First published at The Australian
If 30 is the new 20, what does that make 50? And, more important, what does it look like?
Any woman wondering whether her date of birth dictates the way she dresses would do well to take tips from former fashion editor Alyson Walsh. (She’s 51, should that matter.)
“Fifty isn’t that old,” she says. “But the fashion industry sort of ignores you. It’s changing now, but largely the photos are of young, thin people.”
Walsh created the blog That’s Not My Age in her early 40s. Now she’s releasing a book aimed squarely at those who are only as old as they feel. Consider it a sartorial manifesto for what she calls generation FAB (Fifty And Beyond).
Wear what you feel good in. You know whether you’re comfortable or not. “By the time you reach this age, you have more confidence and you’re aware of your body shape, so you know what suits,” Walsh says
Don’t chase trends — you can buy anything and wear what you like. It’s about looking modern, timeless and ageless. J Crew’s Jenna Lyons and Robin Wright (both shy of 50) do it effortlessly.
Comfy shoes are a good thing. “Your body changes and so do your feet. I suggest really good brogues or loafers. A pair of kitten heels from LK Bennett is fine too.”
Don’t buy cheap clothes. It doesn’t have to be Balenciaga or Saint Laurent, but don’t buy fast fashion that’s going to fall apart. Save up, buy less and buy better.
Spend money on a decent, tailored jacket — the structure of it conceals any dreaded middle-aged spread and it goes with everything. If you’re curvy or have big boobs, try semi-fitted styles; if you’re petite, a cropped, collarless number works. And choose a longer one if you want to cover your seat. On the high street, Zara has a good selection.
Balance and proportion are key: loose tops look better with slimline trousers and skirts; wide-legs and A-lines need something more fitted.
Occasion wear is dead. Walsh is adamant about this: “I was going past Buckingham Palace one day after a garden party and I stopped in my tracks. Frills, ruffles and pastels make you look old. It’s about simplifying things rather than piling everything on.” Look for sharper feminine pieces, and never match your bag to your shoes.
But accessories are your friends. A sparkly necklace reflects light on to the face for a bit of Photoshop on the go, statement earrings work for day as well as night, and a bright scarf is a quick way to liven things up.
Don’t be afraid of colour. “It’s important to perk things up a bit because your complexion changes and your hair loses colour,” Walsh says. “I live in navy and khaki, but sometimes I’ll add a bright orange T-shirt or something.” Try Cos for a cool and minimalist approach to introducing brighter shades.
Be careful with black. It may be the fashion editor’s favourite, but black can look severe when you’re over 50 — especially if it’s next to your face. Try grey or blue instead.
You can do sexy. “But sexy isn’t really about looking sexy,” Walsh clarifies, citing former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld as a FAB femme fatale. “It’s not overt, it’s subtle and strong. Not caring what men think is something that comes with age.”
Buy a silk shirt. “It’s a ‘go anywhere’ style — through the day and into the evening. I like Equipment and Winser London.”
You’re never too old for vintage or boho — see Tilda Swinton for inspiration. But keep things simple, look for clean lines and make one garment your statement piece.
Spend more time and money on an effective beauty regime rather than buying every potion on offer. Walsh recommends Decleor’s Aroma Cleanse, Aromatherapy Associates facial oils and Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturiser with SPF.
For those of the “natural look” make-up school, you’ll need more of it than you used to. “When oestrogen leaves the house, the resulting slump in collagen production means that pores slacken too,” says beauty writer Vicci Bentley. “Primer keeps make-up fresher for longer, and light-reflecting powders give skin a healthy glow.” She recommends Dr Brandt for the former and Chanel for the latter.
Treat yourself. Buy French lingerie, and take shirts to the dry cleaners rather than ironing them.
Get your underpinnings right: buy bras that offer support and won’t show up through your clothes — and learn to replace them every six months. Your breast tissue changes as you get older too, so look for soft-cup alternatives to underwires, and get yourself measured twice a year.
Keep your hair in check. Going grey is fine, but only if you’re in charge of it when it happens. Applying Color Wow’s Root Cover Up powder to roots will hide any stragglers until your next appointment.
Buy new things. Aim for classics rather than being stuck in a rut. “You should never stop experimenting,” Walsh says.
Sunglasses can replace eye make-up on short shopping trips. Come to think of it, if they’re big enough, your sunglasses can hide almost anything. Try some Anna Wintour bug-eyes on for size.