Easter Baking: Hot Cross Buns

Easter baking: hot cross buns

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, food styling is not really my strong point. Can I make food taste nice? Yes. Can I make it look nice? Not so much. So I was really excited about how well these home made hot cross buns came out.

If you’re not British, then you might be wondering what on earth hot cross buns are. Put simply, they are sweet bread rolls, enriched with dried fruit and spices that are traditionally served at Easter, usually on Good Friday. The crosses on the top are said to symbolise the Crucifixion. If you’re further interested in the symbolism and history of hot cross buns, you can find out more at Food Timeline.

This is not a recipe to make in a hurry – you’ll need at least 3 hours for prep, rising time and cooking, but they aren’t difficult. Most of the time is used up waiting for the dough to rise.

Depending on how big you make them, this recipe should yield between 12-16 fist-sized buns.

Ingredients

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • a good pinch of salt
  • zest of 1 lemon (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spice (if you can’t buy as mixed spice, it’s usually made from ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and coriander)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (to make it extra lemony)
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 100g sultanas (substitute for raisins if you must, but not currants as they’re too crunchy)
  • 100g mixed dried fruit (you can buy packs ready diced, or cut up a mix of your favourites – I used dried apple, figs, apricot and peach chopped up tiny)
  • 1 x sachet of easy-blend yeast
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 eggs

For the crosses:

  • plain flour
  • a couple of tablespoons of water

For the glaze:

  • a couple of teaspoons of honey

Method

1) Stir together flour, salt, mixed spice and sugar in a bowl, before adding the butter in cubes or pieces. Rub the butter in with your fingertips as if you were making crumble, but don’t expect it to turn into breadcrumbs. Once the lumps of butter are gone, you can move on to the next stage

2) Stir in the yeast and dried fruit to mix everything together.

3) Heat the milk until it is hand hot (you can do this in a pan on the stove, or heat in the microwave in 20 second bursts), then beat the eggs into the milk.

4) Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and tip in the milk and egg mixture. Mix together with a spoon at first, and then your hands, to make a soft dough. If it seems too dry and flaky, add a drop more milk or water until the dough comes together and feels fairly silky.

5) Turn out the dough and knead until the dough feels smooth (apart from the fruit!) and springy. This will take around 5-10 minutes. To check if it is ready, make a thumbprint on the surface of the dough. If it springs back up then it’s ready. If the indentation stays as you made it, you need to do some more kneading.

6) Rinse and dry out the mixing bowl, then return the dough to the bowl and cover loosely with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this will take around an hour (I put mine on a shelf over a radiator in a sunny window to get heat from the top and bottom!)

7) Once the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and punch it down, then knead for another minute or so. Divide into pieces and roll them into balls, before flattening down slightly and putting on a baking tray (don’t worry too much about putting them next to each other, it’s not like baking biscuits). Cut a shallow cross into the top of each bun before covering the trays loosely with clingfilm again and leaving for a second proving.

8) As it will take around 45 mins – 1 hour for the buns to rise, now is a good time to preheat your oven. You can even leave the baking trays on top of the oven if you like as the rising heat will help them on their way. Preheat your oven to around 210 degrees celsius/Gas Mark 6.

9) Next, make the paste for the crosses. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour to a bowl and mix with water until it forms a loose but not super-runny paste. Once the buns have risen, you can either pipe the paste into a cross shape, or try and drizzle it on carefully with a spoon.

10) Bake the buns on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 mins or so (start checking at about 12 mins, but they may take up to 20 mins) They are done when they are golden on top and when you turn one over, the base is done and not soft and doughy.

11)While the buns are still warm, brush with honey to make a nice glaze.

There you go – it sounds fussy but give them a try and you’ll see they aren’t as hard as they look. Eat as they are on the day they’re made, or split them, toast them and serve with butter for an indulgent treat for up to 3 days afterwards!

