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Jan Shure


40-Somethings Please Stop Whining

Posted: 29/11/2012 09:50

I just don't get it. All these 40-somethings agonising over growing old and whingeing about being perceived as middle-aged in their mid-40s.

First we had Polly Vernon in Times2 on 19 November talking about "cougar style" which, incidentally, is not about dressing as a predatory 40-something in order to stalk Harry Styles, but a style of dressing that "denotes a specific sort of sexiness" for women over 40.

Then, there was India Knight, 46, writing in the Sunday Times Style magazine on 25 November under the headline "The Mutton Manifesto", on "how to conduct yourself in an age-appropriate way when 'modern life' (as the young people say) moves so bafflingly fast and the goalposts keep shifting".

Both pieces make me want to go away and have a little lie-down. And not because I'm 61 (almost 62, actually) and in need of a nap, but because they are so ineffably depressing; because they betray a perception of ageing that is so "bafflingly" (to borrow Ms Knight's word) anachronistic and so destructively male-oriented.

Why, in 2012 (almost 2013) are we even discussing the possibility that women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s (if you are, for instance, Joan Burstein of Browns) are incapable of dressing the way they want and of leading precisely the kind of life, uninhibited by quasi-Victorian strictures of acceptability, that they are capable of living if blessed by reasonably good health.

And, in reality, even the health issue is an ageist red herring. Sure, women over 50 may be at risk of certain age-related diseases, but with a good diet, good genes, and regular exercise many women of 50 are in far better nick than 25-year-olds who smoke, live on fat-laden microwave meals and whose only exercise is walking from the tube station to their desk.

When it comes to dressing "appropriately" - and doesn't that word make you incandescent with rage if you are over 40? - it is about making tweaks and adjustments to what you have always worn rather than reaching for the elastic-waist polyester trousers and the comfy shoes.

Polly Vernon hinged her hypothesis around leather trousers; that the wearing of them is a signifier of stylishness for "older women" aka cougars.

Cougars are, she said: "testimony to the fact that notions of age appropriateness are changing; that the long-standing belief that women become invisible after their mid-30s - unnoticed, unremarked upon, irrelevant - and must therefore disguise their ageing is simply no longer true."

Well, thank you for that, Ms Vernon, 46. But nicely argued as it was, it is still astonishing that you felt the need to say it in 2012. I was 46 a decade-and-a-half ago - when leather trousers were last a key fashion item, as it happens. I wore them then and I am wearing them now.

I may, this time around, be styling them in a different way, but that is more about current micro trends, and also the trick of style - knowing what works for your body shape and colouring rather than your age. Dressing for your age - which is as relevant to a 30-year-old as it is to a 60-year-old, because it can mean looking too old as well as too young - is never about abandoning a trend entirely, but simply working the trend in a way that doesn't make you look muttonish. And nor, indeed, looking too old lady-ish - an equally depressing idea, but not one that gets aired nearly so often because looking like you borrowed a Per Una skirt from your mum is not nearly as amusing as looking as if you borrowed a skater skirt from your 16-year-old daughter.

Helping women to look stylish - not muttonish, not frumpy - is why we created SoSensational. What we find mildly depressing is that the 40-somethings should feel the need to even discuss it... just get out there and wear what you love. And leave the worries about looking appropriate until you are, ooh, 90...

Also on HuffPost:

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  • #1 Clothes That Are Too Loose And Baggy

    In an attempt to hide or cover up our bodies, especially if we've packed on a few post-menopausal pounds, we end up looking heavier. No matter what our size, a woman over 50 should have the right fit--not tight, but a fit that defines the waist. Best way to do that? Make a great tailor your new best friend.

  • #2 Trying To Dress 'Young' Instead Of 'Great'

    We live in a world that's constantly shouting in our ears, "Young is better!" ... but don't listen! We've earned every crow's foot we have, and buying into that nonsense is the perfect recipe for a fashion fail. In Barbara Hannah Grufferman's book, "The Best of Everything After 50," she interviewed Diane von Furstenberg, who said the key to looking great is to be comfortable. If you're tugging at your too-short skirt you'll be more focused on covering your thighs than on what you should be engaged in. There are no style rules, but there are definite guidelines, the most important one being this: Just because you're over 50 doesn't mean you have dress like a frump. Update your wardrobe with a few essential basics and build from there.

  • #3 Wearing The Wrong Bra

    The majority of American women wear the wrong bra size, and it shows. We just don't take the time to get properly fitted by an expert. The right bra can make all the difference in how your clothes fit, and how you look in them. Make sure to get a few different ones for specific clothes, including one specifically for wearing under a t-shirt or other smooth shirts, and buy them in colors that are close to your own skin color for wearing under white or light-colored tops.

  • #4 Not Starting A Retinol Product Soon Enough

    There are no magic amulets for reversing skin damage, but products such as Retin-A are as close as you can get. They work to exfoliate the skin while you sleep, and help build collagen. (Using a retinol product on the skin makes it even more sensitive to the sun, so a product with an SPF of at least 40 is essential).

  • #5 Applying Too Much Makeup In An Attempt To 'Cover Up'

    Women over 50 often try to cover everything up by applying too much concealer, foundation, blush, everything. Foundation should be applied very sparingly, and only then will you be able to see if concealer is even necessary. Keep it light, with pinkish tones for the lips, and rosy for the cheeks. Try a waterproof eyeliner and very lightly follow the last line, top and bottom. A lighter touch is key to a fresh, pretty face.

  • #6 Going With 'Single Process' To Cover The Gray

    Using the single process approach to covering gray can create a single block of color, very often either too light or too dark, without any contrast. This can drain the face and be aging. Consider highlights along with your natural color (including the gray), or mixing highlights with the single process.

  • #7 Still Trying To 'Diet' To Lose Weight

    Diets don't work. Eating, and eating often, does. Diets that focus on a specific category of food (protein, for example) aren't sustainable. Eating small meals consisting of whole grains, lean proteins, dark leafy greens and lots of water go a long way in keeping hunger at bay, and the pounds off.


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