One of the most irritating things about buying clothes when you’re older is that no one seems to take into account the fact that, short or tall, fat or thin, your shape changes. How many times have you screwed your courage to the sticking-place and faced the unforgiving fitting room, clutching what you’re sure is the perfect frock for you, only to discover that the waist is in the wrong place and the bustline appears to be some three inches north of where you’d like it to be? Buttoned fronts invariably gape because the fastenings are in the wrong place; waistbands pinch, roll and sit around your ribs or on your hips; high necks strangle, low necks bag out; and no one accommodates a proper tum or a bum larger than a satsuma. Given this apparent oversight you would be excused for thinking that the looser, outsize shapes beaming down to us from Planet Fashion this season are good news. Alas, I fear you will almost certainly find that where these apparently forgiving shapes are meant to fit – and they will be meant to fit on at least one point of the body – they won’t, or at least they won’t on you. Oh, fashion, you do make it hard for us to love you.
The question for me, as I inch closer to 60, is, what is this about really? Is it just about the A-word, by which I mean age (or perhaps ageism), or is it just tunnel vision about the size and shape of most women, by which I mean “we’re all different, get over it”? Is fashion fundamentally ageist and sizeist, or is it just that the aesthetic imperative rules no matter what? These are big questions to hit you with midweek and I don’t know the answer but I suspect it largely depends on the pool in which you fish. If you can afford to fish in Chanel, you may well have the kind of figure that doesn’t challenge the brand’s idea of skinniness as the norm. If you shop in the upmarket high street of L K Bennett, Whistles, Jigsaw or Hobbs, then you’re entitled to hold the expectation that something other than Twiglet proportions will be catered for – and it’s interesting that a quick scan of the LKB website indicates that the larger sizes (16/18) sell out much faster than the teensy ones, which often end up in the sale. Vivienne Westwood’s designs are eminently suitable for older women – her new campaign features Leslie Winer, an older model, and she has three different ranges to suit different expenditures: Anglomania, Red Label and Gold Label.
The rise and rise of online shopping, with its speedy delivery and (usually) excellent customer service, has helped us a lot in one way and very much not helped us in another. It is much kinder to your battered self-esteem to try your Agent Provocateur or Myla in the privacy – and kinder lighting – of your own bedroom, but I for one am often defeated by the sheer volume of choice and finish up ordering nothing after wasting an evening sifting through thousands of options. I theorise that because online shopping removes the delightful touchy-feely aspect of clothes buying and relies on sight only, instead of employing all five senses, it might make for a more efficient shopping experience but ultimately a less pleasurable one.
I wonder if this is the real reason we get herded towards elasticated waistbands and Marks Spencer’s Classic? Has it just become too disappointing and too hard? With most of the fun factor taken out of it, I can understand why. When the disparity between a standard UK fit mannequin and a mature UK fit mannequin looks like this photograph (from Julia Twigg’s book Fashion and Age) is it any wonder we can’t find what we want or, more accurately, what we need?
Well, I’m planning a small experiment. I’m going to go and do a bit of shopping on your behalf. I have my favourite stores like everyone else and I’m also depressed and discouraged by the lack of attention to the older shopper, whatever size she is. I figure I’m pretty average for my age group, perhaps a bit short and certainly presently a little overweight, but so are a lot of us. Next week, let’s see what the high street really has to offer.
• Is there a clothing brand you think serves older women well? Let me know your suggestions below.
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