help to create the illusion of a perfect hourglass shape, skimming the tum and cinching the waist. Add a big long pendant to really draw people’s attention.

Black sheer floral print kimono jacket £42 Topshop
– A kimono jacket is the ultimate item for taking all those pre-pregnancy tops that are feeling a bit tight and making them wearable again. Chuck this on over the top of all those old vests, t-shirts and so on, and give them a new lease of life.

Frill detail pink blouse with belt £14.99 H&M
– Not all tops have to be v-necked, and this little frill detail one is a lovely alternative with a cute print that’s crying out to be teamed with denim. The little belt is a nice touch, though it can be removed for something more floaty and feminine.

Safari Top (centre) £29 Hobbs Outlet
– Looking for something that’ll really get people’s attention? This does the job – the top alternative to a wrap dress, in a real ‘look at me’ print. It’d be lovely with slinky trousers or an a-line skirt and heels for a night out, but would also work with something more casual too. Pop a vest underneath if it’s a bit low in the neck for daytime.

All these items come with a caveat, of course, and that is the right underwear. I’m sure I don’t need to stress the importance of being frequently re-fitted for a bra, and also making sure you’re not squeezing into too-tight old pairs of knickers that create horrible lines and VPL with every outfit. Your ladybits have just squeezed a baby out…don’t force them into cheap, Primark pants, treat them to a bit of luxury!

Oh, and obviously I’ve never had a baby so I’m only going on my tried-and-tested rules. If any other new mums have any suggestions of how to get used to all those new-found curves, do share!

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Events & Launches, In The News, Shoeper Challenge, Special Ranges

A Fortnight in Pictures: Fabulous Frocks & Saving Shoes

It’s been a bit of a mad couple of weeks in terms of events and nights out, so I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front as a result. Even this is going to be a bit of a quick post, mostly made up of various photos from the last ten days or so. If you follow me on twitter you’ve probably seen most of these already so sorry for the repeats! In the last fortnight I’ve been to blogger meet-ups, shop openings, photoshoots and parties and at one memorable moment even found myself listed alongside some of my fashion idols as I was placed at number 3 in the top fashion tweeters according to The Telegraph. Their cheque is in the mail…

First up, the official photos are in from the pop-up studio at the Plus London meet-up and they’re amazing. Huge huge to Diana at Fashion Loves Photos and The Second Floor Studio for doing such an amazing job at making me look ok! You can see the whole set featuring all the Plus London attendees her blog. But here are the best ones of me.

The dress is H&M, and I love it even though it’s so tight I couldn’t even wear a strapless bra underneath. Damn their tiny sizing! I really should have worn heels to properly glam it up!

Me with the gorgeous Tahlie from Style369 who I spent much of the night chatting to!

A few days after Plus London, I visited the lovely Carnaby quarter for the opening of the Debenhams Edition pop-up shop. I showed you a preview of some of the range (from Preen, Jonathan Saunders and Jonathan Kelsey) and it was brilliant to get the chance to get up close and personal with the final garments. It’s safe to say if I wasn’t on my Frugal February spending ban I would have bought a lot of pieces! Instead, I just had a bit of a dress-up session. Debenhams had a photographer on hand at the event, and she snapped this amazing pic of me trying on the Jonathan Saunders maxi dress…

The shape is based exactly on a piece from one of his catwalk collections (Spring 2008), reproduced in a new print for Edition. I love that this affordable collection is so similar to the main range, and not just some range of crappy logo t-shirts and denim skirts or something. It truly is a gorgeous piece and I fell completely in love with it.

The Debenhams team very kindly let me choose one piece from Edition as a gift, and I (unsurprisingly) went for this frock, which is now stashed safely in my wardrobe for a very, very special occasion!

Following the Edition event came another Frocking Friday. I was going out for a meal in the evening so decided to pull out my vintage floral number. I bought this for about £12 on ebay a few years ago and it was probably my best ever vintage find. The perfect fit, a fabulous shape, and it’s hand made with a really durable zip (and a hand-finished hem!) so it’ll last forever. It was listed as 1950s and the shape certainly suggests that era, but as it’s handmade we’ll never really know. It really reminds me of the recent 50s inspired Louis Vuitton dresses. I teamed it with a black belt, opaque tights and patent shoes from New Look.

