This week I had a startling revelation: I am too old to wear a playsuit. Fortunately, this occurred to me while looking at those cute little suckers hanging on the racks in my favourite chain store and not at home the next day having bought one.
These are the playsuits in question:
Not that I own any playsuits. Not that I’ve ever worn a playsuit. Not that I have any real desire to start now. But it’s one of the first times I can recall making a fashion decision based on my age. There are plenty of trends I’ve rejected for reasons of personal taste such as those ridiculous platform shoes, bandage dresses, high waisted jeans, crop tops, and sneakers wedges (wait, that’s a lie, I may have a pair of those) and there are plenty I’ve embraced lately including neon, neon and neon.
While I love a bit of fast fashion however, it’s sobering to realise that some doors are – of my own subjective volition – now closed to me. For example, playsuits, very short skirts and anything that can be described as ‘flouncy’.
Possibly the most startling thing about my playsuit revelation was that it took me so long to have it, a result of the fact age rarely factors into what we wear anymore.
In the last generation, fashion has become democratised as we’ve risen up to reject the idea of fashion ‘rules’ being imposed by an ivory tower group of self-anointed experts. Collectively, we’ve extended our middle finger to anyone trying to tell us what we ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ wear. While the clothing boundaries between generations were once solid (ever recall your grandparents wearing denim?), they’re now blurred in an all-ages melange of Converse high-tops, jeans, Bonds undies, t-shirts, thongs and hoodies. There’s no such thing as a single ‘hemline’ or ‘colour’ of the season. Mothers shop side by side with their daughters at Sportsgirl and teenagers routinely borrow their parents’ clothes.
All of this would once have been unthinkable. Happily, it’s now standard because being straight-jacketed about fashion is exceedingly dull. Still, I’m not the only woman this side of 35 who has begun to ask herself: am I too old to wear this?
Lets get this out of the way immediately [insert brisk clap here]: mutton is a word – and a meat – that I detest. I cannot overstate my loathing for it, in the same way I despise any type of bigoted slur. The expression “Mutton dressed as lamb” is right up there in the misogyny hall of fame. It’s sexist, demeaning and incredibly impolite. But I’ve noticed lately how some women in their 30s and 40s have begun to reclaim this word and use it in a self-deprecating sense when they’re deciding what to wear.
The same day I closed the door on playsuits, I was going out to dinner with a girlfriend who’s a bit older than me. A few hours before we were due to meet, she texted me a photo of some printed jeans she’d just bought with the query “mutton?” Straight away I texted back, pointing out that I was also wearing printed jeans along with a jacket that looks like it’s made from a blue lolly wrapper. “Oh good,” she replied. “I’ll feel less tragic now.” You’re welcome.
I’m all for women dressing how they want to at whatever age they feel is appropriate. But it would be disingenuous to assume we’re all able to navigate our ages, our shapes and our wardrobes without some occasional angst. Wishing it weren’t the case does not make it so.
To help us, fashion labels do have ways of forcibly defining their target market. This week, it was revealed global retail giant Zara have been forced to limit their expansion plans in the US because their clothes are too small for the majority of the American population and the label firmly refuses to size up.
This is a tactic adopted by many local labels who stop manufacturing at size 14 or even 12, actively (and literally) narrowing their customer base. Other tactics are more subtle. Anyone who has found themselves queueing for a changeroom with girls in school uniforms while cursing the hideously loud music knows this to be true.
I’ve shopped happily at chainstores for 30 years; it’s my hobby, my relaxation, my eye candy. So like a frog in boiling water, an unpleasant truth dawned slowly.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I complained about the appalling in-store music to a friend who was then the marketing manager of one national chain that I realised I was no longer their ideal customer. “Darl, you’re not supposed to enjoy being in our stores anymore,” she told me unapologetically. “It’s music for girls in their teens and twenties, not mothers with prams.” Well, ouch.
The store where my playsuit revelation occurred was Dotti, a label I thought I’d grown out of but whose recent transformation has lured me back. “Feeling strangely sad that I am too old for a playsuit,” I texted a friend who is 26 and who made me feel instantly better when she texted back: “Anyone over the age of 11 is too old for a play suit.” So I bought a pleather miniskirt instead.
Check out just some of Mia’s fashion choices in the gallery below…