There are times when the fashion gods smile down on us middle-aged women. They flood the high street with gifts like midi length skirts, flared sleeves, chunky heels. Why thank you, your Fabulousnesses. We don’t mind if we do. But those gods are darn fickle. Before you know it, it’s all off the shoulder tops, Teva sandals, Mum jeans, Dad trainers, CROP TOPS. Ffs. In dark times like these, it’s easy to stick to the old tried and tested: the classic shift dress, the trouser suit. Nothing wrong with those. But there are a number of items that are easy to dismiss and yet are easier to wear than you might think. Even if you last wore some of them while getting a shaggy perm.
I was looking through my wardrobe the other day and I was struck by the number of things I’ve bought in the last few years that I’ve already owned and thrown away. I never thought they would come around again. I never thought I’d wear them again. But they did and I did.
These really are the original man repellers. When culottes re-emerged from under a fashion stone, I was not impressed. I don’t even like the name. Of course I did wear them back in the 80’s. But I was put off by my mother-in-law, not exactly a slave to fashion, also wearing them. And I thought I was so out there. (It pains me to say it, but there are still times when I will quietly put something back on the rail if I see someone far older also picking them up. So much for the Muttony sisterhood!)
In their purest form, culottes should (imho) be virtually a skirt. But despite various incarnations as ‘gaucho pants” (remember those?), “split skirts” and now cropped, wide trousers – culottes have morphed into a high street staple. They are really very comfortable to wear – even my favourite pair, an actual 80’s original in leather from the local vintage shop. And for summer there are bobby dazzlers available in every high street store.
ZARA CULOTTES, £29.99, VARIOUS COLOURS, BUY ME HERE
UNIQLO X MARRIMEKO, £24.90 BUY ME HERE
Oooh, I do love a flare. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the glory of my navy loon pants bought in Falmouth on holiday, round about 1974, for a princely £3.99. The flares on those babies! Worn with my cream Freeman, Hardy & Willis clogs and a shirred cheesecloth top, I felt like I’d come straight off the set of Top of The Pops. Swoon!
I took my driving test in the 70’s in a pair of wildly flared Wrangler jeans so tight I couldn’t get into them without help, let alone sit comfortably behind a steering wheel. (Yup, I failed, though the denim was utterly blameless. Turns out if a learner driver catapults erratically across the road, trying to execute a turn in the road by means of forward and reverse gears and a cyclists falls off their bike in front of them, the driver gets all the blame!)
I have flirted with flares since those heydays. There was the bootcut phase in the 90’s, but it didn’t have the thigh lengthening, leg slimming marvellousness of a full blown flare. Until now.
I bought a pair of Gap flares, in TK Maxx a year ago and they are all that. They don’t have the complete, high waist, corseting effect of the driving test jeans. Though these styles are available (check The Outnet). Nor do they actually cause me physical pain, thanks to that 80’s invention, lycra. I can highly recommend them (I have a soft spot for Gap jeans generally). But my flare-affair was clinched when a colleague, with very luxe tastes appeared at work in a trouser suit – fitted jacket and flared pants – looking a million dollars. It was cherry red. I nearly fainted with envy.
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN FLARED TROUSERS, £954 BUY ME HERE (AS IF…)
Great places for flared jeans are Top Shop. And if that’s a bit disposable fashion for you, then The Outnet, Selfridges – all the big designer jean brands like MIH, Citizens of Humanity, Frame will have a flare cut.
If you want a softer, more comfortable reintroduction into the wonderful world of flares, look below. The sequins may be a little extra for some tastes, but I say, go 70’s or go home!
ZARA FLARED TROUSERS, £39.99 BUY ME HERE
MILLIE MACKINTOSH SEQUINNED FLARES, £115.50 BUY ME HERE
The only time I have ever been on the cover of a magazine, circa 1980, I wore a jumpsuit of a particularly vivid blue, accessorised with yellow jewellery, channelling an IKEA bag before anyone had even heard of a Billy bookcase.
My second jumpsuit was bought on Camden Market from the Katherine Hamnett stall. It was Guantanemo orange, padded and strapped in strange random ways, and looked to me, chic as all hell, tucked into tasselled tan calf length pixie boots, with my loose tan leather jacket slung, casual as you like, over it. I may possibly have also had a layered spiky haircut with coloured streaks and a mullet – like some one had just tangoed Wham.
So when the jumpsuit returned I was sceptical. I could only think of the inconvenience of them, especially in Conveniences – sleeves trailing on club toilet floors, top halves disappearing down disgusting pub toilets. Yuk. So, what with that and with Mr M’s hilarious comments about mending boilers etc, I’ve been slow to warm to them. Now, they are my current fashion obsession. I have 6, all – in my head – very, very different. And, it may be a matter of where I hang out, but so far none of them have fallen into the loos at the Camden Palais.
For a fundamentally lazy woman like me, a jump suit is an ideal choice. It pulls together a look as easily as a dress but with a tad more edge. It has all the ‘no need to shave your legs’ nonchalance of a maxi dress but without the Abigail’s Party overtones. I urge, urge, urge you to try one, whatever your shape or size. A cinched, waisted, print, cropped length looks fabulous on someone with curves. And the spotted Kitri style, below, I spied recently on a very petite, chic fellow Muttonati.
