Friday, 06 March 2015

How to discover your 'mature style'

Feeling a little too grown-up for the whims of fashion? Excellent, says a much-loved writer – it’s time for the real fun to begin

Written by Bonnie Greer
It usually sneaks up on you. You enter a room and suddenly you realise: you’re invisible. Yes, people see you. But those people are usually friends, your spouse and the person who invited you to the occasion.

What I’m talking about here is what the novelist Martin Amis inelegantly refers to as an ‘animal thing’. Suddenly – for you – it’s gone.

The reality is that this moment has been creeping up on you for years; but it’s not all bad when it finally arrives for that’s the day you can start to embrace ‘mature style’.

I’m right there with women who protest against ageism. It has to be rooted out of society. But on a basic and deeply unintellectual level, ageism is all about, well, nature. I’ve always wondered at how surprised people are to realise that we’re also animals – everyone likes to look at young women.

Once you accept you’re no longer young, however, that’s when the work and the fun can begin. Because then it’s possible to go right back – back to the good part of childhood when there were options and playful possibilities, all of it perplexing, but exciting, too.

For many young women, everything is directed outwards, towards The Other. That Other, for most of our younger selves, comes in two forms: Males and Other Females.

In youth, male reaction is the necessary nod that says you are okay, that perhaps you can land a powerful mate who can take care of you and help you to make beautiful, successful offspring. This is what Amis means by the ‘animal thing’. The ‘animal thing’ still drives people, whether we know it or not. Basically, it’s about the survival of the species.

And then there are the Other Females. In youth, OFs are really the ultimate arbiters, the ones who truly judge us. When you’re a young woman, a girl, OFs can be enormously helpful and supportive… or they can be quite simply the root of all evil. It takes time to sort through this, to gain the wisdom necessary to see this truth, to trust yourself.

Many women remain girls. But mature style is about shedding your girlish ways. It isn’t about dressing to impress other people; it begins and ends with you.

It is an adventure that can last the rest of your life. It is always, at its root, amusing. Not ‘ha ha’, a barrel of laughs (unless that’s your aim, of course), but wry, observant, about the self. That notion of self is something that most of us aren’t cultivated to have. Self isn’t ‘selfishness’, or ‘self-centred’. It’s much deeper than that.

It’s the relationship with an inner dynamic, a fluid interchange between what you think you are, what you’ve become through family and interactions with others, and that quiet place that we meet just before we fall asleep. It’s an awareness. And mature style springs from it.

At first, it can seem (and sound) strange. But when finally we listen to that inner voice, the uniform of our lives – and most of us wear one – begins to dance nervously around in our closets. There it all is, laid out before us: the same shoes, the same hair, the same make-up, the same, the same, the same. Suddenly all this stuff that we wear all of the time becomes a trap – we have to move on. But how?

We can start to get a handle on our mature style simply by looking around us. I’ve taught myself to look at trends. Trends are not the literal dress, coat or blouse, but the colour, the shape, the pattern, the accessories. I study them closely and I’m brave enough now to sprinkle my mature style with the very edgiest of them.

Free from worrying what Males and Other Females think of us – and letting them define our look – we can experiment on our own terms. We can be playful, innovate. It’s scary at first, but you soon learn to strike a balance and find out how you want to live. How you want to be. Yes, it’s still not too late to make that choice. I love red hair, for example. And I love my red hair. I asked my husband if I should stop colouring it, and in the nicest possible way he yelled, ‘No!’

Having discovered my mature style, I didn’t take this as some sly statement about my grey roots, but as an affirmation of who I was to him, what I had made of myself, for myself. So my red hair is here to stay; it’s part of my mature style. And if I have a coffin at the end, you’ll find me in it with red hair.

Another tip is to find a ‘Phone A Friend’. Mature style means that you can stop worrying about what the rest of the world thinks, but it’s always good to have someone you can bounce ideas off. It’s always helpful to hear someone else’s opinion – even if you then choose to ignore it.

A PAF shouldn’t be a contemporary. Preferably they should be a minimum of two decades younger; three if possible. A PAF can be male or female, and could be a relative – anyone who cares about you, will tell you the truth and will also tell you ‘what’s happening’.

Frankly, only the young and those in the fashion or art worlds actually know ‘what’s happening’. And it’s worth taking note. Not because you have to follow the latest fashion, but because you may want to play around with it and pick and choose some of its elements for yourself.

Whoever they are, when you find your PAF, trust them. This is your mentor, your truth-teller, your risk-taker. Mine is a young woman in her mid-30s – three decades younger than me, involved in culture and media – and I trust her.

Because she’s right. She took me in hand and said one day, ‘Let’s go shopping’, and led me to things I would never previously have worn. Ever. She’s amazing and bright and really sees me and cares about me. And that’s all you need.

From there you can branch out on your own; go off-piste. Amuse and surprise yourself. And sometimes you will delight others, too. My hipster 25-year-old nephew said on Facebook that he loved the way I look. That made me smile all day.

Mature style is being comfortable in your own skin; a knowledge of what suits you. And while you may no longer worry either way, you will soon discover that people start looking at you again – even men. Because that can still happen. And does with mature style. First Lady Michelle Obama certainly has mature style.

BonnieGreer-Mar06-03-590Michelle Obama and 'First Dog' Bo

She revolutionised the way women look on tele-vision and in business: the shoulder-length hair, the strong upper arms, the simple lines. I was once interviewed by Zeinab Badawi, who swept onto the set dressed in a simple dark dress, her long hair shiny and bright, and her look topped off with a blinding diamond ring. She was beautiful and down-to-business all at once.

Helen Mirren, recently snapped riding the New York subway with the most incredible handbag perched on her lap, epitomises mature style. She never does the dreaded ‘age appropriate’ outfit, but always looks ‘on trend’ without going overboard.

Mary Berry is 79 but doesn’t dress like a pensioner. She looks vibrant, sassy, but elegant, too. Think the understated sophistication of Charlotte Rampling, the effortless sexiness of new, 50-year-old ‘Bond lady’ Monica Bellucci or the inimitable Emma Thompson, whose mature style is a fabulous mix of the bohemian and the sophisticated.

I like Sophie, Countess of Wessex, too. She used to appear timid, awkward, but at 50 has become sure of herself. Her mature style is all about being ‘between’ – the royal between two future queens: Catherine and Camilla. Sophie is quietly, totally fashionable, a confident woman.

Each of these women has a different look, but they all wear it with the same sense of mature style. Mature style is a dance with the self, a never-ending discovery. And enormous fun.

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