The style secrets that have totally changed our look
Four NI women who won the chance to go shopping with a fashion expert tell Stephanie Bell their wardrobes will never be quite the same again
Any girl would love it - the chance to go fashion shopping with a style expert dedicated to helping you find the perfect outfit to flatter your figure.
Four local women - each with their own fashion dilemmas - enjoyed what was a unique treat for them when they were the lucky winners of a recent Facebook competition organised by the Abbeycentre, in Newtownabbey.
The idea was to give people access to a personal stylist to help them to embrace the change of season fashions and also the chance to talk to a professional and get expert styling tips.
Nuala Meenahan, a local model who has been a familiar face on the fashion scene in Northern Ireland for more than 20 years, was thrilled by the bevy of beautiful local girls eager to pick up some styling tips.
"What struck me most about all the girls was that they had just lost their confidence and had forgotten how lovely they are," she says.
"They each entered themselves, which I thought was very brave and showed a great sense of awareness and a sense of fun because it was meant to be fun.
"Most of them had been focusing on other things in their lives - their kids or jobs - and had just forgotten about themselves. All of them were incredibly gracious and lovely.
"It was an easy job for me and all I did was give them some tips and what was incredible for me was what it did for their confidence.
"They really did leave feeling like different women.
"What the Abbeycentre and I wanted was to simply get them to remember and recognise what great shapes they have and to celebrate that."
The overall winner, who also received a £100 gift voucher, was Armagh graduate Lyndsey Herron. Three runners-up who each received a £25 gift voucher on top of their style appointment also shared what they thought of the experience.
‘I picked up some really great fashion tips’
Lyndsey Herron (29) from Armagh has just finished a PhD in biological science and is taking some time off before hopefully securing a job in environmental consultancy. She says:
I love shoes. I follow fashion but I wouldn’t be dictated to by it — if I like it I will wear it and I definitely would not wear something fashionable that didn’t suit me.
What I spend on clothes varies from month to month but probably averages at around £100.
I was really hoping that Nuala would advise me on the best looks for my shape and colouring. The day was great fun. I brought my mum with me and she picked up a few tips as well.
It was relaxing and entertaining and a very different experience for me but really interesting. I learned that baggy tops are out for me. Shoe boots, which I would have stayed away from, look really good with jeans, which was an eye-opener.
I was stuck in a rut with my jean type, always buying skinny jeans because I thought they fitted well but Nuala opened me up to other alternatives.
I also tended to shop in the same places but Nuala brought me into new shops which I will be returning to again.
I learnt that my style was actually good for my shape. Nuala thought what I would pick did suit me and the bright colours I like are also something she said I suited.
She also introduced me to V-neck tops which are something I would never have worn but Nuala showed me how they elongate your neck, and they did look very flattering.
I love the floral skirt she dressed me in from Primark, too, so I will definitely be buying that.”
‘I now have the courage to be more daring’
Stephanie McCullough (26) from Ballyclare is a health care assistant at Musgrave Park Hospital. She says:
I was really excited about winning the competition but very nervous at the same time as I wasn’t too sure what a personal styling experience would mean.
My style is very casual, mismatched and not very exciting. I work a lot so I am mostly in my uniform or pyjamas.
I don’t spend very much on clothes at all. I probably buy the odd top and wouldn’t spend any more than about £40 a month.
I was hoping the experience would help me to feel glamorous and gain some confidence about myself and find a different style from my usual fleecy top look.
Even though I was nervous, Nuala really put me at my ease.
She was lovely, friendly and very warm. She really knows her stuff.
She has definitely opened my mind to considering styles I would never have thought for myself.
I would never look at accessories but Nuala showed me how to use necklaces and shoes and even belts to transform the look of an outfit.
She showed me the value in spending £100 on one outfit that you can change completely with accessories to create as many as four different looks.
Normally I would pick a couple of things up in the sale and now I realise they are not bargains at all as I usually don’t even wear them. From now on I will be investing in a good outfit.
I wanted to know how to dress with a smart casual look and I loved the plum top, ankle boots, jeans and fitted jacket Nuala picked for me.
I would only ever wear trainers and I was surprised at how much I loved the ankle boots.
I am totally ready to embrace new ideas and styles now.
