Ageless Style: How Not To Look Mumsy (Or Like Mutton For That Matter)

women model with berret and shades

Ageless style: that often explored subject in the summer style glossies and a pressing concern for women of an age when tousled bed head starts to look very much like having flu.

Possibly I am not alone when I say I am borderline obsessed with dissecting what constitutes the otherness of real style. Why do we covet what Phoebe Philo wears and how do Alexa Chung, Cate Blanchett or Ines de la Fressange rarely put a foot wrong? Are you born with style? Or can you buy it? On the one hand there appear to be a certain set of rules and yet, some of the most stylish people break every one going. Confused? I’m still learning too, or rather observing from a roster of standout women that I am fortunate enough to get to interview which is why I decided I wanted to update what I wrote three years ago.

The no. 1 observation that the most stylish people are the women who look most comfortable in what they are wearing and exude that French maxim of looking ‘bien dans sa peau’ or literally, ‘looking good in their skin’ still rings true.

It’s all too easy to forget that looking good means looking like you – or the best possible version of you-and not trying to ape the much younger Prada model in the latest ad campaign. But ultimately your clothes have to work. On you. As well as realistically assessing what works for your life. And get ruthless eliminating the things that don’t flatter.

It’s why a certain strand of Parisenne is so admired for the way she dresses: ageing isn’t the same big deal in France so there’s less imperative to cling to a bygone youth by wearing inappropriate clothes. For a French woman, nothing is ever quite “lost”; the youthful perks that fade as she gets older are replaced by different but equally attractive qualities such as self-confidence, self-awareness and a profound knowledge of what suits their body shape.

Back in Blighty, we’re far too caught up with being fashionable that we so often overlook what really works on us. La Parisienne meanwhile gets the point of cut and fit –it’s a given that she will get her clothes altered- is a wizard at exercising restraint and knowing just how far to push a look, lobbing in curve ball for good measure or to shake things up.

Increasingly I’ve realised it’s about the right proportions: the right sleeve length or how high the neckline on your sweater is? Make the time to examine the items in your wardrobe that people always compliment you on or which you really enjoying wearing, (hmm, now might be a good time for a wardrobe detox). What is it about that piece of clothing that really works on you? Is it the colour? Or the neckline? Or the way it slips elegantly off the shoulders or reveals just the right amount of forearm?

As we get older we also enter a minefield of do’s and dont’s:  when to expose flesh or figuring out whether you can still get away with over the knee boots and short skirts?  Or what about your upper arms? What if they’re still perky? In theory, you can do all of these things, it’s just how you choose to do them. Flesh, however toned is possibly best worn under a sheer fabric. And don’t underestimate just how sexy a bare clavicle or wrist can look.  As one chef asked me recently, “what do you dare to leave off your plate?” Far more beguiling than acres of cleavage or flashing your midriff.

Personally I think covered up is the far sexier option because there’s the suggestion of what lies beneath. One designer believes that the Japanese way of pattern cutting – elegantly draped around the neck, and a little looser everywhere else so that a dress skims rather than hugs – is the most flattering. A long as you get your proportions right, covering up needn’t mean resembling Granny. In any case the very cool women I know who do covered-up or oversized know it’s all about the details. Often too, it’s an unexpected combination of items that you just haven’t ever considered before.

A recurring point is that that we are all so busy worrying about the outside, that we forget that so much of style – beauty even – is based on what’s going on inside. As we get older, our body changes. So while the addition of flats and trainers (box fresh rather than a dirty pair of Converse) will make an outfit look more youthful – and possibly these are the single thing you can do to instantly change the way you look – it’s equally as important to have your teeth checked more frequently, to eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise. On that last note, it’s not so much about exercise to achieve a beach bikini body but rather doing so to feel strong, fit and dynamic.

Hair that looks modern, strong and possibly a bit architectural rather than kooky and mad is also less ageing. Now might be the time to rethink the hair that you relied on from a time in your life when you felt you looked your best – I’m just as guilty here. Heading out the door with a big bouncy blow dry looking salon fresh is dated. So don’t. Evening dress can also prove a minefield because there’s a tendency to opt for hoiked in and tight rather than something a little looser.

What else exudes effortlessness? Certainly not overthinking things or looking groomed to within an inch of your life. There’s a consistent breezy elegance to the most stylish women I meet and definitely a lot less make up that you might expect because they all just radiate a calm sense of well-being and an inner glow. Perhaps because instead of sticking to conventional rules they are channeling the ones that make them look and feel their very best.

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