Six quietly sophisticated ways to nod to this season's trends, from preppy to cowboy boots
Am I too old to wear fashion’s biggest trends? At 53, I think I’m too old not to. We’re forever hearing that middle-aged women become “invisible”, that society would like us to slip into a hessian sack and please sit at home and watch telly, while politely awaiting death. But as actress Michelle Yeoh said at the Oscars, “Ladies, never let anyone tell you you are past your prime.” It’s why I think now is the time to lean harder on fashion. In fact, I genuinely credit my interest in trends, and my love of getting dressed each day, with keeping me feeling visible.
Yes, my husband finds my more experimental outfits (like my rainbow-striped jumpsuit) a bit much, but my Instagram followers laugh with me when I post the hashtag #clothesmyhusbandhates. ‘‘That’s… a choice,” my teenage daughter will deadpan as I leave the house wearing feather-clad shirt cuffs. I’m braver than her, because she’s in that self-conscious phase when standing out in any way is seen as a fate worse than death.
Clothes used to matter a lot more in my working life, when I was an editor of women’s magazines – most notably Glamour and the Mail on Sunday’s You. My outfits were regularly given a judgy once-over at parties, front row at fashion shows or even just at the office. Every outfit felt like another audition for my job, so looking like I had a clue about trends was vital.
I don’t feel that pressure any more, but it turns out I still love getting dressed every day. It’s important to me as I get older that I never look like I’ve given up. Two of my favourite fashionable women are Trinny Woodall, 59, and the former model and Instagrammer, 70-something Linda Wright. They have wildly different styles, but share an inspirational attitude to ageing glamorously and boldly.
That said, none of us wants to look as though we’re in denial about our age. I’d hate anyone to think I’m desperately trying to look younger. So these days I look for the quietly sophisticated ways to nod to the big trends. Which is entirely doable.
Left: Alberta Ferretti Right: Jo wears: Jersey top, £78, Reiss; wool kilt, £135, Celtic & Co.; leather boots, £129, Zara; Prada sunglasses, £376, Sunglass Hut; earrings, £180, Aeyde; bag, £29.99, Mango
The idea of “cut-outs” usually makes me feel a bit sick. I’ve seen a lot of horrors cropping up on the high street – dresses with massive slashes at the hips or midriff.
I saw a black column dress on the runway of British brand Poster Girl that featured a cut-out circle exposing the model’s entire stomach. I don’t want to see my bare, middle-aged gut, so why would I inflict it on anyone else?
But it’s all in the interpretation and this top is the sort of subtle nod to a trend I like. A modest hit of the clavicle won’t traumatise anyone. It’s just the right touch to give this sensible tartan skirt and boots a bit of an edge. You can even wear a bra with it.
I texted a picture of this to my husband who said, “Why don’t you ever wear anything like this in real life?” Praise from Caesar.
Modern cowboy boots
Left: Chloé Right: Jo wears: Palmer Harding cotton dress, £550, Matches; wool-blend blazer, £240, Jigsaw; gold-plated earrings, £125, Byalona; suede boots, £329, Penelope Chilvers
They may have been the stars of runway shows, from Chloé to Chanel, in recent times, but I still can’t look at a pair of cowboy boots without that awful Billy Ray Cyrus song, Achy Breaky Heart, playing on a loop in my head. I also have the self-awareness to know: I’m not sexy. Never have been. And I’ve only ever really seen sexy women pull off cowboy boots.
Women like FKA Twigs and Emily Ratajkowski who team theirs with lithe, youthful pins and microscopic skirts. So I’m a bit startled to find that this might be my favourite of all of these looks. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that cowboy boots could look polished, as I think they do paired with this Palmer Harding dress. There’s no skin on show, and yet I don’t feel frumpy because the look is really considered. The duck-egg blue detail on the boot and the blue tones through the tweed jacket work beautifully with the colour of the dress. This feels confident and modern and I love it.
Preppy the Prada way
Left: Prada Right: Jo wears: Poplin shirt, £95, With Nothing Underneath; cashmere jumper, £290, Aethel; leather skirt, £249.99, Mango; wool socks, £18, Falke; leather shoes, £249, Pretty Ballerinas; Ami Paris bag, £910, Farfetch
I’m channelling the vibe of Miuccia Prada here. When the iconic fashion designer appears to take a shy bow at the end of her Prada or Miu Miu shows, she’s usually wearing a pleated midi-skirt teamed with preppy details like a knit and shoes and socks. In recent times she’s ushered in a punky take on preppy at Miu Miu with barely-there pleated skirts teamed with college-kid knits.
