Aiming for elegance

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Why do we all want to look younger, when it’s only a hiding to nothing?

I was reading an article by Charles Moore in the Expat Telegraph the other week.

In it, he laments that the British public, by and large, is now so badly dressed, and wonders why this should be, in an age of plenty.

Sins that he notes (it being summer) include too many midriffs, too many tattoos, fat people dressed as if they were thin, and old as if they were young. Most were wearing sportswear but "the reality," he says, "was that most were not all that young, and few, even of those who were, looked sporty."

Of course, being a tad older than I am, he probably has no truck with the idea of tats being fashionable. Even when I was growing up, they were the sign of a thug, and possibly even worse on a woman, and although my friends have some quite pretty tattooes, I still greet their appearance with something like dismay. What, I wonder, will that look like when you’re 70? 

After a short discursion into oppressive manners of dress and why we’ve moved away from them, Moore then gets onto age, and has some interesting things to say.  "If you say of a middle-aged woman," he asks: "’doesn’t she look young?’, you are praising a quality which, even as you speak, is diminishing. If you say: ‘doesn’t she look elegant?’ you are noting something which may never fail."

In a society in which people will live much longer than in the past, he asks, why is it so important to try to preserve youth?

Well, I couldn’t agree more, really. Moore is a right-wing old buffer, educated at Eton, while I am a coalminer’s daughter from South Yorkshire, but I feel we’re in broad agreement on this one.

I’ve been thinking of my fashion icons for this blog, and I find it kind of sad that so many of them seem to be from the 1950s and earlier. It’s not as if these are even my eras – I grew up in the 70s and 80s, but people were really badly dressed in those decades and things don’t seem to have improved much even since. In the 50s and earlier, people had less choice, so they could make fewer mistakes. Society was less mobile, so there were more rules to follow. And clothing was far, far more expensive, so you had to be more careful with your purchases.

The result, in fashion terms, was that people tended to wear well-made clothes that were appropriate to their function in life. Perhaps this pigeonholed everyone, but in another way, having these invisible rules to follow eases your life considerably. 

It seems to me that the more choice people have had in fashion, and also in what’s considered ‘appropriate’ clothing, the more bad taste they seem to exhibit. The same happens with food – the more choice people have, the more junk they eat – we are not as healthy now as we were when food was rationed.

Perhaps what we need on both counts is a return to simplicity, and maybe even rules – or at least guidelines – that you can broadly follow, or on which you can absolutely cheat. But in the meantime, and in the absence of that, it looks like we must all flounder in a grey area, not quite sure if this skirt is too long or too short or too tight or too flouncy…  

As for elegance, again I couldn’t agree more with Moore. Elegance, refinement, appropriateness, chic – those are aspirations women can aim for no matter what our age, shape or income. If we could lose our fixation on youth, we’d all be happier people.

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