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

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Glad to be grey

After widespread agreement yesterday that the new Marks and Spencer Portfolio range for women over the age of 45 is dire, I can't help but notice that some of the reviews of the actual clothes on the M&S site glow with approval.

Here is a woman from Lincoln on that denim skirt:

at last a denim skirt that fits. nice fit around the hips attractive plaited belt. comes in two lengths. the hem swings as you walk it made me feel 10 years younger and ready to dance. a must have for every girls wardrobe.

I can't help but notice that the writer signs herself 'frumpymama'. This raises a question. Do middle-aged women wear dreary clothes because they don't know better and the scales would fall from their eyes if you showed them Marc Jacobs, or do they actually like this sort of thing? Do they look in the mirror and think, This is fabulous. I look great.

Or is that they actively wish to buy and wear clothes which make them look anonymous, invisible and so blank they they are a grey mist in the air? And is that a bad thing? If that's want you want? I think it is a bad thing, but feel free to disagree.

20 comments:

Ona said...

I'm with you on this Linda - there's no need to fade into the background as you get older. However I used to work with someone who wore frumpy length skirts and she said the swish of the material made her feel like a schoolgirl again. So I wonder if it's also about women who never allowed themselves to dress as smart sexy adult women so hark back to a `youthful' style that they once enjoyed? I'll just finish by saying that you'd never see Michelle Obama in the likes of the M&S Portfolio collection!

lillyanne said...

I think it's mostly a lack of confidence and a dearth of relevant experience. After a certain age women suddenly realise they can't dress as they always have - no more sleeveless dresses, probably, and no lumpy legs on show - but they have no strategies in place for approaching the new challenges. So they give up. I am sympathetic about this problem, I think it's very hard to develop a whole new way to deal with your body image.

Susan said...

Ona has a good point - it's about women v. "girls". I notice the reviewer on the M&S site says the skirt should be in every "girls" wardrobe. I'm a grown woman and I never describe myself as a "girl" nor do I want to look "girly". However, I'm probably in a minority - look at the success of the very girly M&S Per Una range.

I think cost and size are also issues. Many women simply can't afford to spend a lot on clothes, and choices are limited for larger women.

Anonymous said...

You're right that the range is very safe, but you're very lucky that you can AFFORD Marc Jacobs. I'm pretty sure that if designer were the only alternative, many more women would end up wearing these M&S clothes.

phyllis said...

There is something about that comment that just screams "phony" to me; it sounds like an M&S marketer logged a comment onto their own web site; or a wag did it as a goof.

StyleSpy said...

It's a coin-toss to me as to which is worse: terminal frumpitude or 50-year olds wearing minskirts from the juniors department. So hard to find a happy medium...

lagatta à montréal said...

It is also a question of proportion - skirts that are too short don't look good on those who have put on a bit of menopausal weight, even if the have nice legs.

I find most of the range frumps as well, though there are some items that could be good basics in a different context.

I do miss Marks & Spencers - we used to have them here - as the quality is stellar in terms of finishing and durability, and I always found some nice basics there. And after they closed their Canadian operations, they shut down their continental European ones as well, and I don't currently have much cause to go to the UK (and it is simply too expensive as a holiday destination for our $Cnd, though this blog has given me much to see!)

Their "45+" is a euphemism here; this collection seems targeted at women a good 20 years older than that, and I don't mean Jane Birkin or Catherine Deneuve.

lagatta à montréal said...

As for truly old, happy 200th to Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln!

Elaine said...

It's an attitude that kicks in when you have children. I think women are afraid that society will judge them harshly if they've obviously spent time and money on their appearance. They believe that they should devote all their time and money to their families and their homes. It's also a convenient excuse to not take care of yourself. There's no question that it's easier to roll out of bed, throw on a pair of shapeless pants and a baggy shirt then it is to style your hair, put on some makeup and a nice outfit. You get to sleep later and feel smugly superior to the woman sitting at the desk next to you, who's leaving a little early to get her hair done and wears those impractical shoes.

Duchesse said...

If there are really is a woman who praised that denim skirt, she likely bought those sacklike dresses that tied in the back and made grown women look like 9 year old shepherdesses.

The crepe skirt on the site could look hip with great boots and the right top, but why make it in boring navy and ghastly green?

desertwind said...

With a handle like "frumpymama", that person must be joking.

What's striking is how "off" it all is. If you're not married to a backwater conservative politician or dressing dowdy for religious reasons, why wear this?

The denim skirt is not my thing, but with a little tweaking it could be fun. The hip is nice. Put on a real belt and shorten... Oh, hell... It's hopeless.

rb said...

It could be due to fit issues. Over the last few years, I have some extra around the middle (I'm 44) and I find that some of the 'older' lines fit me better than the younger lines now. When something fits, I feel more attractive in it. That being said, I can't imagine feeling attractive in any of those M&S getups you showed yesterday, but to each her own.