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Posted in baking, cookery, cooking, Festive Occasions, Food, recipes

Move over Gok! Defining your own personal style

From Trinny & Susannah to Gok Wan and websites like Dressipi, there’s no shortage of people ready to analyse you and tell you how to dress. While this type of advice can be very useful in helping to focus on styles that may suit you, it’s still important to let your own fashion personality shine through. Read on to find out how to rock your own individual look…

Dressipi style recommendations

Sites like Dressipi can give you recommendations on styles to suit you, but these shouldn’t be considered hard and fast rules

I’m a firm believer in the view that while it’s great to have a few key principles in mind to help guide your choices, if you see a top, or a pair of jeans and really love them, then you shouldn’t be put off just because it’s on the “no list” for your perceived shape. Style advice isn’t an unbreakable code – it’s more of a guideline (yes, I did just steal that line from Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean!)

What is personal style?

It’s something – maybe a pattern, a style of garment or even a whole look – that’s “you”. Something you feel comfortable and confident in; something you’re drawn to whenever you go clothes shopping. It could be a particular shade of red, or a length of skirt, or a style of trouser. It could be an affinity for stripes or a preference for the androgynous look. Whatever it is, when you wear it, you feel more like yourself and less like you’re an actor wearing a costume. If you’re not sure what the elements of your personal style are, then imagine that you’re getting ready for a bit of a stressful day, where you need to feel confident and sure of yourself. What are you wearing? That’s a good place to start.

But how do you know the difference between your personal style and passing trends?

It’s about whether the detail that you’re all excited about is something fleeting or more longer lasting. The key question to ask yourself is “Would I still want to wear this style/hemline/pattern/colour next season? Next year? In five years time?” If the answer’s yes, then it’s more likely to be an element of your personal style.

But I’m a …. shape and I find myself really drawn to …., which every style guide says is the exact opposite of what I should be wearing

As I said above, style guides are a great place to start, especially if you’re unsure when clothes shopping. But they should be helpful, not rigid fashion laws. In fact, I think I’d even go as far as to say this applies even if you’ve had a professional 1-1 consultation. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to wear the clothes every day, so if you enjoy them, that’s all that matters. If following guidelines helps you feel more confident, then great, but let’s remember that fashion and style are fun, and nobody has any right to judge you. Not me, not the passerby on the street, not Trinny and Susannah and their mirrors of shame.

What’s your personal style?

I’d love to know what you’d consider makes up your own style, so please leave a comment or a link at the end of the post.

And, because fair’s fair, here are 3 elements of my style:

Knee length dresses

Knee length dress from Yours

I love dresses at this length, especially if they have a swishy skirt because you can wear them just about anywhere, and they walk the line between too young and too old and frumpy perfectly. I have so many knee length dresses in my wardrobe because you just don’t have to think about putting an outfit together when you’re half asleep and in a rush in the mornings. Dress + cardi and you’re done.

Bold prints

Bold print 'Morning Meander' top from Modcloth

This is a prime example of how you don’t need to feel bound by the “rules” of fashion. How many times have you heard it said that plus size people should avoid large prints because it will make you look bigger? I say stuff that! I’m a size 26, there’s no way that spending my life in head to toe black is ever going to convince anyone that I’m actually a size 10. If my size bothers them, then it’s up to them not to look and in the meantime I’ll have fun playing with loud prints, thank you very much!

Bright colours

Red mac from Simply Be

Again, I’m not going to spend my life hiding behind the colours at the muted end of the palette when I can play with electric blues, canary yellows and bright crimsons instead. Not only do I feel like I have an invisible glow when I wear bright colours, I like to think it also makes me conveniently easy to spot in a crowd when going out to meet friends.

What do you think? Do you feel comfortable going against fashion opinion, or do you think guidelines are there for a good reason? Let me know…

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Posted in fashion

On How Opposition to Everyday Sexism Proves Why Women Need This Space

The Everyday Sexism Project is a website that catalogues incidences of harassment and sexism. It gives women a space in which to talk about how sexism affects them in their everyday lives and it gives other women reading a sense of solidarity – to see that they are not imagining things, that it’s not just them, that it’s not their fault.

