She calls it the beauty of ageing (or not caring what anyone else thinks) – midway through her 40s,finally feels at ease with herself and her style, so much so she’s just signed a modelling contract. Welcome to the new ‘middle age’.
Next week I turn 45. To celebrate I’ve got tickets to see The Rolling Stones at Croke Park. Needless to say, I’ve already planned my outfit — a striped dandy suit and polka dot pocket square inspired by the late peacock legend, Brian Jones. For the record, this isn’t something I bought for the occasion. I wear it, have worn it and will continue to wear it. It just happens to be occasion-appropriate.
Not that I’m one for propriety mind you… The older I get, the less I care what others think of me, especially when it comes to what I wear. That’s the beauty of ageing; the insecurities and validation-seeking propensity of youth dissolve in direct proportion to one’s increasing personal agency. Call it moxie, chutzpah, self-appropriation, whatever; reeling in the years has its advantages.
I should know. The most emotionally-draining relationship I’ve ever had has been with my wardrobe. I spent my 20s and most of my 30s trying to win its affection, wondering why it didn’t reciprocate, accusing it of untold indiscretions, only to cast it off into black plastic bags and repeat the process over and over again. Figure that one out Freud. Had I spent more time learning to acknowledge and appreciate who I really was rather than the person I thought I should be, these histrionics could have been avoided; not to mention a small mortgage saved on clothes.
Now in my mid-forties, things are different. A lot different. In the past five years alone, I’ve moved house, written two books, started a business, gained a stone and acquired a dodgy knee. In short, life happened. So, I bought bigger clothes, swapped my absurdly high heels for loafers and fell madly in love — with trousers suits (more on that later). In short, I’m happier in my new style groove, and by extension, more confident in my skin.
And therein lies the rub. If youth were a franchise, it would be a licence to print money; yet the value of growing older is rapidly gaining currency — and, folks, I’m buying shares. In fact, I’m calling shenanigans on the myth that options and oxygen suddenly dry up with each passing decade.
At soon-to-be-45, I’ve just signed as a model with Dublin’s Not Another Agency. Not bad for an old broad. The most exciting part? The chance to redefine ‘middle-aged’: how it looks, how it behaves, and, most of all, how it dresses.
Granted, I’m not the only soldier waging war on style semantics. There’s an army of women already leading the charge, demonstrating that grown-up fashion doesn’t have an age limit. If visibility is accountability then social media, in particular, has become the wardrobe whistle-blower for a commonly overlooked demographic (see: women over 40).
Once the mainstay of millennials, Outfit of the Day posts are proving their crossover appeal, from the quieter masculine separates of fashion journalist and author Alyson Walsh (53; @thatsnotmyage) to the more gregarious get-ups favoured by mum-of-three Kat Farmer (44; @doesmybumlook40). Of course, there’s Trinny Woodall (54; @trinnywoodall) whose former What Not to Wear telly chops have informed her digital reinvention (her YouTube dressing room diaries are required viewing); while model Helen Ruth Van Winkle (89; @baddiewinkle) leaves us all in the sartorial shade with her visual fashion feast (think crop tops, high waisted skinny jeans and bedazzled cane).
Offline influencers have equally sovereign sway. Who else but Irish designer Sonya Lennon can dial up the volume on dressing with her inimitable mix of power prints and high-octane hues? Mind you, no one can rock a Jennifer Rothwell suit quite like Cork entrepreneur Linda Green-Kiely (trust me, I’ve seen her). And let’s not forget Samui boutique owner Clodagh Shorten whose avant-garde dress code makes her a fashion force to be reckoned with.
Women over 40 are proving and have proven that closets are for hangers, not for hang-ups. Speaking of which, my own wardrobe. I wear what I love and love what I wear. Below are just a few things that make my day-to-day living that bit more special. Seeing is believing; why don’t you have a peek inside?
It’s a well-known fact that I’m partial to leather and the colour navy. Translate that truism into a pair of trusty trousers and watch me fan girl — hard. Exhibit A: my COS culottes. Short enough to avoid the spectre of wet hems while also having season-to-season longevity. I’ve been wearing them for over a year now, so much so I’ve left a butt mark. I like to consider this ownership lest anyone get notions about ‘borrowing’ them.
There’s something transformative about a great dress. Finding ‘the one’ can be a veritable amulet of change: an instant mood lifter, automatic compliments hustler, not to mention a no brainer. One zip and you’re dressed. This vintage lurex beauty from Cork’s Kahlo & Apfel boutique bears all the hallmarks of a solid gúna — cap sleeves, empire line silhouette and a vintage colourway that makes florals look more modern than mincing. Plus, it is made for twirling and dancing. That’s got to count for something.
Matching prints are charming; clashing prints are cheeky. This oversized check coat from H&M and mismatched wide leg Topshop trousers put a playful spin on professional wear when combined with a faux fur handle bag and a Perspex heel (they also look great with trainers). I like to box clever and wear together for maximum impact or divide and conquer for canny cost-per-wear snaps.
I’m sweet on a decent suit, namely due to its ability to pull the aul switcheroo as separates. This beauty from Arket is wrought from Italian wool hopsack which, in layman terms, means no creasing. With the number of train journeys I take, this makes me do the happy dance. Plus, it’s got the perfect balance between relaxed proportions and a sharp cut — breezy but boss-worthy.
Anyone who lives in Ireland knows that getting dressed requires cross-referencing at least three weather reports and a quick prayer to St Jude. When you don’t know whether to play it safe in a metric tonne of wool or risk hypothermia rather than carry a coat about your person, split the difference and stick to corduroy. Fustian enough to spurn a westerly wind yet still able to withstand an unseasonal temperature spike; consider corduroy a peri-menopausal weather foil.
There you have it; my age-inappropriate style guide. May it inspire you to wear what you love and love what you wear. Most of all, may it inspire you to never dress (or act) your age. Rules, after all, were meant to be broken but making your own — that’s far more satisfying.