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 Image Planning Tutorial

How to Assess a Fashion Look
Image Planning Tutorial Tips Part 1

      By Pauline Weston Thomas for


How to Assess a Fashion Look

Image Planning


Image Planning Part 1

Do You Need to Update Your Fashion Style?

If you feel you need to update yourself be comforted that you are probably not as old fashioned as you think.  The very fact that you are thinking about updating, implies a certain awareness of style.

Be comforted that only twenty percent of the population is actually wearing fashion.  Most choices we make are utilitarian and related to the lives we lead.  Many women are simply safely in the middle, neither being bang up to date, nor dreadfully out of fashion.  Most of those clothes are available nationwide and affordable by most people.  Ten years ago I could write that the clothes on offer in most high streets could not possibly be at the cutting edge of high fashion.  Yet today with the internet and the ease of online fashion shopping, designer goods are available to anyone who can afford them.  Whilst shops like Zara keep the high street retailers on their toes.

When you worry about your appearance, remember also that the star's thighs you see on a magazine cover have often been airbrushed to perfection, so that no cellulite is visible.  It certainly makes many of us feel less than perfect.  However take a glance at the next twenty people in the street and come back to reality.  Learn to accept a few flaws and work with what you have, it might be beautiful hands, lovely eyes, glossy hair, good ankles or a graceful neck.  Draw attention to that.

If you really are larger than the average person buy some of the clothes especially designed for larger ladies and listed on my page called Plus Sizes at

Read also about petite fit.


When you are younger you automatically tend to know what is in fashion and what is not.  This is always enhanced if you are in a workplace where there is a buzz.  Those days of intuitive knowledge soon fly past when combined with the reality of living with figure faults, running a home and budgeting.  You may like me, at some time or other have had to wear some garments in fabrics you hated, simply for comfort during weeks of medical treatment such as radiotherapy.  Welcome to the real world, where for many of us life is not quite like the catwalks would like it to be on a daily basis.

You may even have found the ideal shapes that suit and flatter your body.  But are those shapes in fashion at this moment and if they are not, how can you still look as if you are aware of new styles.

Fashion pundits have always said that if you want to get the look, first get the hair and the feet right, and the rest will follow. 

Or you can invest in wacky up to the minute accessories for a funkier look by choosing the latest handbags, belts, hair ornaments and contemporary jewellery.  Modern jewellery can give you an instant up date.  In the shops right now you can find footwear that is very much of the noughties not the nineties.  If you are still packing those comfy old sandals you bought in 1999 for that honeymoon, I'm sure something more current in a Gladiator style can be found if you look hard.   If you want to see how fashions relate to the timetable of style read the page on Laver's Law.  

Learn to Assess Fashion Looks

So go out and buy four or five women's magazines that have fashion spreads.  It will be £15 to £20 well spent if it saves you making great gaffes and eliminates hours of trudging around a city sorting out what racks have panache.  August/September is always a great time to check the looks in magazines.  Likewise the February/March issues will always have articles that sum up the season.  Then after you have followed this guide, go window shopping, but remember your first view is simply a recce about town.  The fashion recce gives you time to absorb new ideas and think about your image planning strategy for your new wardrobe.

On this first shopping occasion leave your credit and debit cards at home.  Take only a limited amount of cash with you.  Spending real cash will make you think long and hard.  It's much easier to get entwined in a credit card transaction and often that will be for an impulse purchase.  If when you get home there was one item you really feel you made a mistake about not buying, then simply ring the store as you arrive home. Next ask them to hold the garment and even pay for it over the phone, or get it posted to you.   They can always do a refund for you if you feel it an error.

Impulse buys are often our finest buys.  We fall in love with some items that just scream 'me, me'.  Yet sometimes when you are trying to develop a new look, or update your appearance, you need just to see what is in the shops and get an overall picture of current fashion styles.

All you intend to do on the first visit is look to assess styles, colours and beauty ranges. You can also look at what's available online. I feature Wallis, TopShop, Next, Monsoon, New Look, Miss Selfridge and many more stores all of which cover a wide age range.  You should find some information in my 2011/12 trends section or later trends sections that will help you.


