O ye of little faith

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Vogue’s latest ‘Age’ issue is meant to be about style at any age, so why are they using younger models?

I was having a quick peruse of US Vogue’s Age(less) issue this morning (August 2008), which has taken me a while to track down in rural France.

I’ve only scanned the mag, but a couple of things struck me straight away when I turned to the editors’ section, where Vogue editors in their 20s through to their 60s have styled models to look like themselves, and given their style tips.

Last year, Vogue was brave enough to use models of the right age – why this year, have they not done so? An 18-year-old model looks great in anything – that’s what she’s paid for – but for Grace Coddington, who’s in her 60s, to have styled up Karen Elson, who’s 29, to look like Coddington herself seems to me to be both cowardly and cheating. It shows a lack of faith in one’s ability to remain elegant and beautiful as one ages.

I was struck, too, by how rubbish most of the clothes looked. Those chosen by the editors in their 20s, 30s and 40s were frankly a mess. Only those chosen by Tonne Goodman, in her 50s, and Coddington in her 60s looked to me like a blueprint for mid-life and beyond – very clean, based on neutrals, extremely wearable and confident. Grown-up clothes if you like. Sadly, I can’t show you pix, as the only ones still on Vogue’s site are of the cover, but I hope you get the drift from the descriptions below. 

The clothes chosen by the younger editors seemed to me to be trying WAY too hard, with layering and footless tights and massive high heels and all the rest of the crap that’s currently being foisted on the young but which, please God, let the rest of us who know better be able to ignore.

I was particularly disappointed in the choices of Elissa Santisi, the editor in her 40s. Tight leopardskin dresses; ridiculously short jackets with big patterned shirts bellying out underneath and ultra-low-rise jeans. This is how girls in their 20s dress, and they have a right to look stupid at their age, but how is the average woman in her 40s really going to look in this sort of thing? 

Thank heavens for the older age group, where the instruction ‘faites simple’ reigned. Goodman chose fabulous cream cashmere turtlenecks, wide-leg black pants, dark camel car-coats and sunglasses. For evening, her claret-coloured jersey dress looked fabulous (though most of us would need shapewear underneath), and offered complete but sexy coverage from neck to wrist to hem. All the clothes were very wearable, comfortable and elegant, and it’s a look that you can reproduce on just about any budget. It is firmly about style rather than fashion.

"Once you reach a certain age," she says, "you never have to feel the need to embellish yourself in something that you don’t believe in. If you need to have a covered arm, you should wear a covered arm; if you prefer a flat than a heel, then a sandal with a simple sheath exemplifies a certain elegance that is understated and confident."

She was the only one who mentioned the planet, I noticed, and that thinking about where your clothes come from and how they are produced is as important as what they look like. She also quoted the great Diana Vreeland saying: "Elegance is refusal". Oh, very nice. I hadn’t heard that one, but I agree with it totally.

Coddington chose clothes that were equally beautiful and comfortable but in a different way – ruby-red silk men’s pyjamas, black wool coats and a gorgeous beaded evening dress in soft brown and black. Being tall and straight, she favours a masculine sihouette that wouldn’t work for me at all, but she softens it with draping fabrics and masses of hair (and amber jewellery, being a red-head).

She mentions that a slightly cocoon-shaped coat or jacket is a good solution for comfort without adding bulk, which is a suggestion I hadn’t thought of. It sounds like a good idea, as it gives you plenty of room in the armscye but brings the silhouette back in slightly more tightly towards the bottom, rather than swinging out and making you look short. The word ‘slightly’ is probably key, though, and I’m not sure how available it would be at lower price-points, given that not many of us want to drop over $3,000 on a Balenciaga coat. 

She also mentioned that no matter how thin you are, your arms get bigger with age, which is something she’s noticed. Having always had fat arms myself, I wouldn’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Covering my arms has been a habit for nearly 20 years now, as I don’t want my bingo wings flapping in the breeze, letting the side down, but it’s nice to know that even thin women have this problem. 

More on the rest of the Age issue when I’ve had a look.  

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