This post is in collaboration with H&M.
Hearing the word 'ladylike' can leave a bitter taste in my mouth. It's the age-old restraint applied to women to fit a certain mould - and the one major culprit of squeezing us in to that one limited box? The fashion industry.
Right now it can be challenging to be a woman - but its also an empowering time. A time where we can make a change.
And so, when H&M got in touch and told me about their #LadyLike campaign I was immediately interested. Their 2-minute video aims to redefine what ladylike has meant in the past; featuring women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds, it's an opportunity for the fashion industry to make women feel included. For the first time, there's a girl gang to be proud of and I'm beyond excited to share it with you.
I've been set with the task of styling up their new Autumn Winter range, which goes hand-in-hand with what #ladylike is all about - but this time I'm not alone. No, no.
H&M asked me for 5 (or 20) minutes with a lady in my life who I find inspiring. A woman who I admire, who pushes the boundaries, who owns who she is, who, like every other woman, fits the #ladylike message.
Laura Jane Williams is author of the memoir BECOMING, Marie Claire's #BREAKFREE from fear ambassador, blogger, part-time nanny, Grazia's weekly love columnist and above all one of my best friends. She shares her life with the internet in a way many of us dream, she's unapologetically true to herself, and whether she's talking about depression or sex, dating or capsule wardrobes there are no airs and graces here. What you see is absolutely what you get. And who better to share this message, than with her. I took one look at the new collection and knew exactly how I wanted us to play it.
'Masculine' vs. 'Feminine'.
There isn't one way to be a lady. The whole point is that it can mean whatever we want it to. Our clothes don't define what make us a woman, they simply help us express ourselves and tell a story about who's beneath the fabric that day.
I can wear an oversized shirt, perhaps like the one your fella left over the back of the chair last night, with some structured, tailored style pants, sweep my waves in to a loose bun - wear "masculinity" with pride and still feel like a sexy, strong, fashionable woman.
And Laura can wear a patterned, straight cut, frilled dress that glides over her curves with a bright pink lip, volumized curls and still feel like a fearless, proud, beautiful woman.
Neither speaks 'woman' more clearly, we are both equal, we are both everything it means to be a lady.
But this isn't just about me - this is about Laura too. So grab your cuppa or your pint, get yourself comfy, and lets talk Feminism.
Laura, how do you define beauty ~in~ fashion?
HMMMMM. The first word that comes to mind is "singular". Like, I feel that in both high fashion and high street there's one certain way to look and we're expected to make the best of what we've got in order to achieve those ideals. That's frustrating, because like d'uh - humans don't work that way.
OHMYGOD YES. We talk about this all the time!
I'll bet you're sick of me saying it, but I think all anyone ever really wants is to be seen and to be heard and so many of us don't feel that way with beauty in fashion because so many of us don't look like that one ideal on those pages.
What does that look like to you?
For a while now it's been that shade of "rich girl" hair - all golden hues - dishevelled but still well-cut. It's been strong, combed brows and cheekbones and clothes that just don't work if you have a belly. But you know who I think get it right? The French. The French don't all try to look one way - they know if they have great eyes, to up the eyeliner and do a bronzed cheek, or that if they have a big wonky nose not to cover it up as an imperfection, but let it be big and wonky but put on a killer lipstick. Or they don't much wear make-up at all! And I know I'm rambling and not letting you get a word in edgeways but honestly, this H&M campaign... well. You were sat beside me on the bed in Rome the other week when I watched the advert for the first time and I told you I'd watch it multiple times if I were alone because it impressed me so much. And that's before I knew you were shooting this campaign! Twitter is going mad for it. And that's because the imperfect is very much represented, and it's shocking that that's a bit of a first in fashion. We're all worthy! Like, that feeling of worthiness and celebration is what will sell clothes... not aspiration. Aspiration is dead, baby. Authenticity is where it's at!
That's something else we talk about a lot, too. About expectations.
Right! And This campaign feels like girls and women are finally getting to "opt-in" to the beauty standards they want to hold, rather than being excluded by the beauty ideals the fashion industry has dictated for so long. Anyway. I obviously feel very passionately about this. Shut me up! Next question!
Okay. So. What the world sees as "feminine" is drilled in to us: look pretty, but don't know it. Be fun, but not too fun. Wear makeup, but don't look like you're wearing makeup. It's a constant contradiction and a slippery slope. With that being said, what does being feminine mean to you?
