Retail guru Mary Portas and her Pret-a-Portas code

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Tuesday 11th October 2011

“Avoid dressing like a teenager, edit your trends, work with your proportions, keep it low maintenance and don’t buy crap.”

These are the no-nonsense words of the inimitable style guru Mary Portas – or as she calls it, her Pret-a-Portas code to buying clothes. Mary Queen of Shops talks such retail sense that I reckon I should have her advice stamped across my wallet whenever I go shopping. If I’d done that, I might have avoided some of my worst sartorial disasters. And yes, there are quite a few lurking at the back of my wardrobe.

I’m gripped by Mary’s new TV show, Mary Queen of Frocks, which follows her progress as she designs her own range of clothes for women over 40 and sells them at House of Fraser’s flagship Oxford Street store. She embarked on her quest because middle-aged women, she reckons, only have two choices when it comes to fashion – “dress like teenagers and flash the flesh. Or it’s cream and beige, beige and cream.”

Her new fashion project makes for entertaining TV (the second part is on Channel 4 tonight) but I’m not convinced by Mary’s clothes. The trouble is that she’s a tall, stick-thin size ten and while her trademark leggings, cinched in waists and sky-high heels look fabulous on her, her style would look ridiculous if the rest of us tried it.

One of the seven key pieces she’s designed is the “no-brainer dress,” an above-the-knee tunic which costs £135. Mary calls it’s “a clean and contemporary look,” but I’m sorry, to me it looks like a shapeless overall. Her shoes, on the other hand, are divine. She’s teamed up with Clarks to create a gorgeous range of ankle boots, courts and bar shoes. Not only that, they look like shoes you could actually walk in. And watch out, too, for her Home collection, which is perfect for Christmas presents.

PS: Mary’s hit the headlines again today by castigating the women in David Cameron’s cabinet as “an ugly bunch.” She told Heat magazine that she’d love to restyle the lot of them and “put a bit of sex and glamour in there.” If you see an army of women politicians trooping into Number Ten clutching briefing papers and wearing bright purple tunics, you’ll know who’s responsible.

PPS: It was my turn to host my book club last night so I rushed out to buy some non-alcoholic drinks for the drivers. When I spotted Belvoir’s new elderflower presse at the supermarket I snapped up three bottles. Why? Who could resist a bottle that says “you’re lovely” on the label?

4 comments so far

  • I’m really surprised at how dire her clothing range is – would have expected so much better!

  • Thanks so much for commenting, Lottie. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I thought the clothes would be brilliant and an awful lot cheaper than they are.

  • I think it’s a bit of a sisterhood fail to describe women anywhere as an “ugly bunch.’ Also I am not sure who specifically she is referring to but Theresa May has fantastic style. I like the fact it is all her own, looks fitting for her high powered post and that she hasn’t been put through some dreadful bland female MP makeover. God forbid that she step out in the ‘no brainer dress’

  • Thanks Mimi Pompom. I hope that Theresa May doesn’t snap up the “no-brainer dress” too. Incidentally, Mary Portas has just tweeted that she’s “upset that my words have been taken out of context re women in the cabinet. I have every respect for women in business, whatever they wear.” Good to hear her say that.

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