Stories shared on the site range from women experiencing catcalling in the street, to outright physical abuse and the stories come from across the world, though the project has a UK focus. In their own words, the aims of the project are

… to take a step towards gender equality, by proving wrong those who tell women that they can’t complain because we are equal. It is a place to record stories of sexism faced on a daily basis, by ordinary women, in ordinary places. To show that sexism exists in abundance in the UK workplace and that it is very far from being a problem we no longer need to discuss. To provoke responses so numerous and wide-ranging that the problem becomes impossible to ignore. To report the way you have been treated, even if it has not been taken seriously elsewhere. To stand up and say ‘this isn’t right’, even if it isn’t big or outrageous or shocking. Even if you’ve got used to thinking that it is ‘just the way things are’.

The project also signposts users to sources of help and support, both in the UK and internationally.

Despite having received over 50,000 entries since the project began however, it has also met with some opposition. Many of the criticisms fall into similar categories.

“Why are they making such a fuss, it’s only a joke?”

Critics point out that the 50,000 entries cover stories as diverse as ill-judged “jokes” to illegal, violent acts. This ignores the purpose of the site. It was not designed to be a log of serious misdemeanours of a level that could be passed to outside authorities. It’s not called “The Everyday Serious Sexual Assault Project.” It exists to allow women to share examples of sexism, which is something that can take many forms. And protesting that “those women can’t take a joke” ignores that:

a) people don’t always understand that something is intended to be a joke – you only have to look at the number of flame wars in email and forums to know that

b) even if you personally find something funny, does that give you the right to impose your humour on others to the point that they feel threatened or unsafe?

“If you complain about these insignificant things, how can you expect us to believe you/pay attention about the big things?”

This objection has surfaced a lot in the past few weeks due to a number of celebrities who have recently undergone trial for offences. Some people have claimed that those who make a complaint about things like a hand on the knee or a “friendly pat” are making a mountain out of a molehill and discrediting those who have experienced “genuine” assaults in the process.

Who gets to decide what a “genuine” assault is? Does it work on some kind of points system, like means testing or Work Capability Assessments and that you have to suffer a certain level of distress before you’re permitted to mention that, actually, that’s not acceptable behaviour? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to keep your hands to yourself and avoid touching other people unless you have permission?

I also believe these kinds of arguments put women in an impossible position. On the one hand we’re portrayed as harridans and humourless feminazis if we complain about a pat on the back that lands a bit too low. We’re told to just deal with it if we occasionally feel hands wandering where they shouldn’t on public transport. But then if a woman is seriously assaulted or raped and the case goes to court, the woman is challenged on whether she permitted any sort of contact. In the case of the majority of attacks, where the attacker is known to the victim, she will be asked why she let him do this or why did she put up with that and not speak up at the time. Whichever option we choose, we’re in the wrong, apparently.

“Yeah, but how can we believe them anyway?”

There are 2 issues with this. Firstly, when someone tells you something, do you always automatically distrust them? If you get to the bus stop and someone says they had a text from their friend further up the stops saying the bus is late, do you demand to see the text and then question the bus driver when he arrives about the veracity of the bus passenger’s statement? We don’t know if all the stories are true, but neither should we approach the project from the point of view that everyone is lying until it is proven otherwise.

Secondly, isn’t it kind of arrogant to assume that the women posting their stories need you personally to believe them? The purpose of the site is to give women a safe space to share their experiences, not to undertake trial by random internet passerby. Is it really that important to you to deny any solidarity they might gain by knowing that they are not alone?

However much people might like to try to convince themselves that Everyday Sexism is entirely made up of feminazi tin-hatted conspiracy theorists on a secret mission to replace modern life with a hormone-fuelled matriarchy, the truth is that we already know that sexism and violence against women exists and is under reported. Shouldn’t we be celebrating something that helps give women the confidence to speak up about their experiences?

