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Lucinda Chambers photo: New York Times

If you’ve spent this week employing a much-needed digital detox you might just have missed a rather uplifting online sensation. When the New York Times published a feature entitled ‘Don’t Dress Your Age’, urging women to ignore ‘mutton-shaming’ style advice about what you can and can’t wear over-40, hundreds of women took to social media in solidarity. Posting pictures of themselves on Instagram wearing what they damn well like (with the hashtag #nytstylenotage). Hoorah.

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Gillian McLeod Instagram photo via Telegraph

‘It’s not about age, it’s about style’ is what it says in the sidebar over there; a mantra I’ve been chanting for quite some time. Obviously I was delighted by the online response to the New York Times feature written by Julia Baird; favourite quote, ‘We are told to monitor our appearance in a way men are very rarely told to. Find me a man leafing through a magazine that tells him to upturn his collar to hide his neck wrinkles, and I will upturn it for him.’

The Daily Telegraph asked for my thoughts on the situation.

One of my key points was that the internet has changed everything. Social networking (specifically blogging and Instagram) has provided a show-and-tell platform for women of all ages that is democratising fashion. It allows women of any age to say this is what we look like, this is what we wear, get over it.

And we are a big demographic. We don’t want fast fashion or fickle trends. Nor to be told ‘this is what you wear when you’re 40, 50, 60, whatever’; the boundaries between the generations are blurred, it’s all about ageless style now.

You can read my Telegraph article: ‘Don’t dress your age  – modern women know it’s about style not following fashion rules for over-40s’ HERE.

34 thoughts on “It’s about style not age

  1. Wonderful stuff! And a really uplifting stylish post. Heck yes, we wear what we want as we age! And love those two pics, particularly the second one. And yes, it is about ageless style but I’m just going to say one thing 🙂

    I note you say, 40,50, 60 whatever! Well as someone in the ‘whatever’ age range (70) I absolutely know you meant, 40,50, 60, 70 and 80 and 90 but so many articles, surveys and people (not just in the fashion media) lump that 65+ demographic together into one ‘older age’ group. Not good as we are all so different in that huge group. Enough said. I loved your post and am off to my desk to put together a post about my Karen Millen (£30) find!

    1. Thanks, Penny. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this post. My ‘whatever’ was in no way meant as a slight to the over-60s but a reference to how I feel about this silly pigeonholing. You’re right about the lumping together of this huge, diverse group – now there’s another feature!

  2. I also agree with Penny as someone in my late sixties. Am I alone in being bothered by the term ‘ageless’? Let me say very quickly that I absolutely believe we should wear whatever takes our fancy and that a great sense of style has little to do with fashion. However I feel that ageless is the new euphemism for ‘anti-age’. Every single one of your photographs features women who have ‘ageless’ bodies – i.e. they are all tall and slim as are you Alyson at 5’9 and a size 12. Ageing is a complex process of physical, mental and emotional change. I am not the person I was at 50 and am perfectly happy not to be – I celebrate my ageing self! If we start to say that fashion is ‘ageless’ then no-one has to take account of the cut, shape and size that many older bodies need to look good. As the redoubtable Iris Apfel says “”I think [designers are] all entirely too youth-oriented. I think a lot of designers create very expensive clothes for women [in their] 60s and 70s — people who wear them — and they create them for 16- and 18-year-old bodies. The kids can’t afford to buy them and the women look like a horse’s ass if they put it on. So it’s all out of whack.”

    1. Tricia, I’m not quite sure what my size has to do with this? I always aim to be inclusive and to feature brands with a good size range and clothes that are versatile and stylish and suitable for women of all ages. I’d also like to think it’s clear from the context of this feature, from other posts and from my book Style Forever, that the term ageless is anything but anti-age (or ageist).

      1. Alyson – I find it very hard to articulate why the tern ‘ageless’ bothers me as much as it does! I apologise if you thought it was some kind of personal attack – that was certainly not my intention. I just feel that what is called ‘ageless style’ is invariably shown on tall slim women (Charlotte Rampling, Tilda Swinton, Linda Rodin, Carmen Dell’Orrefice, Daphne Selfe, Lyn Slater, the wonderful Iris Apfel etc. etc) so maybe it is more about size and shape than age. Vicci comments that we need to put our heads together and come up with a term that describes us well and which we can live with. I agree wholeheartedly – maybe we need to do just that!

  3. fab yes, but I have noticed that all these ‘wacky’ looks are also pretty expensive garb? Have to be very careful when revisiting funky things languishing in the wardrobe!

  4. Wacky doesn’t have to be expensive – it has to be carefully chosen, I believe. Much more scary than ‘wacky’ is ‘dull’. H

    1. “Thanks Heather Cupit– I couldn’t agree more” she screamed with delight as she adjusted her crystal encrusted skull beanie and headed for the door…

  5. When I was much younger, I often wondered about Barbara Bush with her “George Washington hair” and pearls. How come she was so thick in the waist? How come she didn’t look more youthful than her man? Now I understand she was kind of cool… because, after all, she clearly did what she wanted when it came to her appearance.

