Today I’d love to introduce you to Ruth Essex. She is a professional image consultant and color coach and has joined me in guiding you through the 21 steps in our style course.
This is a chance to get to know her a little better and get lots of fabulous style tips in the process too!
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I have been fascinated by fashion since I played dress up and clomped around in my mum’s heels as a little girl.
Luckily there have been so many stylish women, and men, in my family, which gave me the advantage of learning about style early on, even if it was subconscious at the time.
However, my first formal introduction to this profession was around 15 years ago, when my friend Susan bought me a colour analysis session as a Christmas present.
Susan and I went to the session together, and though we agreed the lady who analysed us did so correctly, her delivery was somewhat lacking in charm. This lady had clearly lost interest in her job and when there is no passion left, I think this is a good time to stop.
What the session did do though, was make me realise that this is something I would enjoy doing myself, and how much better I would want my customers to feel! I started reading more and more about style, and colour and body types, and searching out further books and TV programmes on this subject.
I think it is great to find something you are passionately interested in. It drives you to find out more, gain greater depth of knowledge and understanding, and want to excel in your field. This also led to creaking book shelves as I now have a collection of over 120 different style books, all of which I have read cover to cover.
When I was pregnant at age 39, we moved 80 miles from Sussex to Essex, and I left my role as a Director of Professional Development to enjoy being a full-time mum. By age 40 I was pregnant again and with a toddler, and a new baby on the way, I decided this would be a great time to retrain as a stylist.
With my background in lecturing and academia, I was able to combine the skills I had in teaching and learning to help my clients understand why, and how, colour and style could work for them. My particular focus is helping others to understand and develop their personal style, rather than just giving them the answer.
I used my skills in research and writing academic papers to start writing a style column for a glossy magazine and then expanded this to start writing articles for a second magazine. And I found I was both good at, and enjoyed creative writing. From there I started a style blog, (and also a sailing blog, my other passion….) and now I am putting this styling expertise into my new book. I have written several chapters into so far and the working title is “Lessons in Style.”
The philosophy is to show women how to build actual outfits, which fit their individual style. Showing them step by step, what works, and why something doesn’t. It isn’t aimed at creative and artistic dressers, who seem to be born with their own fabulous flamboyant style, but more the woman who doesn’t have a model figure and a Dior budget, who has experienced a few milestones in her life.
My audience is the woman that seems to have just lost her way a bit, at some point. Someone who may be a few pounds over their fighting weight, maybe someone who has been putting the needs of others first, when life gets busy with work, family and friends, or just getting stuff done.
They don’t have an Instagram husband and their personal style may have become blurred or a bit none descript. It is not for Red Carpet events, it is for the woman who wants some guidance and help in finding her way back to feeling great each day. It is for women like me. Changing the world, one accessory at a time.
A video introduction video to Ruth
As a point of reference which age group do you belong to or perhaps you are willing to share your age?
I am 46 and very happy at this stage of my life. I live life to the fullest, whenever I can, and like to stretch myself and try new things because I think we are all capable of more than we might believe we are.
Certain events in my life have made me appreciate how precious life is and this is certainly no dress rehearsal.
I don’t save anything for best. Today is my best. Crystal glasses for wine with dinner on a Tuesday night? Why not? I would rather break one than never use them.
Having a breakfast tray every morning so my husband Mark, and our daughters, Scarlet and Eliza, and I can spend quality time together first thing each day? Absolutely!
Using a fabulous handbag every day just because it makes me happy? Certainly.
Lovely things should be used and enjoyed as often as possible. Doing something that makes you happy is important. It is our own emotion and ultimately we all hold our own responsibility for it. ‘Never save your cashmere’ was something my mum used to say. She figured that it was pointless having lovely things and not wearing or using them and it is a philosophy I quite agree with.
Why did you join the 40+Style team and what will be your role?
I was delighted to have been asked by Sylvia to join her team at 40+ style. It is a great website with loads of interesting and informative articles, videos and training programmes to help woman develop their style.
I felt with my own expertise in colour and style, coupled with my skills in giving clear instructions and guidance, I could add something extra to the 21 steps style course.
In the course you will find some bonus trainings on colour that I created for you. These trainings will get your understanding of colour to a whole new level which will result in better outfits.
