Women over-40 on Instagram, it’s ‘a thing’. First I get a mention in the Telegraph’s The grown-up Instagram style stars you need to know, then the Ageless Style issue of British Vogue (July 2016) runs a feature called Second Post, on creative women in their 40s and 50s (including the wonderful photographer Kristin Perers) and now 9 Steps to superstardom by a 54-year-old French Instagram Sensation. Sophie Fontanel is a French fashion journalist and author who loves to play with proportion and experiment. She’s my new Style Heroine. J’adore.



While we’re on the subject of Parisian Chic, I’ve been advising Emma Beddington author of We’ll Always Have Paris‘ on how to overcome her French Style Fail; we talk scarves, flat shoes and The Poitrine Question HERE. Looking at how Fontanel is letting the grey in, I think I’m guilty of a Hair Style Fail. Having just had my hair coloured, it’s now more blonde than gronde (grey-blonde) – I like it but I can’t help feeling I should’ve persevered. But, but, but… when I went grey for the Guardian my hair was bleached and I didn’t want to carry on down that road and the regrowth looked ropy. Aaargh…this transitioning malarkey isn’t easy.


Anyhow. Fontanel says selfies are a good thing because they make you accept yourself, ‘ I thought I was horrible in pictures, I thought I was un-photographable and ugly. I started to take pictures of myself, and I started to discover that actually I was not so ugly, and that I was able to look at myself for the first time in my life with gentleness.’

And I love her advice on dressing well, ‘If you want to be well dressed, you have to learn by watching old movies, by going to the museum, and by surfing on the Internet. You have to read good books, to read poetry. It’s when you put nice things into your soul that you understand how to dress well.’

I couldn’t agree more, getting out and about and expanding your brain is important – and this sentiment reminds me of what Iris Apfel said when I interviewed her for Style Forever, ‘I love museums and the arts, they’re very important to me. I always try to stay current and be interested in things, if not you just dry up. You must get out there and get involved.’

Read the full Sophie Fontanel feature HERE. Et voila: some wannabe French style picks:



27 thoughts on “Sophie Fontanel a new French Style Heroine and over-40 Instagrammers in Vogue

  1. Nice thoughts, thanks Alyson.
    She has a great style – looking at all these creative women gives us a confidence to dress how we want. Not to fade away but make a statement and be relevant in style now.

  2. I hated photographs of myself, always saw the things I most disliked about my looks. Then I saw the work of Jo Spence who, on being diagnosed with breast cancer, documented her own life. Her advice was to live with photographs of yourself from different points in your life. Consider who you were then, who you are now, what experiences have nurtured you to be the person you see in the mirror.
    It was fascinating. I found half a dozen prints of me from all stages of my life and put them in my study and simply lived with them, considering her ideas.
    New cleaners arrived and looked at my study in astonishment. Who was this woman who lived with images of herself instead of her loved ones!

  3. Thanks, I’ll definitely follow Sophie. Looking at ourselves with gentleness is so important at any age and wise of her to say so. Great hair too!
    Agnes – yes, so interesting to imagine what Jo Spence would have done with Instagram.

  4. A million thanks for presenting this woman. I love her for saying this : ” It’s when you put nice things into your soul that you understand how to dress well.” The best advice ever.

  5. Thank you for this post! It was a breath of fresh air! Age, fun, confidence, it doesn’t get much better!

  6. Love Sophie’s comment about selfies helping us to accept ourselves. We’re not all fashion models, and easy with having our picture taken. Now that I take shots of myself for my blog… I’m much more comfortable with how I look in the photos of others. Yep…that’s me..I’m sixty…guess I’ll live with that.

  7. I am 6 months off 70 & for just about the first time in my life am comfortable with my style & the weight I carry – size 16. Thanks to all the fantastic women who are showing us all that getting older does not mean dressing in what I call ‘department store’ clothes. Am also transitioning to grey, had highlights to assist but am currently going through the blond & grey stage as I grow them out. Personally can’t wait for the grey but then I am just a touch older than Alyson!

  8. Wonderful quotation re selfies and learning to be gentle with ourselves and our appearance. And yes, the notion that our style evolves out of a rich life of experiences and of attention to art and culture — brava!

  9. Wow, what brave and fabulous styling!
    Selfies are also great for really seeing how an outfit looks on you. You see so much more in a photo than you do in a full length mirror. On the weekend I was talking about this to a professional photographer and we decided that when you look in the mirror you almost expect what you will see (and mentally edit accordingly). When you take a photo that doesn’t happen.

  10. I’m LOVING Sophie Fontanel. She had me in the first photo, and sealed it with the second one in gold sequins….. SWOON! I also love her comment on us being gentle with ourselves… we so seldom are, and it is such a waste of our lives and our happiness to be overly critical of ourselves and others. I adore Instagram for showing that you can love fashion and not be a model.

