Are your clothes revealing too much?

The weather here is dismal. No don’t fall over in shock, but it has been raining today. All day. Not only that, it is cold.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

Possibly the right clothing for the current weather conditions.

A few days ago though, things were different. Spring finally burst into life. We had a long long Winter and then suddenly, almost overnight the birds were singing, the butterflies flitting, the tulips, grape hyacinths and daffodils all coming up at once. English people reacted in the way that they always do. They went out in as little clothing as possible, lit the barbecue, got the Pimms out and sat in the garden all day, with no sunscreen. They smiled even while they (almost) burned.

Me? Well I wasn’t ready. My Summer clothes were still in the garage. I had to make an emergency dash to the loft, scramble up the ladder and heave down the right bag so I could find something cool enough to wear so as not to have a Jane Austen era style fainting fit.

On looking through the things I haven’t seen in some months, I suddenly realised that my Summer wardrobe bears absolutely no resemblance to the fact that I live in England. In a village in the countryside. Where it rains all the bloody time.

I seem to have stealth acquired a rainbow of dresses that make it appear as though I’m waiting for a role in a remake of John de Florette or Chocolat. In some of them I would look just right with a baguette tucked under one arm and a basket of flowers nestled in the crook of the other. I can almost imagine myself wandering happily down the alley of some remote French mountain village, nodding at the older generation as they sit gossiping outside the front of their houses.

I do have a bike (that mostly sits in the garage looking pale blue and beautiful) but I also have a mum bus which is the transport I actually use. I won’t talk about that too much though as it ruins the imagery.

There are no children in this picture. I don’t have to stand in muddy parks, on wetter than they ought to be cricket pitches, or walk along shingle beaches in Gale Force 10 winds, trying to catch up with my Mother and her Dog. I don’t appear to do anything involving dirt or in fact to do any actual work.

There’s the dawning realisation that the trouser suits, the dry clean only, the freshly pressed white shirts, the ‘don’t-mess-with-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing’ clothes have all but disappeared from my cupboards, wardrobes and chest of drawers. I’ve worked from home for the majority of the time over the past three years. I’ve only needed the occasional smart outfit when I’ve had to travel to the office, sometimes more, but usually only once or twice a month.

So this, I suppose is how my dresses have eventually revealed me as a bit of a romantic idealist, (ignoring the outlier of the running kit) who apparently sub-consciously wants to live in the South of France.

In reality, most of the time, at least when it isn’t hot, I’m in my jeans and Converse. If anything ever happened to me though, I’m afraid that if they looked in my wardrobe, the detectives piecing together my last moments would form a very different picture.

This one looks practical doesn't it?

This one looks practical doesn’t it?

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Bring out the beige?

So lately I’ve enjoyed reading a few posts on how women dress as they get older and it seems to be a perennial topic. Joan Collins once decreed that the over forties shouldn’t wear jeans. Well except her of course. Actually I think she probably looks better in jeans than in some of her stuck in the 80s ‘I-really-am-still-in-Dynasty-and-I’ve-still-got-it’ outfits, but there you go.

But really, what are women supposed to do when we hit 40? Break out the slanket, the elasticated trousers and eradicate our wardrobes of any shade of colour that isn’t a variant of greige? My father-in-law’s wife seems to think so.

Last year she saw a full-length winter coat in the Jaeger sale in a beautiful shade of scarlet. But did she buy it? Nope. Her reasoning was that it was an investment piece that ten years later she wouldn’t have been able to wear any more due to the colour. She bought herself some red leather gloves instead. Lovely as they were, part of me wanted to scream at her. Who said you can’t wear red when you’re 65? And if Honor Blackman can be photographed in her 80s wearing Converse then so can I. I’m not giving up my gold ones any time soon.