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Posted in feminism

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Perhaps I shouldn’t have read this so soon after the Divergent series, as for me this book ended up being quite a disappointment.

Let’s start with the premise: a boy wakes up in a strange settlement at the centre of a vast maze. He has no memory, and all the adults are gone. The book follows Thomas’ attempts to make sense of the world he finds himself in and to escape the maze and its monsters.

I suspect it is intended to be something of a cross between Lost and The Hunger Games, but unfortunately this book mainly reminded me of the clumsy attempt to make the Lost Boys look cool in the film Hook. The dialogue and language used don’t have a sense of authenticity; it reads like a middle aged adult’s perception of how “youth today” might talk. The tone of the dialogue itself is uneven; one moment characters are talking in short sentences and slang, and the next they utter fully formed, complicated sentences replete with complicated ideas. I’m not saying this is impossible for teenagers, but that the way it’s done here means that you can practically see the edges.

The Lost Boys from Hook

The Lost Boys from Hook – trying a bit too hard to look streetwise?

It’s not just the dialogue that seems overly self conscious either. Some of the descriptions, especially towards the beginning of the book are detailed to the point of obsessive, where I think a lighter hand just sketching the details would have been just as effective. For example, the author spends eight whole paragraphs explaining how the doors of the maze close!

This underlines the main problem with the book for me. It feels raw – like a first draft where the author is trying to explain to himself as much as to his audience what he can see in his minds eye and how it works. Unfortunately this imbalance of subjectivity also extends to his descriptions of the monsters.

It looked like an experiment gone wrong… Its body resembled a gigantic slug, sparsely covered in hair and glistening with slime…every ten to fifteen seconds, sharp metal spikes popped through its bulbous flesh and the whole creature abruptly curled into a ball and spun forward.

While he describes the monsters in a way that makes sense to him, I’m unconvinced as to whether Dashner has considered how to make them sound scary to his audience. Compare this to the introduction to the Steel Inquisitors when we meet them in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, whom Dashner cites as an influence. Dashner gives a description of what it looks like but there’s no sense of sentient menace – he’s telling, not showing.

This book isn’t without it’s good points though, which makes it all the more frustrating that the parts it falls down on are so very visible. The plot itself is good – I didn’t see the ending coming and once I resigned myself to the fact that the writing itself wasn’t going to carry me along on its own and focused more on the action I did find it fairly compelling. Frustratingly, as the action speeds up towards the end, much of the stuttering, affected style at the beginning diminishes and the last quarter or so of the book is actually quite suspenseful – I just don’t know why the narrative was allowed to remain so uneven.

Overall: If you can rise above the writing style and focus on the plot, this may be worth a read. But if you’re a purist who expects consistency in writing quality as well as storyline then you may want to give this a miss.

View all my reviews

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Posted in book review, books, fantasy fiction

How to Survive the Apocalypse… According to YA Fiction

The USA is in the grip of ice and snow storms. The UK has been lashed by hurricane force winds and is gradually sinking under floodwater. Surely the apocalypse is nigh? Well, maybe not, but in case you’re secretly worrying about how to avoid your brain becoming fodder for zombies by teatime, help is at hand!

“Urban Fragment” by Erich Ferdinand. Shared under Creative Commons License

The current crop of teen and YA fiction is bursting at the seams with novels such as Divergent, The Maze Runner and Angelfall, all telling their readers how to stay one step ahead of the angry post-civilisation mob. Here are 6 tips I’ve picked up along the way:

1: Get protection

No matter how desperate a situation you might find yourself in, things are sure to look up if you can ally yourself with an unfeasibly tall and brooding male protector with inevitable emotional issues. Whether you actually want them to protect you or not, once you get over the initial argument about whether to team up, they’ll just end up trying to save you in every conflict anyway. So you might as well get used to it, while enjoying the view and mentally speculating on the cause of the deep secret that’s clearly marring their soul and preventing them from just telling you what they’re thinking and darkly hinting at it instead.

