In her new book The Power Age, fashion author Kelly Doust shares how true style transcends age.
As legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head once said, “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” And as fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood (78) observed,
you’ll enjoy a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes. Amen to that.
There really is something magnificent about a woman who knows her style and wears it with confidence. True style transcends age, class, racial and gender barriers – it’s in the way you walk, the way you hold yourself and the conviction with which you present yourself every day, almost regardless of how you dress. But there are ways to create an air about you and project who you are in an instant without uttering a single word, and one is through your clothing.
Fashion is not the frivolity it’s often made out to be. It’s a reflection of who we are and the message we wish to convey. By god, though, it can be fun!
“Fashion is not the frivolity it’s often made out to be.”
Whereas our teens and 20s are all about experimenting and trying on a whole range of different identities for size, it’s usually in our 30s when most of us find our feet style-wise. The trick is not to stick with your best discoveries religiously, but to continue to grow and evolve over the years as you mature and trends change. You want your clothes to take the fabulous person within – the adventures you’ve been on, the wisdom you’ve gained – and share them with the world.
The fashion industry is filled with older women projecting great style, and now more than ever. Look to them for inspiration. Remember that great Karen Walker eyewear campaign that featured older models? Genius. What about the Versace catwalk show in Milan starring the original supermodels – Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen and Claudia Schiffer – all in their late 40s and early 50s, who turned out in jaw-dropping form to steal the show?
But you don’t need the genes of a supermodel. All you need is that special something, that secret ingredient, that je ne sais quoi: style. Here’s how to get it.
Forget age-appropriate dressing
Throw out the rule book – there isn’t anything a woman can’t or shouldn’t wear after a certain age. If you have the legs for it, a miniskirt can look fabulous forever.
Consider Italian fashion personality Anna Dello Russo (57), who has become famous for her flamboyant style and risqué hemlines. Or Carine Roitfeld (65) former editor of French Vogue, who wears minis, vampy black lace and leopard print without looking like the punchline of a joke.
Whether you like their taste is neither here nor there – each of these women owns it. You can strut streetwear in your 60s or rock plaits in your hair with panache in your 90s, and these are just some of the trends we’re told should never be seen on an older woman. Boo to that.
Chutzpah can carry you a hell of a long way. Whatever it is that floats your boat, just go for it.
Find your own staples
There are various schools of thought: French fashion icon Inès de la Fressange (62) is in favour of simple classics and man-style dressing in shirts, blazers and brogues. And Parisian women do look effortlessly chic. But what if you don’t have the figure for those so-called staple items, or if simple shapes and styles bore you to tears?
Find out what suits you – but never stop experimenting. What flatters you most? What makes you feel confident or the best version of yourself? That’s what you’re aiming for. And this will change. Roll with it.
Consider where your eye is drawn and why. What makes your heart skip a beat? Think about your fashion background – the era you grew up in, the things that influenced you. Was it a favourite overseas trip on which you were charmed by a place’s style signature, or a movement like punk? Or do you like the straight-up classics with a twist? Amp it up. Be yourself. As Oscar Wilde said, everybody else is already taken.
If you feel confused about what’s ‘you’, dog-ear magazine pages that catch your eye. When you’re done, flip through those images that spoke to you and analyse why. Do you tend to gravitate towards a bold palette, or is monochrome more your thing? Do you like ’40s-inspired dressing and shapes, or are you more of a ’60s or ’70s chick who hates feeling buttoned-up and straight-laced?
As our wardrobes (and bank balances, hopefully) grow and we learn what suits us, it’s vital not to get stuck in a rut and keep going back to the same familiar items, or to be constantly buying ‘up’.
Being stuck in a fashion time warp is ageing, but so is wearing head-to-toe designer clothing – at least when it’s obvious that you’re doing so. Items emblazoned with labels are out (unless it’s hip streetwear), because who wants to be a walking advertisement?
So-called luxury brands are not the status symbols they once were, so quality, yes; labels, no. Or only when worn in moderation.
A far better way to look fresh, relevant and on trend is to adopt a high–low attitude. This means a mix of special, classic or designer pieces, something fun and on trend, and a vintage item or two, pulled from your own wardrobe or found in a market or op shop.
