AS THE guru for Generation FAB, Alyson Walsh has her style icons – but Madonna isn’t one of them
WITH all eyes on Madonna’s wardrobe after her recent Brit Awards malfunction, style blogger Alyson Walsh would advise the Material Girl to loosen up a little – and not just with the ties on her Armani cape.
“It’s a shame she feels she has to compete with much younger singers and fight the ageing process. If anyone was going to look amazing as they got older, it was Madonna. So I feel a bit disappointed and think she needs to relax a little,” she says.
Author of the style blog That’s Not My Age, which she started six years ago to prove that you can have style without youth, the 51-year-old has now produced a definitive guide in book form, Style Forever. A former fashion editor of Good Housekeeping, feature writer for the Guardian, Financial Times, How To Spend It, Saga Magazine and allaboutyou.com, she has condensed her fashion know-how into a guide to looking good for Generation FAB (Fifty and Beyond).
“I wanted the book to be a celebration of older women, because our demographic was overlooked. That’s also why I started the blog. Magazines were of younger women and clichéd style rules for older women. Yet there were so many older women out there who looked amazing and I wanted to focus on the positives. I wanted it to be empowering.
“My background is in women’s magazines and I wanted it to be fun and practical, full of advice. I wanted to talk to people the way my friends and I talk about clothes, sharing experience and advice, not in a bossy way. You can be a feminist and into fashion too, talk about it in an intelligent way. I wanted to focus on the positives, not a list of don’t do this or that,” she says.
Walsh gives us essential tips on how to dress, without the bullying of Trinny and Susannah, interviews with style icons and industry experts, and a tribe guide that embraces Fabulous Femmes, Scandinistas and Ageless Rockers among others, all designed to help you dump the frump.
Among the women who refuse to be invisible and leap out in Leo Greenfield’s wonderful illustrations are New York style icon and interior designer Iris Apfel, retail guru Mary Portas, food writer Sue Kreitzman, designer Wendy Dagworthy and baby of the group at 36, TV presenter Lauren Laverne, who has an old style head on young shoulders.
“They are Inspiring Women because they are all fabulous role models,” says Walsh. “They are all women of substance but have different personalities and different styles. But they all have the same mindset, the same approach to ageing, which is ‘get on with it’. What’s the point in worrying about wrinkles? Why bother with Botox? Iris Apfel said, ‘If they spent the same amount of time putting things into their brains as into their faces, they’d be much more interesting.’”
Walsh has The Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry giving us a step-by-step scarf tying guide to her Gordian knot technique, while Apfel counsels us to ignore trends: “If something’s in fashion and I look like a horse’s ass in it, then why would I buy it?”
Not only should women over 50 not become invisible, there are also sound economic reasons why the fashion industry should be taking note of Generation FAB. They are the power generation. As Walsh points out, one in four women is over 50, and in five years’ time, that will be one in three. That’s a big spend on clothes, make-up and skincare.
“It’s a big demographic of women with money. I’m amazed it’s taken the fashion industry so long to wake up to them,” she says. “There’s a huge market of older women out there who want to look good. And we owe it to the younger generation to be role models too.”
As a senior lecturer in fashion management and marketing at UCA Epsom, Walsh is delighted to have a little fan club among her students but makes no attempt to be down with the kids, despite the occasional silver trainer or leopard skin coat.
“If I wear those, I wear them with my uniform of navy or black shirt and jeans,” she says. “You want to look modern and fresh, but you don’t always need the latest things. Have your basics, your wardrobe glue, but zuzz it up with a scarf, trainers or what I call ‘Liz Taylor on a budget’ earrings.
“As you get older, you get more confident and know what works, so go to your favourites and build on that. But don’t get stuck in a style rut, because wearing the same stuff for decades makes you look dated.”
“Shoes and jackets are what you should spend money on. Things you wear a lot. I have loads of jackets and coats. A grey boyfriend jacket from Acne, and a mustard yellow coat from Cos are favourites, and I have a lot of secondhand fake fur coats and jackets.”
Jackets, or capes, bring us back to Madonna, the 56-year-old style icon whose attempts to hold back the years ended in a rather graceless plunge.
“But the whole theme of the book and blog is do what you want to do and wear what feels right for you,” says Walsh.
So if your favourite thing is an Armani cape, matador breeks and skyscraper platforms, go for it. Only you might want to ask your stylist to replace those fiddly hooks or ties with easy-to-open Velcro.
• Alyson Walsh, Style Forever, published on Thursday, Hardie Grant, £12.99 hardback
Alyson Walsh will be on the panel discussing the Beauty by Design, Fashioning the Renaissance exhibition currently at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (until 3 May, admission free) at the Beauty Pre-Designed: All Walks Beyond the Catwalk Panel Discussion, 16 March, 6-7.30pm, Scottish National Gallery, Hawthornden Lecture Theatre – Gardens Entrance, free. She will also be at the Beauty Pre-Designed: Gallery Tour and Workshop, 17 March, 10am-12.30pm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, free, but ticketed
Reliable figure flattering essentials:
• Shoes you can actually walk in. Chelsea boots, Birkenstocks, brogues, loafers, pumps.
• A blue shirt. More flattering than white and goes with everything.
• Black trousers. A great time saver, whether skinny, cigarette, flare, harem or capri.
• An outstanding coat. Cocoons, capes, blankets, trenches, crombies, parkas and check out secondhand shops to find vintage. But go for a stand-out-in-the crowd number.
• Everyday denim jeans. Go for ones with a touch of Lycra unless you want to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre on yourself every time you sit down.
• The big girls’ silk blouse. Extravagant, decadent. Play it off against something more low-key. Think Lauren Hutton and Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman, or Keith Richards in Anita Pallenberg’s clothes.
• The kick-ass jacket. A steadfast component of the oh-so-chic French look and a wiser investment than overpriced leather bags or shoes.
• Grey tee, sweatshirt or cashmere sweater. Go for steel and charcoal; more flattering than dove grey for older skin and hair.
• Balance oversized tops with slim bottoms and smarten up with a jacket and heels or metallic flats.
• The go-everywhere tunic dress. Think Balenciaga, try Cos, accessories with opaque tights or leggings and jewellery.
• The chic not clichéd Breton top. From Chanel to Gap, these stripy sweaters will never go out of style. Ignore advice about avoiding horizontal stripes. If it fits well and is in proportion, it’s always flattering.
• The grown up jumpsuit or Industrial Onesie. It’s French work wear and makes getting dressed a doddle.
And, remember, you’re never too old for…
The latest It trainers
A new hobby/friend/lipstick
Rock and roll and parties