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Do I smell mutton?

For all that we like to follow fashion and express ourselves, so much of what we wear is still about looking appropriate.

I hate to be uncharitable about other women, but sometimes you see one that you just really want to take to one side and stick in front of a mirror. It happened to me at the supermarket on Monday.

I saw her from the back first, and my first reaction out of the corner of my eye was that it was a tad over the top for a rural branch of Lidl at 10.00am: long, wavy bleach-blonde hair worn almost to the top of her thighs, four-inch gold stiletto gladiator sandals on which she teetered along. An exceedingly tight belt drew in her tiny waist to minute proportions, revealing a very ample bosom and even more ample derriere below. But I wasn't really paying attention at this point. 

And then she turned round and I saw her face. Older than me. In fact, 50 if she was a day. It was something of a shock and after my initial reaction, I set about trying to work out why.

The word 'inappropriate' was all I could come up with. 

The look was very young - ultra glamorous in a Jayne Mansfield way - and to see it on someone so very much older than I was expecting gave me an uneasy feeling. It reminded me of a old madwoman I used to see on the bus in Ilford, who looked like a teenager from the back but who was probably well over 80 once you got round the front. 

To carry off a look like this is pushing it at 30, but for a generously built woman in her 50s, it really didn't work at all. For instance, her backside was pretty big, and with the very high shoes and big bust, it resulted in a kind of forward-pitched pouter-pigeon stance, making the back of the skirt several inches shorter than the front. Her figure was superb in a Mamie Van Doren way, but pulling in the waist to tight-lacing proportions like this made her look a bit porn star-ish - it is trying WAY too hard, even on a young woman. 

There's also something about an older woman wearing very long hair loose like this that creates a sense of unease. Long hair is a sexual signal, and in western culture for centuries, women traditionally put their hair up when they married. You only took it down at night in the privacy of your bedroom and in the company of your husband: long hair, worn loose, was the prerogative of maidens. I think there's something about those centuries of tradition which is deeply ingrained in our collective memory, which is why it seems almost disturbing to see hair like this on someone old enough to be a grandmother. But it's a western thing: ethnic groups such as Native Americans seem to be able to get away with it better as it can look quite 'wise woman'-ish. 

It makes me realise that for all our so-called iconoclasm, so much of what we wear is still simply about appropriateness. And even though I rebel against that, I also realise you have to live with it, even as the boundaries of appropriateness shift and change. My husband doesn't wear dresses to business meetings; I wouldn't wear a bikini to see my bank manager; nursery school uniforms don't include a basque and suspenders.

There are 'rules' about what we wear, and where, and they're all unwritten, which makes them hard to follow. What is 'wrong', exactly, with putting your newborn in a black layette? But if you did it, it would be creepy. When a thing is inappropriate, 'wrong' is what it feels. It's almost like a moral issue.

As for our lady in the supermarket, my guess is that the young man shepherding her around the place with such close attention wasn't actually her son, which might be one clue as to her presentation. I can only hope that back in the bedroom she's learned the middle-aged virtues of candlelight and pink sheeting. :)


Aiming for elegance

Why do we all want to look younger, when it's only a hiding to nothing?

I was reading an article by Charles Moore in the Expat Telegraph the other week.

In it, he laments that the British public, by and large, is now so badly dressed, and wonders why this should be, in an age of plenty.

Sins that he notes (it being summer) include too many midriffs, too many tattoos, fat people dressed as if they were thin, and old as if they were young. Most were wearing sportswear but "the reality," he says, "was that most were not all that young, and few, even of those who were, looked sporty."

Of course, being a tad older than I am, he probably has no truck with the idea of tats being fashionable. Even when I was growing up, they were the sign of a thug, and possibly even worse on a woman, and although my friends have some quite pretty tattooes, I still greet their appearance with something like dismay. What, I wonder, will that look like when you're 70? 

After a short discursion into oppressive manners of dress and why we've moved away from them, Moore then gets onto age, and has some interesting things to say.  "If you say of a middle-aged woman," he asks: "'doesn't she look young?', you are praising a quality which, even as you speak, is diminishing. If you say: 'doesn't she look elegant?' you are noting something which may never fail."

In a society in which people will live much longer than in the past, he asks, why is it so important to try to preserve youth?

Well, I couldn't agree more, really. Moore is a right-wing old buffer, educated at Eton, while I am a coalminer's daughter from South Yorkshire, but I feel we're in broad agreement on this one.

I've been thinking of my fashion icons for this blog, and I find it kind of sad that so many of them seem to be from the 1950s and earlier. It's not as if these are even my eras - I grew up in the 70s and 80s, but people were really badly dressed in those decades and things don't seem to have improved much even since. In the 50s and earlier, people had less choice, so they could make fewer mistakes. Society was less mobile, so there were more rules to follow. And clothing was far, far more expensive, so you had to be more careful with your purchases.

The result, in fashion terms, was that people tended to wear well-made clothes that were appropriate to their function in life. Perhaps this pigeonholed everyone, but in another way, having these invisible rules to follow eases your life considerably. 

It seems to me that the more choice people have had in fashion, and also in what's considered 'appropriate' clothing, the more bad taste they seem to exhibit. The same happens with food - the more choice people have, the more junk they eat - we are not as healthy now as we were when food was rationed.

Perhaps what we need on both counts is a return to simplicity, and maybe even rules - or at least guidelines - that you can broadly follow, or on which you can absolutely cheat. But in the meantime, and in the absence of that, it looks like we must all flounder in a grey area, not quite sure if this skirt is too long or too short or too tight or too flouncy...  

As for elegance, again I couldn't agree more with Moore. Elegance, refinement, appropriateness, chic - those are aspirations women can aim for no matter what our age, shape or income. If we could lose our fixation on youth, we'd all be happier people.


Nifty after fifty

The nation’s over-50s are making more time for sex than ever before, according to a survey for Yours magazine.

A new survey commissioned by Yours Magazine and SYLK has revealed that the nation’s over-50s are making more time for sex than ever before. 

With more privacy, less stress and fewer chances of being interrupted by little visitors, a massive 86 per cent said sex is better now than ever before.

There is no lack of adventurous spirit either. With inhibitions out of the window, one in ten has made love in an outdoor public place in the past year. Sexual gymnastics also take place throughout the house with 83 per cent admitting to having sex in the sitting room, kitchen and bathroom.

Among single over-50s, just 6 per cent would sleep with someone on the first date, but after four dates almost half would head for the bedroom with little persuasion.  Almost half of all singles would also date someone ten years younger and take full advantage of their energy levels!

Obviously, practice makes perfect as, on average, those surveyed are making love 66 times a year with those living in the North East topping the charts at an average of 94 times a year. Maybe it's those long winter nights...

Valery McConnell, Editor of Yours magazine, said: “This survey is proof that sex and passion are not a prerogative of the young. Whether you are married or single, physical love plays a key part in our readers’ lives – indeed as they get older it just gets better. It seems that they have the wisdom to know that romance, intimacy and friendship are key ingredients to a great love life. Once again, the world needs to catch up with the reality of life today. Where sex is concerned, just like everything else, 50 really is the new 30.”

Commenting on the findings, ‘sexpert’ Julie Peasgood added: “It is great to see from this research that love lives and fun still flourish when you hit 50, but caution has to be taken. 53 per cent of those dating didn’t use barrier contraception, even though they claimed they knew the risk of STIs. Being mature doesn’t make you immune to infection.”

The full survey is published in Yours magazine, issue 42, available in UK newsagents.


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