What connects Julianne, Moore, Vera Wang, Jane Campion, Wendy Dagworthy and me? We’ve all failed the Saturday Times’ Age Limit Test: what not to do, say and wear over-40. Unless you’re Patti Smith, the age limit for long hair is 50, ‘You will tend to look a bit witchy if you have shoulder-length hair or longer in you’re sixth decade. Ain’t Patriarchy a bitch,’ mansplains journalist Sam Leith. Firstly, 40 is nothing. Secondly, bollocks to these ridiculous age-related rules. I’d like to be able to laugh at this tongue-in-cheek feature but unfortunately, it’s too close to what we normally see, to be funny. And although ‘What not to do, say and wear over-40’ gives age limit tips for both men and women, it’s illustrated on the front cover by a woman of indeterminate age in a swimsuit. Sexist, insidious nonsense:


Baby boomers do their own thing and I don’t usually give this kind of thing air space (or headspace). When you’ve rocked out to the Rolling Stones or pogo-ed to the Sex Pistols, prescriptive style rules are irrelevant. No long hair for women over-50, festival-going or getting drunk? Here’s one age limit the Times might want to apply –  Old Etonian’s writing style rules for women over-40: NEVER.

Photos: Dvora @fashionistable


My festival chic top is by Graham & Spencer (available HERE and HERE), jeans are MiH  (Phoebe boyfriend style available HERE) and sandals are last year’s Penelope Chilvers.

63 thoughts on “Why there are no rules on what to do, say and wear over-40

  1. I couldn’t agree more, but I know it’s really hard to embrace the “no rules” for women like my mother (the 70+ model on my blog) who have been governed by the rules for so long! In fact, some women feel at a loss of what to wear since the rules are no more!!!
    I think seeing all of the fun, new styles on every aged woman makes it easier to image on ourselves!!
    Here’s to looking ageless !!!

  2. I’m 67 and dress my body type more than my age. While I don’t wear what a 20-something would, I dress stylishly and comfortably. The biggest boon to my wardrobe: block heels….comfirtable, “walkable”, and fashion-forward!!

  3. It was a truly ridiculous article, I thought we were over all this ageist, sexist crap. My hubby and I are in our 50s and 60s, started our own business three years ago and are much more lively and spontaneous than any of our 5 risk-averse adult children. We’re off to see Arcade Fire in New Orleans in September and will continue to do exactly as we please without any reference to ‘age appropriate rules’ until we curl up our (in my case, painted) toes. BTW, my MiH Phoebes are my favourite jeans at the moment, rocking them today with a Zara top and Superga.

  4. As you probably know I do have long hair and I am well ver 50 (57 actually). This is so……… I don’t know. … Just when you are feeling confident someone tries to knock it out of you. I have a lovely friend in her 80s – beautiful, independent, stylish, ran her own business until well into her 70’s . When I became a grandmother at 51 I said to her well I expect I will have to cut my hair now and she said no Liz because then you wouldn’t be you…… I will hang on to that…..! ( and my hair)

  5. Charming outfit Alyson which suits you well. I read this article and agree with you. I think what is meant by witchy hair is unkempt bedraggled locks not the sharp blunt cut which you have in these artful photos. One can’t win. Maybe older women are supposed to have short neat hairstyles. Personally I don’t want that for myself. It shows jowels too much. And I like swishy hair. My optimal length is around the shoulders with some softness near the face. My summer crop this year is a shorter bob off the nape of neck. Cut precipitated during heatwave in early summer. It has been great for the active life : more wash and wear for swimming and gym. However I’m planning to grow it back and sort out integration of grey roots. We should be able to go to music festivals, dance, be light hearted and wear what we wish. Clearly the main thing is to enjoy life, lighten anxiety about getting older. But one can also try to keep up and not look out of sync with the prevailing style and zeitgeist. That I think is what you have been attempting with this blog and your books, keep it up.

  6. Awesome! I am 65 & yes we do rock. I wear what I want without looking like my daughter, I do my own thing. My hair is naturally curly & almost to my shoulders. So, the sky is the limit, just do it with class!

  7. Couldn’t agree more – it’s part of the move to wipe us away and turn us into sexless, gender-less beings. My hair stays shoulder length and my arms might even come out without a shroud. Oh and the red lipstick’s staying. They’re scared – let’s scare them.

  8. Such twaddle. And it’s not just The Times. Last week I read yet another dumb fashion blog post re acceptable hair lengths on older women. I’m being forced to accept that there are two kinds of “older women” — those who equate their own and other women’s fashion and grooming choices with strength of character and those who are could really not G.A.F. about what the first group believes.

