I’m planning a late summer holiday this month, and for the first time in my life, I don’t have the previously ubiquitous swimsuit/ bikini dilemma. I’m wearing the bikini, because, to paraphrase Billie Piper, I want to.
When I turned forty, a friend of mine sent me a list of “Things You Can No Longer Wear After 39”. Naturally, she introduced it with a mandatory crying-with-laughter emoji, but like all chain-mails and memes, there is always an insidious little element of supposed truth to these things. They creep in on you on a random Tuesday afternoon as you browse in Zara, or spot a near perfect dress in Topshop, and they whisper in your ear “Oh but you can’t wear that anymore! Remember the list? Now away to Damart with you for some soft shoes!”
I have always wished that a sense of style could be bought – just once – and then kept for life. Like a classic watch or a really good piece of furniture. Of course, that would mean missing out on a lot of fun experimenting with what doesn’t work; crop tops, neon prints and wonderful sartorial misadventures committed to photographs for friends to dig out on birthdays or hen nights, but still, wouldn’t it be great? Many people do have an elemental awareness of what looks good (and not just the ones who would look great no matter what they wore), and those that get it wrong are rarely allowed escape unscathed. Money can buy you nice clothes, but it doesn’t guarantee style. Take Victoria Beckham par example; now the doyenne of sophistication and flair, but even a cursory Google will drag up every corset and leather combo she ever nearly fell out of not so long ago.
Most of us are lucky enough to be able to consign our fashion fails to history as soon as they have happened, but then our heads are turned by the next must-have, and before you can say “closet cull”, we’re strolling home with bags of cold-shoulder tops and embroidered denim. I have long dreamed of a capsule wardrobe, and becoming one of those women who has a small collection of lovely things that all compliment each other – and her - perfectly. Then I open my actual wardrobe and see the countless, clashing, highstreet clothes, many still with the (usually sale) tags still swinging from the label.
For a while I dallied with being a Cos woman – all Cos women look elegant, monochrome and understatedly professional. But it turned out I’m too short for a lot of their clothes, and I looked like I’d fallen into a hotel laundry bin. Then I toyed with becoming an All Saints girl, but realised their wares were far more expensive than I’d thought, so tweaked it to “an All Saints’ jacket and the rest from Zara girl”, yet still came home with two tops from Penneys, a logo jumper from H&M and a skirt from Dunnes which was so unusual, I’d be unlikely to wear it more than a few times.
It would appear I’ve learned nothing. But I have at least accepted that if you dress for your shape, you’re more than half way there. The tiresome lists which divide us all by decades mean nothing if the clothes never suited us in the first place. We may well be advised that mini skirts are best kept atop young legs, but anyone who has seen 63 year old Brigitte Macron in a thigh-skimmer would be hard pressed to agree. One of my best friends, with the self professed moniker of “Cornetto legs”, knew even at 15 that minis would never make her feel good about herself so eschewed them from the start. She has always known what suits her, and as a result, rarely puts a foot wrong, whereas another friends follows what she considers the “age rules” to the letter, and at 40, is terrified of thinking people are looking at her for mutton et lamb reasons, so now dresses like a Bronte sister at a funeral.
One day I’ll have my capsule wardrobe. I’ll be one of those women who others envy for her style and panache. I’ll have sleek blazers, jeans without baggy knees, statement shoes and handbags worthy of their own insurance cover.
But maybe I’ll just hang on to the stuff I have for the down days.
Originally published in Image Magazine, September 2017