Carol Alayne

In association with Tailoring for Women Ltd.

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Archive for the ‘Business wear’ Category

Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free…

Friday, December 1st, 2017

It’s time to sing that chorus again.  With the evenings drawing in and the temperature  falling,  we will need to think of bundling up in a few more layers when we go out.  For those who plan ahead, the ever reliable overcoat waiting in the back of the wardrobe can be taken out for an airing and a good brush…an old friend with lots of memories, here again to keep you snug.

Overcoats come in all sorts of styles; topcoats, peacoats, cover coats, crombie etc.  They are as wonderful a garment as they are essential, and can give real authority to a wardrobe.  Like a piece of sculpture, they help make you look smart and poised. I feel they are the epitome of style and good taste when the weather begins to turn.  Worn over a business suit or daywear, they come in a range of weights and fabrics.  Camel hair, cashmeres, wools or the luxurious vicuna can be styled into any design from above knee to ankle length.  The longer the length the better the protection.

Coats often have an interesting history.  For example, the polo coat originally started out as a simple camel-hair wrap coat, like a large blanket.  It was something the riders threw over their shoulders, like a bathrobe, while waiting to resume play. Originally it was called a ‘wait’ coat but in the 1920s, when English polo players were first invited to play in matches on Long Island (NY), the swagger of these coats didn’t go unnoticed, and they soon appeared on East coast campuses. By 1930, polo coats had supplanted the raccoon coats at the Yale-Princeton football game; a decided stamp of approval.

This coat for one of my women clients has a ‘button-tab’ collar.  It’s an unusual design that evolved as a means of keeping out the chill wind.  The lapel and top collar roll-line open and cross over at the center front fully covering and protecting the upper chest and neck area.  With an under collar from matching cloth, instead of the melton collar one sees in most men’s tailoring, it looks equally smart whether open or closed.

To emphasise the accents in this colourful Donegal tweed, and to add an eye-catching finish I  hand-worked each button hole in a different colour silk twist.

My own worsted wool overcoat, inspired by the ‘swing’ style of the 40’s, has a magnificent autumnal check and finishes just 3″ above the ankle.  It covers all skirt lengths and is one of my cosiest items.  Real weather…..bring it on!

Power Dressing, but does it empower

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Joan CollinsThe Sunday Times (UK) Style section devoted a number of column inches to the do’s and don’ts for women who find themselves at the front of the political stage either as leader or consort.  It seems that once again the dilemma for high-profile women has surfaced; about giving the right sense of gravitas without appearing domineering, or warm and genuine as against frivolous and ‘fashiony’.  From some of the books I have collected about the psychology of clothing its background is long and complex.   This rarely seems to be a problem that confronts men.  What I question however is the term power dressing.  Is it not a dated term in itself?  Also, let’s not confuse the fact that the needs of the political band wagon are rather different from those of a shareholder meeting.

For me power dressing immediately conjures up a dated picture of big shoulders, tight waists and sculptured hair-dos that look not dissimilar from the City Hall building here in London, and with as much immobility!

It smacks of theatre with only a veneer of seriousness, and as I visit my clients in the City you can see that these financially challenging times require a degree of authenticity that suggests a ‘safe pair of hands’..

One of my clients articulated her dilemma well when she talked about walking into a room of 100 venture capitalists, all male apart from a handful of women, and all with the same, almost regular-issue pinstripe uniform.  Custom and practice has not given us the opportunity to develop a similar sort of iconic look, and in this the fashion industry has been no help.

“Real power dressing is about being smart and true to yourself, and the balance between the two is what makes it new. Work out what suits you, and don’t deviate” says the Times.  But what does this mean in practical terms, and where are the places a busy executive can go to build an appropriated wardrobe without spending vast amounts of time doing it.

