Thursday 5 December 2019

Forget fads - find your own style

Marie Kelly is contributing fashion editor at IMAGE magazine. She believes fashion as you age is your friend not your foe.
Marie Kelly is contributing fashion editor at IMAGE magazine. She believes fashion as you age is your friend not your foe.
Image from Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style
Image from Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style

I'm 45 years old and like most of us in middle age and beyond, I still feel 21. Inside, I feel as vibrant and relevant as I did two decades ago, but on the outside I see fine lines, tired eyes and mottled skin. There's the beginning of a disparity between how I look and how I feel, which will only widen as I grow older, if I let it.

This is what each of us fears as we age, isn't it? That the gap between who we are and who we appear to be will be vast and unbreachable. In the past, it seemed that fashion helped rather then hindered this process, rendering older people invisible by way of beige flannel separates. Nobody wants to become generic, invisible or unrecognisable to themselves, and really there's no need to. Fashion is your friend not your foe.

Louis Vuitton creative director Nicolas Ghesquiére's says, "Fashion is a playground up until a certain age. But then you have to find your own style." This belief is at the heart of how to dress as we age. Reaching midlife and beyond doesn't have to mean avoiding trends or embracing elasticated waistbands; nor does it have to involve adopting neutrals and squeezing your closet dry of colour. Dressing well into old age is about reflecting your personality because when you do this, you create a look that's real and authentic; it's your own style, not some generic 'older person's'.

Once you begin to think this way, dressing through the decades becomes much less daunting. Look at designer Vivienne Westwood. There's nothing grey or beige about her. At 78, she breaks all of the so-called fashion rules for older women. She mixes chaotic prints, chooses directional cuts and enjoys avant-garde silhouettes. She gets away with it because she's an activist and pioneer. Her personality is as flamboyant as her clothes so the look rings true. Actor Ian McKellen, also 78, loves a fancy scarf. They give him something of a thespian vibe, which, of course, fits his personality perfectly.

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I don't believe in fashion rules (our lives are filled with too many dos and don'ts as it is), but if I were to throw down a few guidelines, the first would be: don't imitate, differentiate. Imitation might be the best form of flattery but it's the worst way to approach your wardrobe. Were I to try to copy Vivienne Westwood, I'd look like I'd stayed in my Halloween costume. I simply don't have the colourful personality required to be convincingly eccentric.

For most of us it comes down to finding that one thing that defines our style. For me, it's colour. As I've moved through the years, I've anchored my wardrobe around rich autumnal hues.

For Tropical Popical salon owner Andrea Horan, it's about bold accessories. She says the key to navigating fashion as we age is "layering and accessorising in a way that is comfortable and bold".

Photographer Barry McCall has shot pretty much every model and A-lister you care to name. For him, style is a waistcoat; I love the way Channel 4 news anchor John Snow adds interest to a suit with quirky socks; the man has such professional calibre, he can pull off an idiosyncracy like this.

Irish fashion journalist and former editor of Vogue Hommes Godfrey Deeny says there are four key things men should remember as they age: "Don't wear clothes that are too tight; get a haircut every six weeks; never wear the kinds of clothes you remember your dad wearing; and don't be afraid to dress like your heroes." I'd approach the last one with caution, however.

To my mind, the thing that ages men faster than a beer belly is badly cut trousers. Whether it's a pair of jeans or suit trousers, a narrow Italian cut looks sharp and considered and demonstrates a competence and confidence in what you wear. And this is how we all want to be perceived as we grow older, isn't it? Competent and confident.

Good tailoring is everyone's best friend, especially in the second half of our lives. Although our minds may be as supple and active as they were in our youth, our bodies are not. Luxury leather glove designer Paula Rowan once told me that she never wears anything that doesn't fit as if it was made for her. So befriend a good tailor. It won't dent your bank balance by much, but it will make you look like a million dollars.

I think the biggest sartorial sticking point for many women as they age is how much skin is too much. Our desire to look glamorous doesn't end when the clock strikes 12 on our 40th birthday. But I think the trick is to evolve our own notion of glamour by shelving the strappy tops and embracing a sequin or velvet jacket instead. If you dive down the rabbit hole of Trinny Woodall's IGTV video on how to wear sequins, you'll (eventually) emerge wanting to wear nothing else, I promise.

This is where social media can really be of use to you. Find your older style icons there - the women and men who reflect something you see in your own style - and be inspired. I first came across 63-year-old positive ageing activist Mary Dunne on my Instagram feed and she's since become a friend and fashion muse. She wears contemporary separates beautifully.

Artist Alice Maher, in her exquisite Dries Van Noten prints, is another endless source of style inspiration. Her advice? "Be visible. Get a good haircut. Like yourself. Don't wear beige."

Where to start? Check out Ari Seth Cohen's wonderful blog and Insta feed, Advanced Style, which features older people with buckets of attitude and style - you will never worry about dressing age appropriately again.

Images from Ari Seth Cohen's blog, Advanced Style

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