If you do take and use that credit card always ask the assistant 'Can I bring it back if my husband, boyfriend, partner, children, cat, dog etc., - hate it on me....'.  Find out if their returns deadline is within 1 or 2 weeks, or 28 days, or a fairly open policy of returns.  For example Laura Ashley UK will refund a credit card, or return cash within a 28 day return.  After that, they will not refuse to take an item back if its in the same season, but they will only give you a credit voucher to be spent in their shops. Sometimes, some sales goods such as at Debenhams are not returnable unless you repurchase a replacement different item at the time of refund.  Now Marks and Spencer have reduced their refund policy to 35 days and issue bar code refunds that only last 12 months.

Be aware though that if you remove the hanging tag labels most shops will likely refuse you a refund after making the assumption you removed the labels to enable you to wear an item, even if it is within the time limit for a refund.  Personally this irritates me because frankly I can never really decide if a skirt or trouser waistband really fits me correctly with bands of card labels and envelopes of spare buttons all sticking into my fleshy waistline!

Remember leave the credit card at home if you have the time to shop again soon.  Treat this as an opportunity to find out what's in style now and available near you. 

On another page I discuss my TICKS rule I invented to help myself go through the reasons why I should or should not buy an item. You may find Pauline's Fashion TICKS Rule helps you too.

Before you go out looking at styles, check your existing wardrobe.  If it's not already lined up in colour order get it sorted out now, so you can see easily what clothes you have.

Lining your closet up in colour order won't happen by chance, it needs quickly redoing about every 7 days and is well worth 15 quiet minutes to get it back in apple pie order.  Try to get into a routine of lining the colours up say every Saturday morning.   It will save lots of dithering mid week.

At the same time replace half hung garments that you quickly put back on the wrong hangers late at night.  Re-button the items too, this will help keep their shape and prolong their life, as will using padded and suit hangers.   Match up shoes, put boot trees in boots and cover up pale garments.

Following this simple routine really does make using your wardrobe efficiently so much easier.

And YES I have always done this all my life.  I think it stems from wearing school uniform until 17 and the possibility of being told off if the pleats in the gymslip and shirt were not perfectly creased and spot free, with all hems intact and buttons still attached. 


If there are outfits or shoes that you put on to go out and always remove them thinking they are not quite right that day, put them into a charity bag on one side and if a few months later you have not missed them, then take the lot to your local collection shop. 

Now look carefully at what you already own.  What minor items, footwear, accessories or major items do you need to update your image.  What colour, what accessories, shoes, jewellery, make up or nail polish or even modern perfume would give everything a vibrating now feel, whilst keeping you happy and comfortable within the styles you already know suit you.

You do not need to buy every new fashion item designed.  Just select a few key points that will work for you.  Be assured you really will look great in some trends and ridiculous in others.  This may well be a case where 'less is more'.  It simply is not essential to buy everything on offer, but you must make an investment in a few major outfits every six months.

Classic items like a pencil skirt come in and out of fashion with regularity, but a handkerchief asymmetric hem skirt does not.  When the latter does, it makes a real statement and says 'now', but just as quickly it can say dated. For example the pencil skirt has been marked as a high fashion item in both 2004 and 2011, but in the main it says 'I AM A BASIC NEUTRAL ITEM FOR YOU TO ADD TO AND ENHANCE WITH THE LATEST TOPS OR FOOTWEAR.'  So buy into the fashion trend at the start if it really is for you.  Choose wisely and carefully to obtain maximum wear.

What these major outfits will be, will depend entirely on your lifestyle, but you've probably owned some before and will recognise them when you think back to past outfits your hand always reached for when you didn't know quite what to wear.  Invariably such outfits are made of good quality well cut fabrics that fit and flatter your figure - often they are in neutral safe plain colours that will suit many occasions and also have a touch of 'now' about them.

To assess a fashion look by magazines and window shopping, do it logically.

Start with the Head

Look at the hairstyles in both the fashion magazine shoots and the advertisements.  Is hair cropped, short, medium, asymmetric, long, fringed, scraped off the face, a chignon up do, curled, waved, ringlets or coiled, flat, straightened, glossed, waxed, plaited or scrunched?

Is there evidence of colouring, high or low lights, wedges of colour, tints, perms or tong techniques, hairpieces, plaits, extensions or wigs?

