I sometimes think there’s nothing at all to wear…
It hit me this morning when I was paging through the pages of the Celtic Sheepskin Co’s clearance section how much I now say No to clothing.
I rather flatter myself that it’s partly because I’ve got my style down pat but it’s also that with increasing age, I find there is so little in the shops or catalogues that suits my life and shape.
My lifestyle I’ve already gone into in some detail on these pages but when it comes to shape, I am a short woman (5ft 1.5in), with a curvy figure – something the designers seem to think doesn’t exist. I’m titty and like to hide it, not show it off. My waist is usually 10-12 inches smaller than my hips, so clothes are always too big at the waist and have to be taken in. I also like to keep things fairly simple or I look like the fairy on top of the Christmas tree.
I don’t show my legs or arms and I like my skirts long so I can go bare legged (I don’t tan and haven’t sunbathed in over 30 years, and my lily-white legs aren’t something the public needs to see). I also have problems with my feet due to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, and have terrible trouble finding shoes.
There are some things I look for: a pretty collar in a face-flattering shape that shows off a nice necklace and earrings; a good scoop neck on a tee – not too high, not too low, not too wide; long sleeves that don’t squeeze the arm like a sausage skin; flat elastic waists for the sake of comfort; pockets(!!!); bootcut trousers that balance my hips. Oh, and pockets. Did I mention, I like pockets?
But there are loads of things that seem very hard to find, such as attractive shoes that offer good support (I live in trainers and walking shoes but why are they always so garish? I go over them with black boot polish and colour in the brand logos with magic markers, but it doesn’t last); flattering waistcoats or gilets that would offer a layer of warmth without too much bulk; long gilets that come down to mid-thigh; teeshirts that are long enough to go over your bust and still come down to the low hip. Pockets. Please, pockets…
The result is that I end up in a sort of boring daily uniform: black denim jeans or black Starfish straight-leg pants from Lands’ End; long (27in) merino tees from Finisterre in shades like black, grey and linen; and fleece gilets from Lands’ End, which I kind of hate but they lend the warmth I need. So unflattering is this getup that I almost long for the days of winter when I can pull on my fleece trousers and polonecks and forget all pretensions to style until March.
In between-weather I also often wear a grey marl crewneck tee from Boden (I have a bunch of them because they are nice and long) but the neckline is slightly too high (and the scoopneck is too low) and I have to cheat it by wearing a necklace or scarf. For cardigans, Woolovers has proved useful, with its long (LONG, LONG, can you hear me, manufacturers?) lambswool cardigans with pockets. Oh yes, pockets…
In summer, life is easier: I just slip on one of a number of bias-cut or tulip-cut linen and hemp dresses I’ve run up over the years and top it with some sort of linen blouse or jacket, most of which are now heading for 20 years old (Hobbs, mainly), and I’m good to go.
All of which means that 99 per cent of clothing I see in the shops or catalogues or online is just unfeasible. Among the items I say ‘no’ to are:
* Sleeveless or short-sleeved garments. I haven’t shown my arms in years and there’s no sense in asking me to.
* Openwork or lacy knit jumpers – these look terrible on any woman with tits because the lacy bit stretches right over your boobs giving a look the equivalent of underwear show-through.
* Boatnecks. Really? Where are you meant to put your bra straps? A slinky bra strap may look attractive on a 100lb teenager, but it’s not a flattering look on a middle-aged woman with the strap cutting into her ageing skin and causing a bump either side. Gimme a break.
* Three-quarter sleeves. Well, OK in summer, but not a useful length at this time of year. I’d always prefer the option of rolling up full-length sleeves rather than being forced into three-quarter length. Don’t kid yourself – manufacturers do this to save on fabric yardage, not because of anything to do with you.
* Crewnecks. My tits (and those of 90 per cent of British women) are far too big for this.
* Wrapover tops or dresses with Lycra. Far too clingy. Not a single one of those wrap-style things is wearable by anyone with breasts unless you also wear a camisole and even then you still have to pin yourself together to avert catastrophe. Hopeless. I have wrap clothes from the 50s and 80s that fit perfectly well, however, because the styles in those days designers actually knew how to design for women who looked like women.
* Leggings. Obviously…
* Jeans, on the whole. If trousers fit me at the hip, they’re about four inches too big in the waist and jeans are a nightmare to alter because of the heavy fabric. One day, I keep promising myself, I will make my own and until then, I make do with crappy looking jeans that are too big, or denim jeggings.
* Breast pockets. Picking up a theme here? Me in breast pockets looks like twin battleships have hoved into port.
* Pencil skirts, which walk straight up my round hips and in which I can’t sit cross-legged anyway.
* Knee-length skirts, which make me feel horribly exposed when I sit down – I prefer a floaty mid-calf length skirt cut on the bias or A line.
* High heels, which foot problems have made a thing of the past.
* Ballet slippers, loafers and most sandals, which although flat, give insufficient support to a pronating foot.
* Shorts. God give me strength… What woman over 40 is brave enough to wear these?
It is galling, because I can’t be the ONLY woman who has these issues of trying to force a real woman’s body into clothes designed by gay men for teenage girls. It is totally unrealistic. I am not six foot tall with a flat chest. Models today seem to have bust measures between 31 and 33 inches, while the average British woman has a 39in bust, a 40in hip and measures under 5ft 4in in height.
However, fortunately, there are still companies I can rely on, even if it does mean having deep pockets: Finisterre, Rohan, Wall, Toast, Orvis, Celtic Sheepskin Company, Aigle, Armor-Lux, Craghoppers, Woolovers, Seasalt, Boden. By picking and choosing between these brands, and even still occasionally at Lands’ End, I can hopefully find enough things to actually wear.