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Forget hiding under camouflage, the key to chic midlife dressing is showing off the bits you love, says Eileen Willett, co-founder of sustainable clothing brand Cucumber.
For those of us born into the generation somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Gen X, this time in our lives has brought us unlooked-for rewards. Are there some stray grey hairs and wrinkles emerging? Yes. But the prospect of a six o’clock meeting no longer entails ridiculously complicated childcare juggling. We can sleep peacefully through the night, have a lie-in when we want and spend the weekend doing as we please. In our fifties, we also have the self-confidence and the ability to macro- and micro-manage that we could have only dreamed of in our twenties.
Equally, our fifties can be a time of great flux: with menopause looming, children heading off, the dreaded ‘empty nest’ syndrome kicking in, plus some sometimes subtle and sometimes more dramatic, body shape changes, there is a lot to get to grips with.
As women, since puberty our bodies have often felt out of our control, governed far more by our hormones than our heads. In fact, the original kernel for our sustainable sleepwear and clothing brand was born on a hot holiday.
We were a group of female friends, and there was a lot of talk around sleeplessness, heat, and hormones. When we returned, we did some research and were astonished to find that the only garments on offer either looked ‘medical’ or were deemed seriously dowdy.
We decided then and there to create a sustainable brand that took the latest cutting-edge fabric tech and married it to gorgeous design and that helped solve a problem. Since then, we have fielded many questions regarding, ‘what to wear’ as our bodies begin to change once again.
Whether you fall into ‘camp triathlon and daily vinyasas’ or ‘camp just bring me another cup of tea on my sun lounger ’ our bodies do change.
Women tend to find any extra weight now appears around their middles where before this would have headed further down towards hips and thighs. You can blame this on age-related insulin resistance and the ever-present hormonal changes, which promote thickening around the middle.
Combine this with a slow but gentle decline in our metabolic rate, which means we burn calories at an increasingly reduced rate. The fuel we unthinkingly ate in our twenties while zipping up our skin-tight jeans, now far too easily seems to add up to a dress size change.
Apart from the obvious mantra of maintaining strength, balance and flexibility, there is a whole wardrobe of ideas that can help you feel great in your clothes, rather than unconsciously using them to ‘hide’ yourself.
There are no longer any rules associated with style at any age. The key is to start dressing with the parts of you that you love and that fill you with confidence. For me, I love a shoulder.
Years ago, I went to a fashion show and talk with legendary American designer Donna Karan – her words still ring in my ears: shoulders don’t get fat. Shoulders are an area of the body you can flash a bit of skin without an iota of worry whether winter and summer. A wide neck top slipping off to one side, a cami top with a longer, soft cardigan slung over to reveal a bit of shoulder. The possibilities are endless!
If your tummy is something you’d rather not reveal, choose a body skimming (not clingy!) tunic or blouse down to hip level. Team it up with something slimmer below like a pencil skirt.
Or try a longer line jacket – it’s a shape that is perfect for interseasonal weather and can be worn with both flowing dresses or cropped jeans while smoothing out any rogue lumps or bumps.
Try not to do oversize on top and bottom. Every single body has a shape, which can be complemented with clothes, but too little shape and too much fabric in clothing can exaggerate rather than minimise and flatter.
Arms, in particular upper arms, are a subject that has come up time and again. Nancy and I are astonished at how many women aged 30 upwards would ‘never show their arms’. If you fall into that club, the trend for unusual sleeves is for you. Cap sleeves give that little bit of essential coverage, we also love short, puffed sleeves, three quarter length peasant sleeves and dropped sleeves that sit off the shoulder but cover the arm, win-win!
The underlying message is acceptance. Be kind to yourself and try and accept your body as it is rather than what you would like it to be. Treat yourself with a great daily routine – it does wonders for your self-confidence that can translate into both looking and feeling your best.
Gone for us are the days when we could roll out of bed after a ‘big’ night, shake out our hair, draw on some kohl and still look pretty fine (hello 25). Identify which bit you find most problematic (me – skin; Nancy – hair) and find someone you really trust to make it all better. Regularly. We are massive fans of regular at-home facials, hair masques and body–brushing.
Our generation of women has been brought up to expect more from life and from ourselves. Fifty plus is no barrier to feeling great about how you look and feel. Spend some time on yourself thinking about what this really means for you, figure out what you want and then go for it. Hope to see you along the way!
You can find Cucumber Clothing at https://www.cucumberclothing.com/
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