I discovered this article in the Guardian and I thought it was very insightful about the challenges and possible solutions to dressing confidently no matter what shape or age you may be.
Last week, I gave a talk about older women, style and confidence, and had a moment’s mental absence. Not a “senior moment” – instead it struck me that my audience was as stylistically diverse as it was possible to be. How wonderful, I thought, to be this age and to wear what best expresses you. Self-expression through style is where confidence comes from, isn’t it? Wearing what makes you happy also makes you comfortable in your skin and this, to me, is where what’s currently offered to older women misses its target by a country mile. If we want something different, particularly in summer, we are forced into clothes designed and made for a much younger market; clothes that don’t fit and feel uncomfortably junior. I hate the term “age appropriate” as much as I hate the question “Am I too old for?” but it’s either that or the greige ennui of a company’s “classic” line. It’s quite hard to feel confident about personal style given the apparently limited imaginations of manufacturers. And yet, somehow, we do.
We mid-to late-50s baby boomers were teenagers at a time straddling not only traditional female role models but the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch – diametrically opposed ideals. My recollection is of feeling torn between an inculcated wish to emulate my mother with her swishy skirted, clickety heeled, neat brand of femininity and the call of the wild that arrived via teenage magazines and the television. My 16-year-old self was looking to Biba, Quant, Ossie Clark and Jean Muir for inspiration. That usually meant taking ideas from others and adapting my own clothes – stitching star-scattered inserts into pair of jeans to make mega-flares for example.
I took it further, finessing my look with smaller details. I swear my fondness for gin and Sobranie cigarettes was down to an extremely glamorous aunt; the long cigarette holder an affectation acquired from films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My out-of-control hat addiction came, I think, partly from my mother but also from Diane Keaton in Annie Hall who is also responsible, along with Katharine Hepburn, for a marked preference for Oxford bags, braces and mannish tailoring. Biba’s style has stayed with me, and particularly the later Derry & Toms years in all its fish-tail hemmed, satin striped, velvet clad, sooty eyed, bee-stung decadence. I collect petticoats, umbrellas, bags and waistcoats. The old linen and lace truffled out in markets often becomes part of my wardrobe, reminding me of my nan. This season’s socks-and-sandals look? Pah, I was doing that 40 years ago with candy-striped lurex socks in bottle-green lizard-skin stilettos. Would I do it now? Depending on how I’m feeling, yes, I would. Because if the clothes are right, I can conquer the world …
Having something to wear that you know gives you confidence is very important – it can be a kind of lucky charm. A man who has to wear black for work told me that when he needs a boost he puts on bright orange underpants. It’s a good point, because the underpinnings must be right for however you’re feeling in order for you to be comfortable – and if you’re not comfortable, you’re not confident. My recent weight loss means I can once again wear my “lady bras”: the pretty ones that didn’t fit for a couple of years. The confidence bestowed by spectacular underwear can never be underestimated. I love red for the same reason – red shoes, red lipstick or red nail polish – red is a colour that shouts “confidence” to other people, but the message is much more potent to the wearer. What’s more, now that I’ve thought about it, I’ve started to notice that women in the public eye do indeed practise this – Helen Mirren will often deploy a lacy something beneath a buttoned tailored jacket, Emily Maitlis makes a feature of earrings while Kirsty Wark successfully pushes colour and pattern boundaries not often seen on television. Nigella, though so often in black, also wears a lot of vintage-inspired, brightly coloured dresses. For Fiona Bruce it’s sharp tailoring and a favourite necklace. For Jenny Eclair, statement specs. For Jo Brand, a scarf tied around her hair. Nobody is slavishly copying anyone, but we are, all of us, somehow finding the things that please us. Long may we continue to do so.