How would you describe your own personal style?
For some time now, my style words have been “Elegance with provenance, chic with a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi.” I try to only buy clothes and accessories that I really love so I only wear things that I love. I can’t deny that being a fully trained image consultant helps.
It gives you the underpinning knowledge to understand why something works and why something might look a bit off, which is the head part. The heart part of discovering your personal style is about learning to follow your instinct and wearing what you truly love. I have chosen my style words to help me make choices, but these are flexible and I think glamorous is a word that pops into the formula every now and again.
Provenance is there because I adore discovering treasures in thrift shops, auctions, car boot sales and antique fairs and this means my collection of accessories is unique. I generally prefer simple, elegant clothes and my style has a bias towards the classics. Partially, because I like my clothes to last, preferring quality over quality, and also because I am a tactile shopper.
Texture is important to me and I like to feel the fabrics; fresh pressed linens, and cozy cashmeres, a crocodile print handbag, or a glossy patent shoe.
I aim for an elegant look most of the time, but my style is an abstract mix of Euro Chic, British Eclectism, and a dash of Italian Glamour. I have my signature pearls which are elegant and I love my collection of coloured leather gloves, which are chic. There might be sailor stripes one day; cashmere and animal print another; metres of floating tulle, or a trench coat and beret.
I do tend to have quite a tousled hairstyle too so the “je ne sais quoi” is an overall look that is casually undone, with a messy sophistication. I think you could define having developed a signature style, when you can chop your head off a picture of your outfit, and yet others would still know it was you.
What would you consider the most important components of your style?
Texture and colour are really important to me. Nobbly tweeds, smooth satins: I love the softness of cashmere in winter and the crispness of linen in summer, and these have been good investments.
Stripes are my pattern of choice and never seem to date. Part of my love for sailing is expressed though wearing stripes in my outfits. I am also happy to experiment with different colour combinations too.
For example I have worn an outfit created from all different shades of green; or an orange jacket and dress accessorised with burgundy; or even claret red and plum tweeds, are all combinations I have enjoyed wearing. Not common combinations I admit, but I think they work well for me.
Where do you live and how does that influence your style?
I live in Essex in the UK, which is a county just north of London. We have four season weather and I love the opportunities it gives me for changing my outfits as the seasons change. A large percentage of my wardrobe I would class as three season because the summer in the UK tends to be rather brief.
However, I am a keen sailor and so I am lucky enough to spend some time in Europe cruising the coastlines and islands, which means I do get to build up summer capsules too. On board I usually base my wardrobe around navy as my darkest neutral and white as my lightest neutral, with the odd splashes of red or yellow.
I love these classic colours, that never go out of style. Off board I love gold and white. My nickname at our last home marina was “The Glamorous Sailor.”
Just because I winch ropes at sea, servicing a diesel engine, or climbing the mast, does not mean I won’t be wearing my usual pearls, a waterproof mascara and my favourite red lipstick. I even keep emergency pearls on board.
Do you feel you have a signature style?
There are my signature pearls that I wear nearly every day, coloured shoes and handbag, and in cooler weather, coloured leather gloves and a hat. Most of my clothes are fairly plain; it is the accessories that are usually the signature part of my outfits.
I think I will always prefer to be more smart than casual and each day on the school run I am probably more dressed up than the majority of mums. This feels ok to me.
I don’t have to set my standards of dress by anyone else’s. So what if I choose to wear nine strands of pearls on the school run? People no longer ask where I am going and accept that it is just me, living my life.
What inspires your outfit choices the most?
It is quite common for me to start my outfit at an accessory that takes my fancy that day. I love accessories and the joy of them is, they never have fat days! It does not matter what size you are, accessories always fit and these add the finesse and polish to my outfits.
Sometimes I can be mood driven; attracted to yellow when I am feeling bright and cheerful; and darker neutrals when I am feeling more reclusive. Animal print always feel rather glamorous and chic, and a striped t-shirt is a fall back item that I can always build an outfit around.
Do you take things like colour profiling or body type into account when you dress?
I do, up to a limit. I have an autumnal palette so tend to look the best in the rich, opulent colours of that season; golds, coppers, chocolate browns, rich greens and burgundies. However I also love the warm bright colours of the Spring palette so I alter my makeup or use other styling tricks to make the less flattering colours work for me.