2: Ignore advice

If everyone else is heading uphill away from the rising floodwaters, you should dash towards them. If a kind passer by offers to take you to safety, you must refuse, muttering soberly about your mission in the most obscure terms possible. And most important of all, if anybody who appears to be in any way an expert advises you to be careful, you should roll your eyes, grit your teeth and then rush onwards blindly to show them that you’re not cowed by their stupid overprotectiveness. Yes you’ll probably get captured, and possibly tortured. But at least you made your point.

3: Misdirect your enemies

At all times, emphasise how small, weak and helpless you are. Display your pale features and the dark circles round your eyes with pride. Feel free to tremble as you walk, bite your lips to shreds with nerves and trip over your own feet from clumsiness. Your enemies will never suspect that you have hidden magic/ninja skills/superhero daring and will rue their stupidity as you casually disembowel them with that huge bowie knife you keep strapped to your leg and never mentioned to anybody before.

4: Don’t make friends and influence people

Once you get the hang of ignoring advice, this part should be easy as by now, people are probably already beginning to think you’re a bit crazy. But this isn’t enough. You must isolate yourself further; from school, friends and neighbours. You may keep two family members or one friend to accompany you through your struggles, but not both. Decide on your companions quickly and be sure to nurture a sense of bitterness at the community who abandoned you. You’ll soon have the last laugh when they’ve turned into a mindless mob, or flesh eating zombies. Bet they’ll feel stupid then when they’re hunting you down, huh?

5: Cultivate unusual food preferences

Ever heard of a post-apocalytic banquet? Me neither. Let’s face facts, the food is going to run out sooner or letter and you can bet that the conventionally palatable types will be the first to run short. Get ahead of the competition for full nutrition by learning to love energy bars, peas, spam or other overlooked foodstuffs now so you can stockpile them before it’s too late.

6: Never give up

Actually, this is a serious and good message in many YA dystopian novels; no matter how bad things look, don’t give up. Keep trying to do your best. If something doesn’t work, try another way. If something goes wrong, try again. Persistence will get you everywhere.

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Posted in books, fantasy fiction, Uncategorized

Book Review: Runemarks by Joanne Harris

Runemarks by Joanne Harris

Runemarks by Joanne Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always enjoy reading Joanne Harris books. There’s something about them, about the language she uses that draws you in, even if you’re squirming uncomfortably at the increasingly dark subject matter. When I read Blueeyedboy, I didn’t feel like a reader; more like an addict or a fish wriggling on a hook, knowing it’s being drawn in to an inevitable unhappy ending but being desperate to hang on for the payoff anyway.

Runemarks isn’t as dark as some of her works; it’s aimed at the YA market, and probably at the younger end of it, I’d say. That’s not to say that everyone skips around happily in a cosy bucolic Shire-like land, more that the action and frightening aspects feel a bit muted. Which overall isn’t a bad thing, given the audience and there’s still plenty of drama and intrigue to pull the adult reader along.

Drawing on Norse mythology, the story opens with Maddy, a 14 year old girl with an odd birthmark on one hand and a strange talent for magic that puts her at odds with most of her village, including the bitterminded Nat Parson who resents her talent and her refusal to follow the teachings of his church, the Order. But though the rest of the villagers are happy to ostracise her when it suits them, they’re quick enough to call for her when her unique skills are needed. And so she finds herself in the cellar of the Inn one day, dealing with an infestation of goblins from The Hill nearby. But a summoning charm gone wrong leads to unexpected and life changing consequences for Maddy and the village.

Without wanting to give away the plot, I can safely tell you that many of the major players of Norse mythology take a turn here and Joanne Harris pleasingly preserves the sense of whimsy and humanity found in the original folklore. They might have special powers, but these Gods are certainly not infallible, let alone ineffable. They burst off the page in a riot of shouting, gesturing and general dysfunctional behaviour that would put an episode of Eastenders to shame, but I really loved that they were shown as vital, lively and well, humanlike, I suppose.

