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

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Great Mutton Debate reaches a climax

old age pensioner waiting for bus with cat food in string bag

Regular readers will recollect that a recurring theme of this blog has been the vexed question of what you could away with wearing over the age of 50. See The Great Mutton Debate in the labels for the other pieces

The debate has now entered the pages of the Guardian where I have written a piece drawing on the discussion here and with quotes from yourselves, good readers.

There are also reflections on the matter from Alexander Shulman, editor of UK Vogue, and Louise Chunn, former women's page editor of the Guardian, former editor of UK In Style, and now editor of Good Housekeeping:
I asked two fashion editors, each over the age of 50, how we could dress well without looking ridiculous. Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue, turned 50 in November. "I didn't do a wardrobe edit the moment I turned 50," she says. "I really believe it's how the individual looks and feels. I happen to think that you are hugely helped if you have great legs as you get older, and if you have a sure sense of style there's no reason to get into a navy suit. The danger is that you have to tread a middle ground between looking boring and a bit tragic. If you don't watch out, you can wind up like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, but on the other hand you don't want to be in a black shift for the rest of your life."
. . .
"You don't want to show too much flesh," [Louise Chunn] says. "It's just not as firm and luscious as it was. The other day I went to an awards ceremony, a black-tie do and, in spite of my fairly rigorous fitness regime, at 51, my arms are not that hot. I wore a Burberry lamé trenchcoat over a dress and didn't take the coat off. Too much flesh makes you look a bit desperate -like you're not acknowledging that you look older - though decolletage is fine. I'm also not keen on seeing people's knees. A really short skirt with no tights is crazy. Why would you risk it?"
You can read the full piece here

On another note, I had dinner last night with some friends, one of whom was 40 this year, will be 41 next month. She arrived at the restaurant looking absolutely sensational, wearing a short camel skirt over thick patterned black tights and black suede boots, and a camel coloured long-sleeved v neck sweater. The whole outfit (which was from Gap, by the way) worked so well because the shortness of the skirt and the sexiness of the suede boots was offset by the quirkiness of the tights and the lady-like classic colours of the skirt and sweater. You couldn't get it more right. I on the other hand was in a funk because I had unwittingly matched black and silver shoes with a black and gold bag. Doh!

This story has been picked up by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, here, for those of you who speak Italian


tynegal said...

Sock it to 'em, Linda. I own a coral suede jacket, black leather pants (four years old now) and a long caramel shearling which was so expensive I hope to wear it till I die and then be buried in it. Retirement, not age, has made me rethink my wardrobe this last six months and while I have sold almost all the smart business clothes on ebay, I can now indulge in what makes me really happy. I spent summer in cropped pants, T-shirts and the occasional linen dress and am now wrapped up in cashmere and funky knits. I don't read fashion mags, hate the bullying TV approach (though Gok is good) and pick up my ideas from local boutiques then translate them into decent fabrics. I give the high street a wide berth, love ebay, patronise little shops which have clothes in decent sizes (forget Top Shop!) or use mail order companies such as Peruvian Connection. What these young fashion writers don't seem to understand is that they won't always be 30 - tee, hee.

adele said...

I enjoyed this post and your article, Linda! But I reserve the right still to wear black....I've always reckoned it suited me and I don't think that's changed over the years. And I don't wear unrelieved black, either. Always lots of colour. As for apologetic beige, as my mother used to call it, I would have said I never wore it, but I have a beige raincoat. Am I allowed to call it 'cardamom' or something, as it's quite a dark beige? Hope so!

Toby Wollin said...

Louise Chunn's comment about being at a black tie "do" and keeping her metallic raincoat on because she felt a little nervous about the firmness of her arms is just...sad. I'm sorry, but it is sad. I envision her sitting there in a corner, hiding in her Burberry - I would never do that. I still have a cocktail dress my Mum made in the early 60s, which is a wild floral print with a sheer navy blue overlay (I'm sure you recall the style - slim skirt, the underbodice has no straps so that the sheer overlay shows your skin on the upper part of your chest and it comes with 3/4 length sleeves. I don't get all that concerned about my arms - I'm not Madonna - but if I were and had a black tie "do", I'd wear something like THAT, with some sass, rather than hide in my raincoat. Sheesh.

materfamilias said...

