Resistance is futile: the sparkles of Christmas fashion are coming to get you

The only way to fight back against the yuletide bling epidemic is to include the male half of the population in it too.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again, ladies. With Christmas a mere month away, you’ll notice something happening in magazineland - and it definitely bears a striking resemblance to tinsel. Betwixt the Christmas Gift Guides in all their unimaginative - not to mention stubbornly sexist -  glory (who wants oven gloves for Christmas? Not your mum. Seriously) and the ads for psychic hotlines, the fashion pages are suddenly starting to look awfully… bling. Look at them directly and you could go blind - which would be a shame considering how, according to Grazia, it’s prime time to "get your party look nailed", a goal which naturally requires five whole weeks, a bumper edition of the latest three Conde Nasties, and the cold, focused meticulousness of a serial killer.

Fashion magazines love a good Christmas party because it gives them another "scenario" to work with, and having an outfit formula for every conceivable eventuality in a gal’s life is how they like to roll. Except it rarely is every conceivable eventuality: while magazines have been telling you what to wear on a first date or a jaunt to London Fashion Week or a holiday to Ibiza for years, they rarely tell you what to wear for everyday life, especially for those little troughs such as signing on, walking in on your boyfriend sleeping with someone else, attending your dad’s awkward fourth wedding or giving evidence in court, ie scenarios in which an appropriate outfit is actually important. It’s OK though, babes, because at least you’re sorted for your Christmas office party. Nothing says "regretful shag waiting to happen" like the word "sequins", although, to be fair, at least the things are wipe-clean.

Just why women are expected to truss themselves up like walking baubles for most of December remains something of a mystery to us. Granted, unless you’re an extra in a ruthlessly middle class and tediously tasteful John Lewis advert, the festive period always necessitates a certain surrendering of elegance. This may lead some of you to question whether or not the tyranny of bling is actually a feminist issue at all, and not one of aesthetics. And yet, if the blokes aren’t doing it (and Italians don’t count), then there’s definitely something to bitch about on our part. The maxim "diamonds are a boy’s best friend" has been little heard outside of the Liberace homestead, after all.

Just as the end of November signals the end to your sanity (if the tinsel jumpsuits don’t do it, then the approaching proximity of your inevitably dysfunctional relatives surely will), the annual date has now passed when it was commonplace to raise an eyebrow at a skirt that incorporates fairy lights. That sort of thing is basically expected from now until New Year, and bling is officially everywhere. While bedazzled ensembles were once limited to Las Vegas showgirls, now we’re being told to buy outfits that would make the line-up on Dancing on Ice look positively funereal. But having endured the body-glitter obsessed nineties and lived to tell the tale, all this glitz is just proving too much. Whatever happened to the little black dress? To understated chic? Or even to slinging on a loose-fitting jumper, stuffing your face with mince pies, and saying to hell with angel-shaped earrings as you kick back with your seventeenth glass of Sainsbury’s Basics Cava? Presumably all of these "normal person" ideas got fed to Paris Hilton’s chihuahua sometime back in the noughties, because there’s nothing to see here.

Just who is to blame remains unclear. Is it hip hop (that usual suspect in the society blame game)? Marilyn Monroe? Harvey Winston? TOWIE? The fact is, at some point in the not too distant past, shadowy (for they are always shadowy) product developers and marketers must have decided that women were in need of more sparkly shit, stat. We’ve moved on from what our Grandmas called "paste jewellery" to iPhone covers, dog leads, sex toys (ouch) and even vaginas, all of which are surfaces we’re told are markedly improved (and rendered a thousand times more "girly") by the presence of cubic zirconium. That so many women were openly resistant to the glittery tat pervading our society seems to have had little impact on the pace of the production, to the point where many of us are now stoically resigned to the sparkle. 

Because the problem is, despite bling’s apparent popularity, any woman who’s ever been on a shopping trip will tell a different story. How many times has she homed in on what looks like the perfect item, only to utter a disappointed "oh…" when some vile embellishment is revealed beneath the shop’s fluorescent lighting? Just as our female predecessors would sigh and say "oh well, perhaps I can just cut the shoulder pads out", modern women everywhere are picking at the additional diamanté pockets on their jeans and hoping that the fucking things will just drop off. It’s hard enough finding a nicely cut t-shirt without having to worry about guerrilla glitter. Nevertheless, high street designers across the country seem set in the mentality that you just aren’t celebrating properly unless your dress looks like it’s been spaffed on by Daniel Swarovski. And unfortunately, girls, resistance is futile.