I’m torn on this one because, essentially, I really like it. But I also completely get why, when he saw this, the photographer’s smile dropped and he simply said, “Oh. It’s a bit frumpy.” Midi-skirts are tricky enough to pull off without adding a bulky sock. No, the only older woman who can pull this off is Mrs Prada because she is Mrs Prada. I think you need a young face and body to pull off this librarian vibe with some sexy irony. I just look like an ageing librarian.
That said, I love this Mango leather skirt so much that I’ve bought it. I’ll wear it with a white shirt and strappy sandals.
Subtle vs full-on silver
Left: Dolce & Gabbana Right: Jo wears: Knitted top, £150, Essential Antwerp; wool blazer, £510, Toteme; jeans, from a selection, Zara; shoes, £35.99, Zara; silver-plated earrings, £180, Aeyde; silver necklace, £540, All Blues; bag, £330, Anine Bing
I love a metallic and I’m never afraid to deploy one at any time of day or night. Sequins for Sainsbury’s? Hell yes. But oh my, this current silver trend really has gone full-tilt Bacofoil lately, hasn’t it? Gucci, Versace, Chanel – they seem to have collectively adopted the Smash ad robots as their muses. So I was pleasantly surprised and relieved when I found these jeans in Zara. They have some nice full metal glints here and there but there’s no risk of looking oven-ready. In fact this whole look is chic simplicity at its best.
Sizing up on the blazer is the most modern take on tailoring right now, and with the added bonus of emphasising the drainpipe cut of the jeans to flattering effect.
Truth be told I’ll probably never wear these heels in real life. I’d happily wear this outfit every day of the week, but with trainers or pointy flats.
Upscale cargo trousers
Left: Fendi Right: Jo wears: Topshop knit top, £36, Asos; cotton trousers, £350, Toteme; bomber jacket, £440, Anine Bing; shoes, £560, Neous; gold vermeil earrings, £200, By Pariah; leather bag, £595, Neous
I struggle to see why anyone would ever feel too old for cargo trousers. Maybe because it’s one of those trends some of us can say we saw the first time round. In the noughties, they were the go-to look for every sexy pop group from All Saints to Destiny’s Child. But those youngsters didn’t invent them.
Cargo trousers are middle-aged magic – often loose at the waist, which is wonderful for us menopausal types who get a bit fatter round the middle by 5pm.
And they’re so versatile. You can enjoy their utilitarian roots by day – wear loose and casual with chunky boots and a cosy knit – and they readily go glam for evening: add a silk shirt, a strappy heel and roll them to reveal a hint of ankle.
These ones from Toteme are a dream. The drawstring at the ankle means you can wear them wide-legged or tapered. The satiny finish to the cotton means no one will think you grabbed them from your teenage daughter’s floor. This sleek, neutral look would have been a no-brainer for my fashion show days.
Louche low-rise, wide-leg trousers
Left: Victoria Beckham Right: Jo wears: Merino-wool top, £90, A Day's March; trousers, £59.99, Zara; B boots, £595, Neous; Cashmere-blend coat, £880, Anine Bing; bag, £385, Anine Bing; Prada sunglasses, £376, Sunglass Hut; earrings, £125, Byalona
I like the idea of low-waisted trousers in theory. Curiously, I am in the minority among my friends in that I loathe high-waisted trousers. (It’s that “fat by 5pm” thing again: if I dare to eat so much as a breadstick, I am in agony until I can get home and unbutton.)
The challenge of the low-waisted trend has nothing to do with your age and everything to do with the shape of your body. At a slim size 10, this is the only pair I could find that I could push down to my hip line – but only if I really sucked in and held my breath. If you are that one middle-aged woman who has kept her teenage snake hips, then these are for you – although I might be inclined to just buy a bigger size of low-waisted trousers and then get them altered.
This is a timeless, sophisticated look, but the slouchy, almost-falling-off-of-you vibe is a nice edgy update – not to mention a subtle way to show that you might be older but you still know what’s going on in fashion.