Shelly Vella: The fashion director who forgot how to dress

She’d spent years advising other women what to wear, but after a long break from
the office, YOU’s new head of fashion Shelly Vella realised she needed help herself.
Here’s how she resolved her wardrobe crisis.

YOU Magazine

It’s been two and a half years since I left my day job as a fashion director on a women’s magazine to go freelance, leaving behind the demands on my wardrobe of not just the international fashion weeks but the office, too. That’s a long time in the world of fashion, especially when my new life of running around town for meetings or working from home on my style website meant I’d swapped posh heels for Converse and statement bags for a functional Adidas by Stella McCartney rucksack. Dressing up had been my life for so long that it was a while before I was relaxed enough to open the door to the postman at midday still wearing my PJs. The home office can certainly kill the need for glamour, especially when you’re spending hours alone.

When I got the call to say I had landed the amazing job as fashion director of YOU magazine, imagine my panic when I looked in my wardrobe at a crammed rail of boho tops and floaty dresses. They’re definitely my style, but weren’t exactly the core pieces essential for the smarter, more groomed me, soon to be returning to an office.

The irony was that I’ve spent years advising women which clothes to invest in, now I needed some of that advice myself. So I set about creating my own list of essential pieces that will blend with and update my existing wardrobe to make me feel confident.

There’s also the added challenge that I’ve become vegan since leaving my last job, and I’d prefer not to buy any more leather.

Here’s what made the cut…

The tailored suit

Rekha Damhar

A men’s dinner suit features all my favourite style details, so in a quest to find the perfect black trousers and mannish jacket – something I could also slip over a pretty blouse or dress – I actually ventured into the men’s department at Marks & Spencer and there they were. The trousers fitted, flattered and boasted a side stripe; the matching jacket had a nipped-in waist, satin rever collar, plus a gorgeous blue lining. They were also made from quality wool, had an immaculate finish and a modest price tag. All that was needed then was a quick trip to the tailor’s – a must for getting that perfect fit; in this case, I just needed the trousers shortened. Find someone local or a dry cleaner that offers this service.

Man’s tuxedo suit, £139, M&S Collection, Sustainable cotton t-shirt, £22,

On-trend heroes

Rekha Damhar

While I hunt down my ultimate basics I’m also keeping an eye out for gorgeous ‘so this season’ pieces to pep up my look, and Zara came up trumps with this sleek satin dress and sumptuous wool coat in A/W’s rich chocolate tones. This will be my go-to outfit when I’m at Paris Fashion Week, which begins on Tuesday.

Coat, £129, and dress, £69.99, both Sunglasses, £169, Tory Burch, Boots, £69,

The white shirt

Rekha Damhar

Oh, the joys of a tailored white shirt! Buttoned up or undone, it breathes fresh air into an outfit – somehow lighting up your face as well as providing a neutral foil to stronger wardrobe pieces. I like to wear one with wide-leg trousers and a kimono-style jacket. It looks smart but still feels like me. This classic white Me+Em number has modern flourishes such as black buttons and a gently ruffled front panel, and is the ideal partner for well-cut black trousers.

Shirt, £169, Trousers, £260, Isabel Marant Étoile, Bag, £125,


Rekha Damhar

I’m lucky that YOU has a relaxed approach to dressing because jeans are a great option when you want to wear a statement top or jacket without being OTT. I’m still searching for the perfect cut, but aren’t we all? I believe in shopping as sustainably as you can, and Iden is one of my favourites for ethical denim. These side-stripe jeans are my new best friend: the loose fit, the added detail and smarter cut make them a good choice for less formal office days.

Jeans, £155, Shirt, £55,

The standout dress

YOU Magazine

I love dresses – they’re a one-stop shop and an easy option when you’re rushing in the morning. I prefer a fluid cut and I’m a sucker for anything embroidered or embellished, but the aim is to find something more simple and versatile that I can dress up with a blazer and heeled ankle boots, making this Ghost number a winner.

Dress, £145, Blazer, £240, Bag, £560, Stella McCartney,

Slouchy trousers

Rekha Damhar

Loose-fit side-stripe pants and a silky shirt are great office companions. On trend but comfortable; stylish yet effortless.

Trousers, £135, and Shirt, £79, both

PS… lingerie

Good foundations – ie, great-fitting, comfortable underwear – are, trust me, empowering and the basis for every good look. Knickers that shout underneath an outfit are a no-no, as is a scratchy, ill-fitting bra. If you haven’t sorted through your lingerie drawer for a while, it can be a therapeutic process. Half of mine has ended up in the fabric recycling bin.

More hard-working pieces for autumn


Loose-fit jacket, £59.99,


Suit-style trousers, £36, Ichi,


Statement dress, £55,


Wide-leg jeans, £184,


Pyjama top, £210,

Luisa Cerano

White blouse, £279,

Anine Bing

Sunglasses, £143,

…and five great coats

Dorothee Schumacher

Black blazer, £630,


Belted wraparound, £159,


Double-breasted check, £99,

Closet London

Trench, £110,


Camel, £250,

V by Very

Mustard, £80, V by Very,