So I would suggest that the journalist in the Times should perhaps look a little closer at the trading floors and boardrooms and consider the realities of the executive life-style, and whether or not the concept of power dressing may in reality be rather disempowering

All in a day…dress

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

I am afraid that the blog posts had to take a slight seat to oneside over the past couple of weeks.  The V&A seminar,  an invitation to speak on the BBC’s iconic radio programme Woman’s Hour, and a new commision from the King’s Singers have all given life an added spice just in time for Christmas.  That is excluding the daywear pieces I have had to see through for my regular clients.

I don’t know why, but there appears to be a resurgence in the orders for daydresses amongst my clients.  This one will be sent off to Amsterdam in the next couple of days.

It makes a change from the 2-pc jacket with trousers or skirt, maybe due to the use of the dress as an alternative to stretch the wardrobe.

The lure of the daydress is its practicality.  It can be as versatile as a suit, and its sense of tailored femininity gives a figure enhancing simplicity.

I see the advantage in its flexibility;

  • can be worn from day to evening
  • is easily accommodated and accessorised with staple garments
  • comfortable, with less fit and constriction at the waist
  • with colour and detail it can enhance proportions

It has an inbuilt convenience too when it comes to travelling; much easier to pack than a suit.

And there are many variations;

  • Shirtwaist, a dress with a bodice (waist) like a tailored shirt and an attached straight or full skirt
  • Sheath, a fitted, often sleeveless dress, often without a waistseam (1960s)
  • Shift, a straight dress with no waist shaping or seam (1960s)
  • Jumper dress (American English) or Pinafore dress (British English) is a sleeveless dress intended to be worn over a layering top or blouse. Jumper dresses exist for both summer and winter wear.
  • Sundress is an informal sleeveless dress of any shape in a lightweight fabric, for summer wear.
  • Tent, a dress flared from above the bust, sometimes with a yoke (1960s, renewed popularity after 2005)
  • Maxi dress, a long, formfitting, floor or ankle length dress.
  • Wrap dress, a dress with a front closure formed by wrapping one side across the other and knotting the attached ties on the side, or fastening buttons. This forms a V-shaped neckline and hugs a woman’s curves. A faux wrap dress resembles this design, except that it comes already fastened together with no opening in front, but instead is slipped on over the head. (1970s; renewed popularity from late 1990s)

Here is something with a wholly different sense of ‘attitude’ which was commissioned from me during my time at Hardy Amies.

I feel that a tailored daydress is a very good start when planning a wardrobe, and also a welcome addition to a set of staple garments already in place.

I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I was delighted to be told that my letter to the Economist in response to their excellent article Suitably Dressed ( 18 December  2010)  had been accepted.

The article refers to the (possible) 150th anniversary of the lounge suit.  Interestingly, it is referred to in militaristic terms as the ‘battledress’ of the world’s businessmen.

Uniform dress fulfils a number of different purposes depending upon one’s profession, and for some this is more regulated than for others; from peaked caps and epaulettes to a mutually agreed dress code (I believe that the Swiss bank UBS has issued a 44 page guidebook to its 65,000 employees, male and female, on staff dress code at work – including the amount of cleavage allowed on public show!).  While we may consider our clothes a vehicle for personal expression, what we need to wear professionally may have to be much more sobre and perhaps reflect the changing times.

It was interesting to note how the recent financial meltdown caused a reappraisal of dressing standards, and how the dress-down Friday was supplanted back to the well-cut suit and tie.

Perhaps you recall the hemline theory of economics that was tipped as a measure of stock market fluctuations?

Men in some ways have it easier.  Their suit has been developed over some time and has become an accepted standard.   Not so for women, and this was the point of my letter.  For both sexes however, when a uniform needs to be a specific colour or style, ‘fit’ is of paramount importance and unquestionably an ‘edge-giver’.

The appellation ‘bespoke’ is often attached to a variety of objects and services.  There are indeed many clothing outlets that lay claim to this mantra.  Their authenticity however is somewhat questionable and it shows immediately in the fit of a garment.  The real purpose of bespoke is to respond to the individual requirements of each person’s figure, to disguise the idiosyncrasies (don’t worry, we all have them!) and to address fit, proportion and balance.  There are opportunities too, for a personal choice of accents or details which add an additional charm.

