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Fashion at 50

I wrote this one for The Age in 2007, but nothing much has changed, so I think it’s still relevant. How do you solve the dilemma of what to wear as you age?

If, like me, you are struggling to decide if and when you will allow yourself to go grey, you might like to see the site:

Going grey, looking great

Fashionable at 50? Don’t count on it

ALL I wanted was a pretty cotton nightie. But I was standing in a sea of shiny fake satin with shoestring straps and prickly nylon lace, or brushed cotton neck-to-knees with prudish Peter Pan collars and elasticised cuffs.

“Can I help you?” the high-school student posing as a shop-assistant-who-cared asked.

“Have you got something somewhere between Nana and slut?” I asked.

Such is the problem of finding fashion at 50.

We are neither young nor old any more. The trouble is, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, we don’t feel young or old either.

We feel just right. So why can’t we find anything that looks just right?

This is especially so this year, when the fashion is for maternity-like tops made from Nana’s old curtains. Even my fashion-conscious teenage daughter spurns these. “They look like something you’d wear while you decided whether to keep the baby or not,” she says contemptuously.

In Thailand, where I lived for two-and-a-half years, I was the oldest and fattest person there.

Nothing fitted me, but everything fitted my daughter, who at 14 was the size of a Thai adult. I spent my weekends, the fat chaperone, waiting outside change rooms, wearing my ubiquitous black pants and size XL T-shirt. “We have big size, Madam,” the child-like shop assistants would chant when I went past, offering me tiny T-shirts labelled “L”, which I finally concluded stood for “little”.

Part of the joy of coming home was that I would look normal, perhaps even slim – if I stood next to the right people. So, to celebrate, I decided on a makeover.

Trinny and Susanna from What not to wear had convinced me that long-line jackets were the answer to expanding waistlines and sagging bottoms. So, before we returned home, I visited a sympathetic Thai dressmaker, who made me a range of long-line jackets to wear with pants and matching scarves. I was delighted until I returned home and tried them all on. “I look like the mother-of-the bride,” I wailed.

Not only that, Khun Tim had decided my long-line jackets would be even more slimming if they were tight – so tight that I can’t wear them while driving as I can’t move my arms.

So, in desperation, I type “Fashion at 50” into Google and wait to be rescued. Help comes in the form of bloomerful.com – the online magazine for baby boomers “who are no rush to grow old gracefully”. I guess that’s why they included a story on “How to dress like your teenage daughter and get away with it”.

However, its blog – wellpast50.blogs.com – offers some reassurance.

“It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” it says. True. That’s probably why when Audrey Hepburn was young and poor she owned one nice suit – but 17 different scarves.

“What she did with those scarves was amazing,” her biographer raved.

I own seven scarves, but no matter what I do with them I still look like my mother.

The best advice comes from Sherri Mathieson, author of Forever Cool, writing for Bloomerful, who advises well-past-50s to wear classic styles with quality accessories.

“Aspire to a certain classy refinement – it’s become too rare,” Sherri says.

But her next piece of advice is where it all comes unstuck for me: “Don’t forget that your husband, significant other or date is bound to be part of your image. One of you can detract from the other. You are a ‘set’ as you walk through the door.”

If we are a set, then I need to model myself on Golde, the wife of the Jewish Russian peasant Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, as my husband’s favourite accessory is a Greek fisherman’s hat worn with a black woollen Indian vest.

As he refuses to part with his hat, my fashion choice is now clear.

Unlike Audrey, I only need one scarf, worn over the head and tied firmly under the chin. After all, this is one of the Queen’s favourite looks and she was recently named by Vogue as one of the 50 most glamorous women in the world.

Of course, nobody said whether she was No.1 or No. 50.

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