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Hot to trot: Muddy gets a Races makeover

Ever dreamt of having your own personal stylist for the day, but always thought it was how the other half lived? Leave your preconceptions at the changing room door. We booked in for a personal styling session to get race-ready for the Cheltenham Festival - find out what really goes on behind the velvet curtain.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those shoppers that wafts into a personal styling booth in a swish clothes store. The idea of it has always had an enticingly Oz-like appeal. I mean, just what does go on behind those mysterious velvet drapes?

Cheltenham’s John Lewis & Partners store has long been in my sights for this very reason. My usual routine is to head off into the general changing room, weighed down with a stack of mismatched items, whilst secretly wondering about the ‘other side’, as a personal stylist glides past me holding a selection of beautifully curated clothes, heels and accessories.

The store opened on the high street in 2018 to much excitement, and stocks all the usual high end brands (Whistles, Ted Baker, Barbour etc), but I also has regular hyper-local pop-ups too, featuring some great artisan brands. So with the Cheltenham Festival beckoning me – galloping out of the gates between 15th – 18th March turf lovers – what better time to book in for a personal styling session for a fashion and face glow-up.

THE LOWDOWN

First up – and this was a bit of a revelation to me – the styling session is free *cue a stampede of stilettos*. I had never realised this before, and although people do end up buying clothes on the day, there is no minimum spend or obligation to buy which I thought was great.

The appointment is tailored to you so you get the run of the luxurious, private dressing room for up to two hours – what a thrill – and you can either go along solo or with a couple of girlfriends or family.

My stylist for the morning was Dorothy who told me she gets all ages through the door, from 20-somethings wanting to learn how to create a capsule wardrobe, to an 89-year-old who came along with 3 generations of her family to find wedding outfits. It also seems very popular if you’ve had a recent change in your life; say becoming a new mum, a woman hitting the menopause, a new job, and so on.

WHAT HAPPENS?

You get a call a few days ahead of your makeover date where your stylist notes down your sizes, fave colours (pinks and reds in my case) and likes or dislikes. It meant that when I turned up for my session I stepped into the glam changing room to find two glorious rails of outfits waiting just for me. A mini bottle of Prosecco freshly cracked open on the table also made it feel fabulously special too (don’t worry, there’s a coffee alternative if 9am is a tad too early for you).

The brief I’d given the stylist? A couple of stylish daytime looks, and some drop-dead gorgeous, head-turners for rocking up to Ladies Day at The Races. After two bleak years of going literally nowhere my wardrobe definitely needs some urgent glamour resuscitation.

I loved what Dorothy had chosen for me, as a really picky shopper I was secretly terrified I’d dislike everything (oh god, just imagine the awkwardness!), but I loved pretty much all of them. Making myself relinquish control of the shopping basket for once was actually very liberating.

Each outfit got Dorothy’s expert advice

I pointed out which ones I liked and the two I didn’t (a woollen suit and floaty but too pale for me dress) and she headed off to swap them for the final outfit line-up – an ideal window to quaff the free bubbles before dress up time.

I’d not squeezed into a pair of liquid leggings since before the pandemic – so I was sceptical how they’d make me look, but I actually loved them, especially teamed with a bold blouse I’d never have picked on my own, and a couple of coats that made the whole look feel really complete.

Dorothy describes the sessions as a bit like ‘solving a puzzle’ – working out what makes someone feel good then getting outfits to match that – and she did really make me think about the way I wore each outfit.

And no more staring at yourself alone in a mirror either, having someone else’s advice to ask was such a treat. As I pondered the plum playsuit had on, feeling something didn’t look quite right Dorothy swooped in and showed me a ‘half bow’ way of tying the belt – making it instantly right.

Tricks of the trade

‘These will make your legs look longer too’ she added, putting me into a longer hem coat as I eyed up the ‘should-I-or-shouldn’t-I’ flesh-hugging leggings, and she was right. It was great to have someone suggest colour combos you’d never have thought worked before.

Green shoes with a pink dress? Hell yeah, why not! I can often be Ms Playitsafe when it comes to clothes, always making a beeline for the same old brands, skinny jeans and a chunky knit, so I loved how the session pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s also a nod to hot new trends at these sessions too, I tried on a rather jaunty Fedora-style cowboy hat, which was exactly what you’ll find on the catwalks of Copenhagen and couture fashion shows right now, but for me personally I loved the classic feathery fascinators with each outfit.