Plots about coming of age, the conflicts many extended families experience when they spend a lot of time together and small town conservatism are woven cleverly with wider storylines about the nature of order versus chaos and the loosely overarching established narrative of the Norse Gods. With so many different threads to keep hold of, each element is combined well and you don’t get a sense of loose ends or that the story has been clumsily altered to make everything fit; it all sits smoothly as if designed that way.

My only slight disappointment with the book was that Maddy started off sparky and characterfully, but I felt there was so much else going on that her own colours dimmed a bit in competition with various gods and goddesses, goblins and other strange folk; I think I would have preferred her to have taken more of a centre stage. However, this is the first in a series and so I’m hopeful that the follow-up, Runelight, will give her more of a chance to shine. I’ll also definitely be checking out her latest Norse-inspired novel, this time aimed at adults, The Gospel of Loki, which is released next week (13th February) in ebook format and 20th February in hardback.

Recommended for: Readers who’ve shied away from Norse fantasy because they’re worried it’s all unrelenting blood, murder and Ragnarok fire; Joanne Harris will give you a great example of the lighter, more humourful side of the mythology without it feeling entirely frivolous.

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Posted in book review, books, fantasy fiction, reviews

Plus Size Fashion: Knee Length Wonders

Last week, Kirstie Clements wrote an article in The Guardian lamenting the lack of skirts and dresses that sit at knee length or below.

The problem is the length of the dress. Too many, both high street and designer, are just too short. Every single woman I know shares the same sense of frustration, and it’s time we turned to designers and demand to know why we aren’t being offered those few extra centimetres of fabric.

In the comments below, more than one poster pointed out that taller and plus sized women often have particular difficulty finding dresses that don’t attempt to scale the backs of your legs like a climber inching their way up Everest the moment you reach over to grab a tray of drinks, or worse still, bend down to retrieve something you’ve dropped (even squatting in a ladylike way isn’t safe sometimes!)

Luckily it seems that this season, for every LovedRobe Military Style Dress or ASOS Curve Skater Skirt that features a skirt length not seen since the days you sulked your way through a freezing cold winter afternoon on the netball court, there are at least some more sensible lengths around. And they aren’t even the dreaded bodycon midi tube skirts of lycra hell either! (Let’s just say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of any style that practically has big flashing arrows showing the innocent passerby exactly where my post-baby and Quality Street tummy is shown in all its glory).

Monochrome

I know, I know. I seem to have an enduring fascination with black and white together. But it’s not just me! Fashion retailers will keep using one of my favourite colour combinations while updating the shape, so I just can’t help myself.

Plus Size Style: Knee Length MonochromeLeft: Geo Print Wrap Dress £45  from Simply Be

OK so the print isn’t earth shatteringly cutting edge, but this is a great go-to office dress for the budget conscious. It’s designed to fall just below the knee, comes in comfy jersey fabric and the wrap shape is a bit more forgiving than some of the skin tight tube skirts doing the rounds at the moment

Right: Anna Scholz Belted Shirt Dress £65 from Simply Be

This slightly longer length dress has a nice 70s feel, but if you’re wide hipped, be aware that Anna Scholz items tend to come up small on the hips so you may want to size up.

Skirts

Even though dresses have been around in a variety of shapes and styles over the past few years, I haven’t found the same variety, or wearability with skirts, where the options have been largely limited to pencil skirts (not great for pear shapes with a tummy), voluminous maxi skirts (not great if you trip over your own feet as it is without any extra help from your clothing!) or bum-skimming skater skirts that threaten to vanish at the smallest breath of wind (I live close enough to the Bristol Channel to make this a pretty permanent stumbling block to skater skirts and sleek groomed hairstyles!) Luckily at the moment there seem to be quite a few, what I’d call “Cycling Friendly” skirts around. Knee length or just below, with enough room for you to walk properly, rather than just teeter along half heartedly.

