Half a century, not out.
But can you say the same about your fashion sense?
Trends, key looks, style must-haves... they come and they go, without making any inroads into the 50-year-old’s wardrobe.
There are several reasons for this, and not all are bad. On the positive side, you’ve developed your own sense of style. You know what suits you and are too wised up to fall for every passing fad and fancy. And anyway, you’ve done them all at least once before – as the style pundits say, there is nothing new in fashion.
But on the negative side, slowly sliding off fashion’s barometer can be down to a fall in your confidence. Do what you will to combat the signs of ageing, but gravity and dwindling hormones take their toll. Your waist has thickened and your bust is a couple of inches lower than it used to be. You don’t look like yourself, you look like your mother.
It can send self-esteem plummeting and you retreat into your comfort zone, buying the ‘same old, same old’ every time you try to shop for something new.
On top of that, there’s good old common-sense dictating to you. When you were young you wanted to look irresistible. But hit 50 and it’s sensible heels, big pants and pretty much anything comfortable that’s hard to resist.
But are we 50-year-olds doing ourselves down?
After celebrating my big birthday last month, I got a style challenge from Topshop. One of the world’s most respected high street chains, the haunt of skinny minnies, teenagers and similarly aged and proportioned celebrities.
No-one is too old for Topshop, they insisted. Their stylists could transform me and fellow 50-year-old reader Surriya Falconer... and it would be what property developers describe as a sympathetic restoration.
“You won’t end up looking like mutton dressed as Britney,” vowed store stylist Sophie Richardson.
Faint of heart and lily of liver, director of a Sheffield-based PR company Surriya and I met on the threshold of the Meadowhall store.
Were we about to feel intimidated by all the trendy young things channelling their take on catwalk trends as if their life depended on it? Or worse, would we feel too big, old and lumpy in clothes ostensibly designed for women less than half our age?
For those very reasons, I rarely go to Topshop. But Surriya, who turned 50 just 10 days after me, goes there all the time
“My daughters are 20 and 22; they live and breathe the place. I follow them meekly around and give opinion in the changing rooms,” she admits. “Bar a few scarves, I haven’t tried anything on in there for years.”
But Sophie and the Meadowhall store’s brand manager Julie Wright, determined to take the blinkers from our eyes, have prepared an entire rail of outfits for us.
“Festival Chic, Gypsy Rocker, Retro Riviera, Colour-Blocking, Shanghai Surprise and Holiday Nomad,” says Julie, cheerfully rattling off what sound like a string of horses in the 1.15 at Doncaster as she rifles through the rack.
Surprisingly, these are key trends for summer ’11. So obediently, we start trying on.
Honestly, they could base a sit-com on the older woman’s view of high fashion. Surriya insists on having vests beneath all her floaty Gypsy Rocker tops, then frets she might get too warm (we all know why). I am perplexed by the length of my leggings. No matter how much I tug them up, they fall into Nora Batty crinkles at the ankle. “That’s how they are supposed to be,” says Surriya knowledgeably. Right.
It’s stonewashed jeggings next. Amazingly, they fit. But teamed with a long, holey sweater. I am not Debbie Harry, I am the epitome of trailer park trash. Britney’s grandmother.
Festival Chic plonks me in a snake-print maxi dress with armholes down to my waist so you can see all my sensible, flesh-toned bra, plus a denim jacket surely made for an eight-year-old.
Worse is to come, though
Surriya’s lacy peach jersey mini dress and black leggings combo? On no level does it work on a size 14-ish 50-year-old.. “This couldn’t be more wrong,” she says, as flatly as her bosoms look.
Our last outfits are dainty, vintage-style Seventies dresses. The result? School disco circa 1972 from the neck down. Neck up, Baby Jane.
Undaunted, the Topshop girls say they’ve got our measure (in more ways than one; we need a size bigger) and source fresh outfits.
I’m handed a pair of navy jeans; yippee, they are flares. That most flattering of cuts is thankfully ousting skinnies this summer. Even better, they are high-waisted; there’s somewhere to tuck the midriff bulge. There are red, white and blue things to wear with them, plus some slimming stripes. I can do this – because I’ve done it before. Enthused, I work the look with a towering pair of yellow wedges I’d never have looked twice at.
Next up, it’s paperbag chinos, I’d never heard of them, but it turns out I wore something very similar in 1990 and I go with the flow. But I do feel rather silly when a straw stetson is plonked on my head. A step too safari for me.
Surriya, meanwhile, is strutting confidently. She’s found two outfits; leggings and an expensive-looking kimono top, plus an animal-print maxi dress topped with gold jewellery just like the stuff she and I binned 15 years ago. Atop goes my shrunken denim jacket. She looks 10 years younger.
We are both amazed and boosted by what we see in the mirror.
Although it did take five times longer than our usual sprints round M&S or John Lewis, we had to give top marks to Topshop.
“When we had a personal shopper service, most of our clients were 30-40. Our oldest client was 64,” says an unsurprised Topshop onlooker.
“They all wanted to know how to work the latest Topshop looks. Once we’d showed them, they became some of our most loyal customers.”
Surriya on fashion and the 50-year-old
“The big 5-0 didn’t daunt me at all – I’m perfectly happy in my own skin. I’ve still got plenty of energy,” says Surriya.
“But fashion-wise I think you do lose a bit of confidence. You start to feel there are shops you maybe shouldn’t go to any more; I think we all have a fear of looking like we’ve tried too hard to look younger. And as you get older, you have less time to devote to shopping; you head for stores where you can pick something up quickly.
“New trends? By the time you are our age you have worn most of them before, to greater or lesser success.
“When they come around again, or originals are paraded as vintage, there’s a danger of looking like a walking museum.
“But my lovely afternoon at Topshop proved to me that middle-aged women can have a place there. We can embrace current fashion as long as the cut, style and colour suit us. The trick is to sift through the rails, keeping your mind open to possibilities – and being honest to yourself about your limitations!”
Wear it well
Would you like to wear fashion’s key trends, but don’t know how to adapt them to suit your age? The Star has professionals on hand to show women aged 25 to 75 how to wear it well.
If you would like to take part, write to Jo Davison, How To Wear, The Star, York Street, Sheffield S1 1PU (or email email@example.com).
Enclose a recent picture and your daytime telephone numbers.