Why you have to chill out, to chill out at the spa

There are some things that perhaps shouldn’t be examined too closely. Facial pores in a magnified mirror, the sugar content of basically anything…and the ultimate weirdness of spa days.

What do you think about about when you are supposed to be thinking about nothing? Good question. Once the dead skin on the surface of the jacuzzi catches in the light, I can only think one thing. ‘I am sharing bathwater with a tattooed stranger.’

Not so awkward jacuzzi

Not so awkward jacuzzi

The relaxation sabotage continues. When the haze in the steam room clears to reveal three adult men, its hard to silence the thought that you are all averting eyes, basically sweating in your pants. Awkward.

It gets weirder. Especially if you are having a treatment and are ushered to a relaxation room with a fake planetarium ceiling and an immersive ocean music. Admittedly the room is weirdly therapeutic…until you spot a couple pressing into each other as if water birthing. So Gross.

I have been spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at spas recently, because well, it was the end of the year……so the season for ‘chilling’ and ‘me time’ and dropping £65 for a stranger to massage every inch of my body fat, as a present to myself for surviving the year.

I knock it, but there’s a lot to be said for spas – as long as you chill out first.

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Washing London out of your hair

I can’t be the only girl in London to find that London turns my hair shit.

Last year I spent many mornings despairing as I dried my hair for ages and IT STILL LOOKED WET.

Picture of kerastase shampoo and conditioner and batisse dry shampoo

Kerastase. I can’t afford it, but turns out, I can’t afford not to use it now.

I  couldn’t figure out why – hard water? my age? my shampoo? the pollution? It was so bad I needed to use dry shampoo immediately after washing my hair as a matter of course. Naturally that gave me a lovely crunchy sprinkling of dandruff to finish off my look.

When I get out of  London and wash my hair I always notice a difference. It feels cleaner and more ‘free’- so I’m sure city-living plays a big factor.

This year I have been using Kerastase shampoo and its made a genuine difference. I don’t know what magic formulation it has, but it has put an end to the accidental ‘wet look’ mornings and makes my hair feel thicker, less dull and in better in shape.

I’m not suggesting my hair is perfect at all – it really isn’t and I still rely on a LOT of dry shampoo – but it now looks a lot less shit.

You can buy Kerastase shampoo and conditioner for £30 – but if you shop around you can usually pick it up for approx £2o. Rush hair salons often have sales.

Where to get your nails done in Wandsworth and Chester

I come from a family of women who religiously get their nails done. Not in a ‘lazy bitch’ kind of way, but in a stoical, 1950s attitude to beauty – ‘I will always be presentable to the outside’ kind of way. Having unpainted fingernails is always noted as the worrying, silent symptom of emotional breakdown.

I am by far the worst at getting my nails done (read into that what you will about my mental state).  Manicures for me happen rarely, but recently I have been getting better and they have been happening more frequently.

I wrote about the benefits of shellac in my wedding survival guide. I discovered shellac a couple of years ago (referred on by my female relatives of course). Shellac has been on the ‘beauty block’ for a while now, but in case it is new to you, it is very hard-wearing, gel-based nail-varnish that  is dried completely in-salon (using UV lighting). Its a great option if, like me, you are  completely incompetent and smudge your manicure the moment you leave the salon (and are then too embarrassed to go back in and ask them to touch it up again…).

Picture of my feet (sorry) with nude manipedi

Nude manipedi selfie

With two weddings and a birthday party in May I decided I needed to pull in the big guns and get a shellac manicure. And to sum up how equally split my affections are between the North West and the South West I got my hands done in Wandsworth and my feet done in Chester…I know…it would have been so much cheaper and less hassle to get both done in one go (there basically wasn’t time).

For a mani-pedi in Wandsworth there is no beating Jo Partridge – the Wandsworth common branch do a really high-quality shellac manipedi for £35 – which I think is really great value.

I got at manicure there right at the start of May (for £25) and my nails are still going strong. As you can see I went for a very nude colour – but that is just because I am pretty bad at taking shellac off when it chips, and nude is less noticeable.

Nailista is a nail salon I discovered in Chester over Christmas, that specialises in manicures, pedicures and eyebrow waxing. Its very friendly, fun and lovely-looking, but also reasonably priced. I got a pedicure there a couple of weeks ago (again in nude to match my fingers) and that was £25. Nailista always tend to be able to fit you in too, which is handy, but you can get a discount booking online, which I really like.

Image of Nailista salon

Nailista is very bright and colourful inside – this image is taken from its website, but I think it actually features the Manchester branch

By the way – as many of my friends have asked me this – to take off shellac you need to wrap your nails in cotton wool soaked in an acetone based nail polish remover and then cover them in tinfoil for about 10 minutes – very space cadet. After that you basically scrape it off with something metal ( fairly distressing).  Once you take shellac off its a good idea to use a treatment oil (I like OPI Nail Envy) and to have a break from shellac for a few weeks to let your nails breathe and repair, to prevent any damage.

