According to Linda Grant in her book The Thoughtful Dresser, Sarah Mower, the well-known Vogue fashion critic, once wrote that “everyone past the age of 40 needs a “mutton monitor.'” Grant relates this in a story she tells about buying a leather biker jacket. Grant says: “there is something about a leather jacket on a middle-aged woman that to me is both tough and chic.” She eventually found her perfect leather jacket. And then read an article by Sarah Mower that made her doubt her choice and even question her own fashion taste. Mower’s article, which itemized “mutton moments that older women were best to avoid,” had firmly placed the leather biker jacket in the mutton category. Meaning that middle-aged women were too old to wear them. And when one did so, the biker jacket would most certainly make her look “like mutton dressed as lamb.”
Well, I say pffft to Sarah Mower. And so do my friends.
But let me back up. Earlier this week, I attended a “girls only” backyard drinks party at my friend Joanne’s house. There were five of us there. We all used to work together. Two of us are retired now, the other three are scheduled to go back to the classroom in September. We span several decades age-wise. Two of the women are in their thirties, one in her forties, one in her fifties, and me in my sixties. A perfect sampling to discuss the issues of what to wear after a certain age, whether that age is 30, 40, 50, or beyond.
Joanne brought up the issue. I had lent her my copy of The Thoughtful Dresser, and she had a bone to pick with Linda Grant. About the issue of leather biker jackets and whether middle-aged women are too old to wear one. In the book Linda seems to acquiesce to Sarah Mower’s dictate about biker jackets and mutton. Oooh. We did take umbrage to that. All of us.
I guess that Sarah Mower’s article was probably written a few years back when those “What Not to Wear Over Thirty” articles were so common. I can’t remember what any of them said because they all seemed so ridiculous. And their rules so silly. But I do agree with one thing that Mower says, that our face should match the rest of our outfit. Heaven forbid that we should look like we’re still trying to wear what we wore as teenagers. This happened to me years ago when at forty I tried on a much-loved dress that I’d had for years and knew immediately that it no longer worked on me. The dress did not match my face. The neckline and those puffed sleeves… oh my, I could hardly get it off fast enough.
Since then, thanks to my changing body, I am unable to wear much of what I wore in my twenties and thirties. Except for the odd Max Mara blazer. My old clothes became too small. And I didn’t often replace them because the style was outdated or the cut did not look good on me anymore. That’s what happened with tee shirts. The slim cut tees I used to wear now look dreadful on me. So I had to look for something that was more flattering.
I’ve always favoured mostly classic styles, even when I was much younger, so the modifications that I felt I needed to make to my personal style as the decades rolled by were pretty painless. Puffed sleeve dresses and slim-cut tees aside, a lot of what I wear now is kind of what I’ve always worn. Jeans, flat sandals, knee-length skirts, jackets over everything. Pretty much the same, but worn differently. I usually wear skirts with sneakers now, instead of heels. My jackets and jeans have moved with the times. Except when I can recycle a really old jacket that has come back in style. So something old worn with something current looks current.
In fact I wrote a blog post called “Back to the Future” last year because an outfit I was wearing was so reminiscent of one I wore in my early twenties. The same, but different. Better quality than I could afford back then, better cut, not so tight, and thus age appropriate. Or body-shape appropriate, I should probably say. But still very similar.
Changes in my life, my body, or lately my hair will still catapult me into a revisionist look at my wardrobe. Retirement did that. Suddenly blazers and blouses that I took into the dressing room looked wrong. I remember saying to Liz one day at Nordstrom that the outfit would have been great for the “old Sue,” but not anymore. And since I’ve let my natural hair colour grow out, I’ve been reassessing what I wear. For colour, certainly. But also for style.
Take, for instance, this linen “muscle tank” from Vince. I love this tee. But for the first three years I owned it I always, always wore it under a jacket. For the past two summers I have loved it with my Burberry denim skirt, my Stan Smith Adidas, and my Veronica Beard jacket. But just lately, I’ve been wearing this tee on its own. Gasp. Who’d have thought? For the fantasy book club party in my backyard, I wore the tee with my Frame high-rise straight-leg jeans and my cream sandals. I threw my Vince cashmere sweater around my shoulders.
And today, I changed the jeans for my Burberry denim skirt and the sandals for my sneakers. I threw the Vince sweater around my neck again. I like this outfit.
And then I tried the tee and my sneakers with my A.L.C. striped, silk midi-skirt and my Theory crocheted sweater. I like this look as well. It seems my white hair has allowed me to embrace more slouchy looks. My hair is looser, and a bit less contrived than my old look. So I feel comfortable in a more louche, more rumpled outfit. As changes ensue it’s all about finding a new balance that works. To look modern and not boring, and a bit edgy without looking like mutton dressed as lamb. As opposed to following dictates about what I can’t wear at my age, I guess I’m finding ways to wear what I want. To feel good in my clothes and feel good about myself.
So the other night in Jo’s backyard as my friends and I discussed what we should wear and not wear as we progress through the decades, great hilarity ensued. There’s nothing like a bunch of friends with whom you feel comfortable. With whom you can reminisce, and joke, and tease, and laugh. Great big guffaws that are sooo sustaining. I think that evening was just what we all needed.
We concluded that we will never be too old to wear leather biker jackets, as long as we choose to wear them. We can wear whatever we want, whenever we want to do so. As long as we love it and it makes us feel good. “What about tube tops?” my friend Marina quipped as she waved her glass in the air. Ha. Well, tube tops. Now they’re a whole other matter.
But I do think that if, as a result of aging and our changing bodies and hair, we start to not feel good in our clothes, we should refrain from beating ourselves up. Instead we might just want to take a critical look at what we’re wearing. And be ready to embrace change.
From someone who always liked a snug tee shirt, I’ve embraced bagginess whole-heartedly. Not ill-fitting, swallowing me up bagginess. Just looseness. Softness. And a little schlumpiness. And if I didn’t already own a muscle tank that I love, I’d be looking at these ones below.
But enough about me, my friends. Let’s hear about you. What do you NOT wear anymore? Did you abandon it because your “mutton monitor” alarm sounded? Or because you found it simply did not suit your changing body or lifestyle? Do tell us.
Today I’m joining Catherine of Not Dressed as Lamb for the #IWillWearWhatILike linkup.