Bronwyn said...

I had a skirt like that when I was 20 or so, in the mid 70s. It didn't look so bad then, and of course I was skinny. Wouldn't be seen dead in one now.
Wouldn't be seen dead in M&S jeans either - is there a rule that says you're not allowed to wear Levis if you're over 30?

Ms Baroque said...

Oh, I bet it's real. But it is horrible. This skirt is terrible. I too am unable even to think about affording Marc Jacobs, and I'm short on time, too, with a full-time job, a blog, a writing "career" (such as that is) and kids - so I'm not exactly scouring the markets of a weekend! Furthermore I have gained weight this past year, for a variety of reasons, and I'm finding it hard to dress at the moment. But you'd never ever catch me in this stuff.

Anonymous, I'd take issue with your analysis that the range is "safe" - on the contrary, it looks dangerous to me! Put any of it on and you'll age ten years, you'll look as if you're trying to be stylish and failing (surely much worse even than wearing jeans and, say, a big cotton shirt), and no one will ever look admiringly at you again.

Francesca said...

No self-respecting Frenchwoman would be seen dead in this dowdy, sexless rubbish. I just showed it to my mother, who is 83, and she coughed slightly and said YOU MUST BE BLOODY JOKING.

greying pixie said...

At the risk of putting the cat amongst the pigeons there is a large section of British female society that I've always thought are rather afraid of their own powers of seduction through appearance. They may not all go for this frumpy M&S look, many of them are more arty but cling to a 'little girl' attitude which on an older woman looks frankly ridiculous.

I remember reading an article by Susan Irvine in Vogue (Aug 1994) which compared British women's attitude to clothes to that of Italian women. The conclusion was very much what I believe, that British women don't want to look as if they care.

My other thought on this frumpy collection is that perhaps there is a suburban county market segment which we, Linda's readers, are not acquainted with - thank heavens!

Lindsay said...

No, I think you're onto something Pixie. I really do think that there's something floating around that means appearing to care is somehow unseemly. I don't think it shows a lack of attention; quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

"There's no question that it's easier to roll out of bed, throw on a pair of shapeless pants ..."

In other words, like many men. I don't love the look, but what's sauce for the goose....

I think one problem is that a common interpretation of mature and sophisticated style is body-conscious and streamlined. Some women have never been into overt sexiness (don't mean trashy) and it's even harder once they get older and feel even more self-conscious about their shapes.

I'd like to think there's a way to mix hard and soft, and sometimes to add some ruffles and bows without being the dreaded "girly."

I've always envied the British, and esp. British women, for their freedom to be dowdy, to be eccentric, to not always be on offer.

I liked the idea that someone might possibly find you sexy even if you dressed like an English female don or lecturer (the equivalent in America would be tasteful aging preppie).

Guess that's changing. Or maybe it was always a myth -- for women.

debra said...

But what does a lecturer or female don look like, Anonymous? I'm a university lecturer, in my 30's, try to dress reasonably fashionably and am, no lie, constantly plagued with questions and comments from other (female) academics about my appearance despite dressing in a way that would be by no means unusual for a woman of my age and salary in any other profession. It goes to show that what might look eccentric and 'don't care' from the outside can be just as normative and just as oppressive as the fashion industry is assumed to be by those who know nothing about it. I know I sounds ranty but have just come back from a conference at which I was told - for the umpteenth time - that I 'don't look like an academic' - so am still fuming somewhat...

Vinaigrette girl said...

As for what an academic looks like, much depends on what your field is; social scientists who aren't on their feet many hours a day working in a laboratory have different takes on what to wear to work, for example. And I agree with 'Anonymous': "adult" doesn't have to equal streamlined and always on offer and body-conscious.

Let me put it like this: I'm nearly 52; not at all anonymous; I have the dgrees and accomplishments to cover "smart" and "adult"; I'm not unconfident; and the one person in the world I want to seduce, I have, thanks. My self-possession and assurance is my most attractive feature, although I'm perfectly happy with my body, which has some nice points, or curves, depending on circumstances and so on.

What I do hate is being called "frumpy" because even if designers made clothes for me - and they absolutely don't - I wouldn't spend £100 on a blouse for anything on earth. I'm short, neither skinny nor fat, and somewhat affected by three bouts of abdominal surgery. I use my body a lot to get things done, both at work and at home. Designers don't design for me; although I do have a Chanel-style suit which looks good on my body shape, and I still wear it from time to time.

But the biggest pain in the neck isn't "fashion", it's being judged by other women, who jump to conclusions about my body image or my confidence based on nothing more than whether I wear clothes and shoes which push their buttons. So very tiring, so very dull...