Pockets of consistence

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

If you wear one of these…
Where do you put one of these?

We all know the traditional answer – in the handbag of course. And we all know the consequences. It rings at an embarrassing moment. You don’t want to be noticed but you have to excavate the handbag to find the phone and switch it off. It stops ringing just when you find it. But for other more aesthetic reasons women sing the praises of handbags. (more…)

IoD: Appearance matters

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Interview attireDuring the Christmas period an interesting discussion was started on the IoD (Institute of Directors) LinkedIn Group.  It came from a simple request for information.  “When making a hiring decision how important is a candidate’s appearance to you” It soon prompted over 50 comments from MD’s, partners and CEO’s from across the business world.
While a small minority felt that appearance should not be a major factor, most agreed that it was an important matter and that scrutiny of a candidate began from the moment they entered the room.

“If  they cannot make the effort for something as important as an interview then it is likely to show a somewhat sloppy attitude to their working life”

“If you want to be taken seriously in business, you need to be well dressed”

“Appearance is critical as a guide to how that person values the potential role as well as themselves”

“It is vital to create that right first impression and is often an external indicator of a person’s attitudes and values”

“Appearance is your only chance to make a good first impression which happens in a heartbeat”

“When putting candidates forward to clients we always aim to ensure that the basics are covered, including clean shoes, as it is surprising how many people first comment on the state of the footwear, as shown in the feed back to this post. Regardless of how good candidates are from a competency angle, we all make our mental opinions on people before we have spoken to them, so personal presentation geared for the right scenario is important to create the right image and impression. As we were always taught, ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression'”

In ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell wrote of how we make decisions in as little as two seconds.  Given such a slim sliver of time therefore suggests that appearance and initial demeanour is fairly crucial.

This works for company meetings too, particularly when you may be the point of sale with a new client.  Last year there was some press coverage of how the international accountancy firm Ernst&Young considered the way in which their staff dressed a part of their overall  positioning programme, just as their logo or corporate colours.

To close with a little homespun advice from the same IoD forum;  “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”

Photo: thanks to ShabbyApple

2 degrees East

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Yukiyo SugiyamaI said good-bye to one of my assistants this week.  Having graduated with her second degree, an MA in arts administration from Goldsmiths College, she has to fill her suitcase and return to Japan.

Yukiyo (Sugiyama) spent almost 3 years of study and work experience here in the UK during which time she immersed herself in ballet, opera, theatre, museums and galleries.  She still somehow found time to help me in my studio, and in particular with planning my own Japanese trips.  She returns to Tokyo to run the new concert hall at the Ueno Gakuen (a music university in Tokyo) which came to prominence recently when one of its students,  Nobuyuki Tsujii, won the Van Cliburn Piano Competition.

To add to her souvenirs I thought that a light weight business suit would make a welcome change from her customary jeans and t-shirt.  This charcoal grey fresco suit will be ideal for those sticky summer Tokyo days with humidity levels you could cut with a knife (‘fresco’ is a type of open weave used particularly for tropical suitings).  This particular fabric is cool to wear and also has a crease resistant quality that can withstand the most rigorous packing regimes!

Ganbatte. Good luck, Yukiyo.  We will miss you very much.

Uniform dilemmas

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

UniformsIf you look for a definition of ‘uniform’ you will find that it stresses similarity and consistency.  Indeed one of the purposes of a ‘uniform’ is to lend a feeling of cohesion to groups that want or need to be identified as a unit; the police, football teams and their supporters, symphony orchestras are all examples of this.  One of the major challenges with uniforms however, is that the people who wear them are not uniform.  I recently worked with a designer on a project that brought these differences into stark relief and the impact this can have if a project is not sensitively managed.

There seem to be three matters involved that have to be in alignment; the requirements and expectations of the wearers and their employers, the need to create economies in scale, and the design that will determine the final result.  Of these, it is the handling of the level of the wearer’s expectation that seems to play a vital role.