Something does seem to happen to a woman in her late thirties/early forties though. And I’m not talking about middle-age spread or brain freeze (I know this from looking at my Aunt who is a young 58, has just taken on a PhD in glass blowing, cycles everywhere and wears a UK size 10 (US size 6)). Yes, women do sometimes get a bit thicker round the middle as they get older but it doesn’t have to happen if you exercise and not all of us will go (or choose to go) that way. No, what happens is the self doubt, the anxiety, creeps in. I run and I like to think I have reasonable legs. So I can still wear a fairly short skirt. But as I’ve got older I’ve started to worry about how that looks.

article-1007951-00CCE80400000578-443_468x411_popupI am married. I am not out to bag myself a man. As they get older, I don’t want to cause my children to facepalm when I come downstairs in the morning. If you still have a reasonable figure, and even if you don’t, then the issue is not really ‘can I still wear it?’ but whether it is sending out the right message if you do. So in that sense, the rules about not dressing like your daughter probably apply here. Other than that though, I say shop where you like, wear what you like, cover your arms or don’t cover them. It doesn’t matter. My step grandmother was still wearing make-up every day until her late 90s. She’d often be sporting something glittery, or a purple hat. Or even – as I recall – wore a semi-sheer blouse to my wedding (and got away with it). It always made me smile to see her making an effort to look stylish and wearing make-up almost right up until the end. Ok, so the lipstick started to get a bit crooked but it made her feel better to put it on and who was it harming?.

So I say ignore the rules. I’d also like to remind people that being young does not always mean you are an arbiter of style….

Leopard print anyone?

To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

I was reading keepingitrealmom.com’s blog post the other day about whether or not a woman should have long hair after 40. It brought me back to to a conversation I had some weeks ago, with a small group of internet friends I have, all in their 30s and 40s, about what they were going to do when their hair went grey. It turns out that some have already ‘dealt with the situation’ and I just had no idea.  Even the ones who don’t wear make up have balked at letting any white hairs see the light of day.   I don’t know many women who go ‘au naturel’ at this age.  It got me wondering what I should do when I have to accept that there are more than a few twinklers threaded through the chestnut.

Grey hair, if you look at a single one on its own, is actually quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of starlight. It glitters and sparkles. A whole head of grey though on a young (or youngish) woman, unless you can do a glamorous Vidal Sassoon bob, worn with elegance, confidence and expensive clothes, is hard to pull off. Throw curly hair into the mix (mine is) and what you have is a look that says less ‘attractive older woman ageing gracefully’ and more ‘wicked witch of the west’.  I really don’t want my children suggesting I lose my current wardrobe and replace it with the Halloween dressing up clothes – and I wouldn’t put it past them. They can be scarily blunt.

I found my first grey hair last Summer on the way back from a holiday with my family in France. I nearly choked on my croissant. I was not happy. I am not comfortable with the whole ageing process, inside, outside, in any kind of way. I am seeing the older generation in my family slowly fading out at the moment. My paternal grandmother is in her 90s, living in a nursing home, slowly becoming demented and already almost completely bedridden. She hasn’t liked people photographing her for a long time, her skin is paper thin, her hands claw like. She’s not giving up easily though, singing ‘Onward Christian Soliders’ at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, still retaining the upper class airs of someone who had has a less than average life, and demanding that she’s kept in an adequate supply of chocolate biscuits. Whilst I have to admire her spirit, she’s clinging on rather than enjoying life.  Grey hair, rather than wrinkles, seems to signifiy the start of a long road in that direction. And I plan to be the woman in the well known poem ‘Warning’,  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/warning/, rather than taking old age lying down.

If I eventually dye my hair though, which I suspect I almost certainly will, am I not contributing to the ongoing beauty treadmill that women get on from their teenage years? Should I make a statement and try having my hair grey? Caryn Franklin of howtolookgood.com seems to have it right. Daphne Selfe at 83 looks pretty amazing. And Helen Mirren always looks like she is having a pretty good time. But unless anyone can prove me wrong, there are far less of the women more towards my end of the age spectrum who’ve bucked the trend and not reached for the hair dye.

My little sister (she’ll always be that) while holidaying in Milan in her twenties, sat in a square with her friend and later re-counted to me the number of ‘silver foxes’ walking past. She was not talking about the women. Growing silver (note, not grey) is fine for a man. It’s distinguished, it seems to emanate gravitas and a deeper understanding of life. It’s a little bit Sean Connery and it looks good with a dinner jacket. On women though? I’m not sure the world has moved on that far yet. I’m not ready to be put out to grass, for people to assume I can’t run a marathon, or that my brain doesn’t work just as well as someone twenty years younger. So I suspect the #634 chestnut honey creme gloss will be hitting my bathroom shelf at some point in the next few years. In the meantime though, I will be retaining the right to change my mind. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative. 

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