Think - do you need to get a new hairstyle, or do you just need to style it with up to date hair products.  If you love the style you have had for some years because you have been clever enough to work out your face shape and that you look wrong with certain styles, think about using new products that add extra gloss or sculpt and texturise the hair.  Sometimes little touches like a fringe or lack of it, longer or shorter side pieces, a side or centre parting, or a new cut to the back hairline can update a style.

Whilst longer flatter hair might be the latest look at a particular time if you know that flat hair makes you personally feel flat and dowdy avoid it.  Have the courage to seek out an up to date short full hairstyle worn by a famous person who really understands what suits her and her face shape.  Sadly too many fashion experts forget that in the real world, hair that you can manage yourself that also makes your face feel and look uplifted is the successful hairstyle.

If you do need a new hairstyle, when you next see a stranger at a venue wearing a hairstyle you like, simply say excuse me and tell them you love their hair cut.  Ask where you can get yours done and make sure you ask for the name of the best stylist in their named salon. Ask also for the second best name if they know it.  You never know when number 1 may be on holiday and the number 2 stylist probably cuts the hair of number 1.

Nine times out of ten the person you ask will be so flattered they will give you more than enough information.  Don't be surprised though, to learn how far individuals will travel to get their hair cut by that person who understands them.  Be prepared for the odd person that tells you she cuts it herself.

Want to grow a new style?  Have courage and be prepared for off days.  About 9 years ago when I wrote the first draft of this frequently updated page, I decided I needed to take my own advice and update my hairstyle.  I was not unhappy with the style I had, as I felt it suited me, but I did feel a radical (for me) change to take me into the millennium was required.  One day I saw a dynamic looking woman in her fifties who had a very sharply cut bob which showed her silver grey hair to classy perfection.  Within a day or two I was convinced her hair style, was the hairstyle I wanted to try myself.  I was after 'classy'.

My plan then was to grow a bobbed, sleeker hairstyle from a fairly short cropped style.  It took 6 months to grow the basic bob.  The first 3 to 4 months of that were the worst as I felt it mostly looked untidy.  Ironically it coincided with illness and my receiving cancer treatment so I was not exactly out and about. After 6 months the back of the hair had developed the silhouette I sought and the worst of the growing pains were over.  It took 12 months before I felt the bob was truly even and about 18 months to grow out the fringe to the same length as the sides.  For me it was worth it as I now find it very easy to maintain. 

Such simple styles do need daily or alternate day washing as shine on the hair and a fresh look is important when there is no other distraction for the onlooker to see, but a sleek head of hair.  I no longer fret if I get caught in the rain as it just needs a quick reshape combing into place. 

I was lucky in that my hairdresser knew exactly what effect I was aiming for.  How did she know?  Well I showed her 2 different, but similar pictures of what I was aiming for and I drew a sketch showing how I wanted the back of the neck cut and how I hoped the fringe would eventually fall.  I also used to have highlights, but my hairdresser discussed alternatives with me and we opted for softer blonde bright light colouring and it is very natural looking. 

And does it look anything like that woman I saw.  Errrr, no actually.  This is because no two of us are alike and however hard we try sometimes our hair just won't go like the model or the film star we envy.  However I do like the change of style. I have had people 30 years younger come up to me in the street and say they like the style and colour and ask who does it.  So who knows our own version may be just as nice, get admiring comments, but still be slightly different.

Babyliss Root Boost Tongs

As the years have moved on, I have had that basic bob style updated, tweaked here and there and coloured differently. How did I do that update - well I found 2 pictures again of hairstyles that I liked and printed them off for my hairdresser to see. There was no need to confuse her with a garbled idea, she had 2 clear photos she could study.

More recently in 2011, I started again to use volumising products (John Frieda and Tresemme) to introduce greater fullness and some height. I also bought a pair of Babyliss Root Boost Hair Crimper Tongs which help give a bit of extra root lift to finer hair. I consider them a worthwhile buy.

Babyliss have some excellent videos explaining how the root boost tongs work. The effect on fine hair is subtle, but worth the effort of root crimping as the lift will last a few days. Add a bit of backcombing before a final smooth over and its another move forward into the fuller hairstyle trends of 2012.