And finally, comes the Shoeper Challenge which began on Valentine’s Day. I need to wear every pair of shoes I own by this time next year, or I have to get rid of all the unworn pairs. The rule is if you don’t photograph a ‘save’, it doesn’t count, so while I’ve worn more than one pair of shoes in the last few days, these are the only ones officially saved so far – a pair of studded leather flats from New Look.

Here’s a close-up of the saved shoes, since the photo above’s a bit rubbish. This is a bit of a dull start to the challenge, but don’t worry, there are still 108 shoes to go and most of them are heels! I wear these babies a lot but wanted to snap them with a decent outfit. The dress is New Look also – I buy a little too much from there I think!

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Clothing, Special Ranges

Things to get excited about: new capsule collections

There are some amazing capsule and limited edition collections coming out in the next couple of months, and I’m excited about pretty much all of them. From Debenhams’ new ‘Edition’ collection, featuring pieces from Preen, Roksanda Ilincic, Jonathan Saunders and Jonathan Kelsey, to the much hyped ‘Inclusive’ range from H&M, which is an online-only collection of pretty dresses and separates that come in a larger range of sizes than the usual tiny H&M stuff. Keep reading for pics and info on these great upcoming fashion collaborations…

EDITION at Debenhams

Launching this week with a pop-up shop in London, and then going into stores soon after, Edition is a very fashion-forward collection by a group of amazing designers. Roksanda Illincic will be joining in Autumn / Winter (I assume because until recently she’s been collaborating with Whistles) but the first pieces from Preen, Jonathan Saunders (who makes colourblock dresses like nobody else) and Jonathan Kelsey, accessory designer extraordinaire will be available for Spring / Summer. Here are some pics from the launch. The Jonathan Saunders maxis are right up my street…

Prices are incredibly competitive, with most pieces coming in at the £40 – £80 mark, with the odd coat or heavily detailed item for a little more. The most expensive item is the Preen leather jacket at £190. This is still far less than you pay for similar stuff when Topshop work with London designers, and I’m really impressed with this range, which is head and shoulders above the Designers at Debenhams range when it comes to how closely the pieces resemble the designers’ catwalk collections. The Jonathan Saunders stuff in particular looks just like his mainline range.

Inclusive at H&M

This is a really exciting one! For the first time H&M are making the same clothes available to both their regular size range and selected plus sizes, with an online collection that comes in size 8 – 24. Most people are reporting this as ‘just another plus size collection’, but the real story is there in the name – inclusive – this is about making the SAME clothes available regardless of dress size, which is a really great move.

A few samples of the range, including the above dress, were on show at the Plus London party, so it was good to get a closer look. What I will say is that the dress photographs completely differently to how it looks in real life – I thought it was a heavy, rich brocade, but it’s actually a printed cotton. The shape is very straight, with no tailoring at the waist – the velvet belt is all that’s used to cinch it in. In some ways this is good – the cheaper fabric should keep the price down, and the boxy shape means it’ll fit a variety body shapes, not just a guestimated average – but I hope some of the others pictured are a more tailored shape. There was a gorgeous coral strapless number with pleats and a midi hemline which was fitted, so perhaps this is a one-off.

See more pics of the collection at The Pocket Rocket.

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Events & Launches, Special Ranges

Exclusive Sneak Peek: Simply Be SS11 ‘Angel Ribbons’ Collection

The team at Simply Be have always been really supportive of Big Girls Browse and I was really happy to be offered a bit of an exclusive on one of their Spring / Summer ranges. The ‘Angel Ribbons’ collection won’t be available until next week, but you can have a little sneaky peek at some of the pieces right here. I saw some of the samples a month or so ago at the launch, and this was definitely one of the ranges that really stood out for me. I do love a bit of girly glam! Keep reading for all the pics…

Keep your eye on Simply Be’s website next week for the launch!