Great article. Loved your interviewee's observation that one must be rich to do beige well -- now I have another excuse beyond my colouring! I think you're quite right that dressing well post-50 depends on having dressed well up 'til that point, and continuing to tweak personal style to suit current circumstances. Some of us will wear more colour, some will stay with black, some will bare arms, some will cover them and, as you suggest, new rules will evolve. We boomers are not likely to go quietly into any good night, fashion or otherwise.

Liz said...

My Mum (68) has just cheered herself up after completing her second course of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer by buying herself her very first leather jacket - a classic blazer style in black - which fits and suits her perfectly. She wears it with a red polo necked sweater, black trousers and boots and, with her newly growing silver hair and subtle red lip gloss, looks absolutely amazing!

the fool said...

Don't think much of your "women who do it right", Linda, except for Helen Mirren, who looks fabulous. Isabella Rossellini is a Father Christmas blanket, Catherine Deneuve working 50's tart, Alexandra Shulman with frumpy hair and (so much for her comments ! ) a beige smock that drains her complexion, Bianca Jagger in a crazy paving jacket tied up with a string. Think I'll stick with my footless tights and tunic dresses....

Linda Grant said...

I didn't choose those pictures. I thought the Catherine Deneuve dress was a disaster and I've seen Alexandra in dresses far better suited to her shape. But if you are editor of Vogue I suppose you do have to be up to the very minute.

Teresa said...

Loved the article! I must say though, for me the problem is not "what not to wear". I know what I shouldn't wear as I near 50... things like low low slung jeans, baby doll tops, short skirts, etc.

My problem is finding things TO wear. Things that fit me well and look flattering. Finding colors that suit me that I like.

Most everything I put on, I take back off again in despair with the complete conviction... "it looks horrid on me, but very good on the hangar".

This is the dilemma. And I although I have always known I was not the only one, I'm glad to see it's finally being addressed. I just hope I can find some answers before I'm 80. :-)

Alice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alys said...

hmmm ... as long as I am riding my motorcycle, I'll be wearing my leather jacket.
Alys (57 yo)

NoNoNanette said...

Unfortunately you are not a very attractive young woman. A young sheep I think, proto-mutton. You fear aging and with good reason. Enjoy what I think will be a very very brief day in the sun.

Over 50 and still better looking than you will ever hope to be, dearie.

Jo said...

My mom, who has never been "conventionally" attractive, is rockin' at 72. For my sister's wedding she wore dark dove-grey trousers in a slubby silk with a cream silk blouse and loads of peacock-black pearls.

For wandering around Seattle, where she lives, she puts on jeans and hiking sneaks and slings a messenger bag over her shoulder.

For hanging out at home with friends, she might wear something we used to call a "hostess dress"-a vintage velvet thing with frogging on the front, or just loose stretch slacks with flare legs and a good cashmere sweater.

I hope I look as good at fifty as she does at 72, non-"attractive"ness and all.

Linda Grant said...

And what provoked that extraordinarily bitchy remark Nanette? I'm 56, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Your story from The Guardian on 3 Dec 07 has just been printed in the Sydney Morning Herald under the title "Attitude - and how to wear it". You write that "Women who are now in the 50s and 60s were the first to wear miniskirts, Biba lipstick, tie-dyed T-shirts, hippie dresses made of Indian bedspreads..."

Back in 1968, when I lived in Los Angeles, I designed and made dresses from Indian bedspreads under my own "Pat Woolley" label. After Mia Farrow bought one in a small West Hollywood boutique and wore it when she was interviewed on TV about her marriage to Frank Sinatra, I sold over 2000 of the dresses across the US.

I'll put the publicity photo of Mia Farrow onto my company's website if you care to look at a blast from the past. The site is

Best wishes,
Pat Woolley, Sydney