Hair Products

If you need to know more about hair products ask that new hairdresser what she is using when she styles your hair. If you have never used hair wax or finishing cream before ask for advice on the way to use it properly.  The usual method is to put just a smear through your hands and rub the hands together until the hands get quite hot, then finger the subliming wax or cream through the layers of hair to get control and strand separation. 

For final smoothing polish and dependant on what you have at hand you can also use brush methods to get control.  Try spraying fine Elnett hair spray onto your hairbrush or comb, or try rubbing a dab of John Frieda Frizz Ease onto your hands then working the finest film onto the bristles of a roller hairbrush. Then use either method to brush through and tame and control individual hairs. The roller brush method works especially well on sleek roll under bobs.

Or check out the chemists and look over the ranges afresh.  John Frieda's range of special products are ideal if you are blonde.  Ask me how I know.  Look at Nicky Clarke's colour styling products.  He has coloured gels and products that lift every main hair tone, from copper to silver.  Products by Charles Worthington are also great.  For extra gloss and sheen try Aveda's Purefume Brilliant spray.  You can get great reductions on good brand hair products like Aveda and Redken companies specialising in internet sales and offering great discounts.


Now check the rest of that look - are hats, berets, caps, hair ornaments, slides, bandeaus, flowers, plait inserts, fake ponytails, faux buns, combs or ribbons part of the look.  Believe it or not in 2004 the use of headbands on adults was promised as a new hair look. By 2010 women were using flowers in their hair as a regular means of dressing it up for evening or other occasions.

THINK - Will that tiara have limited wear!!!!

Look at the Face


What make up is in vogue?  Do you see any changes?  Are eyebrows natural or shaped?  Is eyeliner in use, are pastel or vibrant eye shadows in or out?  Are lips glossy, frosted or matt, pale or strong or sheer?  Is foundation fresh and shiny or matt and smooth, light or thick or sheer?  Is the look pale or tanned, natural, healthy, glowing, luminous, shiny or sophisticated.  Are tones pink, red, orange, tan, beige or deep berry colours.

If you are in doubt about current make up get yourself along to a make up counter and ask about new products or try one of the web sites like that give good advice. 

You may come across an exciting new find.  This is an aspect of beauty fashion that still thrills me.  Think about visiting a mid price range such as Max Factor, Revlon or L'Oreal as many people buy from these ranges, so research is good. L'Oreal for example owns Lancôme.

If you don't know where to start, two good face liquid foundations include Max Factor's Colour Adapt and Estee Lauder's Prescriptives Virtual Skin range. The benefit of the Prescriptives range is that there are well over 100 shades so there will most definitely be a colour to suit you and if not a customised mix can be made especially for you.

The Max Factor product comes in at about £11-12 and the Prescriptives product at about £25.  Both have excellent texture.  More expensive products include Vitalumiere Aqua by Chanel another light makeup which is water based. I personally enjoy using this product and for some reason find this foundation looks better on me in winter than in summer. This is not surprising as daylight is different and so the foundation colour we select may look different in other seasons. It is a good foundation, but be warned as its water based the container needs a good shake before using so that the contents emulsify again.

I also like Diorskin Forever Fluid Foundation (about £30) which gives good long lasting silky smooth cover. Dior Diorskin Forever Extreme Wear Flawless Makeup like Estee Lauder's Doublewear is also non transferable - a bonus if you wish to cover imperfections and broken veins.

Have a look too at Revlon, Dior and Avon's new face highlighters that give a sheen and lustre and luminosity to the skin.  Consider also buying from internet companies as many well known brand products whether cosmetics or perfumes have hefty reductions on such sites.  Make sure though that they operate a returns policy if dissatisfied as you don't want to waste money with an unscrupulous firm selling out of date stale products.  Any firm offering a money back satisfaction guarantee will be more reliable.

High Performance Lip Products

New Products

In the noughties when I first discovered Max Factor's high performance Lipfinity lip range I bought six of the lip colours within six weeks and have not used a normal lipstick since.  Each time I have bought a new so called long lasting lipstick I've been very disappointed.

