The rise of the OAF* *that's Old Age Fashionista, they're the mature women out-dressing their daughters
Arriving at a recent dinner party, Nadia Finer thought she looked rather good. She’d swapped her usual shapeless cardigans and baggy trousers for her best jeans and a fitted top — only to be outshone by the party giver, whose immaculate hair and well-cut jacket were the subject of much admiration from guests.
While few would disagree that at an event, the hostess should be the star of the show, the situation is altered somewhat when the person in question is your mother — in this case Mandy Haberman who, at 57, is 25 years Nadia’s senior.
‘As always, Mum — the epitome of style — basked in the compliments,’ says Nadia. ‘I, on the other hand, was left feeling frumpy after another guest told me that when I was younger, I was “a fashionable, skinny little thing” and “now you’re not”.
Model mums: Christie Brinkley, left, and Twiggy remain more glamorous than their daughters
‘It was very rude — especially as I’d really made an effort that evening,’ says Nadia, an entrepreneur who runs networking website moretolifethanshoes.com and lives in St Albans, Hertfordshire, with husband Robin, 38, and their son Jacob, three.
‘But given my casual approach to clothes, perhaps they had a point.’
Mandy and Nadia are one example of an intriguing new phenomenon. As the boundaries and perceptions of age and style become ever more blurred, an increasing number of mothers are either sharing — or stealing — the limelight which once would have naturally shone on their youthful daughters.
Model Christie Brinkley, 58, spoke recently of her concern that her daughter Alexa Ray, 26, was the butt of cruel jibes on the internet.
Several inches shorter, with dark hair and olive skin, Alexa looks nothing like her mother and hasn’t inherited her innate fashion sense.
Brinkley said of Alexa: ‘She gets criticised for not looking like me when she’s her own gorgeous, unique [person].’
Then there’s stylish Carole Middleton, 57, nearly three decades older than her 28-year-old daughter Pippa, yet Carole made the top 20-or-so women in a recent Vogue.com style poll.
Pippa — whose outfit choices, and bottom, hit the headlines last year — didn’t even feature.
Style rivals Nadia Finer, left, and
mum Mandy Haberman
According to Leila Collins, a psychologist specialising in family relationships, a generation of mums like Mandy, Christie and Carole are embracing the chance to be glamorous into their 50s and beyond.
‘They’ve got access to better food, clothes, beauty products and treatments than ever before, as well as endless advice on how to look gorgeous,’ Collins says. ‘They’re unwilling to resign themselves to looking old before their time like their own mothers did.
‘Meanwhile, the daughters of this generation are juggling careers, families and social lives, with the “me time” required to look good often sacrificed in the process.’
'Age should never be a barrier to style – my own mother is 85 and an amazingly stylish dresser to this day'
Nadia has aspirations to be as stylish as her mum, but says she simply doesn’t have the time to fulfil them. So since having her son, she admits that she has hidden in ‘loose dark-coloured clothes’.
'My networking business for entrepreneurs and working women is called More To Life Than Shoes which basically encapsulates my whole ethos.
'I am so busy growing my business, helping other women to build their ventures and running round after my son that the idea of planning an outfit to wear has become an alien concept,’ she says. 'My attitude is generally, “'Oh, I haven’t got time, can I not just wear trainers”'
Her mother, on the hand, never leaves the house looking short of immaculate.
‘There are days when I lounge around the house in jeans and a jumper, but to go to business meetings or dinners and not look impressive wouldn’t be right,’ says Mandy, inventor of the globally-successful non-spill Anywayup Cup, who lives in Hertfordshire with husband Steve, 60.
She strongly believes that looking good is essential to a woman’s self-esteem and how others perceive her.
‘Style is about finding what suits you,’ says Mandy. ‘It was thanks to a brilliant sales assistant in a boutique in St Albans about 15 years ago that I learned the art of dressing to suit my shape — wearing pencil skirts to show off my waist and fitted jackets to hide my big bum. Another great lady in a boutique in France showed me how to be more flamboyant with colour.
‘Style is about finding things that flatter your best bits, hide your other bits and make you feel great. Age should never be a barrier to style — my own mother is 85 and an amazingly stylish dresser to this day.’
That older women are increasingly focused on their appearance will come as no surprise to number-crunchers.
Upstaged: Trudie Styler, left, dresses better than her daughter Coco while Carole Middleton was named in a recent Vogue style poll, but daughter Pippa wasn't
According to market researchers
Mintel, British women aged 50 to 69 buy more designer fashion and luxury
goods than any other group, probably because the over-55s also control
about 80 per cent of the country’s wealth — a pot that is estimated to
grow to 6.4 billion by 2014.
Retailers have realised that to
ignore these style-conscious over-50s, or OAFs (that’s old-age
fashionistas) is to do so at their peril. High Street brands such as
H&M, Topshop and Marks & Spencer design collections to appeal to
all ages, knowing that today’s older women don’t want to retire into
trousers with elasticated waistbands and Velcro shoes.
But this shift can cause havoc with the mother/daughter dynamic.
‘I’m proud to have such a stylish mum, but she can be brutal when giving her opinion on my appearance,’ says Nadia. ‘Once she saw me wearing a pair of Capri pants and told me I should take them back because they were unflattering.
‘Sometimes I’ll enthuse to her about something I’ve bought, like a new pair of jeans, and when I show them to her, she’ll raise her eyebrows sceptically and say: “Oh, really!” ’
Mandy would love Nadia to swap her baggy jumpers and trousers for clothes that would ‘flaunt her curves’.
‘Sometimes I despair at the things Nadia wears. She’s my daughter and I think she’s gorgeous, but I don’t think she feels it.
‘I think Nadia would feel more confident if she made more of an effort — and it’s her confidence, not style, which is most important to me.
MOTHER KNOWS BEST
Ab Fab's Edina (Jennifer Saunders) describes her famously less glamorous daughter, Saffy, as a 'a stale old piece of toast' in one episode
‘When Nadia was pregnant, we all went to a black-tie dinner. I wore a gorgeous dark red evening dress and felt great. But instead of showing off her beautiful bump with pride, Nadia turned up in a black tent of a dress, without a scrap of make-up.
‘I could have cried because she clearly felt miserable. If only she’d had the confidence to wear something more fitted and colourful she could have looked amazing — and happy.’
Mandy, though, does understand what she calls her daughter’s ‘practical phase’. ‘Looking stylish hasn’t come naturally to me either, I’ve had to work at it,’ she says.
‘Some people are naturally confident in that way, others aren’t. And I know what it’s like to be run ragged juggling a young family and a growing business. I do think that as you get older and more at ease with yourself you find your style.’
But having a stylish mum doesn’t always have to be a source of tension, says Cate Robinson, who’s 37 and PA to a company director. She actually finds it flattering that she’s frequently upstaged by her mum Sue. Still attractive at 63, she can wear a maxi dress and gladiator sandals with the ease of a thirtysomething.
‘I’m proud that people think Mum looks fabulous,’ Cate says. ‘I never take their compliments about her as meaning that I don’t look good, too. And having a stylish mum certainly keeps me on my toes in that respect.’
Leila Collins says that’s the key to making any mother-daughter style gap work: ‘It’s not about competing, it’s about encouraging one another to look their best.’