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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Rock of Aged

The counter(pane) culture at Woodstock

Mr Looking Our Best (LOB) and I are going to do something next Sunday that we haven’t done in 30 years.  (Wash your mouth out with salt, you there).  The young heirs to the LOB dynasty have challenged their betters to join them in that endurance test that’s a hallmark of every summer –the outdoor music festival.  The event is Forbidden Fruit, with top
One for the old Volks
 billing on the Sunday being Primal Scream, whom Mr LOB and I have enjoyed a fox-trot to around the kitchen of an evening. Chic, fronted by musician and producer extraordinaire Nile Rodgers, is also playing, and may well be the only person there on the day actually older than the LOBs.

Writing a post based on a music festival gives LOB licence to use images from the cool daddy of them all, Woodstock, August 1969, plus the Stones free concert in Hyde Park in July that same year.
Striped trousers were all the rage at Hyde Park

 Although neither of us were at those festivals (too young –honest), it has to be said that the last time we stood in a field at a rock event, the tickets cost 12 quid each.  Just to run that by you again – £12 each. That was to see The Rolling Stones at Slane Castle in 1982. 
Mr LOB once had hair like this
We are reliably informed that not a huge amount has changed since those days of soggy field, soggy sandwiches and soggy bottoms from sitting on the grass. Not to mention waiting round all day for the main event, interspersed with queuing to use the horrific facilities generously referred to as the ‘Ladies’. 
That's a peace sign, by the way
 Fitting attire to wear on the day presents your mid-life blogger with a comfort versus grown-up style versus weather dilemma. Wellies are standard uniform at any Irish outdoor festival, but LOB wants to look like she belongs there rather than having wandered in from strangling chickens in the barnyard. 
Taking footwear as starting point, the official sartorial line-up for LOB next weekend will be a layering affair as follows:

Ankle boots, never sandals (LOB can’t bear having her toes trod on); jeans; T-shirt worn under short kimono/loose shirt get-up;  navy jacket; long scarf; straw fedora; black sunglasses; large bag to throw everything into.  
Bring your own bucket 
 Optional extras are a brolly; newspaper (to sit on, swat flies, use as sunshade, make paper darts, or perhaps read in an idle moment); and sun-cream (we are ever hopeful).   
Fringe fest Hyde Park
Will probably bring the ancient pack-away rain mac to sit on too as LOB doesn’t have the equivalent of the ‘mackintosh squares’ favoured by Miss Charlotte Bartlett (always space for a literary reference  - this is not just any old blog, y'know). The final addition is the discreet hip flask with a shot of something medicinal -  to ward off the Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie 'Flu. of course.
 (All  Getty Images)

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Long Good Buy

Elegant black maxi Anthropologie
Asos print maxi with side splits
Maxi dresses are still hanging lankily around store rails again this summer,  but are they a good look on us grown-ups?  First a qualification: summer maxi dresses are different in spirit to long winter dresses or skirts, at least in Looking Our Best’s eyes. A full length, cool, romantic dress is something LOB associates with a holiday in the sun, worn with flat sandals, barefoot strolling along the sand and tripping tipsily back to the apartamentos.  The very words maxi dress brings back memories of LOB’s girlhood and the early 70s milkmaid period which developed into full-blown Stevie Nicks   
Stevie Nicks in her maximum frockage period
mode complete with fringed embroidered shawl and blond shag. (Shag being a 70s haircut, for anyone tittering there at the back).

But to the present.  LOB has no time for that old saying, a woman is as old as her knees, and, at least in theory, feels we should wear whatever hemline length we damn well please. But it’s the max in maxi that makes full length dresses so impractical for any members of the grown-up sisterhood still holding down the day job. There’s an awful lot of fabric to contend with if you’re running for the bus/driving/traipsing up the elevator/getting trapped in the revolving doorway. 
Plus you could end up just looking plain daft.  But if summer ever comes, and exposing our winter-white legs to the elements becomes an issue, there is something to be said about the coolness of a floaty dress and the cover-up potential afforded to the putty-coloured pins.  
French Connection silk maxi
Getting the balance right when there is so much fabric wafting around the ankles is essential, and so maxis will be exposing a lot of shoulder, neck and d├ęcolletage action. This is when you can make with the tinted moisturiser, Nuxe shimmering oil, and ethnic jewellery in keeping with the bohemian style of the dress. Barefoot is best – tights with those flat sandals would be teetering on hicksville.If it’s a dressy up occasion or evening, sandals can take a little heel height. 