In fact although there are beauties from every brand, online store Kitri has been storming it on the jumpsuit front. If I were in the business of buying (which, as the proud owner of half a dozen, as I mentioned, all completely different, I am most definitely NOT) I’d be sniffing around both this pin-striped Kitri jumpsuit and, of course, the polka dot one
KITRI ‘WAYNE’ JUMPSUIT, £125 BUY ME HERE
KITRI, ROLAND JUMPSUIT, £125, BUY ME HERE
G STAR RAW DENIM JUMP SUIT, £145 BUY ME HERE
One of my oldest friends clopped into my life in 1977 in a pair of clogs and Oshkosh dungarees. I was waiting in the queue to see our university tutor in head to toe navy tailoring. I don’t know if it was the clogs or the dungarees but I thought she was the most nonchalant, confident person I had ever met.
Within a few months, I also had a pair of dungarees – pale blue corduroy – which I wore to threads, but never quite with Ruth’s degree of attitude. But they left me with a life long yearning for dungarees, lovely tomboyish, gamine, playful dungarees. But of course, as a woman in my late 50’s with no plumbing qualifications, in real life they look ridiculous – I refer you to the “Come on Eileen” revival pair I bought a few years ago after a long rose´ lunch (below).
But hell, if there’s one thing about being Mrs Mutton it’s that you don’t give a fig for these things. I now own: hem, hem – a pair of black dungarees, bought last year and strictly for weekend use only: a pair of navy corduroy dungarees which I tried to dress up for a casual day at work, with not as much success as I had hoped; a black satin pair which I can dress up and a white pair, yet to be worn, for the summer holiday I am yet to book. I love wearing them. Are they elegant? Well they can be. Are they refined? All depends what you wear with them. Are they age-appropriate? Oh., Puhlease!
Here are a couple of examples: from smart, get-away-with-it-at work types to old-skool, Stoke Newington, “I bought them for Greenham Common” types and finally a pair with a very luxe twist. Check out Kate Sheridan for British made sturdy pieces (I like the selvedge denim with red zip pocket); Alexa Chung for 70’s styling but very much not 70’s pricing (while you’re on her site, look at her pink version of DM’s and take a tissue because you will weep with longing) and Needle & Thread for lovely embroidered dungarees, in case you don’t fancy going the whole children’s TV presenter nine yards.
ZARA CHECKED DUNGAREES, £49.99 BUY ME HERE
LUCY & YAK DUNGAREES, £49 BUY ME HERE
FRAME VELVET DUNGAREES, MATCHES FASHION, £244 BUY ME HERE
NEEDLE & THREAD EMBROIDERED DENIM DUNGAREES £143 BUY ME HERE
A mid-brown polyester pleated skirt was my daily outfit for five long years: imposed upon me by my Convent school. The pleats, let alone the unpleasant shade, were peculiarly unsuited to Northern adolescents, let alone a mostly pastry diet. An experience like that can leave you scarred for years. It was a long time before I could stare a concertina pleat in the eyes.
But now, if you have one midi length skirt in your wardrobe, ten to a dozen, it will be a fully pleated jobby. Turns out that without regulation uniform plastic ratchet waist fasteners, nasty material and stiff waistbands, they are surprisingly easy to wear. Get one that’s a flattering mid calf length, in a floaty fabric and a neat waist (if you have a waist, which exempts me) and it will look good with trainers, ankle boots or even something delicious and strappy.
My favourite is an old navy one from Zara, now two years old but a stalwart in my wardrobe. But I love these which are available right now, particularly the Arket version which ticks two boxes, being a glorious scarlet as well as pleated. If colour is your thing (and why, the hell, not?), they also have something similar in sunflower yellow.
ARKET PLEATED SKIRT, £59 BUY ME HERE
HUSH PLEATED SKIRT, £89 BUY ME HERE
The last pair of cowboy boots I bought were for my Mum when she was probably the same age as I am now. We went to a shop called R Soles in Chelsea and they were eye-wateringly expensive. Being, like myself, not shy of colour, I believe she bought a pair in bright red. She wore them with a fringed bolero, hands tucked into her front jeans pocket and a stetson. True, she was part of a boot-scootin’ line dancing troupe, but once you’ve seen that, it’s hard to get that image out of your head.
But now they are back. Top Shop has a pair, not unlike the last pair I bought in a charity shop ten years ago and which have managed to survive several purges.
TOPSHOP WESTERN BOOTS £79 BUY ME HERE
To be fair, the Western boot has never really gone away, even if you aren’t a champion line dancer. The Japanese brand, Toga Pulla’s classic ankle boot is a rather pricer designer take on the trend.
TOGA PULLA WESTERN BOOTS, £400 BUY ME HERE
And something newly inappropriate….Dad Trainers
But, in other inappropriate behaviour news, I have bought some chunky trainers from Zara and very comfortable they are too. If you like something clumpy in the shoe department (which I do) you can bounce along very happily in these, for not too much investment.
ZARA MESH TRAINERS, £49.99 BUY ME HERE