independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Move over, Coleen, there's a new kind of WAG in town...

Linda Kelsey salutes the Women Ageing Gracefully who are stylishly mature and don't try to look younger than their years Did you catch the photos of Michelle Obama in those tight leather trousers earlier this year? With her super-long legs and fabulously fit body she looked sensational

Without the Jaffa orange tan, the bleached teeth and the 8in stilettos, I was never going to be a WAG, but then becoming a footballer's wife or girlfriend wasn't something I'd ever aspired to either. But now it seems that at the impressive age of 60, along with a whole swathe of others of my generation, I have the potential to become one by default.

According to a survey, the new WAGs are no longer the Premiership sidekicks such as Toni Terry and Alex Curran, but the Women Ageing Gracefully, minus the double-D cup breast enhancements and the Swarovski-studded false eyelashes.

A poll of 2,000 women aged over 45 for the skincare company Nurture Replenish has nominated Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley, 67 and 66 respectively, as the poster girls for the older female generation. Judi Dench (78) and Twiggy (63) also get a thumbs up for maturing stylishly while avoiding the mutton trap.

Unusually for this kind of poll, 500 men were asked for their opinions, too. Three quarters of them said they were put off by women who try too hard. I'm thinking leopardprint post 60 (sorry Joan Collins, you are ageing amazingly but the signature leopard should go).

The male response reminds me of what my thirty-something nephew said recently: "You can always tell when a woman over 50 enters the room because you are immediately made dizzy by the overwhelming smell of perfume."

Not only did his caustic comment warn me to go easy on the atomiser, but it was a timely reminder of the less-is-more maxim for women of a certain age, in terms of clothes and make-up, as well as perfume.

What's appropriate and what's not when it comes to hair, make-up and fashion as you grow older is more of a dilemma for women today than it has ever been. There are no hard and fast rules any more, which is as it should be, but that makes our style choices all the more complicated.

Our mums would reach a certain age – usually around about 40 – and off would come their locks, once chopped never to be grown again. Problem sorted. These days most women of 50 or more want to hang on to their hair for as long as possible.

With the exception of Ms Dench, who carries off her pixie crop with panache, all the other women in the poll's Top 20 WAGs, from Lorraine Kelly and Nigella Lawson to Fern Britton have medium length to long hair that softens their features and frames their faces.

But you do need to have Nigella's extraordinary bone structure to get away with quite such lengthy tresses once you've passed the 50 mark, otherwise your face will appear dragged down, adding to rather than subtracting from your years. (Witness Hillary Clinton's inappropriately flowing locks on display in Belfast last week.)

The study concluded that miniskirts should be relegated at the age of 41, knee-high boots must get the heave-ho at 45 and baseball caps ought to be ditched at 40. According to those polled, leather trousers are not to be worn after the age of 41 and even fairly innocuous tight tops need to be thought through when women reach 45. I beg to differ. These kinds of absolutes are exactly what many women of my generation have spent decades of feminism rebelling against.

Did you catch the photos of Michelle Obama, aged 48, in those tight leather trousers at an awards ceremony earlier this year? With her super-long legs and fabulously fit body she looked sensational. Paul McCartney's third wife, Nancy Shevell (52), looks just fine in short skirts, because she has a laid-back elegance and legs that can take them.

Likewise former politician Liz O'Donnell (56) and broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan (52): both women know they look great in shorter hemlines. They also know knee-high boots, when paired with opaque tights, look trendy without being trashy.

I think that what most of us are aiming for when we're over 50 is a balance between looking as young as our faces and bodies allow without appearing desperate. In this context, Madonna (54) and Anne Robinson, (68) were picked out as failing to age with grace.

In other words, getting it right is a case of making the best of ourselves while acknowledging that we're no longer young. I haven't worn a miniskirt since they were fashionable first time around, simply because I hate my chubby knees. But sixty-something friends with great pins still look the business in their above-the-knee, but not thigh-high skirts.

On the other hand, I like to think my arms are still rather more baccarat table than bingo hall, so I can (just about) get away with sleeveless dresses.

Cleavage and a creamy embonpoint are good at any age. Crinkly cleavage, of the type created when elderly breasts are squeezed into push-up bras, should be avoided. And there's nothing wrong with a tight top as long as it doesn't highlight rolls of back flesh above and below your bra straps. I do worry, though, that I might be too old to wear certain items in my wardrobe. I used to think that skinny jeans were inappropriate at my age, but then I found a pair that fitted and flattered, especially when worn with a loose jumper that covers my bottom, and have barely taken them off since I bought them.

On the other hand, a pair of trainer-type shoes with a wedge heel have been languishing in my cupboard for weeks because every time I put them on I feel that, even though they're comfortable, I'll look as though I'm desperately trying to be trendy. Not that anyone would notice, given you become invisible at 60.

Interestingly, a confident 59pc of those in the survey think they look younger than they are and don't feel they need the latest trends in fashion and make-up to look good. But I like to keep up with fashion and so do many women I know.

The encouraging thing is that fashion has actually woken up to the demands of an ageing population that wants to carry on looking good well into its dotage. A decade ago I thought that, by the time I hit 60, shopping for clothes that didn't mark me out as a pensioner would have become impossible to find.

In fact, with each passing season, I'm finding shopping more pleasurable. And that's because, apart from the odd faux pas, like the wedged trainers, I finally understand what suits me.

Medium heels that I can actually walk in, casual basics I can easily afford and slim-fitting dresses to the knee. I spend more on my hair these days (colour, cut and blow-drys) but less on make-up, because the more I slap on the more ancient I look.

So might we sexagenarians pass muster as the new WAGs? Watch out Coleen Rooney, here we come.

Irish Independent

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