Turquoise maxi Anthropologie
While the message is that age is no barrier to go to any lengths, many women LOB asked felt that this season's long dresses are best confined to the holiday suitcase.

So for now, your blogger will continue to look longingly (so to speak) at maxis, if only because these signifiers of sunshine are about as close to a holiday as she will get this year – think Back Garden rather than Barbados. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Crimes against style

LOB has just watched a film about a famous Mister.  Not the hapless Gatsby, but Baker.  Beware of Mr Baker is a documentary on the career of the fearsome Ginger Baker, famed throughout the 60s as one of best drummers of the age, notably as the third member of Cream with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Back in the day when LOB was in knee socks and Mr LOB still had all his hair, we were huge fans of Cream, never mind that the man on the skins was completely bonkers. Ginger's fame has increased over the decades since- and not necessarily for his drumming. The 73-year old is officially the grumpiest old man in music, as the film confirms. (See his jaw-dropping rudeness in this interview.) While not endorsing downright bad behaviour, it has to be said that one of the more satisfying things that ageing gives licence to is releasing our inner Ginger.  So for this week's post, LOB is abandoning her normally sunny observations and adopting cranky old biddy mode. 'Age-appropriate', in reference to what us grown-ups should wear, is one of those terms that brings out the contrarian in LOB. And yet, there are crimes against style that none of us mid-lifers should commit. Below are your blogger's top ten. Perhaps you disagree?
It's quite safe to comment.
LOB promises not to go all Ginger on you....
  • Finely woven leggings worn as trousers –  notable exception under tunic or long top, but not on their own when every little crease and bulge leaves nothing to the imagination
  • Thongs – especially peeping above waistband of low slung jeans or those see-through leggings
  • Pink track suits - nul points,  but especially if you can't name all the members of One Direction
  • Bare legs in winter – why would you? Just why?
  • Over exposed cleavage coupled with pelmet skirt –  the words ‘on’, ‘the’ and ‘game’ come to mind
  • Leather trousers – even Bonnie (pictured above) has finally bundled them off to the charity shop
  • Leopard print –prefer it on the actual leopard. Still, if you're after a Bet Lynch look...
  • Mother and daughter matching - oh dear, LOB sometimes inadvertently guilty as charged, m’laud
  • Dresses with hems dipped lower at the back and short at the front - there's a reason there are loads of these on the sale rails now. 
  • Double bosom  - the four breast effect under a tight T-shirt from wearing a bra several sizes too small.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Summertime Blues

Meryl pushes the barriers
If you ever doubted that you were past it (in terms of fashion trends, at least) a stroll through the heavily ponging innards of an Abercrombie & Fitch store will set you right. LOB strayed into her local A & F the other day, sticking out among the implausibly polite young assistants like an ageing headmistress in her good work trousers and sensible blazer. Apart from there being more staff (sorry, models, as the company has it) than shoppers, LOB was curious if the brand still holds its appeal for parents with American Express platinum wishing to treat their darling offspring to over-priced American casual wear. Peering through the darkness, there was at least one other bewildered-looking oldie who LOB bumped in to - before realising it was her own reflection. Thanks to the dim lighting, she also bumped in to two pillars before finally finding the exit.
Boy jeans, Toast
But back to those fashion trends. Word is that dungarees are the go-to denim look for summer 2013. LOB feels this is not a good look for the elegant middle-aged woman. Meryl Streep looked sweet in her denim overalls in Mamma Mia! The Movie, you say? Meryl would look fab in an old Abba catsuit. Unfortunately, we are not all of the finely boned, Scandinavian blonde type. Not only should no peri or post-menopausal female attempt Meryl’s awesome, splayed-legged jump as shown in the film, neither should she adopt an Ellie May Clampett homage a la The Beverley Hillbillies. Much more stylish to get your summertime blues from classic denim jeans or chambray linen, such as these current looks from Toast (left and below right)
But why should us grown-ups not follow fashion trends? Your blogger accepts that many readers will insist that a woman should wear what she wants, regardless of age.
Blue chambray linen trousers, Toast
When starting up this intermittent style blog back in 2011, a pal stressed that the focus should not be on age as the barometer on style. If a fifty-something, (or older), woman wants to wear a skimpy mini-dress, why not? The dress and the woman, in themselves, are okay as separate entities. But when both are put together ….. it’s frowned upon. Why should it be so?

