A plethora of wildly disparate sayings on the issue of dress are to be found in Max Cryer's amusing book Preposterous Proverbs. For every "Clothes Make the Man" there is a "In Silk and Scarlet there is a Harlot" as foil: proving just how controversial the topic can be. It probably won't surprise that I'm for the former. Not because I think that the wearing of rich fabrics can disguise an otherwise poverty stricken soul; but with another decade creeping far too close for comfort, I've garnered enough evidence to show that putting up a good front (i.e. dressing up) can turn the tables on a faltering ego. Particularly so when it comes to advancing years.
Many might say age is not for the faint hearted, but thanks to the inspiration of Ari Seth Cohen, I'm taking a different tack. Ari had a eureka moment when he came across a bevy of older ladies (think 70, 80 and even 90) who not only had a bucketload of chic and panache but a strong dose of joie de vivre to match. His blog and book Advanced Style, based on these wonderful women, put his name on the fashion map.
Given an open door to proclaim that personal style isn't the terrain of the 20 or 30-year-olds but in fact can advance with the years, they made the world wake up to just how fabulous it was to be well over 50. In a society which till now has tended to look past, through or over the silver-haired set (actually anywhere but at them) they are the embodiment of a real shift in thinking. Living proof that looking good is what it's all about -not looking young.
The delightful poem "Warning: When I am old I will wear purple" says it all: a defiant declaration from a very respectable woman of certain years contemplating the joys of finding freedom in her old age. No longer confined by convention, she can cock a snook at the shackles of propriety by donning outrageous clothes. The joyous experience of wearing what makes you feel good rather than foolishly following the dictates of what may be fashionable but definitely doesn't flatter, holds a real allure for those touching on the accepted life-span of three score years and 10.
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So with that in mind, beige be damned. Kill Crimplene. Let's look at the colour kaleidoscope and celebrate. I am reminded of a time when, switching cities from London to New York, I met up with my mother mid-stream, in the tropics. Bliss. Not so the time to say goodbye. Misery hung like a shroud. To the extent that when dressing for our final dinner she declared she didn't care what she wore. Now, for her (a woman of great beauty and style), this was akin to a cardinal sin. And I could see that unless a swift change of mood was mustered we were destined to buy out the complete Kleenex company shares.
We went to the wardrobe. "Oh that'll do," she said looking bleakly at something blue closely connected to her current state of mind. I spotted a pretty piece in pink. "Try this." I insisted. As she looked at herself I could see the transformation. She shucked off the slough of despond and started to glow. Dinner was a delightful memory rather than a disastrous farewell. Since then whenever confronted by a moment of grief or despair "the blue dress or the pink dress" is our favourite phrase for getting out of the doldrums. Testimony to that fact that feeling good about the way you look is a pretty potent force when facing the fray.