With Lipfinity you can mix the colours on the mouth as long as you do it before they dry and before the second sealing lip gloss is put on.  Talk about superb all day lasting colour through eating and drinking and mwah mwah kisses.  No more stains on cups or glasses and no more lipstick bleeds into fine mouth lines.  Just marvellous.  Just remember to gloss regularly with the sealer provided or the still coloured lips can look a little dry. 

My special tip with Max Factor's Lipfinity is to allow a full 4 to 5 minutes for it to dry, before sealing.

Since its launch the Max Factor Lipfinity lip colour range has been improved and despite trying other brands such as Lancôme and Boots long lasting lipsticks with separate gloss and others none compare to the staying power and colour range of Lipfinity.  Lipfinity also have sheer range of colours called Lipfinity Everlites for those who like a lighter sheerer look.

Cosmetic Samples

Make up assistants such as those found on for example Lancôme, Dior, YSL, Guerlain and Clarins counters often give out samples of the latest products.  It's always worth asking what the latest product is, as so often a free sample is available as part of the promotion.  Recent purchases enabled me to try sample sizes of the latest new mascaras by Dior, Estee Lauder, and Lancôme when I purchased other products. 

Good magazines like Vogue often have samples of skin care products or make up foundations.  I discovered Lancôme's Genifique Youth Activating Concentrate and Estee Lauder's Idealist this way.  Years ago a magazine sample of Elizabeth Arden's Visible Difference that I made last 5 days actually made a real difference and got me hooked on a skin care product that transformed my skin care routine at that time.  Mid priced Garnier Synergie Lift and Neutrogena Comfort Balm both impress me as does Olay's Regenerist serum running at about £10 less than Estee Lauder's Idealist, yet giving a similar feel to the skin. The Garnier Lift is loved by both young and older users.   Most of you will also have heard about the rave reviews that Boots anti ageing serum gets.

I would suggest that you try any new product in the day even if it is a night product.  If you feel it irritating you, you can remove it before it does hours of overnight damage.  Don't forget that products by Avon have a money back guarantee.

If you can get to store beauty evening events such as major stores put on, they really are worth the the ticket money. The last local beauty evening event I visited cost me £5 and I won a £35 perfume gift when I made a purchase and popped a prize balloon, plus I came home with 18 good perfume samples and about 10 samples of top brand face creams.

When I bought 2 Dior products I was given extra free items, plus a make up bag choc full of more same brand small size luxury items as opposed to sample items.  In addition the entry ticket money was taken off when the first item was purchased. For the hungry who had gone after work there was smoked salmon and other buffet finger snacks, plus soft drinks or wine! A great girly night out my friend and I really enjoyed.


Another way to find out more about new products is to order selection value packs from companies like QVC.  I have been able to try all sorts of quality skin care, make up and bath ranges this way as they sell from companies like Decleor, Gatineau, Liz Earle, Elemis, L'Occitane and others.  By ordering the special value mixed packs of half a dozen or so often full size items you have a chance to try main range and special items. 

My favourite special offer pack from QVC is by Molton Brown, where you can often pay about £40 for £90 worth of products for the bath, body and face.

Forums offer great ways to discuss the products these channels sell. You'll find lots of positive and negative comments in the forums about many well known beauty products found both on and off TV.

Two highly rated natural skin care ranges available this way include those of Liz Earle and Spirulina. Many of the beauty items in these sets such as the Liz Earle naturally active skincare range are based on botanical principles.  They use herbal formulations and wholesome base products that sooth skin making it less likely to become irritated.  Liz Earle uses only the very best organic ingredients.  Liz never uses animal ingredients or tests on animals.  Visit Liz Earle's site on the web to check out her pharmaceutically approved beauty products with a fresh herby invigorating character.

Spirulina products combine natural plant extracts with the natural nutrient complex of the Spirulina microalgae, a living organism which thrives in warmer alkaline waters.  Ecologically sound, the Spirulina complex has over 70 vitamins, minerals and trace elements and these help rejuvenate the skin so that results on a very poor quality skin surface can be seen within a few weeks. 


To show off those lips make sure your teeth are cared for.  If they are chipped, get them crowned, veneered, white filled or bridged or have implants.  People look at your teeth.  If they are dull get to a dentist as today everyone can have the appearance of their teeth improved.  Make sure you floss to prevent gum decay and bad odours from stale foods.  It will make you smile again. 