This experience has helped boost my confidence.
Nuala has given me new courage to be more daring and go for bright colours and highlight my best features.”
‘There was so much choice for my size’
Andrea McCullough (29) from Belfast is a quality assurance technician with Allied Bakeries and is married to Jason (26), a quality assistant for Heart Fine Technology. They have one son, Joshua, 16 months. She says:
I feel so out of shape at the moment after having Joshua and I was delighted to win this prize. I have been on a mission to lose weight and have lost a stone in the past month.
I was a size 16/18 before I had Joshua and I recently felt that my clothes were starting to get even tighter and I was putting more weight on.
I am going to a friend’s wedding very soon and needed some help to try and find something to wear to it. My style would probably be “girlie girl” — I love romantic-style dresses and usually I steer clear of trousers.
Typically, I spend around £100 a month on clothes.
I was hoping Nuala could help me find out what my actual size is — it’s been a total guessing game since Joshua arrived. I wanted to explore style options for my new baby shape while I am in the process of losing the weight.
I was surprised at how comfortable Nuala made me feel. I had no idea that there were so many options for my shape so this has really opened my eyes.
Nuala showed me so many new styling tips and new ways of thinking about dressing my shape. I learned that there was a lot more on offer for my shape and size than I ever imagined.
I got my dress in Quiz which was a complete surprise because I always thought of it as one of those shops you go into with your skinny friends and you look at the accessories while they look at the clothes.
Nuala and I agreed that black was not my colour because of my pale skin. I got a multi-coloured knee length dress for the wedding which I love and which is comfortable — you can actually sit down in it.
The dress shows my waist off. Nuala showed me that I was picking clothes to try and hide my figure and she has given me the confidence to pick something that showed it off.
It was great to get out and do something different. I always imagined something like that was just for the rich or people who are good at fashion or really skinny, but Nuala really catered for all budgets and made me feel very comfortable.
She helped me find what suits me and to be confident about showing off my figure. I am now looking forward to my friend’s wedding next month knowing that I have something nice to wear that I also feel comfortable in.”
‘As a mum, I’d neglected myself’
Paula Dunn (39) from Glengormley is married to Michael (41), an IT specialist, and is a full-time mum to Sophie (5) and Matthew (3). She says:
I was very surprised and thrilled to win the competition. I am usually a jeans and T-shirt person and would spend very little on clothes.
Since I left work to have my children it has just been easier to wear jeans and a T-shirt because they are comfortable and practical and easy to pull on and wash.
For me, now that the kids are a bit older, it was a chance to explore more style options and maybe get out of a bit of a rut.
I was a bit nervous about doing it and brought my sister with me for support. It was lovely to get a bit of “me” time and I thoroughly enjoyed it — it took me out of my comfort zone in a great way.
I usually wear boot-cut jeans but Nuala got me into skinny jeans which I would never have worn and I loved.
I’m only five feet tall so she showed me tricks on how to elongate my legs and make them look longer by wearing different types of shoes and boot styles with jeans which I would never have bought before.
She also got me to consider tighter fitting clothes to show off my shape and to dress my outfits up with statement jewellery.
I tried on a fitted pink top which I would never have chosen before and which I plan to treat myself to.
With my prize money we chose a gorgeous top in Dorothy Perkins, a skinny knit navy jumper with a lacy tail which is quite clingy. We teamed it with a beautiful flowery necklace.
Nuala showed me how to show off my curves and consider tops I wouldn’t have chosen before.
I probably am like most mums and have neglected myself a bit but I hope now to explore more style and treat myself a bit more. It was a great experience.”
What every woman needs to know
1) Embrace your shape — knowing what suits and complements your body shape best is without a doubt my number one style tip
2) We’re all unique — create your own sense of style and have fun with it, you don’t need to follow each new fashion trend to be ahead of the style stakes
3) Get a great hair cut — it can takes years off you and completely update your wardrobe in one go!
4) Jeans are probably one of the most versatile items in my wardrobe — take your time to find jeans that really suit your shape, then match with a great shirt or tee along with a pair of killer heels, brogues or cute pumps and you’re ready to go!
5) Experiment with belts — they can change the look of an outfit cheaply and easily
6) A structured black blazer will come to the rescue every time!