    I think some dress in a way that is outrageous… and sometimes they look wonderful, sometimes tacky. The problem is that only the young and weirdly creative were expected to be experimental with attire. Well, that is so wrong.

    Final thought…even with little money, I believe people can be about as stylish as they want to be. If wardrobe choices are not easy for you, there is information out there to provide inspiring examples and insightful analysis (like this blog). There are so many options: hunt in secondhand stores, buy a few, as little as 3, expensive, quality items that can last for 5+ years and then mix them with a few more cheaper items or clothes you already possess… then throw in a few well-loved accessories and, tadum, you’ve done it…. You’ll be comfortable in your skin as well as the clothing you’ve chosen for yourself… how you want to be regarded as you go out into the world. Some of us are peacocks; some are not. (I’ve always loved sparrows myself.)

  6. Tricia Cusden +2 ! I am SO sick of seeing expensive designer clothes modelled on teenagers, for the above reason. How on earth am I supposed to imagine what I would look like ? And we do have to be realistic about our ageing ( sorry ) bodies before we chose what to wear. It,s not only the expensive stuff either, if you read Boden customer reviews, a huge number are from the 50-60+ age group, and yet all their clothes are photographed on skinny 20 yr olds. Not even a nod to the rest of us.

  7. I have commented to Boden about that very thing. Their models are super skinny and of one type. I have been a customer for many years but don’t buy as much now as my look changed when I decided to stop dying my grey hair. I think I would buy more if they were more diverse in their choice of models, I find it irritating now.

  8. Sor enjoyed this article and comments. When I was in my 40s I had to use thrift shops due to utter lack of money..single motherhood..survival! Now at 74 I can buy in Gap, J Crew, Banana Republic, Express or the best designer if an item can work into my wardrobe and will last and last. I choose to grow my hair slightly beyond shoulder length and have roots touched up every 2 months so that it is a light blond/medium brown. Always earrings, always light full makeup. People ask..’Are you going somewhere?’ No..just makes me feel better even going to the post office! Keep up the routine, don’t think it isn’t important any more because you ‘are old’…Get that facial, manicure, pedicure on a spare routine if it is a monetary issue..find a salon that does specials! Fight frump!!!!!!!

  9. Although I agree that as we age our bodies change… and we have to dress the body we have today and not try to squeeze into what we wore five or ten years ago… IF it no longer suits us. But I don’t think about this as being related to age, necessarily. But more about size… or body type. There are lots of younger women who can’t find clothes that fit them properly and which are stylish and modern. I’m thinking of some of the girls who were in my classes when I taught high school. They knew I loved clothes and so would often talk to me about what they should wear, how hard it was to find things that were not skin tight etc. How much harder is it for a teenager who can’t find anything to fit them in the “coolest” stores… than we older types who probably have enough self confidence to know size is just a number? Sorry.. I know I’m digressing from the topic.
    Btw… I love what Heidi K says about Barbara Bush and her “George Washington hair” being cool. Which makes Heidi kinda cool herself in my books:)

  10. The ladies in the photographs look great but if I turned up at most of the things I do like that I’d look like I’m trying way too hard. I think style has to be dressing for your own lifestyle. It’s time also – I don’t have time to try out different looks; its taken me years to find what I think suits me and what I feel comfortable in and that will do for me. Vogue editors can get away with looking colourful and stand out, most of us sadly probably cannot.
    Accessories see the thing for me now. Decent quality plainish clothes and accessories darling!

  11. Lucinda looks AMAZING, but that Marni style (she is a consultant for the brand) is not for everyone. Some people would look clown like in her outfit… but that is what is so wonderful about personal style– what works beautifully for one person is not for someone else. My best friend wears things I wouldn’t be caught dead in, and I’m sure she hates half of my closet; I think that is exactly how it should be. Your article in the Telegraph was super, Alyson. I was so thrilled to see my darling friend Greet (@journeyofastylist on Instagram) featured in your article. To me, her style is perfection. I’m also thrilled that this ‘style over age’ issue is going so mainstream. xx

  12. Ageless, smageless, Ms Cusden. Appertaining to no particular age, I’d like to think. That to me implies a smorgasbord of choice, which is exactly what’s out there as far as I can see. But I think your point is more about size than age, isn’t it? And that, as we know really is an ageless issue. I’m 65 and size 18 and haven’t been a willowy size 12 since ….well, since I was 12. I’ve dressed accordingly all my life, so don’t feel particularly compromised when I trawl the rails, now. I know what suits me and I know what I like – heaven knows I’ve had long enough to learn. But about the semantic side of your comments. I think we’re all agreed that ‘anti-age’ is past its sell-by date and ‘pro-age’ is a patronising marketing concept. (For the love of Methuselah – is anyone going to leap out of bed in the morning singing ‘Yay! I’m a day older!’). So what shall we say? Age-appropriate? Too school-marmy. Age-positive? Sounds like a disease. In this age (pardon the expression) of political correctness and extreme self-consciousness, it’s hard to know how to describe products and people in the vast 50 – 100 bracket. In a good light, ‘ageless’ is the fall-back that defies a definition by age. To be honest, I’m slightly averse these days to ‘grey crusading’: nobody likes ageism in any form. Older women are only just on the radar, older models haven’t been in magazines that long and it seems we’re all re-adjusting to that. But the demographic is firmly on our side and we’ll be seeing a lot more of ourselves in future. So why don’t we put our heads together and come up with a term that describes us well and that we can live with. Come on with your suggestions. After all, this is our age!

