Fashion for the over-fifties – archive, 1961
11 August 1961: An older reader asks for guidance, frustrated that the ‘un-young’ are ignored in the fashion pages
Whether they contain criticism, appreciation, or just a plain inquiry, readers’ letters are always welcome, especially to a far-flung correspondent. I received a very pleasing one recently from a London reader, who wrote: “Encouraged by your remarks about the chic of older women in Paris, may I ask please for an article giving guidance to the older women of this country? Never was less attention paid to the un-young by fashion writers and advertisers; and, incidentally, not all of us are fat...”
I loved the last bit; of course not all of us are fat and there is no earthly reason today why the middle-aged or frankly older woman, whether she has the Spread or no, should not be suitably and elegantly turned out. My correspondent seems to find that contemporary fashions are unhelpful to the older woman: “Never was there a time when it was more difficult to be both dignified and up to date...the fashion for very short skirts is a problem in itself.”
Now here, dear reader, I do not agree with you. I feel to the contrary that we have never had it better. There are no “old ladies” styles any more – everybody has the right to look youthful without the mutton-dressed-as-lamb stigma. That is an enormously important point in our favour.
Skirts are short of course; but every couturier worth his pins will tell you that length of skirt depends on proportion and overall look; that within the limits of what is right by contemporary fashion standards, there are inches to play with. And I am pretty sure that any one of them would agree with me that the older woman who wears an ultra-short skirt is making a grave mistake. With two and a half to three inches below the kneecap you can still be in the swim of fashion. (It was Yves St Laurent, I think, who maintained that the knee even at its best – which it rarely is – is never a pretty bit of mechanism.)
Still on the subject of skirts, it is generally agreed too that the straight skirt is more becoming to the older woman than the flared or pleated or full one; straight and well cut with perhaps a filled-in Dior vent at the back for ease.
The present relaxed line, often with a hint of low-waisted effect, is a mature line and plays right into the hand of the older woman whether plump or slim; and if I had to choose the best formula for a basic outfit I would settle unhesitatingly for the easy sheath or middy-top two-piece with its straight matching jacket – the latter shortish if you are slim and your derriere can take it, longer if plumpness and hips have to be taken into account. Three-quarter sleeves (the wrist covered by a longish rucked glove) natural but never narrow shoulders, soft, unfussy small revers, and, above all, no built-in trimming such as braiding or contrasting colour effects.
This is an all-round-the-year formula – one that simply cannot go wrong (a suit and a blouse can go wrong, often because the blouse is ill-chosen or not good enough in styling and quality for the suit; also it means that unhappy break at the waist which is the devil’s own way of drawing attention to figure thickening). The beauty of the ensemble is that you still look habillée when you take off your jacket, which is not the case when you take off a suit jacket.