The only solution must surely be to bring the dazzle, razzle, and vajazzle to the male half of the population, thus uniting them in our suffering. Perhaps only once the menz are bulk-bought designer moisturiser "with added Christmas shimmer" and confronted with the very real possibility of a pejazzle (or better still, a sexy pair of discoballs) can we coordinate an effective resistance. Until then, the only thing we can do is choose not to shop at Lipsy. Unless you’re attending a Christmas fancy dress party in the guise of Elton John at this year’s Jubilee Concert (in which case, fair play to you), then there really is no need for that rainbow sequined suit jacket with the superfluous golden zip. It comes with a one way ticket to the Help the Aged shop, as do those disco knickers that Grazia told you to buy. As usual, women’s magazines are mocking us - and as usual, we will strive our hardest not succumb. So you won’t see us stocking up on recommendations from the latest "yuletide fashion" pages this week. Not even for Christmas.

Seriously, why does everything have to sparkle at this time of year? Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Stability is essential to solve the pension problem

The new chancellor must ensure we have a period of stability for pension policymaking in order for everyone to acclimatise to a new era of personal responsibility in retirement, says 

There was a time when retirement seemed to take care of itself. It was normal to work, retire and then receive the state pension plus a company final salary pension, often a fairly generous figure, which also paid out to a spouse or partner on death.

That normality simply doesn’t exist for most people in 2016. There is much less certainty on what retirement looks like. The genesis of these experiences also starts much earlier. As final salary schemes fall out of favour, the UK is reaching a tipping point where savings in ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes become the most prevalent form of traditional retirement saving.

Saving for a ‘pension’ can mean a multitude of different things and the way your savings are organised can make a big difference to whether or not you are able to do what you planned in your later life – and also how your money is treated once you die.

George Osborne established a place for himself in the canon of personal savings policy through the introduction of ‘freedom and choice’ in pensions in 2015. This changed the rules dramatically, and gave pension income a level of public interest it had never seen before. Effectively the policymakers changed the rules, left the ring and took the ropes with them as we entered a new era of personal responsibility in retirement.

But what difference has that made? Have people changed their plans as a result, and what does 'normal' for retirement income look like now?

Old Mutual Wealth has just released. with YouGov, its third detailed survey of how people in the UK are planning their income needs in retirement. What is becoming clear is that 'normal' looks nothing like it did before. People have adjusted and are operating according to a new normal.

In the new normal, people are reliant on multiple sources of income in retirement, including actively using their home, as more people anticipate downsizing to provide some income. 24 per cent of future retirees have said they would consider releasing value from their home in one way or another.

In the new normal, working beyond your state pension age is no longer seen as drudgery. With increasing longevity, the appeal of keeping busy with work has grown. Almost one-third of future retirees are expecting work to provide some of their income in retirement, with just under half suggesting one of the reasons for doing so would be to maintain social interaction.

The new normal means less binary decision-making. Each choice an individual makes along the way becomes critical, and the answers themselves are less obvious. How do you best invest your savings? Where is the best place for a rainy day fund? How do you want to take income in the future and what happens to your assets when you die?

 An abundance of choices to provide answers to the above questions is good, but too much choice can paralyse decision-making. The new normal requires a plan earlier in life.

All the while, policymakers have continued to give people plenty of things to think about. In the past 12 months alone, the previous chancellor deliberated over whether – and how – to cut pension tax relief for higher earners. The ‘pensions-ISA’ system was mooted as the culmination of a project to hand savers complete control over their retirement savings, while also providing a welcome boost to Treasury coffers in the short term.

During her time as pensions minister, Baroness Altmann voiced her support for the current system of taxing pension income, rather than contributions, indicating a split between the DWP and HM Treasury on the matter. Baroness Altmann’s replacement at the DWP is Richard Harrington. It remains to be seen how much influence he will have and on what side of the camp he sits regarding taxing pensions.

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has entered the Treasury while our new Prime Minister calls for greater unity. Following a tumultuous time for pensions, a change in tone towards greater unity and cross-department collaboration would be very welcome.

In order for everyone to acclimatise properly to the new normal, the new chancellor should commit to a return to a longer-term, strategic approach to pensions policymaking, enabling all parties, from regulators and providers to customers, to make decisions with confidence that the landscape will not continue to shift as fundamentally as it has in recent times.

Steven Levin is CEO of investment platforms at Old Mutual Wealth.

To view all of Old Mutual Wealth’s retirement reports, visit: products-and-investments/ pensions/pensions2015/