I have a curvy hourglass shape so I tend to wear clothes that are tailored or belted to show off my waist. If I don’t emphasise my waist I look a lot heavier than I am and there are not many occasions that I want to do that! So I know the guidance, and why certain colours and styles are most flattering on me, however I am a rule breaker and do so with the knowledge of the effect certain styles and colours are likely to have on my figure and complexion.
I don’t look so great in black, for example, so if I do choose to wear it, I will wear a lower neckline to avoid the deep shadows it throws up under my chin, and I add extra blusher and a lipstick in orange, which is one of my best shades.
What is your current body type and height and what are your best tips for dressing for these?
I have a curvy hourglass figure and I am 5ft 4in. tall. I have a short waist, a full bust and hips, and a proportionally smaller waist. I am not so fond of my thighs so tend to wear skirts and dresses at knee length or below, but I have slim ankles, a waist and know how to make the most of the curvy shape I have.
My primary advice for those with a figure similar to mine is to look for tailoring on dresses and jacket as it gives your body shape, drawing the eye to your waist, and use belts where possible. It knocks pounds off you.
I find with a larger bust, a well fitted bra is essential. I sometimes have to go up a size in dresses and jackets to accommodate this, especially if the fit-model the designer uses has a straighter figure than my own.
I then belt, or take in the waist. Heels extend your legs, and even with flat shoes a low vamp is a useful trick of the eye to make legs appear longer, especially when you have short legs and a long rise like I do.
I rarely use a shoulder bag as I don’t want any extra bulk at my bustline, and I find them irritating when they fall off my shoulder. I prefer a structured, hand held, tote style handbag, which I usually wear in the crook of my arm. This has the advantage of drawing the eye to my waist area where I am slimmest. And of course I also break all of these rules when it suits me!
Do you have any favourite brands?
If money were no object then you would see me hot footing it to Dolce and Gabbana, or Marni for clothes; and I would be spoilt for choice at the Hermes and Dior accessories stores. They make some of the most divine handbags and leather gloves I have ever seen. Such amazing craftsmanship.
Eleven years ago, when I was on Honeymoon with Mark, he booked a special surprise for me, which was a trip to the International School of Handbags in Florence. It is where all the Haute Couture houses send staff to learn their craft. The pieces they produce are works of art.
I have quite a love affair with Italian Style generally and I adore the way that D&G embrace the curves of a woman’s figure. With emphasis on the waist, many of their designs work for my body shape and flatter the hourglass figure. Unfortunately their size range stops somewhere short of the inches I would need for my curves, however I can take inspiration from their cat walk shows and find similar styles from other sources. My leopard print blouse and my black lace shift dress were both inspired by their designs.
But alas, I do live in the real world, without a D&G budget. However, I am pretty deft at spotting a treasure. It was a talent I developed from my childhood. My mum was an antique dealer and I honed my skills through accompanying her to auctions, antiques fair, house clearances and charity shops.
I still love doing this now and have been known to pick up a Mulberry handbag from a car boot sale for £2.50 and a solid gold antique watch for £5.00. Dress agencies, Ebay and little boutiques are places I love to explore. It creates an eclectic mix of styles that is peculiar to me and this is one of the main factors that determines my personal style. You would struggle to do a straight copy just from the High Street.
I do still shop on the High Street, though it is usually for the odd piece rather than a large proportion of my wardrobe. High Street brands that I love are Phase Eight for dresses, (they are very flattering for curves); Boden for skirts, (I love their modern classic patterns); Rigby and Peller for lingerie, (they stock my favourite brand of bra from Empriente); M&S for linen; Max Mara for an investment piece cashmere coat; and I used to love Kaliko for their tailored jackets, but they are no longer trading so I find these on Ebay now.
Has your style changed at all after turning 40?
It did change for me specifically at this time because I was pregnant for the first time at 39 with Scarlet and then I was pregnant again at 40 with Eliza, and that calls for a very different wardrobe, especially as I was the size of a house!
