Perhaps because my mum has always enjoyed fashion — and still does at 82 — I’ve always understood the transformative power of clothes.
But not everyone in midlife feels the same way. It’s not that women stop loving fashion as they age but, rather, they get ‘the fear’.
Nothing is more shaming after the age of 40 than to be accused of ‘trying to be trendy’; no comparison more mortifying than that with Ab Fab’s Edina.
The trouble is, in our attempts to avoid looking tryhard, we often inadvertently age ourselves.
We (mistakenly) believe that if we stop updating our wardrobes, we will freeze time and remain forever young. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jumper, £45, and skirt, £75, J By Jasper Conran at debenhams.co.uk
If you stopped updating your wardrobe in 1998, you will not look 30 again, you will look like someone who lost interest two decades ago. Few things are more ageing.
We hear the cry time and time again that middle-aged women feel invisible. Too often, this is because we are actively trying to blend into the background. Anxious not to be the proverbial mutton, we veer towards the far-too-conservative.
As many a stylish middle-aged woman has observed, you have the capacity to learn for your entire life — so why not about clothes?
You may have developed something of a ‘uniform’ over the years (a useful thing, in fact), but that still needs tweaking and updating.
You don’t stop being interested in new books or films or art when you turn 40, so why should you stop caring about style?
Then there’s the sheer joy of the thing. What can be more invigorating than the purchase of a real wardrobe-changer? There’s no age-limit on that feeling. Though this is not to say all fashion trends should be taken up.
I’m not suggesting you scoop the latest shorts suit, dive headlong into feathers or pile on the ruffles. What I am urging is that you don’t turn away from fashion’s power to rejuvenate.
That you take a moment to remember there is no such powerful antidote to feeling invisible than feeling sartorially relevant.
It may only be a little tweak, a focus on detail, an update of colour palette, but the effects are huge. Here’s how to defy age through fashion, starting with the six big trends you may be tempted to ignore, but shouldn’t . . .
Saskia trench, £199, hobbs.co.uk
In fashion terms, the trench is as classic as a T-shirt, as universal as jeans, and, just like those eternal items, the traditionally long, stone-coloured mac is an ageless design — suitable for anyone aged from 18 to 108.
A word of caution before you dust off the one at the back of your wardrobe — designers have tweaked the trench’s proportions, pigments and embellishments.
If you’re tall, tackle the oversized trend at And Other Stories (£155, andother stories.com). If you’re petite, go for Marks & Spencer’s voluminous puff-sleeve mac (£89, marksandspencer.com). And we can’t fault the ultimate classic stone ‘Saskia’ by Hobbs (pictured).
Sophia mules, £158, jcrew.com
Elegant at any age, the mule is having a moment. Quintessentially chic, covering the upper part of the foot (yes, just like the backs of the hands, these age, too) and exposing the heel, they are this spring’s dress-up shoe.
The general rule is, the more elegant the occasion, the more slender the heel — see JCrew’s silver star Sophia mules.
What’s great about the latest batch is the variety of work-appropriate mules that suggest you’ve made an effort without doing so. See Carvela’s low kitten heels in sugary pink and L.K.Bennett’s velvet block-heel option.
This trend may seem bonkers, but bear with me. A bit of mood-enhancing sparkle in the form of a shirt, shoes or an unexpected bag (though not all at the same time) is now deemed entirely permissible for daywear.
Sequin dress, £365, rixo.co.uk
In addition to making your look style-relevant, sequins reflect light and, as the angles of our face get harsher, we need all the soft, diffused light we can get.
Caution: to do this properly, you have to appreciate good-taste fun, not see it as an excuse to dive into blingtastic brashness. Wear said sequin item with your wardrobe’s most quiet and minimal pieces.
Uterque sequined ankle boots will elevate a pair of black, tailored trousers. Ditto, Zara’s striped sparkling camisole, peeking out of a black silk shirt.
Have cropped silver hair? Buy the fuchsia drop earrings by Baublebar Floretta (£55, harveynichols.com) and wear with a soft, grey sweater.
