How to age-proof your life - 12 ways to to avoid the pitfalls of middle age
From diet to decor, it's important to keep track of the pitfalls of middle age and avoid straying into predictability, writes Shane Watson
We are generation ageless. Let's take that as a given. Naturally, we are getting older - we're just not ageing.
We're not adapting our lifestyles in the way that we expected to be at this point. Sturdier bras? No. More ambassadressy hair? No. Manageable parties, where everyone leaves in time for you to wash up, and no one is on any account so plastered they have to sleep on the sofa? No…
As we're discovering, nothing much alters once you're in your 50s or 60s apart from one important aspect - every so often, you need to age-proof your life.
All it takes is a swift check that all is in order and that you haven't accidentally strayed into predictable middle age (or 'down with the kids' try-hard mode). If you want to stay ageless, you must be vigilant and know the pitfalls, from diet to interior design...
Follow the 'We didn't expect that!' rule
Or you could call it the Rachel Weisz rule, post-The Mercy premiere and that Miu Miu dress. Rachel (admittedly a mere 47 but the principle holds good) played the age-proofer's ace.
Had she worn a plunging neckline, or a tiny minidress, that would have been one thing. Standard A-list red carpet procedure. But the very high thigh split, in an otherwise demure dress, was far more effective: smart, cool and, crucially, unexpected.
Following the WDET! rule shows that you think like a contemporary woman and not one desperate to demonstrate she's good for her age. It's confidently different and that's sexy.
Bare your best
I can't stress enough that one of the keys to age-proofing your wardrobe is a flash of bare skin: could be ankles, could be arms, peephole shoulders or a sliver of cleavage. Nice skin on show, just a bit, keeps one foot in the youthful camp.
Be the opposite of practical
You can wear anything at any age - give or take a crop top - but what separates the ageless dresser from the rest is not giving up on the over-the-top stuff that no sensible grown-up would go near.
Shoes with pom-poms on the toes. Feather trims. Beaded collars and gold ankle boots. 'How am I going to wash it?' is not a question that ever used to bother you, along with, 'Won't that snag my tights?' or 'How often will I actually wear it?' - and they shouldn't now.
Age-proofing your wardrobe means ratcheting up the punchier one-off purchases.
Don't be a fusser
Yes, we are talking about your food allergies, your special pillows, the rash you get when you spend too long in humid conditions, your tennis elbow and your dodgy back.
All of these things may be a terrible nuisance for you. But age-proofing your life means making sure you stay easy-going, no matter what, so none of the above should affect anyone else.
Stop trying to live longer
Everyone must look after their health, very important. This is not, however, the same as obsessing about diet and exercise and whether we are getting enough sleep etc. Of course, plenty of young people are health-obsessed too, but it's not ageing them. They seem narcissistic, we seem like hollow-cheeked killjoys.
Not so much leaving everything to the last minute (ooh no, that's quite different, we can't be doing that) as being up for a swerve in the plan.
Let's stay another night and get up at 5am to drive back! Forget the boring stew, let's see if they've got a table at that place we can never get into! Let's get a piano, now, and learn! And should you feel yourself turning into a long-range pre-planner, trying to nail everything down as far in advance as possible? Stop! Look! Think again! This is, lest you have forgotten, the first stage of getting 'set in your ways', which is the very opposite of ageless.
As it happens, the last holiday I went on, I packed three days in advance. I read somewhere it would be calming and I could edit further at the last minute. Disaster. I ended up spending hours faffing around instead of rushing at it wham, bam, zip up and go.
No need to get ahead, people: it stops you from living in the moment. It makes you slow.
Don't talk about the mortgage
Obviously once in a while you will need to talk about the mortgage, but don't stray into 'now we are sensible adults' territory, where suddenly it's okay to talk about insurance all the time.
Those conversations about schools, childcare, house prices, pensions, blah, blah, blah will add years faster than a dodgy blow-dry. An evening of that sort of talk can literally make you feel 20 years older.
Avoid people who...
1. Stick to a routine and are always in bed by midnight no matter what (see spontaneity). You want to keep the anything-is-possible mood going indefinitely. At least once a month you need that unplanned, unexpected, ill-advised-but-great-at-the-time letting go.
2. Use the word 'inappropriate' a lot.
3. Don't know how to flirt charmingly. The millennials can do what they like. We come from the time when quality flirting was a requirement of the fully rounded individual, and it keeps us perky.
4. Say they are not interested in politics.
5. Know what they like and are incurious about the rest.
6. Are nostalgia wallowers, only really happy when talking about the way-distant past - circa 1979 - and listening to Cockney Rebel.
7. Are moaners.
8. Are health freaks.
9. Are pessimists (unless very amusing).
10. Spend the whole time 'oof'-ing when they sit down and harrumphing when they get up, advertising their rusty joints. Very important to not get into this… not yet.
Say yes to the riding holiday in Argentina, even if you haven't ridden since you were 26. (Not necessarily that: the last 50-something I knew who attempted riding ended up in hospital, but that sort of thing.) Age-proofing means not going back to the easy place with the easy friends.
The easy friends are good, but post-50 your social life will ossify if you don't reach out to the less easy ones, and the new ones, and the younger ones. Just keep on mixing it up. (And while on that adventurous holiday, do not wear voluminous white linen).
Age-proof your house
I rented a holiday house a while back, walked into it with my friend, an interior designer, and after some consideration she said: "It's nice but there's nothing young about it."
Turns out your house can age you, and not just if it's wood-panelled. An ageless house is not too carefully styled, not 50 shades of beige, not too formal, or twee, or immaculate, and it must have contemporary details - the Beni Ourain rug or the Tom Raffield light fitting - just enough to keep you in the now.
If your house doesn't move with the times then you won't. Are you still making cheese fondue, drinking Mateus rosé and saving up for a cane chair? Of course you're not.
Avoid getting precious
As in 'keeping things for best'. Having special this and special that, and shoes you can't risk wearing in case it rains, and crockery you can't use unless it's Christmas, and sofas you can't sit on if you are drinking red wine, and rugs that no one is allowed to stand on, certainly not while wearing shoes.
It may be like this round at Rihanna's for all we know, but the fact is it looks like old, uptight behaviour.
Resist late-onset vanity
You know you are 50-something when out of the blue you get the urge to put out photos of yourself 30 years ago. (So much hair! Where's the hair gone?)
This is probably a mistake, because people will compare the you in the picture with you now, and at some point someone will say something like, 'Wow. Is that really you? It's not… is it? Nooooo,' and that is going to kill your ageless buzz.
That said, some late-onset vanity is a good thing. Proper age-proofing means (sorry to say) much more grooming. Even if you think you're just not that type, and more of a natural girl, you have to let go of that right now.
Your natural, to the outside world, looks like the onset of Aussie flu.
Pass the Touche Éclat…