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How to work the revival trends

With the 80s and 90s revivals upon us, there are many pitfalls for the unwary fashionista

Paris 2010It's all gone quite quiet on the fashion front since the recent shows, but I have been thinking about the new 80s and 90s revivals and about how they could be a real trap for women over 40.

For some of us, me included, the 80s was our heyday, but we'd better be wary of the extremes that this trend will undoubtedly bring (see left for clashing prints, cropped, baggy pants, wrapped waists et al), or all we'll be doing is reminding everyone of quite how long we've been on the planet. Fashion was fun when we had great skin and youth on our side, but it has to work harder for us now and although there are many trends I'm sure we'll all avoid (ripped jeans, holey clothes, exposed bras), there are others that could easily trip us up. The 90s are a safer era - fashion was considerably more grown-up - but it could still catch you out.

Faux pas - things to avoid

1 Wearing anything you've kept from 'then'. Secretly, I suspect that many of us have, hanging around in the wardrobe, some outfit in which we felt at our gorgeous best. But wearing it now - even assuming you can still get into it - is just not a good idea. Pass these garments on to your daughters or nieces, who'll be delighted to have a real-life 'vintage' garment from the era. The new 80s trend will look subtley different, if only because fabric technology has moved on so far and few of us will want to go back to the stiffness of 80s shoulderpads or the lack of stretch in everyday garments (thank God for Lycra). Meanwhile, are you seriously ever going to a rave again?

Lily Allen2 Over-egging it. When you're greeted by a whole bunch of familiar-looking outfits in the shops, that bring with them that sense of recognition, it's time to beware. Young is something we were, not something we are. Youthful - now there's another thing. You can be youthful at any age, which is more to do with fitness and state of mind than looks. But the purple drapy catsuits cut down to the navel are best left for the likes of Lily Allen, who can look great in them at 20-whatever-she-is. 

3 Hot, hot colours. Seriously, I'd be wary here. A lot of us loved these colours in the 80s - me included (with what fondness do I remember a screaming pink wool flannel coat, worn with purple trousers - ah...). A flash of colour in a scarf, a lining, a shoe or bag is fabulous and can really lift an outfit, but many of the hard, artificial colours that we're seeing again have a very blue cast that can look unattractive against an older skin. If you have black or grey hair, you can probably get away with those magenta pinks and peacock blues, but if your colouring is more even and you have brown, red or blonde hair, look for slightly softer, more natural shades, or keep it to accessories. Meanwhile, there's also a strong trend for camel and black - a good combination for most women.

4 Shiny fabrics. Give it a miss, love. Matt fabrics are the over-40s-babe's bestest bestest friend.

5 Draping. Most of us, with the passage of time, look better in a bit of sleek tailoring than in anything draped. The 80s really went to town with draping, and you can see it again - big sleeves, pleated waists, etc. I would be very careful about this. Especially avoid the mid-calf-length pleated skirt, which turns any woman into a gran, and the wide, wide, ruched sleeve that adds pounds to your torso.

Good things

Ungaro1 A bit of a shoulder pad. A bit, note. A hint. A little bit of lift. Just enough to balance your hips and not more. The best on the runway were from Ungaro but even these were a bit wide.

Celine2 A higher-waisted jean or trouser. A slightly dropped waist looks best on most women because it lengthens your torso slightly, and that makes you look thinner, but a higher waist is more comfortable for many women to actually wear. You can have the best of both worlds by wearing a higher-waisted jean or trouser with a t-shirt or blouse cut to high-hip length worn outside it.

3 Bodies. Provided you get the type with poppers at the crotch, or loose enough to pull out of the way while you're on the loo, a body gives you coverage, warmth, a sleek line and the sure knowledge that you won't be revealing any unintentional glimpses of skin or - God forbid - muffin top. Put it on and forget about it.

Dior4 Sexy underwear. One area where mid-life women can really go to town is lingerie - wear what the hell you like: no-one (with exceptions) is going to know. Dior's underwear was really meant to be worn as outerwear, but a bit of transparency never went amiss on an older woman in any case, as Sophia Loren very well knows. If you want a low-cut, v-back or sleeveless dress, a chiffon or lace layer is always welcome, giving a hint without putting too much on the plate.

5 Minimalism. Whatever your style of life, whether it's blue jeans and t-shirts or black pencil skirts and crisp white blouses, a clean, minimal look is something that any woman can wear. Sleek hair, well-applied makeup, simple lines - it's easy. Visit for inspiration.  




Fashion disappears up its own orifice

Hot on the heels of the 80s revival is the 90s revival. Where will it end?

Just as I am trying to get my head around the 80s revival in fashion, and fearing the ghastly outcome, comes an article by Emma Sibbles in the Guardian, noticing a return to 90s fashion. Oh Lord, where do we go from here?

It's usually a sign of recession that trends look back to the past - witness all that Laura Ashley milkmaid cobblers in the 70s and the country-house-style swags and tails of the 80s. But when we get two such recent decades piling up on themselves in this manner, you really wonder what on earth can come next. 

