40-Somethings Please Stop Whining

29/11/2012 14:58 GMT | Updated 29/01/2013 10:12 GMT

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...

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