Why there are no rules on what to wear over-50

— by Alyson Walsh

Photo of Daphne Selfe: Stella Live, Telegraph

I’ve been talking a lot about Ageless Style recently and so thought I would share some of my thoughts. At Stella Live‘s inaugural event the topic was  ‘Are There Things a 40-Something Just Shouldn’t Wear?’ While I understand that this is the kind of click-bait publishers still like to peddle, I’m really not into dishing out bossy rules on what not to wear. I did enough of that as a fashion editor  – and frankly we’ve all moved on. Style is individual and we do adapt and adjust our wardrobes as we get older but we are a diverse group and should wear what we like, rather than following prescriptive rules. Having said that, the panel event was a lot of fun,  I sat alongside fellow journalists Shane Watson and Lisa Armstrong and we were hosted by Sasha Slater. It was a brilliant day of interesting debates and practical advice from superb women with style and substance including Daphne Selfe, Jo Malone and Ruby Hammer. Thank you to everyone who came along to watch. It was a lively chat and fortunately we were all on the same page RE: Bustier-gate (have to admit my heart sank when I saw that on the agenda), here are some of the questions I was asked, and my responses for the TNMA readers that missed it:


A former editor of Vogue recently accused Helena Christensen of dressing inappropriately because, aged 50, she was wearing a corset top to a celebrity party. There was a general outcry from people who said that the Danish supermodel could wear what she jolly well liked. And anyway, she looked fabulous. Whose side are you on? And would you ever wear a bustier to a birthday bash?

Maybe Helena Christensen loves that look and is happy wearing the outfit? Maybe she doesn’t want to be a sexual object as Alex Shulman suggests, or maybe she does. It’s her choice, what’s the problem?! I wouldn’t be seen dead in a bustier but I wouldn’t criticise another woman for wearing one – or wearing anything else for that matter.

Maybe Helena Christensen is menopausal and was having a hot flush, maybe we should all be wearing underwear as outerwear.

I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell Grace Jones she can’t wear a bustier…


Why do you think society feels it’s OK to judge women on the basis of what they choose to wear?

Historically this is what has always happened – it wasn’t so long ago that women were treated as property. And some people still think that women’s bodies are available for discussion. This doesn’t happen to men, well not to the same extent. I love what Michelle Obama said when she was First Lady and people obsessed over every detail of her outfits, ‘the shoes, the bracelets, the necklace—they didn’t comment that for eight years Barack wore that same tux and the same shoes.’


Do you think people’s attitudes to stylish older women are changing?

Yes, but very slowly. We have undoubtedly made progress but there’s a way to go and I shall continue to promote the cause! Both the fashion and beauty industries have recognised that this powerful demographic cannot be ignored. I’d say this change has been led by women – social media has had a massive impact on the fashion industry and on diversity and representation of older women. That’s one of the most positive things about Instagram – seeing women of all ages, like Lyn Slater the university professor in her 60s with nearly 700k followers, French author and journalist Sophie Fontanel who went from dyed black hair to grey on the ‘gram. We are seeing lots more older models in ad campaigns, Daphne Selfe and Jan de Villeneuve are gaining more exposure than ever, and on the catwalk (there were loads of grey-haired older women and men at the latest Deveaux show in New York)

We’re also witnessing a change in terminology – anti-ageing was banned by Allure magazine a couple of years ago because of it’s negative connotations. Age is not a condition, something we’re battling against so we are seeing the names of beauty products changing from negative to positive.

British Vogue recently had an ‘Age is a non-issue’ supplement full of women over-50. Current editor Edward Enninful said, ‘We need to challenge stereotypes and positively shape our perception of age – the words that you read, the images that you see.’

As I always say, ‘it’s not about age, it’s about style.’


In the Stella Live Style Studio


Who would you nominate as your ageless style icon?

Tilda Swinton for her flair and pizzaz; l Iove the androgynous, other-wordly look and the fact that she’s a bit of a chameleon and not afraid to experiment. Also, as I can’t limit it to just one woman: Lauren Hutton for her timeless simplicity and love of a good trouser suit and trainers, and Diane Keaton’s legendary Annie Hall-style (plus, she’s a delight on Instagram).

Do you have your own personal rules for what you absolutely won’t wear? What are they? 

No, I don’t have rules. I’m a fan of faff-free dressing so I wouldn’t wear any flouncy, frou-frou nonsense, or anything too bothersome. I don’t have time to be faffing around, I like to put clothes on and forget about them. For me, fit is the most important thing: if it doesn’t fit right, or sit right, forget about it. I rarely wear heels, I love a comfy-run around shoe like a brogue, loafer or trainer – shoes I can walk/ run for a bus in.

What are the three garments you’d save first from a wardrobe bonfire?

What I’m wearing right now. My Céline tuxedo or what I call my once in a lifetime jacket. The most expensive item of clothing I’ve ever bought – I’m usually a bit of a tight wad and shop the sales or sample sales rather than splurging but this was a bit of a blow-out. I bought it for the launch of Style Forever my first book, as the author of a book on style, I felt like I needed to look the part.

And my khaki jumpsuit (or the military onesie), one of my essentials. I’m a bit of an all-in-one obsessive. They’re great with trainers and a stripy t-shirt for running around in and so easy to dress up. Just add a pair of fancy flats and chandelier earrings.

The Beast. My vintage faux fur leopard print coat. I found it in a second-hand shop in Bath, a bargain at 50 quid. This is an outstanding coat and always get loads of comments. The Beast has been all over the world – Paris, New York, even the Artic Circle (with a Uniqlo down gilet and heat tech underneath) – it’s a global sensation.


More Ageless Style here…


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