Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The mutton debate goes on and on

Two weeks ago I wrote about Sarah Mower's piece in the Telegraph which advised consulting one's mutton-meter before purchasing a leather jacket. I had just bought this one.

It appears there was something of a backlash against Sarah's original piece as she writes, here:

Talk about lighting the blue touchpaper. When I wrote two weeks ago about the "mutton" question vis-à-vis the inadvisability of wearing leather jackets if you're over 40, the blogosphere lit up.

Leather jackets
Wear with care: leather is not suitable for all shapes and ages

In tones ranging from indignant to incandescent, women of the feminist generation rose up and took umbrage at the suggestion that the middle-aged should take care not to be caught dressing too young.

The London-based writer Linda Grant was put out because she'd just bought a leather jacket. Others raged more generally at the idea of age-related fashion don'ts. "I am going to be 56 and do not intend to disappear!" stormed one.

Another sister skewered me as the voice of patriarchal oppression: "Mutton dressed as lamb, indeed! That women have adopted this expression to police our own appearance is offensive."

Mower goes on to try to redefine what she actually meant:
Pretending to be 10 or 20 years younger than you are always shows. When it becomes truly desperate, people will catch their breath at the sight of you, only to let it out as a laugh behind your back. So all I was saying was this: dressing "younger" can actually make you look older, and absurd with it, so don't get caught out by accident.

Truly, 2007 has been a bad time for this. Though I'm averse to laying down laws, some of the people I've seen in girly above-the-knee dresses oughtn't have worn them - a point comically exacerbated by the addition of "on-trend" 6in-high wedges.

I don't care how skinny you are, or how toned your body: when the face-age doesn't match the dress-age, you look silly.

Difficult to disagree. I certainly wouldn't be wearing that leather jacket, not with my legs. I still think you can wear a leather jacket over the age of 50. More or my views and those of Thoughtful Dresser readers, here and here
But as I argued at the time, style for women of a certain age, is finding the true individual expression of yourself. It requires a lot of thought, and this is what this blog is all about. Thoughtful dressing.

Here is a picture of Agnes b whom I interviewed a couple of years ago.Here's what I said about her:

Agnès b is 65. I don't want to flatter her by saying she looks 45. I want to say that she looks how she must have looked most of her life. She has neither made any accommodation to age, conceding to its strictures about how a woman should or shouldn't dress, nor has she defied it through the surgeon's knife.

I can't even see much make-up, apart from some mascara. She's wearing dark jeans, a black jacket, a black-and-white shirt. Her hair is a tousled blond mop, looking as if she just got out of the shower and ran her fingers through it. She has none of the groomed-within-an-inch-of-one's-life look of fashion divas, and could even be described as scruffy. But the overall effect is of absolutely stylish individuality.

We begin to talk. And the more we talk, the more I warm to her. I'd panicked about what to wear, yet she doesn't look me up and down like a headmistress searching for deviations from the school uniform, which is how I feel when I'm in New York.

'I am making clothes to make people happy,' she says. 'I work thinking of it, of what can make them happy, to have confidence in what they wear. Clothes can be like a talisman, something good happened when they were wearing those clothes.' She points to my necklace, of jade, labradorite and gold, my favourite thing in the world. 'This is your talisman,' she says. And of course she's absolutely right. Whatever I'd worn to the interview, the necklace would have been part of it. She's noticed the one thing that really matters.

Dana in the comments notes of the unsuitable red leather jacket, above:
. . . change the skirt for pants, the super wide belt for a less wide one, and if you're a red patent leather person, go for it, whatever your age. Why not?


Anonymous said...

Agnes B...ahh, a true great who you almost never hear about anymore. It's a shame she gets so little attention these days in the fashion media. Guess good design is out and she's not pushing enough (sh)IT bags.

Linda Grant said...

One of the reasons you hear so little of her is that she doesn't advertise. And if you don't advertise, you don't get magazine editorial.

I find her clothes cut a little on the small side for me but I really admire her simple pretty designs. I do have a few pairs of her shoes.

The nicest of her stores, by the way, is in Nice, just by the lift ascending to the gardens.

Anonymous said...

She used to get coverage a bit more back when I really followed fashion, 80s-90s (back again after a long break). Sadly, many of the smaller and more specialized houses/designers get hardly any coverage these least in the US fashion media (see Azzedine Alaia...tho he's making something of a resurgence). This might be different in the UK. It seems as if more underground/unknowns get coverage there.

Linda I really love your references. You really know your stuff and that's so rare on most fashion blogs out there.

Linda Grant said...

Thank you, anon. I am but an enthusiastic amateur.

Deja Pseu said...

