Why the most stylish red carpet looks are from the 50-plus generation
“I don’t like to say the word ‘SAG’ at my age,” Dame Helen Mirren told guests at the SAG Awards as she collected a lifetime achievement award at the Sunday evening event.
That wasn’t the word which came to mind, Helen. Chic would be more like it. Elegant, perhaps. Pretty damn sensational. In her pink Prada gown with matching Alice band, the actress is, one red carpet at a time, reinventing what it looks like to be 76. In fact, I don’t know a woman of any age who wouldn’t mind looking like Mirren right now, whether they’re 20, 40 or 60.
It’s not just Mirren, either. Awards season 2022 is only just getting started, but a theme is already emerging and it’s that the over-50s are by far and away the most stylish stars on the red carpet. This is all the more impressive given that 50 is equal to about 100 in Hollywood years – just look at the recently announced casting of the upcoming Apple TV+ series The Crowded Room, in which Emmy Rossum, 35, will play the mother of Tom Holland, 25. Just when we thought that kind of misogynistic ageism had been left in the past.
Those casting directors should pay some attention to Isabelle Huppert, 68, who was at the César Awards in Paris on Saturday and was a vision in Balenciaga. Or Meryl Streep, 72, at the SAGs in a strapless vintage Mary McFadden gown, giving two fingers to anyone who suggests that women over a certain age shouldn’t show their upper arms.
Cate Blanchett, a mere spring chicken at 52, attended both awards shows in two different cleavage-baring looks (Louis Vuitton for the Césars, custom Armani for the SAGs), because when you look that good it seems almost criminal to cover up. Ditto Sandra Oh, 50, who attended the SAGs in a silver tiered Carolina Herrera gown.
Nicole Kidman, 54, who made headlines last month for posing on the cover of Vanity Fair in a schoolgirlish Miu Miu crop top and miniskirt set, pushed the envelope more successfully this weekend in a Saint Laurent gown with an oversized silk bow at the neck (it was fun, but also elegant, while the Vanity Fair cover seemed an attempt to make a grown-up woman look like a teenager).
There were also some memorable appearances at Milan Fashion Week: the eternally beautiful Julianne Moore, 61, at Bottega Veneta in square-toed mule sandals and Sharon Stone on the front row at Dolce & Gabbana in Milan in a crystal embellished suit (she told Telegraph head of fashion Lisa Armstrong that great tailoring is her secret to looking sexy at 63: “If you’re going to show skin, whatever your age, you want clothes you can rely on to stay in place.”)
It is important to note that these women are not the type to have had their faces ironed into an unrecognisable approximation of their younger selves (I’m looking at you, Madonna). While these red carpet stars may have indulged in a number of tweakments and injectables, the overall impression is that they aren’t trying to hide their age; they’re just trying to look like the best version of themselves.
Take Mirren’s hair: it may be white, but it is in such impeccable condition that she was able to wear it loose in a portrait released ahead of the SAG Awards last week. The shade, too, is no accident – it will have been carefully chosen to flatter her skin. Streep, who wore her silver hair in a low ponytail for the event, will have likely taken the same approach. There’s no denial of the ageing process, rather an enhancement of it.
Nor is grey hair a prerequisite for ageing gracefully. Huppert and Moore remain faithful to their signature red; Kidman, Blanchett and Naomi Watts are still blonde and Salma Hayek and Julianna Margulies have stayed brunette. These are not clumsy Rudy Giuliani hair dye-down-the-face attempts to cling onto one’s youth; it is simply what they have decided suits them best.
But it is still remarkable that these over-50 red carpet looks are so much more appealing than those of the 20- and 30-something celebrities who have all the advantages of youth in their arsenal. It helps to have a good stylist, which all of these women do, but there’s something else, too.
“Women past a certain age just know themselves better and are less judgmental of themselves,” says celebrity stylist Cher Coulter, who has worked with Daisy Lowe, Maria Sharapova and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. “They are more relaxed and therefore more open to pushing boundaries, going with what they like and feel good in rather than responding to what others will react well to in an outfit. It’s more a sense of: ‘I like this and I feel good.’”
Annabel Hodin, who styled 77-year-old Anne Robinson for her new role as the host of Channel 4’s Countdown, says experience of life in the public eye is critical, too. “The over-50s know themselves and their best assets, and usually have a longstanding team of stylists and beauty professionals around them,” she says. “Every angle has been studied and the risks are calculated. That generation is fantastic to work with as they trust you to get it right. You are there because you know how to choose for them. Creativity thrives where there is not just a clear brief, but a degree of freedom too.”
My conclusion is that these stars are inspiring for all of us. I’ve only just turned 40, but there are more useful style lessons to be learnt from Mirren and Huppert than from all of the under-30s on the red carpet put together. Knowing what kinds of cuts and silhouettes best suit your body, the haircut and colour that flatters your face, the make-up and skincare that makes you look lit from within.
In real life, I don’t want to wear the naked dresses sported by Megan Fox and Kendall Jenner. Nor do I want to know that last season’s risque cut-outs have given way to this season’s crop tops. I want to know the secrets to looking polished and put-together when gravity starts to take a toll on your body.
So what’s the takeaway for the rest of us? “They know how to add a twist to the styles that suit them best,” says Hodin. But if in doubt, she adds, follow this rule: “A simple, elegant silhouette with an up-to-date twist is hard to beat, no matter what shape you are.”