Saturday, March 19, 2011

In praise of glamour - with only the merest backward glance to lost youth

Dressing the person who, without you quite understanding how, has achieved a certain age is no doddle. It can be hard sometimes to walk that tightrope between looking past it, beyond contention, an indistinguishable part of the amorphous grey mass, or ... sorry, but there's no more apt expression - mutton dressed as lamb.
For instance, last year in a fit of excitement I bought this red skirt from one of my favourite second-hand shops, Ziggurat.

I thought it would be perfect for tango, and indeed, as I twirled before the shop mirror, it looked great. I was delighted too to see that it came from Etam. Their branch on Watford High Street was once my touchstone for all that was cool and desirable and almost certainly beyond reach.
When I put the skirt on again at home, I realised my mistake. In the shop mirror, I had surveyed only the garment, the hips holding it up and the legs beneath (of which it revealed quite a lot). Now I saw that, when incorporated into an overall view, the effect was borderline grotesque, and pointing dangerously in the direction of what Linda Grant has dubbed the 16-61 effect (think front and back views).
I lay the skirt on the spare bed and over the next couple of weeks, cast it longing glances, even trying it on a couple more times. But I knew the game was up. Months later I gave it to Astrid, who sometimes does my housework. She's 21.
One current trend I like but know I can't adopt is the shorts-plus-black-tights look.
There's also the flowery shorts option.
Although these aren't nearly as cute as the ones I saw a youngster wearing at the cafe this morning - again with black tights. Hers were 40s style, with a buttoned front panel. She looked adorable.
I owe to Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser the insight that while young women have the corner on ... well, youth, we older ones must go for glamour. Never forgetting that, as fashion writer, editor and doyenne Diana Vreeland once put it, "A little bad taste is like a splash of paprika." 

Diana Vreeland (1903-1989)

Grant is talking about the same thing - an edge, an element of risk - when she calls for glamour to exhibit a touch of vulgarity. And it's no mere consolation prize for lost youth. Just look at Helen Mirren and Susan Sarandon. I've noticed increasingly that, gorgeous as they can look, young women can't do glamour - they're just too damn young. Glamour belongs to us older women.

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