Fashion over 50 - style is ageless

Posted on: 12 January 2012 by Diane Priestley

Diane Priestley on colour coordinating your wardrobe and style for mid-life women.

Fashion over 50Clothes are a big part of personal identity. They make a statement about who you are. In the book, The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie, writes: “For thousands of years human beings have communicated with one another first in the language of dress. Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing – and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires and current mood.” 

I rediscovered fashion in midlife. As a fan of bright colours, my first challenge to designers is Don’t Make Me Sad!

What is with the latest fashion ‘colour’ being grey? It’s enough to bring on a bad case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); the kind of depression caused by constant overcast weather and lack of sunshine. 

I want to have a whinge about current fashions, which are so drab! Haven’t these people heard about colour? You know, remember the primary colours; red, blue, yellow, and the secondary colours; purple, green and orange. Leave the ‘shades’ of black, white and grey for bags and boots, trousers and funerals… please! Okay, I concede you CAN wear black in the evening, ladies!

A quick lesson on colour: tertiary colours are created when the shades of black, white or grey are added creating a vast spectrum of tones. Add white to primary and secondary colours and you get pastels: pink, aqua, lemon, mint, peach and mauve. Add black to the colours and you get your winter tones, including brown (the rich colour of the Earth and chocolate!) When you add grey (a mixture of black and white) to all six colours, you get neutrals. Neutrals are almost non-colours, as they neutralise impact.

It seems current fashion is stuck in neutral, with a dash of grey in everything! Maybe this obsession with grey is expressing the downcast mood of the recession. And maybe if fashion took the lead and we all went back to wearing pure happy colours, it would lift our collective spirits! 

Now I have to confess, after an ‘intervention’ from my 23-year-old daughter and her friend, that I am forced to give up my addiction to gaudy colours and tone it down. Justine advises me to restrict bright colours to just one item per outfit! She has wisely convinced me to give up zany and aim for stylish. According to Justine, too many colours on an old bird look eccentric! So much for colour, what about styles?

In pursuit of real clothes

All these skimpy bits of fabric pretending to be whole garments; Where are the real clothes for the grown-ups, I ask? Is it just me, or do other middle-aged women find it difficult to track down clothes suitable for our age group?

You know want I mean; remember dresses, actual complete dresses, not just tops and bottoms. For midlife mammas, these rare garments must be substantial; longer than the thigh, past the knobbly knees, with sleeves that cover the arms, at least past those weird-looking things called elbows and not too low-cut because exposing the ample boobs at this age can make grown men regress to hungry infants.

Fashion 1980s styleIn defence of the 1980s

As Fashion Editor for an Australian daily newspaper in that much-maligned fashion era of the 1980s, I feel it is my duty to defend this decade from the ridicule of contemporary fashionistas. 

For the information of everyone under 40, the Eighties were all about vivid colour and excess. It was impossible to be OVER dressed, impossible to be too extreme or too extravagant! 

There was no subtlety in this flamboyant, extroverted era. No time for shrinking violets, thank you. Shy introverts could just hide in the corner until the decade passed. 

The word was BIG: big hair, big earrings, bright eye shadow to accentuate big eyes, big baggy tops draped over big, loose hanging belts. Or you could use big belts to hitch up your big, high-waisted, baggy clown pants. And the obligatory shoulder pads added get-out-of-my-way bulk to gaudy designer dresses and fancy jackets. This was Power Dressing. I'm convinced some 80s sharp-edged shoulders could have sliced through timber. 

It was a fun, celebratory, hedonistic, greedy Have-It-All era where the bill for the long lunch was courtesy of the Boss and all freebies were gratefully accepted, without a shred of compunction! We might question the ethics of the free-for-all now but the spirit was exuberant and optimistic.  

At least independent designers were given ‘a go’, as us Aussies like to say. I remember vigorously promoting many creative young designers with their own thriving businesses selling original garments. 

Alternative to slave labour

Such enterprise is not fostered in the new global marketplace of the 21st century, thought there are outposts springing up that bring good product and ethical trading such as In poor countries, workers, mostly women and children, are dehumanised as cheap ‘units of labour’ in factories manufacturing clothing for insatiable, mindless ‘consumers’ in rich countries. We in the developed world just can’t get enough of the cheap merchandise churned out in the Far East.

I don’t know what the answer is. Should we boycott the brands whose suppliers use child labour? I like affordable clothes. I don’t want to pay a fortune for designer labels. Perhaps there is some middle ground where independent designers, ethical manufacturers and cottage industries can once again thrive. 

One thing's for sure, we need to become more aware and discerning as consumers and start to ask the popularised question “What do women want?” when it comes to clothing. If you ask me, I just want real, substantial clothes with a hint of 1980s flamboyance! 

Useful links for women's fashion over 50

M&S Classic collection

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