Tips on tear sheets
The best way to identify your style is to collect real or virtual ‘tear sheets’. These are pictures from fashion magazines that feature favourite outfits or pieces. When you compile them over a number of years, it becomes apparent what you do and don’t like.
Pin up pictures inside your wardrobe door at the beginning of each new season and look to them when you’re feeling meh. It’s a great way to gain inspiration to pull together a sharp outfit
for the day.
The internet is also awash with images you can draw from for fashion inspiration. How about setting up a Pinterest page specifically for compiling your own ideas, or keeping a few tabs open on your browser, just to remind you?
Take a leaf out the books of some of your favourite celebrities or those of stars who have roughly the same body shape or haircut as you. These women will have spent thousands of dollars on expert styling advice over the years. Crib from them, considering why their outfits or style seem to work so well.
There are certain brands to favour and continue to wear for years. Sure, some of these are placed at the pricier end of the spectrum, but saved-for purchases that you’ll own for decades are well worth calculating a cost-per-wear sum on, such as the Chanel 2.55 evening bag (a classic accessory Coco Chanel named after the month in which she created it, February 1955), which will never go out of style.
You don’t always need to go high-end, though. Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than finding a vintage or second-hand item to add a little zing to your wardrobe and instantly update your look. Or a streetwear purchase that feels cool, fun and up to date – as long as you’ll wear it again and again; fast fashion is a planet killer.
Be your wardrobe’s bouncer
Have a strictly one-in, one-out policy – it’s going to be so much easier to keep your wardrobe under control and find an easy outfit for the day if you do. Some women know how many pieces they have down to the number and cull every time they find something new. It’s a clever idea.
Do an inventory today. Make a list of missing items (such as the perfect long-sleeved black top you’ll wear so often throughout winter underneath dresses, jackets and jumpers) and keep an eye out when you’re next out shopping.
Get rid of anything un-mendable or too small by giving it to a friend or gifting it to charity. Dryclean anything soiled, repair that skirt you know needs a new hemline, and replace items that are looking tired, especially around the neckline. If you don’t love it or use it, it’s out.
See? I bet you’re feeling fresher already.
Experiment with unlikely items
Seen something worn on the street or in a shop window that takes your fancy? There will always be new trends. Many of them will not be keepers, but don’t rule out giving things a go. Take a chance on fluffy sheepskin slides, for example, or a crop top/high-waisted skirt combo.
Visit shops just to browse and develop your tastes. You’re busy, we’re all busy, but it could be just five minutes on the way to a meeting, or an indulgent half hour spent browsing. Think of it as ‘you time’.
Try on clothes and accessories before dismissing them and you might be surprised by what you find – even if it’s something you didn’t think would ever work for you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The ins and outs of comfort dressing
There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable, but try not to make it your default setting. Getting out of your comfort zone can make a huge difference to the way you feel – and the way you appear
That said, don’t wear things you constantly have to rearrange, pull up or down, or that make you feel exposed or were just too small for you in the first place. Nothing screams awkward like a grown woman readjusting herself, shivering in flimsy clothing or wearing a frock two sizes too small, à la Edina in Absolutely Fabulous (although we love her).
Top pieces for an ageless wardrobe
• White linen T-shirts, structured white cotton shirts or creamy silk blouses for work or home, depending on your shape and style preference.
• Structured or loose blazers.
• Well-tailored black separates.
• A ‘little’ black dress (really just a well-made go-to frock, but black is timeless and goes with almost everything).
• Denim separates: jackets, skirts, wide-legged jeans – the list is endless.
• A touch of dramatic animal print in the form of a shirt, a skirt, shoes, a handbag or a scarf – or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a jumpsuit or full-length frock for a night on the town.
• Great leather brogues; if you’re feeling flush, plump for handmade.
• Slides or sandals for summer.
• Dark sunglasses.
• Red lipstick.
Examples of great high–low outfits
• A logo T-shirt from a streetwear brand
• A beautiful blazer
• Denim jeans
• Brogues or a pair of strappy heels.
• A silk designer dress
• A denim jacket
• White leather or canvas trainers.
• A silk blouse
• A vintage or locally crafted skirt bought on your travels
• Slides or wedges – nude tones will elongate your legs.
This is an edited extract from The Power Age by Kelly Doust (Allen & Unwin, $45).