Julie Teckman reveals how dressing for summer is a fashion language all of its own…
Summer creates something of a dilemma for women of a certain age (that is, past their twenties). Dressing through winter and spring no longer presents any particular problems for the mature body given the dawning realisation of designers and stores that there is a largely untapped pool of profit to be made from the simple act of designing, making and selling clothes to women with a desire for fashion and the wherewithal to buy them. Both high street stores and high end boutiques are luring women inside their doors with well-produced designs that recognise the bits older women want to hide and flaunt the bits they still want to show off, and blogs like Advanced Style and That’s not My Age encourage older women to experiment and take confidence in the benefits of making clothes look sophisticated, eccentric or exclusive that only life experience and a fuller figure can bring.
So far so good. But then summer rears its wonderful but worrying head and suddenly the older woman is filled with a conundrum: just how much flesh should one be exposing before she looks, at best, invisible, at worst, silly, pathetic or just plain wrong. If we get it right we blend into the background whether it be beach, hotel, festival or party but if we miscalculate and buy the outfit intended for the younger woman, we might never know how other people are reacting to us but, trust me, it won’t be nice. I may sound like I’m being harsh but let me explain further.
Magazines which claim to proudly support and promote the beauty of the middle aged woman, choose to feature young girls barely out of nappies to model swimwear while beauty blogs and articles resort to telling us how to age-proof our skin while sunbathing – not a lot of good to women over 50 who buggered up their skin back in the 1970s and for whom following every skin care routine in the book is not going to give them the skin of their twenty-something sisters. Trying to find swimwear for the fuller figure is as difficult as finding a sunbed by a Greek pool without a towel reserving it unless you are a recent lottery winner or don’t mind seeing every other woman in the same high street or supermarket costume as you.
And while festivals are no longer the preserve of the young, photographs and footage from festivals that includes women old enough to remember when Michael Eavis had a full head of hair shows them cowering behind their daughters in ugly shorts and tee-shirts, playing it safe in jeans or channelling Stevie Nicks in concealing long skirts and dresses. Come summer and we really seem to have lost our way.
So far so pessimistic, but there is hope and it’s plastered all over the high street and the independent boutique. Basically the best advice I can give for stylish summer dressing as a grown-up is to ditch the wishy-washy and opt for either full on colour or Joan Collins-style monochrome glamour. Whether you choose floral, colour block or abstract pattern, strong colours tell the world that you are a confident, creative woman who doesn’t need to flaunt her body parts in order to attract attention. And whether you maintain a pale complexion or still plant yourself in front of the sun when you get the chance (old habits die hard), bold colour complements and brightens the skin and tells the world that you are someone to be reckoned with.
In her fascinating book The Language of Clothes, the writer Alison Lurie has described clothing as a way in which we express ourselves and our personality, finding examples of punctuation, grammar and colloquialisms in the way we dress. If this is the case then wearing bold colour is a shout out to the world to look beyond the obvious visual codes of age and physical condition and notice instead the subtleties of experience and confidence. To come closer and find out more.
In contrast, sticking to monochrome is an invitation to admire from a distance but to investigate no further. Worn well, black and white is almost always mysterious, smart and, if it fits properly, sophisticated. If worn effectively it hides a multitude of sins and can take the wearer from day to evening, informal to formal or casual to smart with little need for adaptation. Worn by a pool the two tone choice transports the wearer to Cannes or Nice even when she is in Cleethorpes or Norfolk.
Choosing outerwear for the British summer requires us to put as much, if not more, thought into footwear as anything else we choose to put on. Given the typical British summer my best advice is to always keep a pair of wellington boots in the car. Once considered to be an ugly necessity only to be used when there was really no alternative, the humble wellington boot has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years which has seen it reproduced in a million different patterns and leg lengths.
Again it’s entirely up to the wearer what colour or pattern she chooses into which to slide her foot (funny how getting a wellington boot on is easy, while getting it back off requires a team of about four people and a shire horse) but I am going to suggest that for stylish summer outdoors dressing, the classic plain green, knee length boot with the best known brand logo on the front will work at festival, beach or sporting event throughout summer (although I don’t suggest wearing for evening events or when meeting Hollywood stars – meeting British Royals on the other hand, is fine).
When the weather is fine and the rubber boots are stowed away back in the car, or for foreign travel, the choice of summer shoe is immense but I would suggest that heels are dodgy for outdoor wear once one is over the age of 21. The stiletto wearing, long-legged lovely by the pool looks wonderful in fashion spreads or men’s magazines but invariably ends with a twisted ankle or unexpected soaking. There is simply no need to go higher than an inch or two to look good in summer footwear and with the choice of this year’s on-trend white mules and bright wedges going head-to-head with the ever cool Havaiana flipflops (I just wish somebody would tell me how to pronounce Havaiana!) and linen espadrilles which suggest you own a summer place in the South of France, it is perfectly possible to look stylish and stay comfortable (and on both feet) for the entirely of your holiday.
And finally, back to the thorny problem of how much of the mature body should be on display in the great outdoors this summer. If you’re going to wear swimwear, it really doesn’t matter whether you wear a one-piece or bikini when you’re by the pool or on a lounger in the garden. What matters is how you wear it, and if you feel good in your swimwear, nobody will see anything other than a beautiful, confident, mature woman at ease with herself. And if you don’t feel confident in your skin after the age of forty, simply enfold yourself in a kaftan. The Demis Roussos style of cover-up never goes out of fashion and has the added benefit that you can hide an awful lot of beach towels in there with which to save the best sun-loungers. Enjoy the summer months!