Middle age, midlife, whatever you want to call it, has been reinvented over the past couple of decades. Gone are the over-the-hill days of
yore, now it’s de rigueur to be Fifty And Brilliantly Stylish (FABS). The FABS aren’t past it – they’re shaking up
the stuffy style rules and, more importantly, enjoying life. Like most women over 50, I don’t want to be defined by age, I just want to look good and feel confident. I want to age with intelligence, style and grace; I want to join The FABS.
The older celebrities wearing what they love
Like most grown-up women, I’ve reached the point where I have something of a uniform. Call it timeless style, forever fashion – or maybe just wearing the same clothes. Whatever the seasonal shift, the core pieces remain: a statement jacket, jeans or black/navy pants (depending on the occasion) and flat shoes.
To me, perennial style is all about finding clothes that suit your personality and lifestyle. Clothes that make the wearer feel happy and confident. Think Catherine Deneuve in a fabulous Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo, Mary Berry’s love affair with pink cashmere or Judi Dench outshining women half her age, both on film and on the red carpet, in a matching dress and evening coat.
By wearing what she loves, Michelle Obama has shown women a modern, more relaxed way of dressing. There’s Emma Thompson, who is clearly having fun with fashion. Tilda Swinton: proof that we should never stop experimenting. Inès de la Fressange: how to wear flat shoes with style. Christine Lagarde shows grey hair is good and power dressing demands expert scarf action, a row of pearls, or both.
With age comes confidence and the knowledge that grown-up style is not about chasing trends. Women in the spotlight such as Mary Berry, Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren are arguably more appealing now than in their younger years, now that they’ve found their true style. Confident, intelligent and creative, they are steadily redefining the ageing process.
And age shall not wither fashion mavericks like Vivienne Westwood, Helena Bonham Carter and Zandra Rhodes who continue to celebrate life and style with equal measures of energy and eye-popping outfits. These are our role models and they provide inspiration for women of all ages, all over the world.
The internet too has played a huge role in increasing the visibility of older women. Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog (now a film and a book), in particular, has had a massive impact. The New York-based photographer’s street-style snaps and coterie of flamboyant friends triggered a Senior Movement in the US and here too.
As Sue Kreitzman adds: ‘We should dress to feel good about ourselves. I dress to please myself. What is most inspiring to me is that young people are inspired by us and they think that old age is going to be OK. We do become freer as we get older. We shouldn’t be afraid of ageing. I’ve never had so much fun in my life and I believe the future is very bright.’ I’ll drink to that.
Mature models in advertising campaigns
The high street is waking up and smelling the grey pound. Think M&S’s Leading Ladies or Boots’ Ta Dah! campaign; research shows when women see ads with models who are similar to themselves, they buy. As the mantra on my blog That’s Not My Age goes… you don’t have to have youth to have style.
From American Apparel to M&S, women of all ages are now popping up in ad campaigns – with older women having recently been the face of major campains, think Charlotte Rampling and Tilda Swinton as the face of cosmetics brand Nars, Joan Didion as the face of Celine, Helen Mirren as the face of L’Oreal and legendary model Daphne Selfe is busier than ever.
For some time I’ve been wondering if this might be a paradigm shift (I’ve never used that phrase before but even David Brent-style management speak can be useful at times). Could brands finally be realising that customers want to see clothes and cosmetics on mature women, not teenagers?
My suspicions were confirmed when I caught up with Rebi Merilion, who together with business partner and model booker Fleur Brady launched a model agency, Mrs Robinson Management. The aim – as the name suggests – is to satisfy the demand for women of a certain vintage. Having known each other for more than a decade, the duo decided to go into business at the end of last year.
Rebi was a regular Good Housekeeping cover girl back in the days when I was fashion editor of the magazine, and she has also graced the style pages of Saga Magazine.
‘We’ve had a fantastic response from our clients,’ she says. ‘There’s a demand for older models – shoppers can relate to images of aspirational women their own age.’And it’s true, this phenomenon has been backed up by research from Cambridge University, which confirms that when women see adverts featuring models who look similar to themselves, they buy.
Rebi still appears in front of the camera from time to time. ‘There has been a dramatic change in attitude,’ she confirms. ‘When I started out in 1986, I could never have imagined being a model over the age of 30.’
The youngest models at Mrs Robinson are aged 25-35 (‘They’re the future,’ laughs Rebi), but it’s the agency’s Retro Woman category that’s attracting all the attention. All silver hair and beautiful bone structure – Jean Woods from the Channel 4 documentary Fabulous Fashionistas is one of their latest signings – these women are successfully proving that old is the new young.
I ask about airbrushing and Botox and industry pressure to remain young-looking.
‘I feel quite strongly about Botox,’ Rebi says. ‘I would never go there. It can’t stop the ageing process – we’ll all be old eventually – and I’d rather not be panicking about my wrinkles every three months!’
This company ethos is passed down from the management to the models. Looks like it’s out with the injectables and in with the wrinkles. Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson!
Read our guide to caring for grey hair
Here are my tips for remaining fashionable at any age:
1. Keep it simple
As Coco Chanel once said, ‘Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance’. Choose figure-flattering basics but don't get stuck in a style rut.
2. Invest wisely
Jigsaw’s tweed jackets are on my radar at the moment. Made from Linton tweed, woven in a 100-year-old mill in Carlisle, the very same mill used by Chanel. Yes, Chanel.
3. Stay current
Do the research! There’s a difference between having a uniform and being stuck in a rut. Knowing the latest colours, silhouettes and styles and constantly refreshing your wardrobe helps.
4. Don't be afraid to experiment
Style your wardrobe: spend time experimenting and trying different combinations of the clothes you already have. Forget matchy-matchy shoes and handbags – mixing things up is much more modern.
5. Don't be colour shy
Don’t be colour shy. Adding a bold accent is a quick and easy way to perk up any outfit. As Sue Kreitzman says, ‘If you want to wear beige, go ahead, but it might kill you.’
6. Have fun with accessories
Take the maximalist approach to accessories. Pile on the jewellery, add an eye-catching scarf and some metallic shoes. Make like Iris Apfel!
Read more from Alyson on her blog thatsnotmyage.com
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