By pastel tailoring, we mean a suit or suit jacket in an ice cream shade. From vanilla and strawberry to mint and lemon, tailoring has had the sweetest of makeovers. Gone are the serious hues (black, navy, charcoal) reminiscent of carving out deals in the boardroom.
Pastels, anti-ageing, I hear you cry? Surely, this is mother-of-the-bride territory through and through. Not so. For starters, ice cream shades are far more forgiving on complexions than, say, black, or even navy.
More importantly, today’s ice cream shades have been whipped into pin-sharp tailoring: smart jackets, neat coats, immaculate shirts, slim trousers, natty dresses. While they effervesce femininity in the colour department, shapes remain graphic and clean. No bows or frills here.
Marks & Spencer’s Limited Edition has completely nailed the lavender look with some of the High Street’s best tailoring hits. As has Principles at Debenhams. But be warned: while these sweetie shades are kind to most mature skin tones, you should wear only one pastel at a time.
And to save from a saccharine overload, use a white T-shirt as a highlighter.
Jacket, £50, dress, £49, Principles
Sure, the name may conjure up nursery school — not ideal — but don’t let colour define your age.
Much has been made of ‘Millennial pink’ and ‘Gen Z yellow’, but you don’t have to be under 23 to carry off either. Why shrink from any bold shade?
Remember what I said about not blending into the background. Simply fading your wardrobe to a palette of neutrals is ageing, so let’s be bold here.
If you’re dark-skinned, you win at this trend: enjoy! For those with paler complexions, be brave.
The key is to hunt classic silhouettes and use punchy colour to reinvigorate neutrals and navy.
Try scarlet trousers (£49, lux-fix.com) with a camel sweater. Or a piercing blue jacket (£49, topshop.com) with a crisp white shirt.
If you’re still fearful of packing too much of a punch, then dip your toe into the trend with a power-coloured shoe.
Blazer, £199, and trousers, £145, jaeger.co.uk
CHECKS ON EVERYTHING
There’s a good reason you’re seeing checks everywhere right now: they work.
Checked trouser suits, coats, skirts, shirts — you name it, it now comes in plaid.
Barbour scarf, £69.95, harrods.com
There’s a huge thing for print going on, and plaid is an excellent way to buy into it without risking the more challenging geometrics. From classic Prince of Wales to graphic window pane and every size of dogtooth in between, checks are an any-age crisp, spring update.
They’re also perennial, so buy wisely and wear for years to come.
There’s a fantastic grey/blue Prince of Wales check blazer at Oasis (£65, oasis-stores.com) that can be bought with matching trousers or a fluted skirt — wear together with a white top and white loafers.
And to nail the ice cream palette and checks in one hit, look no further than Topshop’s excellent pink check Vivian coat (now £45, topshop.com).
…AND THREE TO AVOID AT ALL COSTS
Not-so fantastic plastic: Kaia Gerber in Chanel
Just because designers have zoned in on plastics — from macs and jackets to bags and shoes — it doesn’t mean you should!
We’re trying to rid the planet of plastic, for goodness’ sake, not clog it up with more.
And while it might look futuristic in a Sixties sort of way, this is one of those flighty, of-the-moment trends that will disappear as fast as it surfaced.
From midlife onwards, see-through fabrics should be avoided at all costs, even if you do have all your opaque underpinnings in place. But you knew that, anyway.
FRILLS AND FEATHERS
Beware too many frills! Fussiness is out. Only the most judiciously placed frill — such as a single waterfall ruffle on an otherwise streamlined dress or shirt — can work wonders in elevating the ordinary. Too many and it calls to mind lampshades, loo roll dollies and flamenco dancers. Likewise, feathers. Both trends smack of fancy dress. Avoid: the shock of the dry-cleaning bills alone will add years to you!
THE SHORTS SUIT
The clue is in the title. As if any mature woman in their right mind is going to wear this combo to work and be taken seriously. And as if anyone under 20 wants to look as if they’re actually going to work. It’s baffling. Steer clear!