I did gain quite a lot of weight with my pregnancies, and though I lost some of it, I never lost all of it and I thought I can either grump about it, give up wine and cake, or I can learn to dress better for the figure I have. I chose the latter. I do not believe in waiting for a slimmer figure to start making the most of myself. I prefer to make the most of what I have today.
Do you believe in dressing ‘age appropriately’ and what does it mean to you?
Women should wear whatever they want as long as they are not breaking any laws regarding decency and it is appropriate for their job or the occasion. There are women in their sixties who have better legs now than I did at sixteen, so they still look better in a short skirt and opaque tights outfit, than I ever did.
I think dressing up should make you happy. It is something that children have in droves when they are laughing and giggling in the dressing up box or adding a third layer of sequins to their outfit. It is certainly the case for my mini fashionista daughters. Unfortunately it is something most people grow out by adulthood and they are more likely to try to fit in than differentiate themselves, which I think is a shame.
But, age can bring liberty, confidence and a greater sense of freedom again, and one of the joys of being over 40 is that you have hopefully care much less what other people think and just wear what pleases you.
Would you say that at this stage of your life you are now more, or less interested in fashion, style and the way you look?
I have always been interested in style however I think as I got older, I became better at identifying my own particular style, and sticking to what I love.
Why is the way you look important to you?
Looking good makes me feel good. I certainly won’t get any younger, and I may not get any thinner, so I prefer to make the best of myself as I am today, and every day. I always wear perfume even if I am only doing DIY; and I wear my pearls to sail in, for the supermarket shop, to give birth in and to do the school run.
I love them, so why would I not want to wear them as often as possible? They seem to go with nearly everything. Clothes can give you confidence, express your style, and be a creative outlet. My wardrobe is one of my happy places.
What is your beauty routine and what are your favourite beauty products?
I would never go to bed without cleaning my teeth, however I am rubbish at going to bed with my make up on. I dislike washing my face at night, because it wakes me up just when I want to go to sleep, I sometimes do a brief swish over my face with a baby wipe. I tend to wash my face in the shower with whatever shower gel is in the bathroom at the time and I use a facial scrub 2-3 times a week.
I have been using the Clinque Sparkle Skin body exfoliator on my face for 15 years or more and found it to be a lovely product. I know it says it is for the body but it has been just fine on my face. I have stuck to Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference Moisturiser for years as I like the smell, the texture and it sinks in easily without feeling greasy.
If I have drier skin when the winter starts then I use Clinique Moisture Surge for a boost. What I have been religious about doing is wearing an SPF sunscreen of at least factor 15 every day since I was 18, and I think this, and lucky genetics from my mum, has been helpful in keeping my skin in good condition. Even in her late 60’s my mum has super soft skin and hardly any wrinkles.
Do you follow trends? And if yes, which trends excite you at the moment?
I am not a big follower of trends, though I think they are worth watching because adding a few new trends into your wardrobe can really update your look, and can add a more youthful element to outfits which may have become a little staid.
If I see something I love then I will go and try it, however I sometimes avoid wearing a colour when it is on trend, as I prefer to look different from others. I was a late adopter of crop flares as I didn’t think they would suit my hourglass shape, but I am so glad I did because they have become one of my wardrobe staples and I love them. Instead of following trends, I tend to have a wish list of things I either want to try or pieces I would like to add to my wardrobe.
Recently I bought a gold sequin jacket I feel fabulous in; I would like to replace a bright green tailored Zara jacket that no longer fits me, and a plum leather handbag is something I am keeping my eye out for, to add to my autumnal plum accessories bundle. And life to too important not to wear fabulous shoes!
Do you have any fashion and style tips for women over 40?
Do the 21 steps style course.
Style can be learned and it’s amazing how much you will discover about yourself.
Start with a signature colour that looks great on you and work from there.
Have fun playing with colour!
Highlight your strengths
Personally, I don’t have great legs, and I no longer wave at anyone bare armed, but I do have a waist, an hour glass figure and some fabulous accessories so I try to make the best of what I do have. I may not be the thinnest.
I may not be the prettiest. But I can choose to be stylish and confident and that does makes me happy and I would encourage you to do this too. You have nothing to lose.
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P.S. If you want to see a lot more of Ruth and take advantage of her trainings, be sure to join the 21 steps to a More Stylish You course today.