Categories: Fashion & Beauty
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” Coco Chanel’s ideas stand the test of time just as well as her designs, and the idea that fashion is inextricably wound up in the way we live has never felt more prescient.
A decade ago, fashion was a rigid system. Different age groups knew about different labels and brands that were appropriate for their different incomes and different interests. Now that way of life seems as archaic as wearing a bustle. For many women, fashion has become a sport, with trends and hemlines and style icons discussed like the football. High-end labels no longer seem intimidating thanks to the coverage in magazines such as Grazia and the explosion of fashion blogs and online retailers such as Net-a-Porter. Age is no longer synonymous with wisdom as bloggers such as 14-year-old American Tavi Gevinson receive the same respect and fashion-show front-row perks as American Vogue’s Anna Wintour.
The high street is just as unrecognisable. Topshop, once the province of teenagers on pocket-money budgets, is adored by women of all ages and incomes for its exceptional designs. H&M’s designer collaborations with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney have caused riots.
While many have revelled in the chic cornucopia of fast-changing trends and the growing number of places to shop, just as many have felt overwhelmed. Teenagers never used to have to know who Miuccia Prada was, let alone if they should save up for the latest Prada scent. And while working out what clothes are too frumpy, too sexy or too trendy has always been a problem for youth, the current generation has to do so in a world enthralled by the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna. And women who would once have retired gracefully from fashion’s often fraught battlefield as their 30s faded now feel they should square their shoulders and carry on trying to keep up. It’s unsurprising that as fashion for all ages has flourished so, too, has the pressure to stay looking young.
But this style upheaval has also given women more choice. With a little thought and confidence, it’s possible to navigate fashion’s minefield and even enjoy the process. We asked five women with very public personas – in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s – to share their fashion secrets.
Teens: Diana Vickers, 19, pop singer
Since I first appeared on The X Factor, my style has changed a lot. I was very dolly/hippy looking and I played it quite safe. I had so many ideas of how I wanted to look, but when I see pictures of that time now, some of my outfits didn’t really work, although I thought it was cool at the time. I don’t mind – I was only 16! Now, as I’m getting older, I’m enjoying myself in the way I dress – embracing new designers and experimenting with different styles a lot more.
I come from a big extended family with lots of women. My mum always looks amazing, and when my grandmother was alive she always used to dress up and was very well-groomed. Having a sister who was four years older than me meant I was always looking up to her and following her lead. When I started upper school at 11, I used to do my hair up in a big quiff and lots of backcombing – it wasn’t really in fashion, but I just started doing it.
Carnaby Street and Brick Lane in London are especially good for vintage and bargain hunting. As for the high street, I really love what Urban Outfitters do and the fact that they have a lovely vintage section, along with labels like Paul & Joe and Chloé.
As I get older I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in myself and learning to be more comfortable in my own body. You have to have fun with fashion, and it’s important not to get stuck in just one look. I pick and choose depending on how I feel. One day I’ll be grungy and the next day I’ll go for a 60s look. It’s like getting into character, isn’t it?
Now I get given a lot of free stuff and my wardrobe is bigger, so a lot of friends borrow pieces. I work really closely with my stylist Alison for events and shows. I feel very lucky to have access to all the lovely clothes I get to wear – it boosts your confidence when you look great.
Everybody has their insecurities, and sometimes I wish there were things I could change about my body. As I get older I’m embracing my figure. I’d love to be in love with who I am one day. Women like Rihanna, Pixie Lott and Fearne Cotton have wonderful figures in real life – they’re not stick thin. And plus, all the boys I know say they love a big, juicy bum.
I’m at an age where I can get away with experimenting and wearing clothes that are a bit out there. I’ll probably tone it down as I get older – maybe when I’m 30.
