Erica Davies on why ‘fashion rules are meant to be broken’

No one needs to ‘hide’ their body. You can wear bold colours. You’re never too old for Zara… And yes, actually, leopard print is a neutral.

Erica Davies Fashion Dresses Lockdown
New collab: ‘John Lewis & Partners asked me to curate a capsule collection of their autumn pieces’ Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

The foreword of Erica Davies’ new book, Leopard is a Neutral, is written by her friend Trinny Woodall. The two women met when Trinny and her then partner in style-crime-solving, Susannah Constantine, had a column for the newspaper Erica worked on. They struck up a friendship and Erica went on to style three of their bestselling books.

Together, they formulated some quite strict rules about what we should and shouldn’t wear. ‘Women needed that message at the time because it hadn’t been said before and it felt groundbreaking,’ writes Trinny. ‘Some of those rules have really stuck around today and I can see how they may have been helpful… However, rules are made to be broken and, over time, I have softened about the ones we wrote.’

What follows this admission is Erica’s joyful, rule-shattering manifesto for abandoning the old diktats that might have stopped you wearing a certain colour, pattern or shape and instead using fashion as a source of mood-boosting self-expression.

Buy vintage: ‘I sent back the floral dress I shared the other week – but then found this vintage one!’ Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

‘What makes me cross about the rules is that they’re about disguising, covering or trying to create an image of a body that doesn’t exist,’ says Erica when she video calls from her home in Essex, looking groom-for-Zoom cool in statement specs and a ruffled white blouse with a swoosh of red lipstick. ‘It’s about elongating or shortening or diminishing, and why? I find it really bizarre, but we’ve grown up with that and accepted it.’

After almost 20 years as a magazine and newspaper fashion editor, Erica went freelance five years ago and built a reputation as an influencer you really want to follow – and more than 150,000 do just that on Instagram (‘Imagine if they were all lined up outside?’ Erica’s husband James has joked). Her USP? Blending realistic style inspiration with interiors porn (she’s made her modern home into an eclectic haven) and relatable chat about everything from the realities of being a mum to what to watch on Netflix and the pain of seeing a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Her book aims to expand on the ‘positive community’ she’s created online, and reads like a wise friend who’ll chat about anything – how style changes with your life stage; body image; why fashion shouldn’t just be for sample-size models. And Erica speaks powerfully from first-hand experience.

Erica Davies Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

After two maternity leaves (son Charlie and daughter Lila are now 10 and eight respectively) and moving out of London, Erica felt her style shift. ‘It had a lot to do with becoming a mum and my body changing. I was never a skinny fashion-editor type, I was aware that I was curvier,’ she says. Relocating to Essex and focusing on her website and Instagram freed her from the idea of ‘work’ and ‘weekend’ uniforms.

‘My wardrobe now transcends events – I might wear the same dress to a meeting that I’d wear with trainers or flip-flops to shop. It’s been a transition to feeling comfortable with my off-duty look – a gradual sense that it doesn’t need to be strict or fussy. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to the post office: if you feel great, you’re 
going to be confident. I want to encourage women to find things that make them happy.’

It’s a way of dressing that thousands of us will relate to. Her followers look to Erica as a muse for getting dressed in a way that’s easy yet exciting. She gets hundreds of messages from women who, like those who once appeared on Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear, find themselves stuck in a rut or unsure how to dress as they’re overwhelmed by all the ‘advice’ they’ve been given.

‘I’d see patterns emerging of things people have lost confidence about or that you might not consider being an issue when you’re a fashion editor, but that are huge for some,’ she says. ‘I certainly kept the myths going when I was a fashion editor, the rules we all had to follow: you shouldn’t wear stripes; or you should wear stripes if you’re a pear shape, they should nip you in at the waist. Then there are the conversations people have throughout their lives, perhaps with mothers who might say, “You shouldn’t be wearing that.” I think for lots of people, those things combined create this panic and sense of, “I have no clue where to begin.”’

Erica in Cos ‘gelato mint Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

Erica can spend hours each week responding to messages and comments like these. ‘Fashion can be fun. It doesn’t have to be about what’s on the catwalk, it can be something really simple. I want to encourage people to find joy in clothes and put things together that make them happy,’ she says of her mission. She and Trinny now agree that it’s more about whether your face lights up when you wear something than whether it conforms to the formula that might theoretically look best for your shape and complexion.

Erica’s platform means she can now earn money via paid partnerships and collaborations with brands – she has designed shoes for Marks & Spencer (jewelled sandals that sold out in days), styled and starred in campaigns for John Lewis & Partners and created a homeware collection for QVC (which also sold out). ‘I used to feel a bit cringey putting out stuff, almost apologetic. But there’s nothing to apologise for,’ she insists. ‘I was 
a fashion editor on a publication, now I’m a fashion editor working for myself. I need to pay my mortgage and feed my family.’

Erica’s message isn’t that you have to ‘buy, buy, buy’ to look and feel good, either. In fact, she encourages her community to look beyond the high street and shop their existing wardrobe before investing in something new. She’s just as likely to link to a trench coat on eBay as on H&M, and her Instagram Stories often show her rummaging in her 
local charity or vintage shops, something she’s loved doing since she was a teenager growing up on the Wirral.

Erica Davies Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

‘I’d see things in magazines then go into Liverpool or Manchester and try to find them. There was a TV show called Blossom and she had this amazing coat – I remember ripping out a picture and trying to find something similar. I’m totally going back to that now,’ she says. No wonder that for inspiration, she looks to women like Jenna Lyons (former J Crew creative director), actor Tracee Ellis Ross and Patricia Field (costumer designer on Sex and the City) – all known for their inventive, colourful style – though she also admires the pared-back minimalism of Scandi style bloggers.

Now 43, Erica feels more 
and more confident and is full of optimism that the days of women succumbing to elasticated waists at a certain age are long gone. ‘I feel better as I get 
older… I love how it seems that 
 you go into your 70s and 80s, and you don’t care what people think. There’s a shedding of inhibitions, you just accept, “This is who I am.” My mum will go to Zara and pick up the same piece as me, and we’ll both wear it in different ways, whereas my grandma was very grandmotherly – she would wear the pleated skirt and cardigan.’

Erica in her leopard print face mask Credit: Instagram: @erica_davies

What does she hope that people take away from Leopard is a Neutral (a title born of her lifelong obsession with the print)? ‘I hope the book gives people confidence to try things, to make yourself feel better and not take so much notice of others’ opinions and put more of yourself into what you wear. Be happy and own it.’

Erica’s five fashion 
tips to live by

  • Be honest and truthful about what’s in your wardrobe. Anything that doesn’t fit or you haven’t worn in years needs to go.
  • Pay attention to 
the pieces you reach for time and time again. They’re the building blocks of 
your wardrobe – your outfit superheroes.
  • Take the time to get your wardrobe organised – it will really help determine your personal style 
and make life easier 
in the long run.
  • You are not at fault if an item of clothing doesn’t feel good – it’s just the wrong piece for you. There are plenty out there that are right.
  • Don’t save occasion wear for occasions. Create styling moments where you can rework or rewear for more casual days.

‘Leopard is a Neutral: A Really Useful 
Style Guide’, by Erica Davies, is out now (Yellow Kite, £16.99)

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