Why you’re never too old for high fashion

Is fashion a phenomenon you age out of or into? That depends — as with so much to do with fashion — on who you talk to. Are clothes a tiresome distraction from the stuff that really matters? Or a joyous, empowering mode of self-expression?

It’s a debate that is by no means age-specific. A 30-year-old is as likely to argue either point as an 80-year-old. But the older people get, if my acquaintances are anything to go by, the more vociferous each side becomes.

For some it’s a case of goodbye-and-good-riddance, it being “silly” — as one friend’s grandmother memorably declared — “to waste money on clothes when I am about to die”. For others it is the exact opposite. For them it is a case of bring it on, and even — with regard to a couple of my older friends — bring it on like never before.

Stylist Linda Rodin, 76

For everyone who feels they have reached the point at which they are above fashion, if not beyond it, there is someone else who considers themselves better placed than ever to embrace it. What I hear most often from this cohort is that they feel less concerned about what others think in comparison with their younger selves, and so better able to wear — not to mention do — whatever they darn well please.

When the tailor and personal stylist Alexandra Wood (ccouture.com) meets a new female client, she sets out to classify them as “classic”, “flair” or “experimentalist”, as much to make it easier for them to get their head around who they are sartorially speaking as for her. The older they are, she says, the more likely they are to fall into the third — and bravest — fashion category. “They feel they can have more fun. They are ready to express who they are.”

How to find your fashion tribe (I’m an Experimentalist)

The kaleidoscopic Instagram account @advancedstyle, and its assorted publishing spin-offs, shows women, and some men, embracing the philosophy that more is more to an often quite remarkable degree. Experimentalist doesn’t begin to cover some of them.

I happen to think there is a practical dimension here too. From your fifties onwards, you start to have more time, in theory at least, to explore what you actually want to have in your wardrobe rather than what you feel you should. You may also be in the lucky position of having more disposable income. One of the many things that drives me nutty about the luxury industry is the degree to which it targets twentysomethings when in truth it is a woman three times that age who is more likely to have earned the money to invest in, say, a truly special handbag.

Mary Berry for Burberry

At least certain brands have become savvy enough to understand the potency of age, to wit the appearance last year of the actress Maggie Smith, 89, in an advertising campaign for Loewe, and the artist Judy Chicago, 84, for Dior. Even Mary Berry, 88, has taken a fashion twirl, photographed in head-to-toe Burberry round the time of the label’s most recent catwalk show. It launched its collaboration with Harrods by pulling off something similar with Joanna Lumley, 77. These remain very much the exceptions that prove the rule, however.

The upscale London residential retirement proposition Wallacea Living, which eschews any idea of it being — heaven forfend — a retirement home, is hosting an event during London Fashion Week this month called Advanced Style: In Celebration of Fashion for All Ages. The afternoon at its Marylebone apartment building will include conversations with Daphne Selfe, at 95 the world’s oldest working model, and Sylvia Ezer, a new recruit to the trade at 88.

The American fashion editor and columnist Diana Vreeland

The American fashion editor and columnist Diana Vreeland

Long one of my favourite inspirations for style generally, and grey hair in particular, is the American stylist Linda Rodin, 76. Among her obsessions are white footwear (“It’s because when I was a kid I wanted to be a majorette”), vintage denim and her silver puffer. “People have sometimes asked me, ‘Is it appropriate to dress like that?’ But I have just never thought like that,” she says. Last year she launched her denim brand Linda Hopp (lindahopp.com), which encompasses everything from vast bell-bottoms to what may best be described as a micro-kilt. Needless to say, she looks fantastic in both.

Iris Apfel, the most famous older style icon around, is an impressive 102. She has a book out in August called Colourful: A Manifesto to Live a Bright Bold Life from a Fashion Icon (published by Ebury). Nobody had heard of Apfel until in 2005 the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of New York filled a last-minute gap in its schedule with a show of her jewellery. They called it Rara Avis (“rare bird”). She was the tender age of 85 at the time. Now her kaleidoscopic ensembles, magpie approach to necklaces and goggle-like taste in glasses are world famous.

Apfel once lamented to me what she called “this disgusting sameness. People… all seem to want to look the same.” Clothes for her are “an exercise in creativity.” I like to think that is what growing older can be too.


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