  13. Great article, Alyson! I’m hopeful that women in our demographic will feel free to wear what suits us, and refuse to be pidgeon-holed. And I wanted to second what The Sequinist said! There’s a wide world of style out there, and something for everyone. We all have to find what feels authentic, at any age!

  14. So pleased to see you’ve gone over to the ‘dark side’ at the telegraph. I read both this and the guardian then kinda take an average view!!

  15. Great post, Alyson! As far as I’m concerned, as long as something is comfortable, fits well, makes you feel confident and isn’t beyond the bounds of decency, I say wear it with pride regardless of what age you are!

  16. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: at my age NO-ONE is going to tell me what I can an can’t wear! You try telling a three year-old what they can/ can’t wear, let alone a 53 year old, and see where it gets you..! To add insult to injury, these “what to wear” articles have such a TONE to them: it’s the literary equivalent of someone cutting up your food for you-yuk!

  17. I went along and added my comments on a hilarious blog…wish I could find the link. There was a mostly positive reaction to all this but a few women were very purse-lipped about it all. Not enough class, it would seem. Or ladylike looks. What seemed to really irritate was the fact that these women, dressing exactly as they pleased, were being too visible. Standing out. Being…vulgar. Heavens.

  18. Hi Alyson. I’m 61. I dress only for ME and just for ME. The “experts” are only out standing in their own self-righteous fields. Every woman has her own personal style and should dress for herself. I continue to remain sick and tired of what the ‘fashun” experts and beauty experts tell us. And so I continue to write letters and stand upon my soapbox in pointy-toed, toe-cleavage bearing stiletto heels and skinny jeans. At times I feel like a one-woman campaign because none of the companies I write to respond but for your readers who have never read what I wrote about this I will take the liberty to copy my link.
    https://atypical60.com/2016/01/13/shit-old-ladies-do/

    Thank you for allowing me to rant and rave about something other than how evil and vile Donald Trump is!!

  19. I loved Julia Baird’s column, and I love your article too. I turned 60 this year, and finally feel brave enough to reject the brainwashing about dressing “my age”, which if you listen to some people would amount to wearing an arm, leg and neck covering sack. I actually think this is worse in the United States, where sometimes even young sales associates can be dismissive in stores that market more to young women. There was just a big flap here because some guy wrote an opinion column stating that only women in their 20s and younger should be allowed to wear yoga pants in public. Women were not amused – after the internet uproar and the protest march past the guy’s house, I hope people start seeing us older women as individuals who can look attractive in all kinds of outfits.

  20. Well, what a reaction here! Me – nearly 60, not in the best of health, still have two adult children living at home and not remotely wealthy – in fact, skint most of the time. However, I still love ‘playing dress-up’ and experimenting in my newly found ‘chic-not-shouty’ way. Love to rummage around charity shops to find the best approximation of what I KNOW I would buy new if I could afford it. I trawl around Covent Garden/Seven Dials window shopping and was recently very lucky to go to Rome and see how women were dressed and accessorised themselves. I (think) I have a great eye for colour combinations (big me up, why don’t I?),
    – I knew that Art GCE was for a reason – and I am an inveterate watcher of people. Although I aspire to Margaret Howell. Ally Cap. and Paul Smith it is still a ‘style’ of dressing that is achievable with careful choices. What did Chanel say “elegance is refusal”? Add to that MegaFab blogs like yours, sales in Zara/H&M and the irritating eBay and I am still ‘in the game’ and enjoying getting older.

  21. I like Julia Baird’s term ‘mutton-shaming’ which captures the ridiculousness of some of the examples she gives of strictures for what women shouldn’t wear. I am based in Australia and have read quite a bit of her work, which is always worth one’s time. I also saw a favourable review of her book of Queen Victoria in a weekend paper here a couple of days ago.

    I would like to see illustrations for articles like these to include women of more diverse sizes and ethnicities, but in a lot of cases, this is the result of choices made by editors and publishers rather than the authors themselves.

    For me, wearing what I like is a continuing conversation with myself. There are things I used to wear that I don’t like on me any more, but that is the result of a discussion between me and the mirror, not some external voice. For some women, like Angela Merkel, wearing what you like may be a matter of finding a uniform that works. For others, it may be constant experimentation.

  22. I am now of an age where you look at a fashion page and realise you’ve already worn that trend first time round…Mutton shaming is a brilliant term – but I am not offended by ageless – seems a fairly non damning description of clothes that should work if you are 20 or 70. I’m also certainly not a size 12 – but know from my years as a picture editor doing picture research – unless you do a specific shoot, that most images that can be found to illustrate a fashion trend will be of tall fairly slender women. I don’t take that personally!

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