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

Friday, 7 November 2008

'I do sense there is a change in the air' (not the US elections)

My old friend Louise Chunn, whom I first met when she was managing editor of Elle in the late 80s, went on to become women's page editor of the Guardian, then deputy editor of Vogue, then editor of In Style, and is now editor of Good Housekeeping. I went to Louise's 50th a couple of years ago and we stood around marvelling at the whole - my god, we're in our 50s thing.

Today, in the Guardian, she writes:

I do sense there is a change in the air.

If that means that we are seeing the end of ironed hair, featureless faces and cookie-cutter looks that come straight from the catwalk without an iota of personalisation along the way, then I will be a happier woman. I think fashion is at its most boring when it is all about that nanosecond's looks and labels, and not about the joy women get from putting themselves together differently every day.

And the thing about those women who are over 40 (or 50, or 60) is that they have wardrobes that go back a long way - and the confidence to haul something from the back of it and give it another whirl. They may not always pull if off, but in a sea of sameness their chutzpah is admirable - and now it's also fashionable.

. . .

What makes the over-40s stand out from the fashion crowd is their sense of style and self. They're not slaves to every trend; if something doesn't suit them, they won't go near it. Some are as keen to show Pilates-ed flesh as any twentysomething, others are keener on age-appropriateness. They stick to opaque tights if their knees are looking pudgy; they like a sleeve to hide the dreaded bingo wings.

Madonna, who recently celebrated her 50th birthday, is to my mind an exception to this story. She's the Dorianna Gray of our times. Modern technology keeps her too-thin face from caving in, but can do nothing about the veins and sinews on her over-exercised arms and legs. Yes, she's at the front with every new trend, but has she never heard the dictum of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, "Elegance is refusal"? It's time to say no to flowery frocks that give the air of a woman stuck in girlhood. And to realise that just because you are one of the few middle-aged women who can wear leotards without showing any wobbly bits, doesn't mean you should.

For real women over 40, the knowledge that a few of their comrades are making the fashion grade is a much-needed shot in the arm. So many magazines and shops do nothing but cater to the youngest (and slimmest) part of the market that continuing to follow fashion can be a most demoralising pursuit. Finding trousers that fit, or evening dresses with sleeves, become the holy grail for women who no longer fit into H&M's view of the world.

Personally, I find it quite shocking how ageist we Brits have become. In my 50s, I now understand Germaine Greer's comment about middle-aged women being invisible. But on a recent trip to Rome I came away feeling quite fabulous for a change - Italian men don't appear to discriminate so clearly on the basis of age.

1 comment:

gp said...

That was a very uplifting read. I certainly agree about the Rome bit. But then, Roman women tend not be invisible anyway. Even little old ladies shopping in the market will have matching shoes and bag. I think Italians tend to discriminate on the basis of grooming, which has nothing to do with age.

Have you noticed how alike Madonna and Donnatella Versace have become with each facelift - do they share the same surgeon? And if so, does he only do the one look? I have never in all my life met a woman who actually wants to look like Madonna (or Donnatella for that matter).