  9. Isn’t it enough having Old Etonians dragging the country more deeply into the mire (being polite!) daily? Now they try and give us ‘style rules for over 40’s’.
    I am 69 but think I shall start growing my hair, going to festivals again (our generation bloody invented them!) and maybe just the once, because it takes me so long to get over it these days, get drunk!

  10. These kinds of lists / tests are so ridiculously antiquated! I’m 65 and wear what I want which is mostly jeans, loafers, and Breton tops. I also have nearly shoulder length curly hair. Haven’t gotten any disparaging remarks!

  11. Never follow the rules, that’s my motto! And I’m pushing 60. Do whatever makes you look and feel fabulous!

  12. Yes, I love it when men decide what women can wear. When I look about me, most men can barely dress themselves and do not appear to own mirrors. Fortunately I can see that this is summer-silly-season page filling but it is the laziest of journalism. Another instance of low-level but pernicious woman-baiting, something that is steadily growing in our troubled and divisive times. I am sure he regards this as just a bit of a laugh, no offence, ladies. Privilege walking.

    1. Nailed it. Lazy, male privilege. Also, click bait. I’m still growing my below-shoulder length hair and will stop when I can sit on it.

  13. I was too exasperated by the article to give it any more oxygen online. Presumably the writer is a millennial who thought it was just banter.

  14. Dazzlingly done.

    A brilliant, deft response to a lazy, nasty bit of writing (and lazy, unintelligent commissioning from the ST features desk).

    Now off to grow my hair even LONGER.

  15. In my opinion, most newspapers aren’t worth reading these days as the quality of journalism has plummeted. That’s why I find people who know what they are talking about and stick with them. Thanks Alyson!!!

  16. Nobody is going to look at an over-50 woman and think that she is 20 (and some of us would not want that age again, anyway)
    so this is a great time of life to get creative, make a statement about who we are without apologies. Make friends with a full length mirror, look at the back view as well and have a great time adorning the shape you are. Be a sculptor, a creator of delight. And yes, be careful what/who you read because the young don’t get it and might make you feel bad. Phooey to that.

  17. I am the opposite! I always had longish hair because I had thin, flat hair and thought I had to make up for it with length. Now every time I get my hair cut I go shorter (almost bald now) and am loving the androgenous look which I have loved since highschool but never dared to do. Be rebellious is my motto for aging, whatever that means to you.

  18. I happen to have a short bob but wear very pointed witch’s shoes, would that be alright according to the Times?? Infuriating! I’ll wear my huge wafty kaftan over tight jeans with them tomorrow in protest! ( I’m 46)

  19. What nonsense – I’m just 65 – my hair is long and blonde (looked after by a good hairdresser!) – I’ll do as I please ! I hope by now I know what suits me – I don’t need a Times journalist to tell me. I suppose I should let it go grey & have it shaved into the back of the neck. Wear only greige too….

  20. Thanks for calling that out. You’d think people would have evolved a bit by now, right?
    But I guess it proves there will always be a big stable of straight-lacers trying to make the rest of us as rigid as they are. For me, not for everyone I’m sure, I do have to comb my hair a little more and cut it a little more often. I was a fetching slob when I was young. I’m willing to nick it in a bit now but only to please mysrlf. I knew what I wanted to look like then and I know what I want to look like now and I want it to be just as fun.

  21. Another witchy woman here! I guess some people do like rules. But they take the fun out of a lot of things, like developing a personal style that works for oneself. I’m reminded of my former writing students, some of whom just wanted me to give them the formula for writing an “A” paper. I could teach plenty of elements, but they are very few “never” or “always” rules in writing, either.

  22. An article of utter nonsense but as you say these pernicious thoughts are still accepted by some . The writer needs to grow up and enter the real world.

    Do these rules apply to the wife of the proprietor I wonder? Ms Hall should have a word with her husband about why his paper thinks anyone wants to read such drivel.

  23. Nicely done, Alyson. Lazy writing (I can’t call it journalism) by the Times. Surely they are above such derogatory and ageist page-cluttering piffle? Presumably the writer was under 40, or a man; who do they think they are, to tell us what to wear? How egotistical! The subs and editors who worked on that page should be just as ashamed. They would let someone else tell them what they can’t wear, would they? Are they are all walking around looking like doyennes of style? I wear what suits my style, and that I feel suits my body shape, hair, colouring etc. This has changed a lot in my early 50s as I navigate the changes in my appearance. It can be tricky. Short hair makes me look man-ish, jowly and straight-laced. My shoulder length red hair makes me feel feminine and look like ‘me’. I don’t want to look younger or older than I am. I want to look like myself, to feel I look good, and to feel comfortable in my clothes. I am inspired by other women in their 40s, 50s and above whose style I admire, and by blogs and articles like yours that get the tone spot-on.