Like it or not, our society has evolved in such a way that what we wear shows what we are, or believe ourselves to be. An older woman squeezed into a tiny Forever 21 summer frock, may simply be seen as desperately trying to look younger, no matter how 'youthful' her figure. For whatever about frivolous fashion trends, clothes are a serious matter. If communication is said to be 90% non- verbal, then our clothes send out signals, and we are judged on those. This is a tough one for those of us baby-boomers who grew up in the 60s and 70s when designers realised there was a big market for young fashion. Our mothers’ generation dressed in clothes that were too old for them; we enjoyed the freedom of trends ranging from flower power to punk. That was then, but this is now, yet some mature women remain stuck in that youthful vibe, wearing clothes and hairstyles the same as in our teens and twenties. But even if the toned body and great legs are still evident, the face will inevitably be showing the wear and tear of advancing years.

LOB would love to hear any comments on this subject of age appropriate dress - whether you agree with the concept, or if you feel women are simply being manipulated as always. Maybe a confident, middle-aged woman in a crop top and skinny shiny jeggings just shows that rules are made to be broken? Or perhaps there’s a whiff of tragedy about it - akin to having your picture taken with those nice young Abercrombie boys and their exposed six-packs ....

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Your scarf, it was apricot ...

Liberty classic prints
Looking Our Best has been made to confront her addiction. 
She has an incurable scarf habit. 
Only yesterday, while on a brief just-looking foray into Zara with the young heiress to the Celtic Tiger billions*, said heiress was moved to exclaim, “Mum, STOP looking at scarves. You have ENOUGH.”  Ah, the folly of the young. As we all know, a woman can never have enough of these hard-working accessories. No use telling her about every grown-up’s woman of style, Audrey Hepburn.
 Anyway, the lovely Audrey also had a similar passion.  In a new book, Audrey in Rome, her son Luca Dotti recalls that scarves were something of a vice. “Well, it wasn’t like Imelda Marcos and shoes,” he says in an interview in the May issue of Vanity Fair. “But she had, like every woman, maybe 30 or 40. It was a good way to be in disguise, big sunglasses and a scarf.”  
 With the age of austerity upon us, LOB believes that scarves remain the fixed assets of the recession wardrobe. (See the smart metaphors you get on this blog at no extra cost?) The beauty of a gossamer silk scarf is a joy to behold. It will bring elegance and freshness, floating over a well-worn, but much loved jacket or dress.  And the bonus for us of the mature and bingo-winged variety longing to go sleeveless come summer is that a light, flowing scarf knotted at the neckline draws the focus away from the dimpled, putty arms. It can also camouflage a too-revealing neckline. For bigger scarves, read wraps, or what our mothers’ generation referred to as stoles. Accessories they may be, but scarves can be pricey little numbers, including the vintage ones with collectable label.

Silk and cashmere from Hermes
scarves are much treasured for their individual beauty, and even when second-hand, they still fetch a pretty price.  Their current cashmere and silk blends in indigo dyes are as light as air, but alas for LOB, are priced at the equivalent of a month’s mortgage repayment. 
In similar collectors’ item vein, Liberty of London is prized for both modern and vintage patterns. Their classy website includes these style tutorials on the myriad ways to wear a scarf (well worth a click here ).  (Liberty Plait by Grayson Perry anyone?)  
The summer accessories collection at Zara show their generously sized designs in a number of patterns under the broad umbrella of ‘ethnic’, and hot in colour such as flavour of the moment saffron//tangerine/orange. Or apricot. (The title of this week's post, you grown-ups will have spotted, is a line from Carly Simon's 1972 hit, You're So Vain.)  LOB especially likes this Zara embroidered and sequinned wrap, but it would have to earn its keep for years to come at a pricey €69.95.  Always worth a look-out is Accessorize and a strong theme in the scarf/wrap department this coming summer is their range of Oriental patterns. Meanwhile, back to Audrey (and any excuse to include an image of her here).
Her son also added in that interview that her scarf passion allowed his famous mother to shop incognito:
" Occasionally she was able to do her shopping without having all the crowds behind.”   LOB hasn’t achieved quite that level of celebrity that she needs to head to Tesco in disguise. 
Not yet, at least  ....

*Ireland’s multi-billion bailout,  the paying-back legacy to our future generations…