My favourite Race Day outfit

I also often struggle with any kind of high heel (I know, ironic!) but the stylist produced a beautiful pair of strappy ones from Dune that didn’t make me wobble quite so much. I loved them so much, I’ve even put them on my birthday list from my husband next month.

Having someone else put together several entire outfits for you is such a treat, something I’d never normally do in one shopping trip. As I tried on different things Dorothy popped in and out with the perfect necklace, a jaunty hat, shoes, bags and more, all I had to do was stand there and enjoy the experience.

Think of the session basically as dressing-up for grown ups. By the end of it I’d found three totally gorgeous outfits that would take me through from Ladies Day to milling about and cheering on the gee-gees on a chilly March day.

Maybe it was the chilled background music, the Prosecco or just feeling gorgeous for two hours, but as well as getting a new wardrobe to look super-gorgeous out of it, I’d challenge anyone not to come out feeling 20 times happier than when they went in.

THE BEAUTY GLOW-UP

The personal styling session doesn’t end at the clothes rail either, the store boasts a seriously impressive Beauty Hall with the likes of Chanel, YSL, Dior and Urban Decay amongst others. If you fancy learning some tricks from the pros and have someone else do you makeup for a special occasion, it’s the bomb.

Get yourself a makeover at the same time

I booked in for a makeover tutorial with one of the Lead Artists at Charlotte Tilbury. She talked me through every step of the look – we went for ‘Uptown Girl’ perfect for the Races – and I came away with a gorgeous look, as well as picking up several cool techniques I never knew.

Blow dry bar of dreams

Although it wasn’t open on the day I visited, there is a fabulous drop-in AVEDA Blow Dry bar here too, popular for up-dos too in Race week, and a GHD bar if you want to learn a few new curling techniques. And there’s a brand new nail bar ‘Evie Glows’ launching this month too for those Races-ready talons.

WHAT ELSE?

The aftercare; I really liked that once your session is over you get a follow-up, you can stay in touch via email with your stylist after the appointment to ask any questions you might have. Need some further recommendations? Or even book a follow-up? You have your own personal hotline to them to fire away.

6 ESSENTIAL STYLING TIPS FOR THE RACES

1/ Make a statement: 2022 is the year of trying new things. Ditch the classic but slightly tame tweed look and go for bold looks, oversized coats and larger than life hats and scarves.

2/ Accessories are key: The head-turning accessory is in, elevate your outfit by teaming it up with a bejewelled bag, feathered hat, eye catching-earrings and fancy footwear.

3/ Embrace colour-blocking: It’s big for the races this year; go colourful or go home. Choose a bold primary shade in sweet shop hues; candyfloss pink teamed with mint-bonbon green never looked so good.

4/ Rock the 70s: Seventies chic is all over the catwalks, inject this cool look into your race outfit, go for bright, semi-psychedelic prints with jazzy patterns, funky flared trousers and stack heels.

5/ Clash your prints: Add drama to your outfit. Stick to print patterns of an equal size and have one or two of the same toned colours in it. A look that will make you stand out from the crowd.

6/ Check the rules! Don’t forget to check the dress guidelines for your enclosure, some may require hats or a certain level of cover up on the day.

MUDDY VERDICT

The personal styling session and beauty glow-up are so much fun and incredibly useful. Perfect for anyone needing a special outfit, a general wardrobe refresh, or just a giant confidence boost. Super fun to go on your own as I did, but also a brilliant idea too to go with a small group of besties.

BOOK ME IN

Fancy a session with a Personal Stylist at Cheltenham’s John Lewis & Partners? Book a styling appointment online or drop in to chat to the Team on the Experience Desk (or call 01242 544042). Like to see more? Check out the full range of cool experiences you can do here.

Want Sophie’s clothes? Here’s what she wore (all shoppable at John Lewis).

Ted Baker plum jumpsuit: £175, Ted Baker coat: £269, Dune Shoes: £85, Dune Bag: £65, Gold glitter bow fascinator: £40.

Hobbs coat: £369, Ted Baker blouse: £125, Allsaints leggings: £128, Reiss hat: £60, Boden red coat: £230 Dune clutch: £70 patent nude.

Hobbs pink coat: £290, Damsel pink dress: £189, Ted Baker playsuit: £195 jungle print, Dune green shoes: £90, Ted bag jungle print: £150, Pink fascinator: £40

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