  24. Oh bless wee Sam – I wonder what he is wearing? The sad thing about telling women over 40 what they should or shouldn’t wear/say/do/think is that you are on a losing wicket – any female that has got to our ages probably couldn’t give a flying **** what some invisible wee bloke thinks. I wonder why so many people feel so obsessed with herding people over 40 (especially women) into safe styles that have been pre-approved, why are we so dangerous and so threatening to these writers? If I knew what it was about us I would celebrate and nurture it and maybe even bottle it – it is obviously something pretty fabulous that we have.

  25. Thank you for this article. Personally, I find it rude to tell women of any age how to dress… unless they actually ask you. I’m 56 and can put my foot behind my neck, do the splits, and do a backbend… don’t tell me how to do anything that involves my body.

  26. Crikey! And here’s me having grown my hair to shoulder length! Ah well – I’ll jump onto my broomstick with my 3 cats and the odd wart for good measure.

  27. as someone with long hair over 50 i am going straight to the important point-where did you get your sandals in this photo,
    they are gorgy

  28. Pile of the usual Murdoch shite. As if it wasn’t bad enough having old etonians wrecking the country when in government, being handed the capital’s newspaper to edit and popping up in every second tv drama (as well as their less public doings in MI5 and the City) – now the chronically over privileged want to make rules about how the “other gender” should dress. Actually they think that when we reach 40 we shouldn’t really be seen in public at all. Our existence is offensive to them.
    Well, really the only reply has to be that I’ll take style advice from a emotionally constipated, Etonian overgrown adolescent when hell freezes over, was that clear enough do you think?

  29. I’m not going to go looking for the article on line as I don’t want to give such tosh the clicks but I kind of want to know what the rules are so I can go and break them all immediately! ( 52 next week). I’ve read every comment and you are all awesome. If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

  30. Hello!
    Most women I know around my age, over 60, couldn’t care less what some journalist dictates about our hair length or colour, or about what we wear. Newly retired, I have discovered comfort clothes requiring little ironing but easy to wear. People should pay less attention to the rules and relax! Really enjoyed your article.

  31. Bollocks is exactly the word that came to mind when I read this. Heading to 50 and growing up my hair and longer.

    It’s so sickening and that this crap is still used to sell papers.

    LBB x

  32. Well, at 57 I found myself growing my hair again and now I find I’m doing that hair in a ponytail for gym and swimming thing that I haven’t done in 40 years…

    Agree wholeheartedly with the comments about Leith’s arrogance in his sweeping generalisation (I haven’t read the article so won’t say more other than to add my support to the suggestion above that this sounds like a piece of lazy journalism dashed off to fill a blank space in the paper). Judy B’s comment that the over 50s do not want to look like 20somethings is spot on – surely we just want to look easy on the eye – our eye – however we choose to define that? I understand that unkempt long hair is not a good look (nor is unkempt short hair) but it’s not a good look at any age – only a few rock chick types of extreme youth can make it work and only then because it carries overtones of wanton abandonment and these should lead to murky areas for a middle aged male.

    And Monique – the splits? Kudos to you…

  33. There’s only one motto I apply to myself , don’t try to look younger than you are.
    ‘Try’ being the key word.
    Fashion should always look and feel effortless .
    I’ll wear whatever I like but if my mirror ever hints I need to take care on the mutton meter ,off it’ll come.
    I dress just for myself and the wider opinion is not important. I find fashion journalism like this article a waste of time .

  34. I do wonder where they gather these “style rules” from. They are probably just regurgitated from other similar articles. On the surface they are mildly amusing, but when you consider the context of misogyny and dismissive attitude towards women over 40 they leave a very bitter taste in the mouth.

    Emma xxx

  35. Men laying down the law about how women should dress/behave can be cheerfully ignored. But is ‘wear what you like’ an inviolable rule? I think the answer is a only qualified ‘yes’. We’ve all seen women who dress ‘too young’ and look ridiculous; and others like wonderful Iris, and you, Alyson, who don’t do ‘old lady’ and look fabulous. The key to getting it right is surely ‘know yourself’. The pathetic gropers after youth are not doing that. They’re blindly doing as they’re told by the purveyors of the latest fad, or even worse, still obeying the fads of their youth. Iris, Alyson and all the other FABsters who get it right are working it out for themselves; they know their shape, they know the brands that flatter them, the colours that suit them, the styles that express their personalities. Above all, there’s intelligence there. They’ll look great, but that’s only the half of it – they differ from the pathetic youth seekers in that they’ll have opinions on everything, along with wit, humour and judgement.

