A couple of weeks ago there was a television programme called ‘Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure’ in which Miriam Margolyes (a 77 year old actress) set off to explore communities in the USA which have decided that ageing and death are optional. Avoiding what some (most) would say is inevitable would appear to involve lots of vitamin pills, a great deal of faith and extensive plastic surgery. However, having watched the programme, I am not very motivated to fly to the States to prove that age is just a number which might as well be 150 or 50 if you have enough positivity, belief and money.

To a lesser extent we all live in a society which wants to deny the ageing process and to present it as a kind of failure of will. This is particularly true of the beauty and fashion industries which find our ageing faces and bodies inconvenient, so they seek to convince us that ageing is ‘just a number’ and therefore optional. They do this by encouraging us to embrace the notion of ‘Agelessness’ and to disdain the idea of ‘Age Appropriateness’ when it comes to our style and self presentation. However this week a huge row has broken out because Alexandra Shulman, ex Vogue editor who was very keen on her annual ‘Ageless’ issue whilst at Vogue, has criticised 50 year old Helena Christensen for wearing a revealing bustier to a party for 24 year old Gigi Hadid. So, in a neat example of having your cake and eating it, Agelessness is fine as long as you don’t wear something deemed by Shulman as Inappropriate for Your Age.

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This week I want to look at the competing demands on us older women of these two approaches and ask whether there is in fact an alternative way when it comes to the style choices we make during our later lives.

Age Appropriate Style or FOLTY (Fear of Looking Too Young)

  1. There are lots of rules. Cover up, cut your hair, cut down on the slap, especially the red lippie, tone down the colours and above all Act Your Age! (Imagine all this on a Kitchener style poster from the First World War with an angry man pointing at you).
  2. Little Old Lady. See last week’s blog! As I said, the fashion industry uses Little Old Lady as a term of abuse about certain styles. Best summed up as beige, bland and a bit ‘mumsy’.
  3. Requires little effort. Fashion and beauty are regarded as no longer relevant. Why bother to engage in a world which appears to disdain you when you feel invisible anyway.
  4. Age Defines me. Watch words are, ‘I’m too old’ and ‘Not at my age’. The belief is that age is an excuse for retiring from the world and not taking risks with anything new ever again.
  5. Everything has changed. My body, my mind, my attitude, my energy, my role, my needs and my wants.

Ageless Style or FOLTO (Fear of Looking Too Old)

  1. There are no rules. The whole point of agelessness is to say that we can wear anything that takes our fancy. We can borrow our daughter’s or even our granddaughter’s style and mode of dress if that’s what we want to do. The same goes for hair and makeup.
  2. Youthfulness is key. The very best compliment is to be told that ‘you don’t look your age!’ The implication is that ageing is a dial that we can turn up or down and, by embracing ‘agelessness’, we have decided to turn it off.
  3. It’s expensive to achieve. With money you can buy the sort of face, body and clothes that defy an age label. Beautiful women like Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda are held up as icons of agelessness, but if you aren’t wealthy then ‘ageless style’ will always be a compromise between the desire for youthfulness and the reality of your birth date.
  4. Age is just a number and a secret. There are women who will never tell you their age. The mystery is part of the ageless game.
  5. Nothing has changed. In agelessness there is no recognition of life stages or milestones. The idea of being called ‘Grandma’ brings a shudder down the spine.
In many ways Agelessness and Age-Appropriateness in styles of dress are polar opposites.

In one you throw out the rule book, claim that ‘age is just a number’ and rebel against any arbitrary rules that others might impose. In the other you obediently accept society’s ageist view that there are codes of behaviour and dress to which women must adhere once they reach a certain age. I find myself very torn by this argument for the very reason that Shulman stated in her article about Christensen’s choice of dress: “No matter how pert your breasts, how great your legs, how invisible your bingo wings, our clothes simply don’t look the same as we age because they are about the person wearing them, not the items themselves. They are about the people - not just the bodies - that we have become". And there’s the rub. In my opinion Shulman is right in saying that we do need to take account of our ageing selves in the decisions we take with our dress. However we don’t all have to look like Little Old Ladies but to somehow find a middle way, which I’d like to propose here:

Neither Age-Appropriate or Ageless - An Alternative Approach

  1. My own rules. I know what suits my (ageing) body and face and most of the time I am perfectly happy with my reflection in the mirror. It’s very far from ideal or perfect but I am relaxed about it’s imperfections and limitations. I know that there are some styles that I no longer feel comfortable wearing not because of arbitrary ‘rules’ but because they no longer work on my body.
  2. Neither young nor old nor ageless. I try not to let my age define me. I don’t actually feel either young or old. Youth is about 50 years south of where I am and old age is about 15 years north. I suspect it will always be thus. That doesn’t make me ageless either, it just means I’m about three quarters of the way along the path unless I get run over by a bus tomorrow!
  3. Making enough of an effort. I have little appetite to ‘fight’ my ageing self, nor do I want to ‘surrender’ to it. I have always enjoyed clothes and makeup so I see no reason to change just because few look at me any more. I still ‘put my face on’ every day and wear a red lipstick because it gives me pleasure and helps me to feel more confident. I also know that there are benefits to me in the response I get from others when I look my best. They are less likely to patronise me and more likely to listen to what I have to contribute.
  4. Proud of my age. I tell everyone that I am 71. My age isn’t a secret and I am proud to be a granny to 5 beautiful children. I refuse to be apologetic or ashamed of being older. I have earned this face and my body’s saggy bits and bobs.
  5. Adapting to the changes. I know that I am ageing. It’s ill-defined and hard to quantify but there’s a stiffness in some joints and the odd ache and pain which wasn’t there 10 years ago. I am committed to exercising regularly and still see my personal trainer and use my exercise bike every week without fail, which is clearly helping. I am also more conscious of what I am eating. Some things I can and will control, but I also know that much of the future is in the lap of the Gods.
So to me age is not just a number.

It’s a complex and very interesting combination of years lived, society’s view of me, and my own personal attitudes and beliefs about what it means to grow older. In so many ways we, as a group, are pioneers in the field of ageing because we are the first generation to know that we have a better than ever chance of making old bones. This is exciting and I am keen to see how my older age will unfold but I’ll do so not as ‘Ageless’ or ‘Age Appropriate’ but very much on my own terms. I have chosen to illustrate this blog with the picture above of jazz singer Kitty Lyons (74) who was one of our finalists for the Face of LFF 2019. When I met Kitty I loved her style which is neither ageless nor age-appropriate but a perfect reflection of her personality and spirit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you conscious of trying not to look too young or too old?

I’d also like to thank the many of you who told me last week that you look forward to my blogs every week. I can’t tell you how much that motivates me to think of topics which might be of interest to you. I’d also like to ask you to share any of my blogs with your like-minded friends who you think might enjoy them. Thank you!

And finally, on May 13th we are opening a new shop in Guildford to join the one we have in Wimbledon. You can book one of our fabulous makeovers by professional makeup artists using all LFF products here, so do come and visit if you can. And for all of those in the north, south, east and west of the UK, we know you want us to come to your neck of the woods too, so watch this space!

 

Source Helena Christensen Image: hellomagazine.com

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