With a ‛back to school' to do list as long as her arm, every mum deserves a fresh start, feel fabulous treat or two of her own. If braving the last minute crowds (why do we it?) in the shoe shop - and trying to console your daughter when you discover the pair she has set her heart on has just sold out in her size - and dreaming up inventive new ways to make this year's lunchboxes fly (I lack the Annabel Karmel, creative-with-crudites gene) has left you needing a lie down, catch the back to school spirit yourself and skip through September with a spring in your step. Sensible shoes optional.
Pack your bag ...
Remember the thrill of a shiny/sparkly/fluffy new pencil case, ready to fill with new coloured pencils - to arrange in rainbow order - a novelty sharpener and smelly rubber or two? Even though maths (sorry, numeracy) was my least favourite subject at school, I also loved those luminous plastic geometry sets from WH Smith (these days, I keep a heart-shaped calculator in my handbag and am seriously tempted by one that looks and smells like a chocolate bar, so not much has changed).
Along similar lines, treating yourself to a new make-up bag is a great opportunity to weed-out bits and bobs that you no longer wear or have seen fresher days and to re-think your autumn kit. Cheap and chic bags, such as 17's funky metallic Cosmetic Bag (¬£4.89, at stores nationwide and at www.boots.com) or, for the shabby chic lover, M&S' Floral Cosmetics Bag and Purse Set (¬£9.50, in store and at www.marksandspencer.com) can be found everywhere. If you want to splash out, ZPM's designer Pencil Slim cosmetics cases (¬£9.95), Traditional Medium bags (¬£12.50) and Make Up Rolls (¬£19.95 each), for the thoroughly organised mum, come in a wonderful range of wipe-clean designs. Minnie Driver, among others, is a fan (available at www.hqhair.com).
Sharpen your pencils ...
A far cry from the hard, scratchy sort many of us remember using in the sixth form (electric blue liner on the inner rims, anyone?), the latest softer-than-softer pencils and chunky crayons are a cinch to blend and make defining eyes, lips and even cheeks a doddle. Among the best are Maybelline New York's Khol Express Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil (¬£3.99), Rimmel London's classic Soft Kohl Kajal Eye Pencil (¬£2.93) and Pixi's jumbo-sized Eye Definer (¬£12, at www.pixi beauty.com). Another great buy, Vie At Home's long-lasting Eye Definer (¬£7.50) is soft pencil which features both a sharpener and smudger (at www.vieathome.com).
To softly define eyebrows and fill in any sparser areas (or gaps resulting from overzealous plucking - guilty!), opt for a blendable pencil designed for the job such as No 7's Precision Brow Pencil (¬£10), available in three shades, which includes a brush tip for easier blending (at www.boots.com).
A fresh alternative to lipstick, Bobbi Brown's Lip Crayon (¬£18) goes on counter this month. Available in 6 shades, it combines the texture of lipstick with the convenience of a crayon (from September nationwide, or at www.bobbibrown.co.uk). Just keep it away from tiny testers ...
Top of the class
The in-store make-up lesson has come a long way. Rather than try to convince you that you're a tangerine lipstick person (it happened to me) as you perch, scrubbed of make-up, counterside, the modern beauty consultation is much more geared towards to meeting your tastes and goals as well as being on-trend. As at the hairdresser, you can be straight about how much time you have to spend on your ‛routine' (even if it's 60 seconds flat) and ask for tips on achieving the sort of look you're after, e.g. smoky eyes/fresher-looking skin/berry red lips.
Short consultations are often free but there may be a fee which you can set against anything you buy. At Space NK stores nationwide, the experienced beauty consultants offer really helpful, objective advice across the product ranges and will show you some expert tricks of the trade when it comes to application (www.spacenk.co.uk). Meanwhile, Bobbi Brown offers great mini-makeovers and holds regular Beauty Team Events (visit www.bobbibrown.co.uk).
Slick, ballerina-style buns are not only a great, off-the-face school hair styling (and, dare we say, nit-deterring) option, but grown-up chignons and casual knots are also big news for autumn/winter. A case in point, super-stylist Eugene Soulemain gave models sleek little buns for the D&G catwalk, but kept them low to avoid that after-school ballet class look.
Combat post-summer dryness with remoisturising shampoos and conditioners and weekly deep conditioning treatments. A fantastic buy, Tresemme's Salon Silk Shampoo and Conditioner (¬£4.17 each, at www.sainsburys.com) smell delicious and the bottles are giant, salon backwash-sized. Spritz your finished style with a glossing spray, such as Charles Worthington's Results All Over Gloss Spray (¬£4.39, at www.boots.com).
Dig out the polish ...
You've buffed the school shoes, now treat your nails to a quick trim, shape-up and lick of gorgeous autumn colour. When you're doing the weekly shop, check out the new Limited Edition Nail Colours by Barbara Daly Make-Up at Tesco (¬£2.70 each). Choose from 8 fabulous shades of mini, 7ml polish. We're also very impressed by Per Una's Long Wear Nail Polish (¬£5), which glides on to provide a professionally glossy, chip-resistant finish (at www.marksandspencer.com).