Dress my age No, fashion keeps us oldies young: As Mary Berry, 77, sports a bomber jacket, Glenys Roberts on why mature women are having more fun with their wardrobes than ever
13:35 GMT, 1 October 2012
Deep denial has always helped me handle each advancing birthday and I know I’m not alone in this. I don’t see why high fashion should be the preserve of the young — so when I saw Mary Berry sporting a Zara acid-bright bomber jacket last week, and looking brilliant in it, I knew she was a kindred spirit.
Berry, 77, is just one of a growing band of mature style mavens that the fashion industry is salivating over. It’s little wonder, as us oldies spend more than 276 billion a year on fashion and cosmetics.
I’m certainly one of them. I don’t dress like the stereotypical senior. I refuse to follow the outdated rule that one must settle down and dress one’s age. In fact, I find myself having more fun with my wardrobe than ever. My mantra is to wear whatever makes me feel at ease and will pack into a small suitcase.
Young at heart: Glenys Roberts says she has no intention of giving up her Savannah Miller-designed animal-print jumpsuit and her much-loved black leather biker jacket (right)
I love my bumble bee striped Moroccan
kaftan, which I’d wear to a smart dinner or on the beach, and the
Savannah Miller-designed animal-print jumpsuit I bought last year is so
comfortable it’s like a second skin.
for my black leather biker jacket, it takes me right back to my beatnik
days and is bang on trend this autumn, too. Some of my outfits are
recycled, some are recent buys from Zara and Uniqlo, but with the
exception of a few timeless designer pieces, none is expensive.
believe a woman is the sum of all her experiences over the years. Ever
more confident in her own skin, she can wear what she likes, a view
confirmed by Dr Julian Mason, a ‘geriatric psychiatrist’ (yes, that is
his real job title) who I recently went to see speak at the London
College of Fashion.
research shows that the 70-somethings who take pride in their
wardrobes are less elderly in their mindset than those who dress
head-to-toe in shapeless beige.
‘Fashion is a great way of amusing yourself, and that’s true whether you’re young, old or somewhere in between,’ says Dr Mason. It’s not just about your body: fashion is as important as sudoku and crosswords in maintaining youthfulness of mind.
As I glanced around the lecture room where Dr Mason was speaking, several people had already got the message. One woman of indeterminate age — possibly 40, or possibly 70 — was in a shiny, skin-tight jumpsuit in electric blue and hot pink snakeskin.
Anyone who dresses like that seriously intends to defy the grim reaper. Another wore one polka-dot slipper and a drab brown one. Though this could have been a geriatric wardrobe malfunction, it came across as a bold style statement.
Colourfest: Mary Berry wears a Zara floral bomber jacket during The Great British Bake Off
Unlike today’s young women, fashion is something we senior stylistas learned all by ourselves.
Because in our youth — cast your mind back if you are one of us — we were stuck with the drabbest of looks.
There was none of the cheap and cheerful fashion abundant on the High Street today. Those were the days when, unless you were a deb with a daddy who could afford to take you to society designer Norman Hartnell, your school uniform was the poshest outfit you possessed.
Buying a dress for a special occasion inevitably meant coming home with a sober two-piece identical to that worn by one’s mother — or grandmother
I’d had my fill of pleated grey skirts and sensible shoes by the age of 15. I hated being corseted half to death, so one couldn’t enjoy a meal, and so wrapped up against the cold (there was no central heating) I looked like several sacks of potatoes.
To break out of this depressing mould, my friends and I simply had to be inventive. The only answer was a sewing machine. But as my role models were film stars, it was hard to find designs that would actually be wearable in the suburbs.
For one school dance, I ran up an embarrassingly flouncy dress from yards of white tulle, imagining I’d look like Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face. In fact, I looked ridiculous under the bright lights of our austere assembly hall.
Holding back the years: Madonna, 53, often wears similar outfits to her 15-year-old daughter Lourdes (left)
I first glimpsed the possibility of looking ‘interesting’ when I went to Paris on a school exchange in my teens. In the Fifties, the singer Juliette Greco was top of the pops with her beatnik hair and panda eye make-up.
Now 85 and still singing, Greco was a Bohemian icon who hung out with legendary writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre in Left Bank cafes, putting the world to rights over endless cups of coffee.
Trying to be like her, I scraped together the money for a pair of black T-bar high heels, a pencil skirt and a baggy black sweater. To complete the outfit, I borrowed a boyfriend’s black leather jacket. Ecstasy!
In the Sixties, I saved pennies by making my own clothes out of as little material as possible.
On a salary of 8 a week, I could run up a whole dress from a single yard of fabric. That’s how the mini-skirt was really born, out of necessity.
Practicality shaped my fashion learning curve. When I became a mother in my late 20s, I adopted loose trousers and LA-inspired tank tops to run around after my child.
Finding your style: Sophia Loren, 78, dresses seductively (left) while Judi Dench, 77, likes to keep covered-up
But I was depressed by the cost of the inevitable Viyella smocked frocks, white tights and patent leather shoes worn by infants in those days. So I knitted trendy and comfortable smiley sweaters, sewed kaftans and pieced together flat cotton caps for her to wear.
The designs were such a hit with other mothers that I sold the clothes in the Knightsbridge boutique owned by Jackie Collins.
It wasn’t until I discovered Yves Saint Laurent in my late 30s that I spent any money on my wardrobe, but he was worth saving up for.
The French designer, with his taste for tuxedos for the fairer sex, understood perfectly that women wanted clothes that reinforced the idea they could do anything men could do — without actually looking like a man.
The advantage of being a little older, as recognised by Dr Mason, is that you’ve had decades to discover a style that works for you. And if this means dressing seductively like Sophia Loren, 78, or aiming for the sophistication of Judi Dench, also 77, or the Hollywood style of Joan Collins, 79, it doesn’t matter.
These days anything goes, including, should you fancy it, a neon satin bomber jacket designed with girls six decades younger in mind.
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