Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but I’d say that I’m more stylish now than I’ve ever been. 1980s bodycon? Been there, done that, bought the tight Lycra T-shirt dress. Grunge-tastic jumpers with holes in? Yikes! I pity the moth that tries to chew on my Bella Freud. Bad hairstyles? I’ve had a few. Mainly in my youth, when a dollop of Boot’s Country Born Gel and a spot of upside-down blow-drying ended up looking a bit A Flock Of Seagulls (google it). It was around this time that a penchant for secondhand men’s suits and clompy leather ankle boots saw me barred from a number of nightclubs in Blackpool...
Anyhow, there have been enough questionable incarnations over the years to allow me to know what goes, outfit-wise, and what doesn’t. Style is undoubtedly a work in progress. Ex-British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers once told me that of all the women she knows, the most stylish “is in her eighties and the other is in her sixties. I think it [style] takes time, and that’s alright.” I couldn’t agree more – at 53, I’ve found my style groove and it’s thanks to years of trial and error and some excellent advice I’ve picked up along the way.
“Looking effortless does take a bit of effort”
As fashion icon Iris Apfel once told me, being comfortable is the most important thing – going on to swiftly add, “And I don’t mean slobby!” I definitely pay more attention now to the quality and fit of clothes than I did in the past; I have no time for the faff factor. And grooming has become a necessity, rather than an afterthought – looking effortless does take a bit of effort. No more wonky, asymmetric eyebrows – these are now threaded and tinted (I go to Blink Brow Bar), regular haircuts are carried out by professionals, rather than a dodgy DIY job, and I’ve even started using an SPF moisturiser – it’s a bit pricey, but Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Day Cream SPF30 is the best I’ve found.
“Forget about the wrinkles and focus on the silhouette”
One of the finest pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from beauty mogul Linda Rodin: “Forget about the wrinkles and focus on the silhouette.” This approach certainly works for the uber-stylish New Yorker, who often wears straight-leg jeans with a cocoon coat or a top with statement sleeves; alternatively, she’ll keep the top half simple and wear a denim jacket with wide-leg trousers. For straight-leg jeans, try Frame, Gap or Uniqlo, and go to Finery, Kitri, COS or Zara for statement sleeves and cocoon coats.
“The biggest fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror and see someone else”
Granted, I am more self-assured now than when I was younger – but, largely, this comes down to having more important things to worry about than crimping my hair. My signature look is sorted: the grown-up tomboy with a penchant for jeans, jumpsuits and a kick-ass jacket (or, what I like to refer to as Gentlewoman Style). I’m slap-bang in the middle of the Margaret Howell (sample sale) x APC Venn diagram of style. When it comes to jeans, MiH’s Phoebe boyfriend style are a current favourite, I’m back in my Levi’s 501s again and am still wearing a pair of ancient, white Gap jeans that received the DIY crop-flare treatment last year. I have a fine selection of jumpsuits – Hush, H&M and Agnès B. As Apfel concedes: “It’s hard work getting to know yourself – the biggest fashion faux pas is to look in the mirror and see someone else.” Honesty, as always, is the best policy.
“It’s always good to throw a little Keith Richards into the mix”
I’ve never really been one for full-on glamour and the (eminently stylish) actor Amelia Bullmore agrees: “It’s all about a great combination: old/new, charity shop/designer; things that go against each other like an opulent texture and a practical texture.” This modern-day mash-up is the key to effortless, go-anywhere style. When it comes to labels, Céline is the dream, but I’ll settle for COS. And a Blazé Milano jacket is high on the wish list. To my not-so-basic basics I’ll add a touch of casual glamour, with a skinny silk scarf (try Rockins), a leopard-print coat (head to Hush or M&S) or a pair of chandelier earrings (try Mango or J.Crew). It’s always good to throw a little Keith Richards into the mix.
“Never pay attention to trends. If something’s in fashion and I look like a horse’s ass in it, then why would I buy it?”
What I’ve learned over the years is that style has to be authentic. It’s important to feel comfortable, at ease and like you. As Iris Apfel continues: “Never pay attention to trends. If something’s in fashion and I look like a horse’s ass in it then why would I buy it?” Some women are at home in dresses and heels, some in a sharp trouser suit and brogues. I love the simplicity of a beautiful shirt and jeans. “A well-ironed shirt and good hair can make you feel decently dressed,” shoe designer Penelope Chilvers agrees. “I always admire women with beautiful jewellery and good grooming.” Super shirts can be found at Margaret Howell, J.Crew, Gap and Frank & Eileen.
“Shoes are the foundation of everything you do in the day – so they have to fit correctly”
To the above, I would add comfy shoes – for me, flat shoes and trainers are non-negotiable; they always have been (apart from a brief kitten-heel obsession in my fashion-editor days). And I’m sure most women would agree. “Like underwear, shoes are the foundation of everything you do in the day – so they have to fit correctly. I don’t think there’s anything sexy about being in pain,” footwear designer Tracey Neuls once told me. Too true. Having had a brief episode with orthotics, I rapidly came to the conclusion that it’s better to spend a bit more on good-quality shoes that support the feet (rather than trying to wedge a pair of great big plastic insoles into my existing footwear). Head to Grenson or Church’s for shoes and boots that are made to last; Adidas Stan Smiths or Common Projects, Nike Air Max and Old Skool Vans for sneaker chic.
Style isn’t about buying loads of new stuff, but spending time figuring out what works for you, whether that’s experimenting with different silhouettes and textures, mixing high and low fashion, or sticking to a uniform of sorts. Ultimately, style is a very personal thing. Admittedly, confidence comes from things other than clothes, but if your outfit fits well and makes you feel comfortable in all senses of the word, then that’s a good place to start.