Channelling Grief Through Fashion


When Caroline Jones’ Mum died 18 months ago the mother-of-three was, naturally, devastated. Mary was just 72 when she lost her battle against breast cancer and Caroline was left emotionally exhausted and helpless. But a couple of months later she had a brainwave – one which would lead to her raising more than £50,000 for Cancer Research UK.

Every day in 2015 Caroline put together a fabulous outfit from pre-loved items sold in Cancer Research UK shops and posted it on her website Knickers Model’s Own. Despite grieving for the loss of her dear Mum, Caroline got up every day and had her photograph taken to share on social media. She quickly amassed thousands of followers, thousands of pounds in donations, and became the solo fundraising success story of 2015. As a result the mother-of-three was commissioned to create a photo-led fashion book, packed with tips for anyone keen to learn how to spot a gem in their local charity shop, how to fundraise in style and how to honour your loved ones. Knickers Model’s Own has attracted attention from the likes of globally renowned photographers Rankin and Jason Bell and fashion designers including Henry Holland, and the publication of the book will continue to support Cancer Research UK as 100% of profits will go directly to the charity.

We sat down with Caroline to find out more about the story behind the story of Knickers Model’s Own…

Hi Caroline, what a great achievement! How was your mission received by your children when you told them what you were planning on doing? 

Mary (12) and Connie (10) were both interested to see what I was wearing and very happy to offer their very honest style opinions! Mary introduced me to Instagram and photo cropping, Connie was fascinated to see the donations coming in and Matthew (8) was more concerned with when his tea was going to be served! 

How did your husband and the rest of your family react? 

Campaigning for a year is hard and at times all consuming. You need amazing love around you. My husband Rod was hugely supportive, as were my family.  My book is dedicated to them.  

What women inspire you? 

My mum, Mary, was the biggest influence in my life. I am inspired by women who do things for themselves, women who are kind spirited and my close female friends who are all great listeners. 

Tell us a bit more about your mum… 

First and foremost, she was the loveliest mum, always putting me first, always there for me. Mum was my shopping companion and I also valued her opinion. The moment I became a parent I realised just how wise and loving she was; her grandchildren were everything to her. 

Where did your passion for fashion come from? Any training or purely a hobby? 

My love of fashion stems from my love of colour, pattern, freedom of expression and the inner show-off in me. As a child I loved colouring, making fashion pamphlets, never happier than when I had a box of felt tips and my imagination. Although I have no formal training or styling qualifications, my innate love of fashion (and indeed home interior style) was hugely influenced by my home life. 

Growing up in the 1970s I hung off the fashion coat-tails of my older cousins eagerly anticipating their hand-me-downs and well thumbed Jackie magazines. In my teens I would spend most Saturday afternoons in C&A or Chelsea Girl and Miss Selfridge, these shops opened my eyes and I soaked it all up. 

COVER FINAL V2.inddWhere does the idea go from here? 

My book ‘Knickers Model’s Own – a year of frugal fashion’ is the full-stop to my campaign. It aims to tell my year long story week-by-week, touching on my grief and motivation but also as a style journal, showing how second-hand clothes can be given a second chance. I still pinch myself to think that I have written a book, with cover shots by Rankin.  I am now developing my website and plan to carry on blogging and styling. 

Did the challenge help you deal with your grief? If so, how? Did you have any other grieving support or was this your only channel?

Losing my mum was utterly heart-breaking. My grief stopped me in my tracks, and still does. For me, like so many, I had a need to just do something, to mask my sadness. Nothing takes the pain away but Knickers Model’s Own gave me a focus, lightness and hope. It was a very public way of talking about grief. The support of my family and friends helped me with my private grief. 

Who are your fashion icons?

My love for all things 1960s was most certainly influenced by the fashion designer Mary Quant and the hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. Strong lines, bold colours and that classic 5-point cut. They were über cool. 

Who would you like to see wearing your outfits (or ones inspired by them)?

Claudia Winkleman who I adore for her sharp, comedic timing. She has a defined 1960s signature look that I really think works well. I would like to see more of her wispy waist.  

What are your top tips for bagging a bargain at a charity shop? What are the secrets to successful charity shop buys? 

Whether you’re looking in a boutique or a charity shop, whether it’s frugal fashion or full price fashion, in my opinion the rules of play are identical.

Start off by finding your gaps:
Skipping off into the fashion sunset, without a clue to what you are looking for can be exhilarating but is actually financial fools play. Set aside a few hours to really examine your current wardrobe, try everything on and start eliminating. Live for the now, you may be thinking about going back to work or dropping 2 dress sizes, but in the meantime you probably need the wardrobe space. I would suggest bagging up and storing anything that is a future ‘may be one day’ item. Your wardrobe should be a most welcoming vision, something that makes you feel great. Not a rail of disappointment of ‘maybes’ and ‘one days’.

Make your gaps visible:
I’ll point out at this stage that I am at my happiest in a mess, but when it comes to my wardrobe I cherish neatness and organisation. My wardrobe is entirely pre-loved and is hung in an order L to R: tees, blouses, knitwear, skirts, trousers, dresses, occasional wear. My wardrobe measures 8 feet wide. There’s no place for time wasters in my limited space. Jeans are folded on a shelf above, next to heels and handbags. On the floor are flats, trainers and boots. Scarves hang in a bunch and belts drape over the rail.

Get your knickers in order:
They are the foundations of a good outfit, I am all for substance over fashion. I will happily forfeit va-va-voom for the victory of a smoothed out bottom, thank you very much. Ditto bras, get yourself measured and fitted. Chuck out the weak performers, you know they are doing you no favours. 

  • Knickers Model’s Own: a year of frugal fashion is published 25 May, £20, with 100 per cent of profits going to Cancer Research UK.  To pre-order Caroline’s book visit 


Emily Cleary

Emily Cleary

After almost a decade chasing ambulances, and celebrities, for Fleet Street’s finest, Emily has taken it down a gear and settled for a (slightly!) slower pace of life in the suburbs. With a love of cheese and fine wine, Emily is more likely to be found chasing her toddlers round Kew Gardens than sipping champagne at a showbiz launch nowadays, or grabbing an hour out of her hectic freelancer’s life to chill out in a spa while hubby holds the babies. If only!


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