In two years I will be 70 years old. This feels like a kind of watershed in terms of ageing because I will certainly not be able to delude myself that I am actually in 'late middle age.' So it may well be the moment I think of myself as properly 'old'.
The reason I am musing on these thoughts is because of a brilliantly funny article I have just read by Virginia Ironside (below) who is 72. It's called "Don't let it go: too many women give up on their looks as they age."* This struck so many chords with me (I have been considering how I might jazz up my style) that I thought you might like to share it too. At the start of the article she quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: "Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art." How true this is and yet how hard it is to come up with a style which turns an older woman into a work of art!
So here are some of the pitfalls, gloriously outlined by Virginia and at the end, I will suggest some ways to ensure that stylistically you age with flair without looking either boring, boho or bonkers!
The Service Station Look
To quote Virginia: "Too many of my generation decide in their early seventies that now theyre old, its time to let themselves go. They drag on some trackie bottoms, bung on a beige top, get their grey hair cut by the man round the corner, and adopt what I call the service station look service stations being places where these asexual, betrousered, make-up-less, short-haired, trainer-clad old lumps seem to congregate."
The Fun Look
"This was thrillingly devised by Zandra Rhodes, now 75, but is not pulled off so well by others. I thought I’d dye my hair crazy purple/wear mad leopard-print leggings/hang my glasses on an amusing string made from electricity wire from an African township, they say. One brave-but-bonkers friend hobbled through the end of her life on a steel walker decorated with flashing lights, her sparse, cancer-depleted hair dyed bright orange."
The Glyndebourne Look
"An older woman imagines that if she dresses completely in black, then throws an exotic Indian shawl over one shoulder, that single gesture will transform her into a chic and elegant oldie. It can work but not always. Others wear a jacket, their shapeless tops concealed and, sadly, enlarged by a highly embroidered short, boxy evening coat from India, bought at a local craft fair."
The Batty Look
"Made memorable by the 84-year-old Molly Parkin (above), and carried off with real style by Iris Apfel, a 94-year-old New York fashion guru, who goes in for gigantic glasses and so many rings and beads she could be mistaken for a stall in Camden Market. Once you're old, you see, you can get away with preposterously wild colours, layers of silk and gold, flying scarves (as long as theyre clean) and enormous straw hats covered in pyramids of flowers, apples and birds."
So - what to do?
Try as I might I am far too conservative to go for any style which is too outré. Done well I actually admire women who sport the Fun, Glyndebourne and Batty looks because they are all approaches which require an element of courage and chutzpah. Dressed like Zandra Rhodes, Iris Apfel or Molly Parkin, you are definitely going to stand out in the crowd! My problem is that I lack that kind of bravura. Whilst I want to look stylish I don't much like drawing attention to myself.
How to look as if you have not given up!
Have the attitude "I matter too" rather than "Who cares what I look like?" There is a certain invisibility that comes with age - but you don't have to collude with it! I agree wholeheartedly with Virginia - don't let yourself go for that 'service station look' just because you're older.
Wear just one statement piece if you don't want to be too "look at me". This can be an interesting piece of jewellery, a beautiful scarf or a striking colour. Any one of these will say "I have given this some thought and made an effort."
Keep up with what is fashionable, even if you don't want to look like that. There are subtle (and sometimes seismic) shifts every year. You will quickly look as if you are in a time warp if you don't update occasionally. This includes things like glasses, handbags and hairstyles.
Avoid deadening colours like beige, especially near the face. Also pure bright white can contrast badly with yellowing teeth and black can make you look sepulchral. A jazzy scarf or an arresting necklace will make all the difference.
Be spotless and keep up with personal grooming. Get a serious magnifying mirror and keep checking for chin hairs! Have your eyebrows shaped and tamed if they become wiry and bushy. Go to the hygienist regularly for teeth cleaning and use a good electric toothbrush morning and night. Make sure you always smell nice.
Wear at least some nice makeup. By the age of 70 the loss of melanin will have impacted the skin and drained a lot of colour and definition. At the very least wear some foundation to even the skin tone, a blusher to warm and brighten the face , and some mascara and lipstick to add some drama. Our video tutorials show you how to turn your older face into a work of art!
And If all else fails then just follow the Jenny Jones poem "When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me. And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter. And make up for the sobriety of my youth."
Do add your own thoughts in the comments section below - and of course feel free to disagree if you fully embrace either the Fun, Glyndebourne or Batty look!
*Virginia Ironside's full article from which I have quoted at length is to be found in The Sunday Times Style on 17th April 2016.
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