  11. I think it’s great that we are reinventing what it is to be a woman in her 50s/60s/70s whether it is career shifts rather than “retirement”, refusing to disappear because the middle aged me who dominate the media prefer looking at the young girls or defining style for ourselves. Had a great day shopping yesterday with my 87 year old aunt who took me with her for style advice, she wanted to update her look with new glasses and thought she might otherwise just opt for something safe!
    Thanks for admitting you’ve had a colour lapse on the hair front Alyson, I’ve decided I’m going to go grey once it’s grey as I can’t face five years of looking like an angry badger due to my grey bits being really localised!

  12. I[and all regular readers of French Elle] have loved Sophie Fontanel for Years. She is a clever, funny and very stylish woman. It’s good to read about a Frenchwoman who actively tries NOT to look like one- just as the rest of us are killing ourselves to do just the opposite..! It is a shame it took so long for her to find herself attractive, but boy is she making up for lost time now!

  13. At last, I have an Icon to aspire to. Until introduced by yourself, Alyson, I had never heard of this amazing lady. She has grown into herself with a flourish and looks beyond amazing. Thank you – I have my inspiration.

  14. I love this woman’s style and look. She seems cut from a different cloth, perhaps it’s just that amazing French cloth? Her selfie style is something I’m now going to brazenly copy. Thank you for the introduction.

  15. Loved reading this story. This woman’s style and look are really amazing. Simple chic. I have no idea when it comes to fashion – still wearing mainly leggings/jeans and a t-shirt. So happy there are people to learn from!

  16. A gorgeous thin model’s body -like other older style icons- which makes clothes look great but I am really not a fan of the grey hair trend. In many cases the grey colour looks hard and unflattering and makes the person in question look older than their actual age… Also here.

  17. Turning 50 was really freeing for me, fashion wise. In her Vogue article, Sophie talks about certain women who always try to dress “sexy.”And while that was not quite me, I was a dedicated heels/dresses/skirts wearer for most of my life. Up until a couple years ago, you wouldn’t have caught me dead in a pair of flats that weren’t boots or running shoes. Now, I’m having the best time discovering wide legged pants and slouchy blazers, flatforms and brogues, silken jogging pants and skinny Ts. I even own two jumpsuits, an item I used to look upon with horror. And this shift is not at all about giving up or not feeling sexy or handing the limelight to younger women. I still dress to be as attractive as possible, but I’m expressing that differently. I’m playing with proportion and style and texture in ways that maybe I had to grow up a bit to handle.

  18. I respectfully disagree with Caro. I find growing in my grey liberating and gives me waaaay more choice of colours that I can wear. I had very dark brown hair that has needed dying every month. Frequently it was either too dark – witchy, or too red – grim. Then I made the Big Mistake of having highlights/lowlights that gave me a deathly beige effect. Beige!!!!! I realised PDQ that I did not want to morph into a Beige Lady and hastily am growing in my grey. I love it – I have silver sprinkles all through my hair and two gorgeous ‘Mallen’ streaks at my temples. I find now that I am far more adventurous with my clothing and jewellery and I am having a jolly good time.

  19. I turned 50 last year and have so far not felt any age crisis. But what I have noticed is that men, I am a man, and gay as well. Which could be both positive and negative depending on how you choose to see it when it comes to being a fashion (clothes) loving person.

    In my opinion, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful in any way!

    I think it is somewhat easier for women regardless their age to get away with liking fashion and dressing in different ways then it is for a man.

    I have noticed that if you are a man and interested in your appearance it is ok till you are around 30, maybe even 35 if you look young and boyish. But after that you are simply screwed!

    If you are gay and a little more flamboyant then you are gifted with a longer time period to play around, mostly because people can blame it on the flamboyance.

    But when you get closer to 50 you are risking to become a joke because people start seeing you as ridiculous and not stylish or fashionable anymore.

    You become a little like the guy in La cage aux folles. And the older you get the more of a joke you unfortunately become. If you are very lucky you could get the label eccentric, but not everybody is that lucky.

    So I would say it is easier for women in general to “get away” with being fashionable, stylish, sexy or whatever they are striving for even if they are older. Because somehow as a woman you are “expected” to care about how you look. While a man unfortunately isn’t given that “freedom”
    We are simply supposed to blend in with the “greige” surroundings.

    Karl Lagerfeld for example is an excellent proof of this, most people who aren’t that in to fashion see him as a clown in very expensive clothes, but despite price tags and also being the head behind Chanel, he is still seen as a joke when it comes to how he dresses privately, at least by the big grey masses…

    I am sorry for the long post, but I just wanted to point out that sometimes women have an advantage that men doesn’t have

  20. Loving Sophie’s style, selfies and attitude. And the comments above are articulate and interesting. Hmmm … I like the idea of not always aiming for “sexy.” Or even attractive. What a freaky concept. I think I’m going to take a lot of selfies to find out what I really look like.

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