Mary Berry's recipe for style
Never mind her baking, her jazzy dress sense at 77 is causing a stir. LIZ JONES got an exclusive peek into her wardrobe
21:41 GMT, 31 October 2012
When Mary Berry appeared on the Great British Bake Off wearing a floral silk bomber jacket from Zara, the world shifted on its axis.
OK, that didn’t quite happen, but two things did: Zara sold out of its 29.99 jaunty bomber in days, and Mary demonstrated, as perfectly as she had shown us how to ice a fondant fancy, how to be a fashion icon, whatever your age.
The Bake Off has not long ended its third successful season, and I’m in Mary’s Regency house in Buckinghamshire rummaging through her wardrobe.
FLIRTY FLORALS: This is her Whistles 'Wisteria' blazer (150) over a black skirt, and she wears this outfit for talks and work events: she thinks the floral makes her look approachable. Just as she tried to be constructive and say something good to the Bake Off contestants, no matter how disastrous their results, she's always
thinking of the feelings of others, even in her choice of clothes
ANIMAL MAGIC: Mary models a stretchy leopard-print skirt from a
boutique called 144 in Kingsbridge,
Devon, with an exposed zip at the back. I'm aghast. Leopard print! Exposed zips! 'Why not I like
things that are easy to put on
and do up,' she says. 'I bought
this two weeks ago, and I wear
it as a hipster, so it covers the knee, and I bought this black sweater by Isabel de Pedro from Bibi in Salcombe. I'd wear this on a girls' night out'
How does she manage, as a busy working woman — never mind the fact she is 77 — to look not just groomed but, to coin the only cooking term I know, delicious, as well as cheerful and elegant.
Never mind the fact that on the last episode of GBBO that scruffy student John was crowned winner. Women everywhere were watching, open-mouthed, as Mary rocked a floral blazer from Whistles — God, even I, at 54, feel too old for a floral blazer!
It seems that Mary, in that blazer and many other on-trend outfits, has not only been reigniting our love affair with baking, she’s been forging the way for older women to emerge from their black-clad doldrums.
I comment to her that other women her age seem to only be interested in wearing M&S Classic embroidered pastel cardies. Does Mary ever shop at M&S
‘I hate M&S Classic,’ says Mary, shuddering at the thought. ‘It’s far too old for me! Why should I want to look like a fuddy duddy I love Zara, Phase Eight, Jaeger, and I have a few tweed skirts the colour of heather from M&S’s younger range, Per Una; they are all several seasons old. I do love a warm calf-length skirt over boots.’
Was she surprised to be dissected on the fashion pages of every newspaper and magazine in the land — hell, even super-young Grazia — after she wore the floral bomber, that hot pink silk shirt (‘That was lovely, wasn’t it Ralph Lauren, from the wardrobe department — they helped me out with a few things’), and Whistles blazer
VINTAGE GOWN: She puts on a wonderful silk Frank Usher gown, bought for a ball when she was 24.
'Oh, I danced a lot in this,' she says,
twirling in sparkly wedges by Russell & Bromley. 'I've always been a size
12, and still wear it now for a ball or
FAILSAFE FROCK: Elegant Mary tries on a black and navy dress from
Phase Eight, which she wears all the time. 'When I'd just bought it, I was asked to appear on The One Show, and so I agreed straight away, because I thought, 'Ooh yes, Ive got a new dress to wear!' It's my failsafe dress. I like the fact it's elasticated, and you can just roll it in a ball and throw it in a bag'
DRESS DOWN: Here Mary wears jeans 'by M&S, a fantastic fit' and a
striped rugby shirt by Crew which she'll wear when she's off duty, or gardening, along with ancient black loafers. But she never wears trousers at any other time. I always wear a skirt if I'm going out for lunch or in the evening. I do wear what my husband, Paul, likes. He does love a dress on a woman'
‘I was flabbergasted! I wanted to look summery, positive, and encouraging,’ she says. ‘The bomber was a bit of fun, and it was roomy enough to be worn over thermal underwear and several sweaters, as it was always so cold in the marquee (the series was filmed in the Somerset countryside). We had such a dull, dreadful summer. I always had to wear wellies!’
Mary, it turns out, is a very careful, frugal shopper, and just as she buys food locally, she also frequents local boutiques (as under threat as the English apple) for much of her wardrobe.
Her shoes are mainly black, apart from a faux furry pair of Uggs, and all with low heels, most by Peter Kaiser and bought in local boutique Primrose Oliver.
She owns a neat row of non-designer bags, all ‘big enough to carry a pot of my homemade jam to give to a friend’.
There are niche brands, too, such as cashmere cardigans by a lovely brand called Nettles, recycled from old sweaters, then decorated with lace or embroidery; Mary wore a pink one on the Masterclass show last week, a spin-off from the Bake Off series — it’s very bohemian in a Helena Christensen sort of way.
Snazzy rule-breaker: Mary shows Liz that floral jacket
Just as she told us how to use a ball
of pastry to push the edges into a fluted case, she has a few tips up
her three-quarter-length sleeve on how to look crisp and groomed. ‘I
always like to cover my arms if at all possible.
‘I buy waffle cotton hangers from
John Lewis,’ she continues, ‘which protect the clothes. My shoes and
boots have shoe trees. And my secret weapon is my dressmaker. She alters
every single thing I buy. Take that Zara bomber: after I wore it on the
show, she shortened the sleeves. Long sleeves keep getting mucky, they
get covered in flour.’
She brings out a Susie Pringle pink cashmere cardigan with black skirt and says it’s what she might wear for a lunch. Has this always been her signature style
‘I might have worn a slightly shorter skirt, but even in my 20s, I wasn’t one for way-out looks,’ she says. ‘I didn’t have the money to start with. The colour and florals came a little later, with confidence. Not on an apron, though. I don’t like all that Cath Kidston stuff, I prefer a striped butcher’s.’
She uses pearls or a scarf to distract attention from her neck, explaining: ‘My granddaughter asked me: “Why do have two holes in your neck” I said: “That is what happens when you get older.” ’
Fashionista: Mary on the Great British Bake Off where her clothes as well as her cooking have caused a stir
The best thing about Mary is she is not remotely vain. Nor does she try to look young. Her make-up bag has four items: Max Factor foundation, powder and lipstick, and mascara. ‘I never use anything on my skin. Maybe a spot of cream from Boots,’ she says.
But then Mary says something deeply shocking: ‘I do use a little fake tan on my face and decolletage, and in summer I use fake tan on my legs, but I use a mitt to apply it, so my palms aren’t orange. People would notice.’ She is a lovely mixture (you see! Mary’s culinary prowess is rubbing off, even on me, who has never owned a wooden spoon) of lover of traditional and jazzy and snazzy rule-breaker with a sense of mischief.
She looks incredibly trim. How has she not put on weight, given all that tasting ‘I only try a little, then I might eat light the next day. I never go to the gym. There is a keep-fit class in my village, but I prefer to go for a walk. I have never owned a pair of trainers,’ she adds proudly.
As we’re all packing up, Mary’s husband Paul wanders in from the garden with their labrador and spaniel, in green plus fours and a Viyella checked shirt, a fashion plate in his own right from a much mourned era when men opened doors while women baked.
What does he think of Mary in her jaunty floral bomber ‘She always looks absolutely perfect. Good enough to eat. Always has.’