I tend to use mine as a tea coaster or a draft excluder. This has always been the case. I remember a colleague in the early noughties once referring to my dress sense as rebellious. He said this with a tone of envy as if somehow his Hugo Boss suit had left him short-changed. I also remember being unsure as to how wearing heels with parachute pants qualified for maverick status.
This is my point. I wear what I like and I like what I wear. The older I get, the more absolute my reaction. In two months and two days I’ll be 40. Seemingly this makes me a cougar which pleases me, if only to repatriate the term to its rightful social standing.
Cougar – postmodern slang for a tomboy-toting older woman – deserves a timely make-over. The cougar 2.0 is less predatory caricature; more individual style-setter. Self-determined, she refuses to bow to the semantic bargain bin of age-appropriate dressing. As for her toy boy reputation – that’s more of an aside than an accessory; she has Marc Jacobs for that. Instead, she challenges the status quo and looks pretty damn good doing it.
My own cougar wardrobe includes, but is not limited to: ripped bleached denim, NASCAR quilted biker jackets, leather skirts, hyper embellished neckpieces (described by one friend as ‘an activity set’), Perspex heels, tux suits, Converse and ‘conversational’ tees. Hair and make-up tend towards minimalism bar the presence of a fire engine red lip. I’m thinking however of dyeing my hair navy/black soon. If Picasso can have his blue phase, why can’t I?
This isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff. There’s a rolling plane of stylish cougars out there each with her individual flair. Roll call please? Ab-tastic Gwen Stefani (43), bootylicious J-Lo (43), pixie perfect Halle Berry (46), French Vogue alumnae Emmanuelle Alt (45)and Carine Roitfeld (58), unconventional muse Tilda Swinton (52) and sexagenerian silver screen sirens – Glenn Close (65) and Helen Mirren (67). Let’s not forget Friends star and Cougar Town resident – Courtney Cox (48).
What unites cougars is not the appearance of youth (being an ingénue is not on-brand) but more so, an age-free attitude. To the cougar, demographics are the stuff of marketers and the Central Statistics Office; not women who cosset Bikram toned thighs in leather trousers.
That said, notice-me appeal is never clichéd; the short skirt, fake tan and ample cleavage combo is best left to the TOWIE brigade. Flesh rather is strategically showcased, much like a Tiffany diamond in a glass box. Think Michelle Obama’s arms, Halle Berry’s décolletage or Cameron Diaz’s lithe legs.
The cougar is also a texture-driven creature, preferring the visual interest of raised nap be it fur, feathers, velvet or embossed skin (often in combination) with a sexy pencil skirt or too-cool-to-care jeans. When feeling subversive, the Dietrich tux makes an appearance with hemorrhage-inducing heels or, if having an off-duty moment, Converse.
Leopard print might seem a tad cliché but surprisingly not on the cougar. She wears it with ease, like a second skin. Take Jennifer Lopez who was recently papped in a wild cat jacket and matching skirt paired artfully with a polo neck and thigh-high boots.
Call her ‘mutton dressed as lamb’? You might get a punch or a roundhouse kick; physical fitness is a cougar merit, especially when juggling a career, kids, charity work, further education, globe-trotting (delete as appropriate). In other words, the cougar is not dependent on the male gaze; the male gaze follows her regardless. She commands it.
My own cougar predilections aren’t too far off. Over the years, I like to think both my life/style has alchemically evolved. I don’t do diets but am religious about Pilates. Make-up takes ten minutes but skincare is a ritualistic pleasure. I play to my own tastes rather than trends — pastels are for children under eight as far as I’m concerned; not adults. And yes, I wear 5-inch heels even though I’m six foot — please stop asking.
The fact that my last boyfriend was eight years younger than me is less to do with trophy-hunting and more to do with commonality. Oh, and I don’t want kids. Yes, I know. Slap a scarlet letter on my chest and call me Hester Prynne but it’s just a fact; nothing more. Try explaining this though to those who feel behooved to ask and you get the ‘look’ as if having farted in public but worse because the smell of biological betrayal lingers a lot longer. I digress…
Back to my lexical repatriation. If the first wave cougar carries the reductive implication of being a short-skirted sexual predator then its more comprehensive second wave sister is an independent rule-breaker. Contrary to the ‘scarcity’ myth-mongers; partners, clothing, jobs, options and oxygen don’t suddenly dry up upon hitting 40. Tell that to Madonna. More likely, the prevailing attitude usurps the possibilities for continued individuation with edicts that begin with ‘too…’ or end in ‘…young’.
Maybe that’s why cougar fashion holds such loaded significance? Pair pointy stilettos with a skinny jean, slub tee and oversized blazer and you’ve got a brand of devil-may-care insouciance, popular with fans of Stella McCartney and Isabel Marant.
It’s all about riding the wave of self-appropriated balance, a personal groove-finding mission where style is its own reward. Call it self-confidence, the benefit of widsom or just plain cockiness but this soon-to-be cougar’s style is already dyed-in-the-wool.
Turning 40 is merely an excuse for a blow-out birthday weekend in Barcelona.