Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Seniors set is style savvy, too

Now that there are more fashion labels than ever before, and many women are keeping in better shape, why are there so few chic options for the older woman?


Right: Dries van Noten's neon-bright anorak updates a dress or classic pants, not to mention covering the arms.
Left: Alberta Ferretti's abstract print silk dress has sleeves and a fitted bodice, which is nicely slimming.


At the start of any fashion writer's career there is, waiting at the end, the dreaded article about older women and how they can never find clothes appropriate for their age. I swore on a stack of Vogues I would never write such a piece. It was totem journalism, predictable, worked at. Even the term "appropriate" has always seemed to me old hat, with violets on top.

So what changed? Juvenility has mobbed us. Even if a woman has a clear idea about what looks right on her body and for her age and personality, it's hard to avoid the window displays of baby-doll and trapeze dresses; the T-shirt bars of ruffled cotton, airbrushed cotton and shrunken cotton; the girlish necklaces and charms; and all the companion editorial in magazines, with the frosted pinks and the long, long hair with little curls.

"The choice is to wear something juvenile or be a total killjoy," Linda Wells, the editor of Allure, said with a laugh. "You can't live in your Linda Evans suit."

There are other choices, as Wells knows, and interviews with women ages 43 to 72, in places like California, the Chicago suburbs and Paris, turned up a variety of solutions, as well as explanations for this simmering quarrel with fashion. If I have heard an issue vocalized more often in the last year than the age-appropriate thing, I can't think what it was.

It's funny: Women in their 40s and 50s, even in their 60s and 70s, have probably never looked better, healthier or younger than at any time in recent history. They have access to gyms and spas, and of course they'll try anything that will eliminate a wrinkle or a frown line. They are the anti-agers. And not only do they have a tremendous array of fashion choices, from chic Paris labels to anonymous vintage pieces to DIY looks, they also have the choice to not play the game at all.

Nora Ephron, whose very funny book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, refers to something called "compensatory dressing" — here, anything that compensates for a sagging neck — sounded puzzled when I told her that a lot of women complain that clothes make them look ridiculously young.

"If you understand that that part of your life is over, there is plenty to wear," said Ephron, who prefers trousers to skirts, and finds things she likes at Savannah in Santa Monica, California, and Ultimo in Chicago. She admits that age-appropriateness in style can be very confusing, since "the new 50" can be 40 or, suddenly, with the wrong hairdo or outfit, 60, and it irks her when a designer discards a perfectly good look.

"I love those techno pants from Prada," she said. "I love that they don't wrinkle and you can wear them seven days in a row on a trip. But they're all cut low now."

She added, "You feel there has been an act of genuine hostility toward you by the designer" when they stop making something you're able to wear. It's like they don't want you to have it, she said.

Susan Stone, who owns Savannah — where the customers are mostly over 40 — says the issue of age-appropriateness coincided with the demise of the pantsuit.

"A woman of any age could wear a pantsuit," Stone said. "Now it's all about the dress — the baby-doll, the tent, the mini." She paused. "I don't care how great you look, at a certain age you do not wear a mini. You look ridiculous."

Stone says that some of her best client-friendly labels are Marni, Tuleh and Lanvin. "I can find fabulous jackets at Marni," she said, adding, "and I sell the collection to women of all ages."

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