When I was a girl, my mum often shared the same advice – over and over again.
It usually coincided with the spotting of a 40 or 50-something woman (similar to my mum’s age at the time). Back in the day, it was likely that this woman was not following ‘the rules’, which were that turning 40 or 50 meant dressing in an ‘age appropriate’ way – usually mid-calf-length pleated skirts, sensible blouses or cardigans, discreet jewellery, sombre colours and regulation permed curls.
Pardon the language, but I’m buggered if I know who came up with these rules. Was there a secret society of matrons? But I do know that the saying ‘mutton done up as lamb’ would be muttered fiercely if anyone dared transgress.
And in some mysterious way, I think this intended insult has had a huge influence on me and my generation and how we see ourselves as we age.
Worst of all, it applies a damaging brake on our ability to take risks with our appearance.
I also remember being 13, 14 or 15 and making a huge effort – usually taking my entire Saturday – to prepare for a big night at the local disco.
This effort usually involved face masks, eyebrow plucking, hair dye (oh, the smell of henna! And the colour! And the muddy bathroom sink!), dousing myself in patchouli oil and sewing a new, often horrendously ill-conceived outfit from scratch. What fun.
Mistakes? I’ve certainly made a few, but the excitement and creativity knew no bounds.
So why, now that I’m in my 60s, should I toe some supposed age-appropriate line? This question occurs often as I journey around my neighbourhood, and others, both in Australia and overseas.
Recently, at a café in the Victorian country town of Euroa, I saw Annette (about my age, I’m guessing) looking simply fabulous in her white tee, circle skirt, white runners and oversized navy hoop earrings.
That’s her in the top image.
I asked her about her take on following a supposed age-appropriate dress code and she said that it was a terrible idea.
So here’s the thing.
Sorry Mum, but on the matter of how women should dress as they age, I think you were wrong. It’s not helpful to pull back and become more conservative, playing it ever safer. Quite the opposite. I believe we all need to stay open, adventurous and curious as we age, every day, in every way.
I’m not saying we should all do an Iris Apfel with exaggerated specs and over-the-top colour clashes; just that we should never confine ourselves to ‘mature’ shopping outlets.
Let it rip, I say. Wear the sneakers with your long or short skirt. Buy the witty tee. Show your cleavage. And tell your hairdresser that it’s time for a new ‘do’ for a new you.
One day we’ll all be dead, so what’s to lose if we have fun in the meantime?
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