  36. Another sad little man who thinks he can give “advice” to women. It’s not just older women who are told what to wear – we spend our entire lives being policed and told how we should look and behave. Absolute bollocks, we can wear exactly what we want, when we want. What the hell is going on with the Sunday Times? First an anti-semitic article about Jewish women and pay, now this. I wouldn’t read it if you paid me, thank god for the Guardian. And thanks for your articles Alyson, spot on!

  37. Obviously not a well researched article since there are so many super chic women breaking the so called rules in style. Perfect case in point, Lucinda Chambers, She has long, non-witchy hair and style that cannot be pinned to any age. This endless debate inspired me to launch a 50 over 40 women of style series with Lucinda as my first subject. Rules be damed! http://www.primadarling.com/fashion/lucinda-chambers-kicks-off-our-fifty-over-forty-series/

  38. Haven`t read the article and didn`t realise it was written by a man…who is this nazi? If he’s going to create arbitrary “rules”….always a bad idea…..shouldn’t he be focusing on his own kind????

  39. My rule is that there are no rules. At 62, I will wear what I want. I will say what I want (and I don’t give a shit) and I will do what I want. Long hair–mine doesn’t look witchy because it’s fake and in all it’s fakeness, looks very natural on me. Bikini’s–I found the greatest ones in France this summer at Geant Hypermarche for 11 euros each. I not only wear bikinis but I wear cheap-o ones!
    When not at work, I’ve started to go braless. And with skinny jeans I’ve been known to go commando. No boundaries. No rules. No kidding!

  40. Makes me glad I didn’t read it. Strangely Mr LF threw away the section with this prize-winning piece of fashion journalism which probably saved our weekend from my fury. You want witchy? I’ll give you witchy…over 50 and growing out my silver hair – just letting it grow out not cutting it until it’s down to my waist…I will never let anybody tell me how to dress or allow anyone to dictate how I should look. I believe I am the best judge of that.

  41. Alyson – firstly, I must ‘fess up that I am very late to the party on reading your first book. Kept MEANING to get it and didn’t. Then ambled into my local charity shop – waded through the Primark tee-shirts and Top Gear DVD’s (!!!!!!!) and there – glowing like a beacon of salvation – your book – signed by your very good self, no less – donated by some twerp who didn’t want to keep it. I have spent The Best Wet Afternoon devouring your both sage and hilariously humorous advice. So, late to the party but the BEST book of this genre that I have clapped my eyes on. So THANK YOU.

  42. I started to read the article and stopped in my tracks and used the paper to clean my shoes on! The bleeding Sunday Times decides to ‘nanny-state’ and decree what we should wear? Excuse me? We FAB women do not speak or read the same banal language as this patronising, faecal journalist.

  43. ps there was also another ‘blah-sh*t’ small piece in yesterdays’ Times about women and high heels. ‘High Cost of sexy heels’. I quote “However, “wearing high heels increases women’s attractiveness to men and CAN REWARD FEMALE WEARERS WITH OTHER BENEFITS………” etc. etc. etc. What a (pair) of Crocs!

  44. I am now 58 and have naturally blonde hair which I wear long (about bra-strap length). I get compliments about my hair all the time and it helps me not feel invisible. I only ever cut my hair to shoulder-length once when I was in my twenties. It felt – and looked – awful and I was traumatised until it grew long again. I don’t care what age I am, I’ll always wear my hair long. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel like me.
    In my view Daphne Selfe, with her long silver locks, is still the epitome of elegance.

  45. I’m 73 and can honestly say when shopping for clothes and makeup there is no judgement from the staff in the shops. The guys on the makeup counters love to talk about it and recommend new products. The barriers to so called age appropriate dressing broke down when we refused to dress like our mothers and not have perms!!!At least I thought so. There are many more important subjects for journalists to write about.

  46. As an italian woman I am accostum to read this kind of article more or less every year. Always the same. I do not read them anymore. So I do like I want to do. That is the best for every woman.

  47. Strikes me this article is a product of what the Danes call ‘cucumber season’, basically that time during the summer when there isn’t a huge amount to report as all the politicians etc are on holiday. Journalists then resort to meaningless reporting to fill column space.
    Strangely most of the responses here mention hair! I will not be cutting my hair anytime soon, I will however be making regular visits to the hairdresser to make sure my hair is in tip top shape. I will add products so that it isn’t too dry and still has a modern edge. My natural grey highlights get positive comments, people actually think I paid to get them, I will be keeping them!

  48. I still laugh about the fact that I briefly considered giving up bikini’s last year (aged 48). I had no desire to stop wearing bikini’s. It was just this oppressive subliminal bollocks that (almost) got to me. Observing Greek women of absolutely all ages looking carefree and confident on the beach in bikini’s was the last nail in that stupid coffin. As the saying goes, in response to the question ‘how to get a bikini body…’ – its really simple. Get a bikini, and put it on your body. Job done.

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