If there’s one thing older women do really well, it’s style with practicality. We are incredibly good at dressed-down dressing up. For instance, when you’re going to the theatre do you really want to wear skyscraper heels and a skirt that cuts you in half if you sit down for more than 30 minutes? Don’t be daft. Last March, when the weather was vile, I wrote a slightly bad-tempered piece about dressing for the theatre and my irritation at the lack of effort made by women in the audience.
One of my Twitter followers recently introduced me to Last Night at the Met, a blog that posts photographs of the best-dressed attendees at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I love this site for making dressing for the opera or ballet less daunting and more accessible, but I especially love it for the many inspiring, joy-making photographs of older women. The images are posted without the wearers’ details and I find that lack of context liberating, as if the outfit does the talking. Surely, I thought, we can do something like that in London? And that’s how I came to be standing nervously in the foyer of Sadler’s Wells, with a photographer, waiting to doorstep contemporary dance fans at a performance of Hofesh Shechter’s Sun. I chose the Wells because it seems to me that so much self-expression on stage must surely attract the same in the audience. I wasn’t disappointed.
We made a fantastic start when a gorgeous blue, painted shearling coat walked in through the door. If you need to ask why I swooped on this then there’s possibly no hope and I shall have to retire. Of course I asked where it came from and now I know about The Changing Room (tucked away in St Christopher’s Place, just behind Oxford Street). The thing about this coat is that it’s a complete look in itself and does all the work for you. It needs nothing with it. It is the perfect statement piece.
As the foyer filled up I homed in on another bit of outerwear, this time beautifully tailored in grey with directional seams and a sharp vintage-inspired lapel, reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood. Cleverly teaming it with straight-leg jeans and edgy boots stopped it looking too “done”. The colourful scarf is knitted with remnants of wools from Chanel and was silky soft to the touch (yes, I’m very tactile). The sleek white bob and bright-red lipstick are perfect with the strong line of the spectacles and make an elegantly pulled-together look.
A striking silver crop caught my eye next and I galloped painfully up four flights of stairs in pursuit. This jacket and skirt combo could have looked ordinary but didn’t because it was thoughtfully accessorised with a cheeky pair of boots, tightly knotted pink scarf and wide, stretchy black belt. By happy coincidence, the maroon flats worn by her friend complement her outfit, and I liked the way the different silvery greys were layered up in a very wearable way. Minimal makeup on radiant skin finished both looks perfectly.
It was clever use of neutrals that led me to my next victim – the slouchy coat over a cream loose-knit jumper and an olive tasselled cross-body bag. Strong frames on the specs and a slick of red lipstick to lift and anchor the look. And her hair – I love her hair. I’ve never understood why people tame hair like this – it’s glorious when natural. This is a lady who is stylish, relaxed and confortable dans sa peau. Perfect.
Somehow, on a cold wet Thursday evening in London, I thought I might get a less-than-friendly reception as a strange woman accosting other women to take their photograph in public, but I got not a bit of it. I also worried that mentioning that I write a style column for older women would get me handbagged, but conversely all were delighted to be asked. I finished the evening feeling hugely encouraged and much more comfortable in my own skin as a result. I hope it does the same for you.
Follow The Invisible Woman on Twitter @TheVintageYear