Why age no longer defines fashion.

Charlotte Rampling

Image via Wikipedia

I have the same New Look dress as Rochelle from The Saturdays. Rochelle is in her early twenties, I am in my mid 30’s. Which begs the question – am I too old for this dress, or is the dress too old for Rochelle?

The answer, happily, is no on both counts. The days when shops had a clearly age defined audience have long gone, with mothers and daughters happily shopping in the same places, and sometimes buying the same things. Why is this now the case?

Part of the answer to this is that women, in many cases, look younger than we did 30 years old. Thirtysomethings can often pass for twenty-somethings, forty-somethings for thirty-somethings, and so on. We look after our skin, hair and teeth better, and this enables us to be better preserved than our forebears. There has been a rise in older,more stylish fashion and beauty icons being used in ad campaigns, Madonna for Dolce and Gabbana, Julia Roberts for Lancome, Monica Belluci in Martini Ads and Twiggy for M&S are just some of the beautiful, forty plus, stars who are now icons of beauty and style. In addition, Demi Moore, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Birkin are all admired for their effortless, endless style and are feted by fashion mags as style icons. These women dress beautifully, they look modern, relaxed and glamorous, but not necessarily conforming to how a women in her fifties and sixties has been expected to dress in the not too distant past.

In addition to the emergence of an older, more mature style icon, there has also been the modernisation of both High Street stores and Designer brand labels. Phoebe Philo has led a new style revolution at Celine, transforming it into the must have designer label, whilst Alber Elbez has made Lanvin a 21st Century superbrand. On the High Street, the formerly dusty, middle-aged stores of M&S, Wallis and BHS have seen their own style resurgence. Wallis has shortened hemlines and bought in Supermodel Yasmin Le Bon to design a modern and luxurious collection. BHS is home to Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Wallis concessions, and has a super own brand label, Sophie Grey, which has a great range of dresses and evening wear. M&S now has a highly anticipated ad campaign that has featured such icons as Danni Minogue, VV Brown, Twiggy, Lily Cole and Erin O Connor. The ‘autograph’ and ‘limited collection’ ranges  have fabulous pieces each season. M&S is no longer the place where middle-aged frumps buy suits for family weddings (think Barbara from The Royle Family wanting a suit from ‘Mark’s’ for Denise’s wedding!), but a store where the most recent ad campaign featured a range of 20, 30,40 and 50 something’s modelling the same trenchcoat.

There has also been a shift in fashion trends. When I was a teenager, my mom wouldn’t set foot inside Topshop as she felt it had nothing suitable for a women of her age (she was then in her thirties). Now, 20 years on, she loves their animal print clothing, leather bags and freedom jewellery. Many fashion trends hark back to the past. Although some maintain you shouldn’t wear a trend if you remember it the first time around, others will argue that you will know exactly how to wear this trend properly, as you made fashion mistakes the first time around, and are unlikely to make them again!

Fashion now seems to be more democratic. Maxi dresses are worn by women of all ages, whilst shorter hemlines are no longer the preserve of the young. This seasons camel shade is flattering and universal in its wearablility, unlike the neon shades and baby pinks that have been in vogue in the non too distant past. Age appropriate fashion now means being able to follow fashion, but using discretion. My mom and I can buy the same cardigan from Primark, a Chanel style number with brass style buttons, yet wear it differently, I can dress it down with jeans and a tee shirt, Stella Tennant style, whilst mom can wear it with a smart skirt as workwear.

Maybe the key is that women are now dressing their fashion age rather than their actual age. ‘You are only as old as you feel’ is the old saying, and maybe now stylish women are beginning to believe that.