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Fashion at forty

If life begins at forty, does fashion end at the same age? That’s the question that tends to come up at ladies’ lunches an awful lot as women creep up to the dreaded Four-O.

fashion and trends Updated: Nov 14, 2009 18:24 IST
Seema Goswami

If life begins at forty, does fashion end at the same age? That’s the question that tends to come up at ladies’ lunches an awful lot as women creep up to the dreaded Four-O. Does bidding goodbye to their thirties mean giving up on fashion as well? Or can they be as fabulous as ever in their forties?

Will they still be able to rock a skin-tight pair of jeans? Can they risk exposing their upper thighs in public in shorts? Are mini-skirts completely out of the question? Should they pack away all those backless cholis and run up some staid blouses instead? Does the odd flash of cleavage look desperate rather than sexy?

The questions follow one another in a breathless chain, as the ladies try and reconcile their mature looks with the youth-centric fashions that are all the rage these days. And the debate grows even more frantic among those who have teenage daughters, the most unrelenting critics known to humankind, ever anxious to diss their mothers’ sense of style (or lack thereof).

But even if fashion bibles weren’t quite so willing to point out all the stuff that you SIMPLY CANNOT WEAR after 40, most women would probably come around to revising their sense of style at this chronological milestone. By this time, middle-age spread happens to the best of us, and dressing often becomes a challenge rather than a joy.

The trouser-suits you wore to office for the last decade are a bit tight around the waist. The sleeveless blouses show off too much underarm wobble. The chiffon saris highlight flab rather than show off curves. And the little black dress is looking a bit tired as a wardrobe staple. Yes, any woman with fashion nous and a full-length mirror knows that this is the time to revamp her look.

But sadly, there are some women who never seem to make that transition, dressing like teenagers well into their fifties – no matter how hideously inappropriate they look – even filching clothes off their own daughters in a vain attempt to tap into some youthful vibe. Goldie Hawn, for instance, is beginning to look like a caricature of her youthful self, wearing the same bitty dresses as her daughter Kate Hudson. And while I have no patience with all that glossy magazine nonsense about how no woman over 40 should be seen in jeans or a denim jacket, there are some things that are strict no-nos in my style book for the fabulous-at-forty brigade.

Here they are in no particular order of importance:
Spaghetti-straps, boob tubes, ra-ra skirts, in short, anything that looks great on your teenage daughter. It doesn’t matter if your arms are fabulously toned, your thighs cellulite-free, your stomach like a washboard. It’s not your body but your face that’s the problem. It looks about twenty years too old for this look.

Sexy blouses are meant to show off sexy backs. If what you have on display is an endless array of love handles then it’s time to fold those backless numbers away in your metaphorical memory chest. Choose a more conservative style in blouses and you’ll look far more elegant. Think Shabana Azmi rather than Mallika Sherawat. Or even Hema Malini who affects a happy compromise with transparent cap-sleeves that look glamorous yet grown-up.

The rock chick/biker look. Full-on chains, belts and studs and lots of black leather. Even Marianne Faithfull can’t pull it off in her middle-age so what hope does any mere mortal have of swinging it? If you want to wear leather, pick a beautifully tailored jacket in creamy, buttery shades or a burgundy bomber to build a more casual look around. Channel the pared-down chic of a Courtney Cox or a Julia Roberts rather than the in-your-face sexiness of Sharon Stone.

Crazy highlights in such colours as orange, purple, or even, God help us all, blue. Priyanka Chopra may be able to carry that off at her age – though I would dispute that as well – but you have to be plain stupid to do something like this in your forties. It’s time for a little dignity ladies.

Too much T&A. Letting the girls out to play when you can still get away with being described as a girl is one thing. But letting it all hang out when you have grown daughters of your own is just a tad desperate. So, do put them away, will you? Other than that, I don’t really have any prescriptions for over-forties dressing. The truth is that if you haven’t sussed out your own personal style by now, worked out what works for you, well then, the odds are that you never will.

So, just go with what you’re comfortable with, wear what you feel good in – and what your daughter/niece will let you get away with. And do try not to embarrass your son in front of his friends.

And when in doubt, fall back on these tried-and-tested role models: Neetu Kapoor, stunning in beautifully tailored trouser suits and dazzling in elegantly-draped saris; Sarah Jessica Parker in her new avatar as dressed-down mother in jeans and monochromatic shirts; or even the simplicity of Sonia Gandhi’s pared-to-the-basics style.

You couldn’t possibly go wrong.