Plus size kneelength: midi skirtsLeft: Denim kick-out midi skirt £35 from Simply Be

This is a new style we haven’t seen for a while that might make an interesting alternative for those who prefer not to outline everything in a pencil skirt. I’ve not tried this style on yet, so not quite sure whether it will be flattering or frumpy. My first instinct is to ignore the Simply Be advice to wear with baggy varsity sweats and try something like a fitted 50s style animal print cardi instead, but we’ll see.

Right: Midi Skirt In Stripe £20 from ASOS Curve

I know the boldness of the print will be offputting for some, but I think it’s a great way to shatter any preconceptions of high waisted voluminous skirts being the preserve of your maiden aunt. This could be quite a good option for that awkward fashion stage where you don’t want to dress like a 17 year old anymore, but aren’t ready to fully embrace the world of Windsmoor conservative separates either.

Designer

As you might expect, there generally seems to be a wider selection of longer skirt lengths at designer plus size stockists such as Navabi and Slink Boutique. Possibly this reflects the typically older age range of clientele who are happy to spend hundreds of pounds on an investment piece, I’m not sure. But there are still some great bargains to be had. For a slightly younger, more fashion forward style, look out for brands like Igigi, Yoek, MAT and Kiyonna, especially in the sales when you can pick up pieces at a big discount.

Plus size style: Designer knee length stylesLeft: IGIGI by Yuliya Raquel Larimar Dress in Topaz £100 from Curvety

A great option for work, or smart casual eveningwear, this dress is also available in a peach/orange/coral colour scheme.

Right: GIGI by Yuliya Raquel Evey Colorblock Dress in Black and Royal Blue  £105 from Curvety

Knee length with a bra-friendly boat neck. Expensive but definitely an investment piece – I love Igigi! This dress also comes in a red tonal colourway which would make a fabulous Valentine’s outfit.

Party/Eveningwear

This season, I’d say the party and eveningwear sector has been the worst offender in terms of tempting you with beautiful dresses with sparkle or in luxuriously tactile fabrics like velvet, only for you to discover on trying them on that some of them are more like tunics than actual dresses. Luckily, there are a few outfits that are safe to wear even without tights so opaque they might as well be leggings.

Plus size style: knee length party & evening wearLeft and Centre: Em Boombands Peacock Print Dress £23 from Crazy Clearance

I cannot tell you how much I love this dress designed by Em from The Boombands Blog  – I mean, I was even brave enough to take a photo of myself in it last week, just before wearing it to a murder mystery dinner at Crewe Hall! It’s an absolute joy to wear – so comfy but looks really special and the clever ruching is really flattering across the tummy. (Oh and in case you’re wondering about the hair… it was an ill fated experiment with a hairdryer and a can of hair mousse. Now I remember why I usually stick to letting it dry naturally – to avoid that 80s T’Pau look!) By the way, you might want to grab this while you can, as I have a feeling that peacock print is going to be massive in 2014. You heard it here first.

Right: Black Sleeveless Cross Over Front Dress With Pleated Skirt £19 from Yours

Ok I know this doesn’t look like much in the picture, but trust me, this dress is A-MAZ-ING! The pleating in the skirt is quite Marilyn Monroe-ish and the flare balances out the length really well (comes somewhere between just over the knee and mid calf depending on how tall you are). I should also point out that there’s a bit of a v neckline at the back, but it’s still high enough to be very bra-friendly. I wore this to an awards dinner and felt like a million dollars; it feels slinky rather than restrictive so can easily stand up to a long night of revelry. The only thing that I would possibly change about it would be to add a lining as it’s made of synthetic fabric, and so when I took if off at the end of the night, it was static city! But for £19, you really can’t complain.

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Posted in fashion, plus size
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