I ranted earlier this year that it sometimes feels that the majority of current designer clothes seem to be styled with teenagers in mind (like that red patent leather concoction), and that we older gals (with money to spend, mind you) are being ignored by most designers. I'd never realized there was an Agnes b behind "Agnes b." I've perused her store in BH on a couple of occasions; think I need to take a closer look.

Dana said...

Off topic: I finally remembered where I'd seen the definitive high heels statement--
Of course, it's entirely in Twisty-ese, but she's funny.

Re. today's lamb jacket: change the skirt for pants, the super wide belt for a less wide one, and if you're a red patent leather person, go for it, whatever your age. Why not?

Anonymous said...

I never saw your original article about Agnes B. However, reading your comment about her "tousled blond mop" made me gasp with disbelief! The photo shows an absolutely Terrible Hair Moment. It may have looked better when you interviewed her, but as you have said in a previous post, when we arrive at a certain age, a great haircut is all-important. The touseled look is great on my 26 year old with her thick, glossy mane...not so good on me, or Agnes B.

twollin said...

Linda - I must confess that I really am sort of bored with the entire "mutton/lamb" discussion and the reason is that by even ruminating on it, it gives people under the age of 40 a certain power that perhaps they do not deserve.
I really could not care less what some 30 or 35 (or 40 or 45 for that matter) year old thinks of how I dress. I dress to please myself. This is the same thinking as "fat women should wear only dark colors". I think women should wear clothing that makes them happy, that makes them feel sexy, clever and smart.
And if some 30 year old gives a harsh look to me in the street, well, bugger that. My old Mum, who'd been through and seen a tremendous lot in her time( spent WWII in Glasgow as a nurse midwife), dressed to the nines all the time, and as I recall it, wore metallic black knit the night that she had a massive heart attack. She developed multiple infarct dementia after that and certainly could not remember names, dates or places or what she should do on any given day or even moment (she used to get up 6 times a night, take a shower, change her clothes and make herself a new breakfast every single time when I was taking care of her), but she still knew great shoes, a good wool coat, and insisted on getting her hair done.
I do not care what young people think. Young people are self-absorbed. Their entire world consists of other young people. The rest of us could disappear in a moment and they would not miss a thing. In their world, they are the measure of what is beautiful and creative and wonderful.
Bugger that.

enc said...

It's easy to be the observer and develop an opinion about what a person should, or should not wear.

Who says we need to have an opinion about anyone's clothes but ours?

enc said...

When I made the above comment, I was referring to the "Leather Jacket over 40" debate.

Jonquil said...

Thank you. I have always believed that when you wear the clothes and things you love, the glow of happiness makes the outfit, whether it's officially becoming or not.

Linda Grant said...

Twollin, do you know the book I wrote about my mother's multi infact dementia?

Ms Baroque said...

Well, Agnes b has never made a garment I could wear. I have a quite angular size 8 friend who wears her and always looks great. Joseph is the same: I could lose all the weight I wanted but I'd never be the right shape for his clothes.

Give me Nicole Farhi any day!

And I love that black leather jacket. It seems to me suitable for anyone of any age. The red thing is just appalling.

60goingon16 said...

I don't think I'd have worn a leather jacket at any age - but that's just because I don't like leather, except on feet.

My dilemma about what to what to wear arises not simply from the fact that I am now officially old - and have less disposable income - but because I live in a remote village where no-one gives a stuff about clothes.

Most of my neighbours exist in a sort of greige twilight and give you funny looks if you venture out in anything other than a fleece, jogging trousers and trainers (or wellies). I refuse to join the grow old boringly club but country living imposes certain constraits eg the preponderance of mud. Right now I'm wearing my good old reliable ensemble of well-cut jeans, a white shirt and a Per Una cardigan.

This must be one of the few places in England where you can buy something from M&S and know that no-one else in the vicinity will be wearing it. Or anything from M&S come to that. The Eastex section of the nearest department store is about as far as the locals will go.

So your blog, Linda, is a rather wonderful oasis. A guilty pleasure about which I feel no guilt whatsoever.

Linda Grant said...

I think that the 6 is the important number, you can attach it any prefix and know that you are something6.

The anti-greige twilight uniform sounds like what I'd wear in the highly unlikely event that I found myself living in a village.

Jonquil said...

I want to be there when these barely-hatched fashionistas lay down the law about who can wear leather to Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, and Marianne Faithfull... from a safe distance.

twollin said...

Linda - yes, I wish I had had that book when my Mum "went down" in 2005 - it probably would have made dealing with all the "healthcare providers" (who kept babbling about Alzheimers to me - I had to do all the research myself)a lot easier. Needless to say, the book is on my "wish list" this year - if no one gifts me with it, I'll take it in hand myself. *g*

FIONA said...

What about long hair? Supposedly another pitfall that we might fall into over 50ish. I've got long hair at the moment -my parents (aged 79 and 84) think it's quite shocking!