The needs of an employer are normally driven by their brand’s positioning and how this should be perceived.  This implies something that carries the branded colours and possibly other elements of the brand’s identity such as the logo.  For the wearer it is more to do with fit and personal comfort.  This is where things start to get complicated, because to completely satisfy individual needs the bespoke element has to come into play.  Usually with the mass production of a line of garments the tolerances have to be much greater to allow for the differences in body shape, the result is a corresponding economy in scale for their production.  As soon as the bespoke element starts to creep in the situation becomes much more complex with the cost model quite different from that originally proposed.  It is the age old formula of ‘cost v time v quality’ at play.

Add to this design elements which may not have fully considered the needs of the work force and  difficulties can emerge.  For example taking into account whether or not one’s staff spend most of their days sitting or standing can have considerable impact on the way in which the design should be worked through; close fitting flat-fronted trousers can look extremely chic for people whose work entails a lot of standing, but for those who spent most of their work life seated they can be a nightmare.

So I would suggest that designers, in support of the clients who commission them, should consider a little more the sensibilities of those who will be wearing the finished article, these people will after all become the biggest advocates of the branding exercise if their needs are accommodated.

Photo: thanks to US Military from

Press here!

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

TeddyWe were sifting through the archives of press cuttings and images the other day.  I am preparing to speak at a seminar for the V&A later this year and I was searching for pictures of some of the ‘old guard’ in Savile Row.  It is extraordinary how much I have forgotten over the last two decades of working in London.

And what an interesting journey, going right back to the beginning when I started with a clientele made up almost exclusively of performers.  I set out very quickly to learn the techniques of making a tail coat and suddenly found myself kitting out the violinist Gil Shaham, and the conductors Barry Wordsworth and Tamas Vasary.  I later made a much more feminine version for the singer Hilary Summers.  You can see Hilary here with the Michael Nyman Band in another outfit we made for her.

More recently came the coverage for the Commonwealth and Olympic shooting teams, and the British Embassy magazine in Japan.

Dealing with press exposure is an illuminating process.  A number of my clients come from the corporate communications and PR sector, and I have learned a great deal from them about the expertise that lies behind an effective press campaign.  It is one thing to get a novelty item in the Evening Standard about dressing a teddy bear, quite another to make a consistent impact in the fashion pages!

Tailoring and the Glass Ceiling

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Glass CeilingLast Sunday, I caught an interview with Cherie Blair on the BBC’s Politics Show.  It ended a programme segment hosted by three guest women presenters, each from quite different backgrounds; a fire-fighter, a mother trying to get back into the workforce, and a company director.  An interesting debate.  And three observations in particular struck a chord which has some relevance to my own professional arena.

The other day  it was suggested by a male colleague that it was just too difficult for “gentlemen’s’ and ladies’ tailoring to co-exist”.  ( I use the word ‘ladies’ advisedly!).  Despite the number of professional women currently  hammering at the executive ‘glass ceiling‘ (some of them are my clients),  it seems strange that this sort of attitude still prevails.  Cherie commented on how society works best when women and men work together with “complementary skills on an equal basis”.   I know I learned a huge amount from my colleagues on Savile Row; in fact TfW is a service that grew from within a male tradition.  Yet despite my own background in haute couture, I feel that the opportunity for reciprocal learning was never quite part of the sharing process.

She also commented on how volume counted, that is, the more women that reach senior executive positions, the more accepting and quicker the change; a statistic of around 20%-30% was suggested for producing critical mass.  As one of the only women specialising in authentic bespoke tailoring for women I think we have some way to go on this one!

Maybe it is just that the trade is not ready for an influx of women.  Judging from the recent BBC series about Savile Row, it seems as if the upholders of this male tradition are still pretty well ensconced in their gentleman’s emporiums.

Maybe I should declare myself an endangered species.  And while we are at it, perhaps someone should mention that kissing the back of a lady’s hand by way of greeting is a bit ‘old hat’!


Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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