Both Jo Patridge and Nailista offer loyalty card schemes – and I am definitely proving myself to be loyal to both in a polygomy kind of way.

PS Topshop I love you

It struck me, last year, that I don’t much like shopping for clothes anymore (the stress, the unforgiving changing room lights, the cost, the not knowing which shops and trends are now meant ‘for me’). Around the same time apparently everyone else had also noticed I was wearing only one (quite shit) outfit all the time. Black jeans, navy converse hi-tops and a white saggy jumper.

This outfit must have been so irritatingly ‘on repeat’ that my family booked me in with a Topshop personal stylist.

Topshop personal shopping entrance sign

Famous Last Words

I had a proper ‘outraged from Wandsworth’ tantrum at this intervention. “I don’t have the money to spend on new clothes, let alone personal shopping. I have more serious priorities!” (You know – spending my money paying for council tax, wedding presents and my addiction to M&S Simply Food…).

My second argument was that ‘I am too old to shop in Topshop now….’ This was supposed to shut down the conversation by entering it into amber zone – the sensitive territory of my approaching 30th birthday that everyone knew I wasn’t handling well…

But there was no getting out of it. I went, imagining an intimidating selection of outfits that only ‘Little Mix’ could pull off and massive pressure under the code of British politeness to buy at least three.

I hate admitting I am wrong – but the reality was very different and I am now totally converted.

The team at the Manchester Arndale Centre store (particularly the gorgeous Jo Drew who had been recommended to us) instantly put me at ease and hand-picked a lovely selection of pieces for work and weekends that felt so intuitively me I might have chosen them too. (Well – if I had Jo’s taste, and the store had turned off the music, emptied out all of teenagers and locked me inside so I was unable to talk myself out of trying stuff on…).

2014-04-18 13.59.50

The rail of fun awaiting me this time round – no I did not buy it all…

This is ultimately what the personal shopping experience is for –you are stowed away in a calm, serene section of the store where your sole focus is on something both as minor as clothes  – but as major as how you look and feel about yourself! You can try on as many outfits as you like in a private fitting room while a dedicated stylist brings you different sizes and options for around 1.5 hours. (Along with drinks and cupcakes of course…).

Almost a year to the day that I first shed that saggy jumper, I returned to Topshop Manchester last weekend, to see the lovely Jo for another wardrobe overhaul. This time I brought some  friends along for the experience. And it turns out the stars were aligned in our favour as we found out Instyle Magazine was running a 15% offer on Topshop personal shopping. (I honestly had no idea about this beforehand, as I had booked the experience as a treat with family and friends weeks ago).

The day, of course, was all it was meant to be – fun, special and luxurious. But for me the greatest value that personal shopping brings is guidance on assembling ‘whole outfits’. All of the clothes selected are intended to work together, interchangeably – from jackets, through to jewellery, bags and shoes – something I had never really thought about before whilst shopping. Previously I tended to be attracted to jazzy items like a magpie, with no thoughts about what they would go with. Other vices included panic buying weird coloured jeans and wearing everything with a black jacket or long white cardigan.

The stylists also encourage you to try some pieces which may be a little out of your comfort zone, but they feel are worth considering. Not all of the options will do it for you, but it is worth taking their advice. I spent last summer wearing a white play-suit and a pair of grey and lime printed trousers that I wouldn’t have had the courage to look directly at previously.

I know some people will feel personal shopping is excessive. I did probably spend more in Topshop in one fell sweep than one person should. But if you are prepared to buy your clothes in bulk or save up,  the store offers great high street value and the personal shopping service is free. Personally, I think the expert stylists help me spend my money better on clothes than I could alone, so it goes further and isn’t wasted  (I know I am starting to sound brainwashed to the point of being in a Topshop cult). But, for example, I got a great outfit for a wedding – when previously I would have talked myself into spending more on a ‘safe’ and expensive dress in Reiss.

I left with a capsule wardrobe for the season, not needing to enter a shop for a long time, but also with the confidence to know where to start if I wanted to. For me, (without wishing to sound like a Mastercard cliche), that’s been priceless.

Image of (too many) Topshop shopping bags

‘The damage’ from our recent return trip

A few notes:

  • Topshop personal shopping is available free in selected stores nationwide, by appointment only
  • I chose Topshop Manchester as it was part of a trip home to the North West and I genuinely prefer shopping outside of central London when I can – but I have also been to Topshop London for personal shopping which was very good and very fun too.
  • The service works best if you give the team a detailed brief relating to your size and style, along with an indication of your budget and what you are looking for (i.e. wardrobe overhaul or just one dress for a special occasion).
  • I know I sound totally obsessed with Topshop now (oh how people can change) but there are lots of other personal shopping services available too. I have it on recommendation from other friends that House of Fraser do a good styling service too if you want more brand options (although I have never tried it). Reiss and Whistles have also just launched personal shopping services at selected stores in London too – pricey but probably good options for occasion wear.