Okay, I'm gonna be contradictory and say I'm not really interested in being "feminine" so much as owning my womanhood. It's only recently I've begun to truly embody being a woman - like, a grown-ass, in-charge-of-herself WOMAN. I think it happened when I turned 30. And, not to sound hyperbolic or over-the-top but it's a revelation! When I say "being a woman" over being "feminine" I think that comes from the notion you've just said, that thing about making ourselves palatable both in personality and aesthetic. To me, that feels girlish and immature. In contrast "womanhood" is about knowing who you are and stating that with confidence.
I love this, but what do you say to the women who haven't had that realisation yet? How did you get there?
So much is about who you surround yourself with. That's what attracts me to you, as my friend, so much. You teach me more and more about not apologising for who I am by your own example and literally every time we hang out I step into that confidence more. And, confidence is just about the sexiest thing there is, I think. It's like, hell yeah I'm happy to laugh loudly at your joke and not care if people turn to stare! Because newsflash: people like fun people. Yeah, I'll use make-up if I feel like it and won't if I don't and I'm sorry but if you compliment the length of my eyelashes I'm not gonna be all like "Oh? Me? These old things?" I have eyelashes like spiders legs! It'd be disingenuous to deny that. So, I don't know... I guess I spend a lot of time trying to own what's great about me, and what is less great, and not value myself any more or less based on which column has more in the list that day. Does that make sense? Hmmmm. I think what I mean is that womanhood is about who you hang with, and ultimately being your own best friend as well, unapologetically. Think Rihanna or Michelle Obama or Adele. And you, obvs.
Hahaha. THANKS! Okay, so next question: When it comes to business, does it feel like you're constantly in battle? To look, feel and be confident but not be accused of 'using' your sexuality to 'do better'?
Ohmygod that is such an interesting question. I mean, my whole career is basically based on this idea of the beauty in imperfection and how none of us are fucking up like we think we are. So, no, to be perfectly honest. I'm a woman who writes for women, and gets published by women, and followed on social media by women... like I literally posted a photograph of my size 16 arse in my underwear the other week and said, "My account is not for men. My body is not for the male gaze. Everything I do is for women, who are the loves of my life." Once you take blokes out of the equation it's much easier, for me, to communicate my hopes and dreams and struggles because I just don't feel the need to impress women. We've had it rough for millennia, so I just wanna say "me too, you guys. Me too."
What clothing makes you feel *most* comfortable?
Well, I've got a phenomenal arse and quite a tiny waist, so if I'm trying to play up my "best" parts I focus on those areas, like with the dress I wore for our photoshoot: I belted it to create an hourglass shape and felt pretty damned hot, actually! I typically can't "embody" one style. Like, I'll wear a dress and trainers, or jeans and heels. I like to play around, and to keep it very simple. I'm the girl who has one pair of boots and one coat to last all winter, so I don't have to think about what I'm wearing too much.
You literally have like, thirty coat hangers in your wardrobe and put everything else under your bed. It's seriously impressive. How do you make that work and still feel inspired?
Every month I go through my wardrobe and make sure everything is ironed and weather-appropriate, and if it needs a button fixing or taking in or letting out I take a trip to the tailors. By knowing everything in rotation on my rail - which, for the record, has 33 coat hangers on it, actually! - goes with everything else, I can get dressed in five minutes and always feel pretty good. That leaves more time for continued badassery out there in the big wide world!
We're so different in that way, I have *all* the clothes.
Hahaha - yeah, but then that's the point, isn't it? There's no right or wrong way to do it! JUST LIKE THERE'S NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO BE A LADY!
OHMYGOD okay, let's finish there, because I couldn't have planned a better conclusion if I'd tried.
I just want to take time here to say thank you. To Laura, for being a constant inspiration. To Alex for bringing the vision I had for this post to life with her amazing photography. And to H&M, for pushing the boundaries of fashion - for giving opportunities like this one to experiment and have fun with fashion in a way so many brands don't.
And for hopefully starting the conversation with you guys. What does #ladylike mean to you? I really want to know. Comment below and join the conversation on social with #ladylike and share your experiences and your voice.
Because no-one does ladylike, quite like you.
Photography by Alexandra Cameron (another lady who makes being myself the easiest thing in the world).