None of us are getting any younger, and neither is Ireland, but there's no need for our sense of style to slip quietly into the night. Here, LIFE magazine's fashion editor Constance Harris gives her tips on how to dress to impress, whatever your age, and evergreen former model Barbara O'Reilly Hyland glides out of retirement for a stunning shoot to show that age is an attitude. Photography by Andreas Pettersson. Styling by Sinead Keenan
In the early Eighties, when I entered secondary school, there was constant reference to the fact that 50 per cent of Ireland's population was aged 25 and under and that this was a great resource for the country's future as the other 50 per cent was obviously older.
It was also in this period that I first met the stunningly beautiful model, Barbara Cluskey. A cross between Lindsay Wagner -- she of the Bionic Woman and Scruples fame -- and Farrah Fawcett of Charlie's Angels, Barbara was the epitome of a cosmopolitan standard of beauty and sophistication we in Ireland just did not usually possess. And Barbara made it abroad, too, emphasising how special she was, returning to Ireland when she had done what she needed to do and was ready to marry and settle down, becoming Barbara O'Reilly Hyland and mother to a gorgeous son.
Fast forward 25 years and we are in 2011. Fifty per cent of the population is now aged between 25 and 50, not to mention the whacking percentage which is older still. That's a lot of older people. However, they aren't like their parents, or grandparents. They have no intention of ageing prematurely as a sign of maturity.
My father once explained when we were shopping together for skinny-leg jeans for him: "I grew up in the Sixties when trouser legs were sharp and music and sex and revolution was what we were about. We didn't want to dress like the old men before us."
Yet I see that fashion, and especially stores, haven't woken up to this fact. They still buy thinking there are young people and there are old people and never the twain shall meet. But what about that huge middle ground? Me, Barbara, and probably two million others?
The population is mature but they don't want to dress old. Forty to 75 is the new middle age. And age is an attitude. Look at Vivienne Westwood. She looks incredible. She flashes her sixtysomething decolletage and she looks amazing. Because she is full of life. And that is the crucial factor here -- life force. The greatest thing I feel we in Ireland have achieved since my teens is a sense of pride and self, and the intention to see it through. Our life force is striking. And our clothes are the first reflection of that state of mind.
Barbara came out of retirement to show us that age is just a number. Modelling what Brown Thomas calls its classic labels, Barbara is all glamour and gorgeousness. A woman in command of herself, despite the knocks life has thrown at her.
Barbara had breast cancer and her breast removed. But she has not allowed it to define her. She is still an amazing, sexy, intriguing, woman who wants to look relevant. And the first signal of that is her clothes.
Brown Thomas, which spent much of the Nineties and into the Noughties dressing youth-obsessed women in the height of designer fashion, has made a considerable gear shift in recent years. Go into the Grafton Street store and you will find many more labels, on all floors, suited for women who wish to age gracefully, than you would have five years ago. From well-known American labels such as St John to European greats such as Armani Collezione, Escada and MaxMara, and Irish labels such as Louise Kennedy.
Also, though some women are able to epitomise Wallis Simpson's mantra "You can never be too rich or too thin", it is normal to gain a few pounds with age.
But there is nothing like too-tight clothes to make one feel horrible and a failure. So Brown Thomas, in buying its classic labels, is choosing size 16s and 18s where possible. When you have a gorgeous, colourful, uplifting outfit that fits you comfortably, well, the happy, satisfied glow it will elicit is something that can't be bought.
There are easy-to-learn tricks to ageing with style and grace. Always playing to your body's strengths was important when younger and that doesn't change just because you got older. Vivienne Westwood doesn't have a great neck, but she has a great decolletage, which she flaunts when she can, and it does serve to make her look better. Barbara has a great waist and lovely legs so we could put her in curvier dresses that ended at the knee, and meant men admired her great pins as she walked through Carton House during the shoot.
Keep the look simple, is my main advice. Fussy clothes make older women look doddery and eccentric and not quite with it. Colour and texture should become your best friends, enhancing your skin, eyes and hair, which should always be kept looking fresh and tip-top.
If you are still wearing the same hair colour and style, make-up and glasses that you wore five years ago, then go get an overhaul; it will take 10 years off you. I am a huge fan of Mac's make-up consultations, which you can book in Brown Thomas. Mac's Nicole Lynch taught me a 10-minute make-up routine that looks like I spent an hour at a professional's hands.
Another important trick to ageing with grace and style -- apart from keeping the look simple and your hair and make-up fresh and contemporary -- is to mix classic labels such as St John or Basler, which has modernised, with strong contemporary labels such as Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Paul Smith and Giambattista Valli. Or dashes of Burberry, Paule Ka and Moschino Cheap & Chic. If you have a yen for more casual dressing, then look to Marithe et Francois Girbaud, Annette Gortz, Sarah Pacini and Indies.
Well-chosen dashes of contemporary high-fashion trends, such as this season's love of the Chanel-influenced tweed jacket, or conversational prints and even animal prints in unfussy, strong, simple lines will make you look fabulous and au courant. Anna Wintour spent all four of the recent international catwalk weeks clad in leopard-print ensembles, so that definitely means it's OK for a sixtysomething woman to do it without looking like mutton dressed as lamb -- well, Anna succeeded most of the time.
Stylist Sinead Keenan appreciates that the older woman knows her labels and likes to show it. So Sinead did a savvy mash-up of contemporary labels with classics, and added strong, contemporary accessories for more punch, such as nude shoes by Alexander McQueen, a bold handbag by Pauric Sweeney, or striking sunglasses by Chanel.
There is no doubt that it is hard to know how to get it all right, when the market seems to give you little direction. We are bombarded with imagery of teenagers in fashion, though they only reflect a small proportion of the population.
I make a study of American TV shows and how they dress older women. I also study features stories in magazines and assess why one woman gets it right and another one doesn't. And you can be sure simplicity and colour are always the key components in successful dressing.
But I am a great believer in asking for help. Be it from personal shoppers who have a legion of experience, or a friend whose style you always admired.
Brown Thomas nationwide are giving Masters of Fashion workshops on a regular basis, which I find can be great for tips and insights on new trends. Next Saturday, April 9, in Brown Thomas Dublin there will be a Moschino Cheap & Chic-focused event.
Above all, make your presence known. Slipping quietly into the night should not be your way forward. Make noise if your fashion needs are not being met.
Your cash and custom is of extreme value. Take a leaf out of the books of Barbara, Vivienne, myself and Brown Thomas -- dress to impress. Yourself most of all.
All clothes from Brown Thomas, Grafton St, D2, tel (01) 605-6666, or see www.brownthomas.com.
Selected labels are available in branches in Cork, Limerick and Galway
Photography by Andreas Pettersson Assisted by Philip Withe
Styling by Sinead Keenan Assisted by Katie Grogan
Make-up by Grainne Duffy at Mac
Hair by Michael Leong
Model: Barbara O’Reilly Hyland
Shot on location at Carton House, Maynooth, Co Kildare, tel: (01) 651-7703, or see www.cartonhouse.com
Sunday Indo Life Magazine