Flossing daily can increase your expected lifespan by 7 years.

Teeth can be bleached as a full mouth set or individually.  For example a root filled tooth that has darkened over a decade can be bleached internally over a few weeks.  The dentist simply removes the existing filling, cleans out the cavity and places a mild safe bleach into the cavity before applying a temporary filling.  The process is repeated weekly for two or three appointments over days or weeks dependant on the bleach used and voila - a pearly tooth again.  

The price of treatment like this can vary from dentist to dentist.  Treated privately this way by your regular dentist in the UK, expect to pay about £180 - £300 for a single dead tooth bleach.  Similarly expect to pay about £1500+ privately for the same tooth to be made into a single tooth implant. 

In the USA prices are even greater, so consider taking out a dental plan.

You may suffer from dry mouth a long term after effect of radiotherapy to the mouth, or when using certain prescription drugs. If so, your words then become less distinct as you gradually dry up when talking, so consider using Biotene gels.

I can thoroughly recommend my dentist Peter Davis, Droitwich, Worcester, England.  


Check Nail Manicures

Whilst you are glancing the magazines check nail styles.  Is the manicure French or American or is colour back.  Is a French manicure now dead and considered somewhat passé.  The most fashion conscious fingernail shape at the moment is the traditional almond oval shape.  Square style fingernails are dated.  So use that emery board to get a great oval contour.

Look out for nail trends that you see on TV presenters.  A good place to find out about latest nail care and other beauty products is a TV shopping channel like QVC where demonstrations are combined with sound advice on products.

Nail polishes that flow and stay on include those by Chanel, Dior, Guerlain, Estee Lauder and OPI enamels.  Try using a speed dry nail top coat like Avons as a high gloss topcoat.  If that is new to you you will be truly amazed at the different drying speed and the hard finish that does not smudge. 

The one style in nails that is never in fashion is the chipped lacquer style! 

If it's chipped remove the polish instantly.  Keep nail polish remover in your drawer at work.

A good, but inexpensive nail polish remover is by Avon.

Eye Wear

One of the fastest ways to update your look is to change your eyewear to the latest style whether it be prescription lenses or fashion sunglasses.

Updating your spectacles or sunglasses even if you only pull them out for reading the menu will do wonders for your morale. Before you choose new spectacles look carefully at adverts in magazines and note what models and celebrities are wearing. They will have the latest styles on parade.  Don't be in a rush to buy before studying subtle differences and choose carefully as you are likely to keep them for 2 years.

Look around at the styles and the thickness of lenses in various opticians.

Check if the fashionable frame of the era is metal, plastic, coloured, dark toned or light toned, small, large, oversized or winged.  When you buy sunglasses consider getting prescription lenses as they really are much safer for your eyes.  Visit for extra advice on sunglass frame shapes.  You can also get face shape and suitability of frame advice from the glasses-wardrobe website on this page as well as a great range of glasses.

If you need lenses to read combined with distance vision consider Varifocals as they are much thinner and much less ageing than bifocals which have a light line dividing each lense.  Be prepared to take a few weeks to get used to Varifocals as they can be a little disorientating at first.  You are unlikely to get much change from £250 - £300 in UK when you buy Varifocals with a fairly average frame, but you might be given a spare pair for the same price if the prescription is dispensed at the same time.  The sales are a good time to look out for special offers on the dispensing of prescription spectacles.

Option two is to consider abandoning spectacles or increasing your choice by trying to get along with contact lenses.  A good optician will discuss with you the suitability of your eye and age for adapting to contact lenses.  Most contact wearers always keep a pair of normal spectacles at the ready in case of mishaps and unexpected irritation, so try to update carefully as the double pay out is expensive.

So - get right the top of your body that you meet and greet people with.  You'll then confidently move onto the lower half which is discussed on the next page.  

Go straight to Part 2 of How to Assess and Update a Fashion Look to read more about image planning.

On another page I discuss my TICKS rule I invented to help myself go through the reasons why I should or should not buy an item. You may find Pauline's Fashion TICKS Rule helps you too.


Page Updated 10 Jan 2008. Page Updated 27 Nov 2011.

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