Opinion: Style is ageless and fabulous, even if you're 50

NEW YORK, NY SEPTEMBER 09: Iris Apfel poses backstage at ‘My Life On A Diet’ at the Theatre at St Clement’s Church on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo By Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

By Niki Bruce

Did you know that 50 is the new 30? And even if you’re 80 years old you don’t have to divorce yourself from style? Forget dressing like your grandmother, now you too can invest in #agelessstyle.

Over the last few years there’s been an attempt by the fashion industry to be more ‘inclusive’, most specifically in regard to adding more People Of Colour (although not very successfully), and even more ‘plus size’ models onto the international runways.

And yes, there are even ‘old’ women appearing on the runways and in more fashion campaigns – admittedly they’re mostly former top models, but still, at least they are not teenagers.

Sharon Lim, 51, is a multi-hyphenate fashion icon in her own right, as a Lecturer of Historical Studies of Fashion at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Singapore, and the Strategic Content Director at The Ate Group.

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“We still live in a largely youth-centric culture that dates back to the 1950s and the rise of the first generation teenagers. This is unlikely to change — there will always be new generations to sustain  youth culture,” says Ms Lim.

“What’s changing is the idea of looking and feeling your best, at whatever age you happen to be. In fashion, it’s all about ‘personal style’ — how you dress on the outside is an expression of how you feel, and think and stand for, on the inside.”

As another old(er) woman in the fashion industry, I have been quite excited to see a bit less ageism in fashion with more older women being featured as models and “influencers” … Carmen Dell’Orefice (the once and future model), Iris Apfel (the giant specs-wearing inspiration for just about everything Susie Bubble wears) and even fashion blogger Lyn Slater – better known by her blog and handle @accidentalicon.

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 16: Carmen Dell’Orefice attends as Charlotte Tilbury and Bergdorf Goodman celebrate the Limited Edition Charlotte Tilbury x Norman Parkinson Collaboration at Bergdorf Goodman on July 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Charlotte Tilbury)

Slater’s description of the woman who she writes for is super inclusive …

“Women (like me) who are not famous or celebrities but are smart, creative, fashion forward, fit, thoughtful, engaged, related and most importantly clear and comfortable with who they are.” – Accidental Icon

These days there are actually quite a few interesting women over 50 who are being considered fashion and style ‘influencers’ in their own right.

Jeweller and style icon Sarah Jane Adams, Helen Ruth Elam Van Winkle or @BaddieWinkle who is 90 years old and has 3.7m followers on Instagram, New Yorker Wendy Packer @fashionoverfifty.wendy, Patti Gibbons @NotDeadYetStyle, and 84 year old Dorrie Jacobson from @SeniorStyleBible, are all over 50 and totally fabulous.

“With the Internet and social media, diversity and inclusivity have not just become buzzwords,” explains Ms Lim. “They point to a new reality in which youth-centric culture is not the only benchmark of cool.

“Of course, what is deemed ‘age-appropriate’ dressing continues to be subjective. Not everyone has the chutzpah (or access to cosmetic surgeons) to dress like Cher, or Jane Fonda.”

In Singapore as well, there are super stylish older women says Ms Lim, like independent marketing and strategy consultant, Mabel Tay; entrepreneurs Tina Tan-Leo and Christina Ong; and jewellery designer Marilyn Tan.

These women have a strong personal style that makes them stand out, and while they aren’t afraid of wearing the latest trends, they do so in their own way. When it comes to being stylish, it’s age over youth any day.

How to get your own #agelessstyle

You don’t need to follow any sort of diktat about ‘dressing for your age’ any more, despite the suggestions of hundreds of magazine stories. Now, even Vogue UK suggests that these days you can basically wear what you want.

“The great thing about growing older is that despite the physical (and mental) realities of ageing, one cares less and less about what other people think,” says Ms Lim.

“And this is when one starts experimenting and taking risks with fashion. And it’s a great time to be an older woman in fashion.

“Gone are the days when ‘dressing your age’ invariably meant ‘classic chic’. Today, fashion literally has something for everyone, and previously ‘inappropriate’ styles have become commonplace and accepted,” explains Ms Lim.

So, don’t be afraid of trying the latest trends – whether it is wearing a Little White Dress, or large sleeves, or even patchwork denim. You just need to choose what silhouette best suits you and add the new trend into your existing wardrobe.

As Ms Lim says: “You can say fashion is just clothes, and at the end of the day, it is. But it’s so much more fun, fashion-wise, today to be an older person than ever before.”

If you’re looking for some stylish looks for your own #agelessstyle look, check out Singapore fashion brands like In Good Company and Ong Shunmugam, or try some Asian style at Society A.