“Now, at 44, I wear more short skirts than I did at 24,” revealed Amber Valletta recently in British Vogue. The model and actress admitted that when she started out in the industry, she didn’t like her legs and rarely showed them off, but that her current workout schedule has unintentionally given her limbs much longed-for definition, and so she now has the confidence to go short. However, Amber Valletta’s decision to embrace higher hemlines, regardless of how confident she feels in them, not to mention how great she looks, will no doubt be frowned upon in certain circles, simply because of her age.
Her revelation, and the style choice of many other forty-something women, flies in the face of those diktats that constantly remind us that short skirts should be avoided at all costs once we reach a certain birthday. And it’s not just the miniskirt that apparently becomes off limits at a given point in time. Leopard print, high heels and even jeans have all been cited as items with age-related limits, with 40 in particular being seen as some kind of sartorial watershed. But why? With the boundaries between the generations becoming increasingly blurred, isn’t style today ageless?
Amber Valletta at Paris Fashion Week in September 2017 / Photo: Indigital
Writing in The Guardian back in 2016, fashion editor and stylist Kate Phelan recalls that when she was a 25-year-old fashion assistant, she used to look at 40-year-old fashion editors and think they were dressed ready for retirement. But, she goes on to say, women today are loving fashion at all ages, with her mum, like so many women, now wearing jeans well into her 70s. And indeed, you’ve only got to scroll through social media feeds to see the increasing numbers of women of all ages who are quite obviously refusing to be told what to wear.
While fashion may now have cross-generational appeal, and that’s certainly something to celebrate, there are some sartorial differences that do continue to distinguish the twenty-somethings from the forty-somethings. Whereas the former is perhaps more focused on cheap thrills and the latest ‘It’ items, the latter is more likely to want to see cut and quality in the mix, and typically has a more long-term outlook for her wardrobe. And despite the great strides that have been made in fashion in terms of accessibility and affordability, there remains a perception among some that the high street still isn’t catering for the latter.
Granted, the way clothes continue to be predominantly presented – by eternally adolescent girls – does pander to the notion that youth is everything. But just because a brand doesn’t shout it from the rooftops doesn’t mean it isn’t catering to older women. I don’t think I would be the only one who would instinctively steer well clear of anywhere that was being specifically marketed to appeal to a more mature customer, which speaks to our own complicated relationship with age. But regardless of whether you fall into this camp or not, any such stores would also simply be perpetuating the idea that clothes are age related.
Amber Valletta wearing Versace in 2018 / Photo: Kloss Films
Despite fashion’s outward obsession with young models, and seemingly age-defying celebrities, the choice of clothing for all of us, however old we are, is actually better than it’s ever been. Every outlet offers something different, and we simply need to spend some time getting to know them and pinpointing those that speak to our own individual sense of style. “Start with the notion that you can wear anything and edit back from that,” said former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, writing about ageless style recently in The Telegraph.
Above all, remember that youthfulness is a state of mind. It’s not about trying to appear younger, but looking and feeling your best. Play to your plus points, as Amber Valletta is rightly doing with her choice of skirts, and disguise those that you’re not so comfortable with. And if you’re confronted with the issue of age-appropriate style, why not take another leaf out of Amber’s book, who when quizzed about her choice, given her age, simply said, “Clearly, I am not listening.”
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Main Photo: Peter Lindbergh
Author: Julie Hurst