No more fashion faux pas’ for middle aged women

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What does the middle-aged woman look like in 2021? For our mothers, turning 50 meant surrendering to medical support hose and orthopaedic footwear, whiling away the hours knitting her own bus pass. Deemed to have passed her “amuse by” dates, the middle-aged woman suddenly became a runner-up in the human race ; overlooked for promotion and seated down table at dinner parties.

Even for my generation, clinging onto your mini skirt, bikini or sleeveless dress past the age of 50 risked being cast off into Sartorial Siberia as “mutton dressed as lamb”. We were made to feel that if we went into the House of Horrors we’d come out with a job offer.

Until recently the list of fashion faux pas’ for middle-aged women was as long as the drab skirts we were expected to hide our legs in. There were constant edicts about what women could and couldn’t wear. No plunging necklines, no short skirts, no upper arm visibility… Women my age were expected to wear taupe and beige – a case of the bland leading the bland. At the beach we had to sport sturdy, orthopaedic bathing suits, as if about to swim the Channel, circa 1922. A “costume drama” no longer described a BBC series with cod-pieces or shirtless Poldarks. No, it referred to a middle-aged woman who might dare to bare in a two-piece.

But no longer. Midlife women are now taking centre stage in all sorts of different sizes and guises. On telly, a middle-aged female lead role has been harder to find than a super model’s pantry. All that was supporting an actress over 50 was her spanx and her Wonderbra.

Yet now our screens are currently being taken over by a plethora of formidable females. In the hit TV series, “Mare of Easttown,” 45 year old Kate Winslet plays a frazzled dowdy, but rock hard police detective juggling marriage breakdowns, kids (grandkids) and career which leaves her little time to attend to her roots or nails. The only requirement her character makes of her attire is that it’s comfy and flame-retardant. She likes all food – as long as it’s fast and washes it all down with a cold beer straight from the bottle.

Most actresses are so thin you can see the three course raisin she had for lunch. They survive on a cup of skimmed air and maybe the odd lick of a sultana. I once saw a super thin actress in skin-tight jeans threaten to sue a café for serving whole milk in her skinny latte. But Kate Winslet’s character has appetites, for food and fornication. A real woman in other words.

At the more glamorous end of the spectrum, we have 53 year old Nicole Kidman in “The Undoing,” who played an elegant, stylish, impeccably groomed mid-lifer and doting altar-ego to Hugh Grant’s suave paediatrician. Poised, perfect, sexy and scintillating happy in her midlife skin – who wouldn’t want to walk a mile in Nicole’s designer shoes?

With “Friends” reuniting and a “Sex In the City” reboot in the works, female fans are eager to see which kind of midlife woman our TV heroines will embrace. Kim Cattrall nailed the older sexy woman vibe via Samantha – a sharp-witted, sassy, breezy broad able to shrug off life’s adversities with a sly wink, a one-liner and lashings of lip-gloss. But how will Sarah Jessica Parker’s kooky character reincarnate as a 50-something?

Carrie Bradshaw owned more shoes than the entire cast of River Dance- most of them high enough to cause nose bleeds. It was cute then – I mean, if you put your foot in your mouth as often as Carrie did, it simply had to be well shod. But now in midlife, is Sarah Jessica Parker still going to torture her tootsies or does a Birkenstock beckon? It’s so hard to appear a confident middle-aged career woman while lurching across a room at vertiginous angles, crippled from bunion pain, desperately trying to not to topple face forward into the shagpile, flashing a fallopian on route.

And what to expect of Jennifer Anniston, Courtney Cox and Lisa Kudrow who will be Friends reuniting this week? Will they be botoxed from tonsils to toenails, their ossified features unable to emote? Or will these female mentors allow devoted fans to read between their lines? Their facial lines, that is. Will Monica, Rachel and Phoebe become the wind beneath our bingo wings?

Another 90’s TV heroine poised to strut her middle-aged stuff is Ally McBeal . Aged 56, it’s 20 years since Calista Flockhart breezed into court in her micro minis. The Boston lawyer was famous for wearing skirts so short, we weren’t worried about seeing her knickers; we were worried we’d see her ovulating. Already the “will she/ won’t she wear a mini” debate is causing maximum controversy.

I hope Ally adopts the same attitude to that kind of misogyny as she did in series two when fellow lawyer and childhood sweetheart Billy Thomas condescended to her, “Ally, do you really want to be known as the miniskirt attorney?” to which Ally replied, “I don’t want to be known as the attorney who let the judge tell her how to dress.”

I’m 62 and still flashing the flesh in minis. Although there was a time my fashion confidence sunk limbo low. When my daughter was going through the dreaded teens, I donned my favourite leopard skin mini skirt to head off for a night on the town. Feeling pretty sassy, I sashayed to the front door, full of vim and verve ….Until, that is, my daughter heard the door creak open. She immediately ran after me, yelling, “You are not going out dressed like that! Go back to your room and change immediately!”

“But surely my legs are okay?” I pleaded. “I can still wear a short skirt?”

“It’s not the legs Mum. The skirt doesn’t go with our face.”

Ouch. Low self esteem is hereditary – you get it from your teenage daughters.

In her twenties, my darling daughter now agrees with me, that women should wear whatever makes them feel good. Because surely, when it comes to how midlife women dress there should only be one rule – that there’s no rules. You can slum it in tracky daks and trainers, glam it up in glittery heels and dresses so flimsy you’ve seen more silk on a worm or opt for tongue-in-chic and dye your hair pink. Yep, middle aged women have finally won the right to “bare arms.”

As I’ve said before, blokes are never dismissed as ‘mutton dressed as ram” now are they? Rod Stewart, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Simon Cowell and co can strut about in opened neck shirts, gold chains and leather trousers so tight you can detect his religion without censure or criticism.

As middle-aged women get prime time slots as protagonists, driving the plot and telling complicated stories, audiences will be introduced to a wider range of role models. Which means, finally, when it comes to fashion, older females will feel able to wear whatever the hell we want. Why worry what anyone thinks? You’ll only get stressed and sprout a pimple. Wrinkles and pimples? Now, that’s definitely not a good look.


To read more about women navigating midlife with fun, frivolity and wrinkles intact, why not slip between my latest novel, “HRT – Husband Replacement Therapy”; although it may cause laughter lines. (Hopefully!)

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