Diana Vickers’s new single, “My Wicked Heart”, is out on 7 November
20s: Coco Sumner, 20, musician
Style isn’t really my strong point, although I have got more confident about how I dress as I’ve got older. I grew up mostly in the countryside, so I don’t have that much knowledge of fashion. On my first day at secondary school I turned up in flares because I thought they’d be a cool thing to wear, but they weren’t trendy any more. I was a bit behind.
I find shopping stressful – I just grab things and take them home. I’m still surprised by how much clothes cost. I can’t get my head around the idea of a jacket costing £3,000. Though good luck to the designers making a name for themselves. I was in a Burberry ad in 2008, when I was really young. It was all right, but I just did it for the money – modelling was never something I was going to get into. I wouldn’t do it again.
My wardrobe now is so tiny it can fit into one suitcase – I don’t need many clothes, and I wear the same thing all year round. I think about my image, but I have lots of similar clothes so I don’t have to think about it too much. I’ve only got one pair of shoes – I lost a lace today, which I’m quite depressed about, but I’ll get another one. I mainly wear shirts and blazers – I like to look smart, as I’m performing a lot now. I was brought up to look smart for an occasion like a show.
This white pin-tuck shirt I’m wearing is my favourite. Red wine was spilt on it last night and I spent ages getting it out. It’s very old and I’m not sure where it’s from, but I like vintage clothes, all worn in, comfy and cheap. It’s sad when you lose clothes you love. My favourite clothes when I was six or seven were a purple Disney T-shirt and Pinocchio shoes. I went on a fairground water ride and lost my shoes, and that was a sad day.
I care about the face that I present to the world – I wouldn’t wear an outfit I didn’t like – but I don’t look in the mirror that often. I don’t think about how old I look; I don’t feel any age at all.
30s: Sophie Ellis-Bextor, 31, singer
My style hasn’t changed much over the years, but I think my taste has improved – I make fewer mistakes. I still have clothes I had when I was a teenager. I’m quite experimental – I love quirky fashion and don’t take it seriously. It’s only putting clothes on, so it doesn’t matter if you get it wrong. I’d rather do that than play it safe.
I love vintage fashion, especially 50s and 60s styles. When I was growing up I found fashion intimidating. So I worked out that if you wear customised or secondhand clothes, you’re taking yourself outside of that world and you’ll not be judged so much on whether something is “on trend” or not. All my favourite pieces are really exciting finds that were cheap and cheerful, found in charity shops, markets or on eBay.
Once I reached my late 20s and had my children, I started feeling more comfortable in my skin. I’m in better shape than I ever was when I was younger. Everything seems to have fallen into place and I understand myself better. I’ve stopped caring what anyone else thinks. I’ve lost my inhibitions and rediscovered the joy of dressing up, too.
I’ve always had a clear sense of what I liked and what I didn’t like. There’s a slight misconception about me – that I’m always well turned out – but I think the complete opposite is true. I always have ladders in my tights, loose threads hanging down or safety pins holding things together, but I just don’t think it matters that much. Fashion shouldn’t be po-faced, regardless of what age you are – it’s fun.
I still feel a bit too irresponsible to wear designer clothes all the time. I have a healthy mixture in my wardrobe, and I like classic designer pieces, but I tend to treat all my clothes, irrespective of whether designer or not, the same. Sometimes I’ll see something crumpled up on my floor and I’ll wince and think that’s really not the way I should treat that. Some of my favourite designers are PPQ, Chanel, Paul & Joe and Dolce & Gabbana – who are particularly good for stage stuff – but I think we’re lucky to have the best high-street shops in the world.
Growing up I always loved Sindy – before she looked like Barbie. She had big, dark hair, red lips and eyeliner, and she was really curvy. I also used to watch Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Grease lots. If you take the tartiness of Grease, the tailoring of Mary Poppins and the remaking ethos from The Sound of Music, that’s sort of what my wardrobe looks like. A tarty nanny in a curtain.