Do modern designers really have nothing NEW to say? Must we always return to the past (some of us have actually been there and done that, thanks)? I would really like to see, now, something more radical in fashion, something that nods to global warming, recycling, protection of third-world labour, true comfort, style and beauty. 

Oh well, enough whingeing. Since it will soon be upon us in all its glory, here are the trends that Sibbles notes, should you wish to follow any. 

1 Kitten heels

Good news on the whole for women over 40, who may not be so comfortable in high heels as once they were. A kitten gives you a bit of elegance without the height, thank God, and is a great alternative to the godawful clumpy orthopaedic shoes that have been cluttering up the runways for a couple of seasons. 

2 Cycling shorts

Strictly to be avoided, IMHO, unless you're actually on a bike. 

3 Sportswear

When wasn't sportswear a trend? It is simply one strand of fashion.

4 Safety pins

As in holding your dress together - another one to avoid, girls.

5 Bum bags

Convenient, but a great way to draw attention to a wide beam end, and let's face it, gravity does tend to take its toll with the years...

6 Neon

Avoid avoid avoid. Even in accessories.

7 Layers

OK if you're skinny and fancy a bit of grunge, but avoid if you're of normal or above-average weight - you'll look like an escaped mental patient. 

8 Bodies

Oh yes, please. Provided they have a proper wide crotch and grab hold of your bum properly (no thongs please). A decent, long-sleeved body (like a leotard with poppers) used to be my first layer of dressing right through the 90s and I almost wept when you couldn't find them any more in the shops.  I would seriously welcome the return of these if they went with a slightly low-waisted jean, but of course we're also heading back to paper-bag ruffles at the waist, so can tuck in a short t-shirt anyway.

9 Rave whistles

Never went to a rave (too busy, you know - working), so this one passed me by the first time, but I can't imagine it does much for a mid-life woman's level of chic. Leave it to the kids. 



Eight trends for summer dressing

Ruffles, Tribal and safari, Statement shoes, Bare shoulders, Bright bags, Asymmetry, High-low hems, and Nude shoes.

Ruffle shirt from GrattanNot all of's top tips for summer trends need trouble the over-40s babe, I imagine. Ruffles, for instance, are a tricky beast once a girl hits 30, especially anywhere in the bust area. I'd keep them for things like scarves or other accessories rather than garments, or it really can look muttony. The exception is perhaps the very short, crisp ruffle on a white cotton shirt worn OPEN - whatever you do, don't do it up (very Tory magistrate).

Betty Jackson safari skirtSafari and tribal are useful staples in every season - nothing new here then. Last year, La Redoute's catalogue was simply stuffed with them. Women in mid-life are probably best off choosing classic safari like this Betty Jackson skirt from Debenham's, which is less Ray Mears and more Out of Africa. As for tribal, it's a great look but easy to overdo - again accessories work well, especially with plain black or white. The chunky bracelet shown on the homepage is a tenner  from Debenham's. 

Sugly shoestatement shoes are something you can stuff up your jumper as far as I'm concerned. I've never seen so many ugly shoes in my life as in this past season and I can only hope that designers soon stop taking whatever drug it is they're on and get us all back into something more anatomically correct and comfortable. In five years time, people are going to wonder whatever possessed women to wear such bloody ugly things on their feet (probably as they wheel round the female members of the family in Bath chairs because we've all destroyed our knees). 

Bare shoulders is one of those Mmn moments for the over-40s babe. Nearly all women have nice shoulders, even if you have bingo wings, so why not take advantage of the summer sun and flaunt them a little? (If you know you're going to be photographed, don't forget to take your foundation makeup right down to the edge of the dress, otherwise your neck and decollete will look a different colour from your face in the pictures.)

Bright bags are a definite yes for me, especially since I prefer to dress in neutrals on the whole. Bright red, blue or yellow is a bag colour than can carry you surprisingly far - because it doesn't match with anything, it goes with anything - and it just gives an outfit a bit of a lift. 

Asymmetry I'm all in favour of when it's of the Issey Miyake/Junya Watanabe/Commes des Garcons type, but the kind of asymmetry means is the Hollywood one-shoulder gown type, which frankly I think looks weird, like a woman's been vacuum-sealed into her dress. Bruce Oldfield was forever doing this sort of thing back in the 80s and it looked strange even then. Don't know why, I just don't find this look attractive - Alix could make it work in the 1930s but it seems beyond today's lot. 

The high-low hem is another look that won't be bothering me this season - a high-low hem on an evening gown has serious potential for making you look like an extra from Moulin Rouge. For those who enjoy evening wear, a classic long sheath with a split is a sexier look out of which you'll get more mileage.

Nude shoes are an absolute yes for summer, especially if you're going bare-legged. If they have high heels, they make your legs look far longer, and even in flats they're very elegant - my favourites are simple nubuck Footglove slingbacks with a small heel. Nude shoes go with almost anything - if you're wearing a brightly coloured dress, dark shoes look too businesslike and bright shoes give you a big fat full stop on the ends of your feet, but nude shoes will always work.


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