40s: Sadie Frost, 45, actress and designer
Your dress sense changes as you get older, but you still have your signature looks. I’ve always been cheeky and playful, and I can’t imagine stifling that because I’m meant to be dressing in a certain way now that I’m in my 40s. I’ve worn romper suits since I was 15 and I still like them. If you feel good in something, why not wear it?
When I was a teenager I was obsessed with fashion. I’d hang out on the King’s Road, where my friends had the punk shop Boy, and outside Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaries – I modelled for both of them. Punk was new and exciting, and that’s where my style started. I wore underwear as outerwear, pyjamas under petticoats. People would ask what the hell I was wearing, but often those looks came into fashion.
Then I started having kids when I was 25 and I had to think about getting them dressed in the morning rather than about myself. Now I wear outfits that can take me from a yoga class to picking the kids up, and I don’t have time to match my bag to my shoes. My children are more fashion conscious than I am. I love designing for my label, FrostFrench, but it’s a job. I’m naturally a tomboy, a scruff, so I create clothes that make me feel more ladylike, such as high-waisted trousers or a 20s dress. Our clothes are classic but have to have a twist.
When I was younger I wasn’t confident of my sexuality and I felt plain and inadequate. It was odd seeing photos of myself in the papers with everyone making comments. But I care less about that now. I’ve got four kids, a business – I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve. As you get older you worry less about the superficial. And if you feel great inside you radiate that feeling. There are days when I look at the state of my knees and elbows, or I look and feel tired. But you have to accept the way you are and make the most of it.
FrostFrench is supporting Lipton Infusions’ Drink Gorgeous, Look Gorgeous campaign (liptoninfusions.co.uk)
50s: Jo Wood, 55, organic entrepreneur
If there’s a pressure for women to dress a certain way as they get older, I haven’t noticed it. I enjoy thinking about what I’m going to wear the next day and I never think about what I should and shouldn’t wear. I wouldn’t wear anything see-through without a bra, but I wouldn’t have when I was younger either. I would love to wear little black leather shorts, but my legs aren’t what they used to be, so I would wear a pair of opaque tights underneath.
I know people say that you shouldn’t have long hair when you’re over 50 – that you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that – but I think it depends on how you feel. One can wear anything and have it look your age, and you can still be fashionable as you get older. I think women tend to think that after 50 they have to wear different clothes – but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
My style has changed over the years, but only in the sense that I used to make do with what I could find or buy cheaply, and now I’m lucky enough to be in the position to buy what I like. But I’ve always loved mixing vintage and new, so I still do it now all the time. I have lots of old pieces I still wear and I find it very hard to throw anything out. I have lots in the attic, but I have to start sorting it all out because I’m moving house soon. I’m going to have to be really strict with what I keep and what I don’t, which is going to be very difficult.
I’ve always thought about my clothes. My friend Lorraine Kirke and I had a label in New York called No Scruples for a while, designing leather clothes. I also designed lots of my ex-husband Ronnie’s clothes as well – I’d find an old vintage piece and use it as inspiration for him. I’ve always loved vintage. The first vintage dress I ever wore belonged to my granny: it was navy blue with a little white pattern on it, and I’d wear it with beige boots and a Harris Tweed jacket. A couple of years ago I bought a Harris Tweed jacket and put on a navy blue dress and a pair of boots and realised I was wearing the same sort of thing I did when I was 17.
When I was on tour I used to only wear black – if you’re backstage, that’s the only colour you can wear because you need to blend in with the background to some extent. I’ve got a great love of biker boots, so I was always on the lookout for new pairs. I have a great pair by Christian Dior which are about four years old. I used to try and be as creative as I could within the boundaries of only wearing black – short skirts, leggings, dresses and jumpers – but I’d accessorise with big earrings and jewellery.
The only way my style has really changed over the years is that I don’t wear such short skirts now. Although I did see Tina Turner not long ago and she was in a tiny sequined dress and I thought: “If she can still do it, I can, too!”
By Alice Fisher