fashion

Helen Mirren, Sylvie, and the new age of sex appeal.

If there's one thing you're guaranteed to see on a Cannes red carpet, it's supermodels. 

No one is entirely sure why they're there, but they're always there. Bella Hadid, Adriana Lima, Candice Swanopoel, and a roll-call of other Victoria's Secret alumni; hot young things in body-hugging dresses, sparkling and cinched-in and ready for a photo op.

But this year, in a single appearance, Helen Mirren pulled the proverbial red rug out from under them.

Attending the screening of Mother and Son, the Dame shimmied past photographers in a silver Jenni Packham gown, whipping her long ponytail back and forth as she greeted her co-star Andie MacDowell. 

The hair and make-up were, as the kids say, snatched. The confidence was infectious. Not only did she look like the human embodiment of the fire emoji, she was having the time of her life. The message? Sex appeal has no age limit. I'm walking proof.

Helen Mirren is 76.

Slay. Image: Getty 

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Days later, Sharon Stone, another cinema veteran, attended the Elvis premiere in a red Dolce and Gabbana gown complete with the coolest styling touch, Top Gun-inspired tinted aviators. 

Boom.

Image: Getty 

While neither of these women are strangers to being sexy - hello, it's Sharon Stone - what does feel new is the way female actors in their 60s, 70s and beyond are finally being given the floor, rather than fading into the background.

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Last year, as we all binge-watched season two of Emily in Paris, it was French actor Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who plays marketing boss Sylvie, that blew up social media with her scene-stealing hotness - never mind Emily, Camille and the other ingenues, we all wanted to be like Sylvie.


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At Paris Fashion Week, an outfit 59-year-old Leroy-Beaulieu wore went viral: she was braless, which is tres French of course, but the look made headlines because it was shamelessly sexy, and in a world where women "of a certain age" have historically been aged out of Hollywood, this one demanded attention.

Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu at Paris Fashion Week. Image: Getty 

Last month Stan dropped the second season of Hacks, starring Jean Smart as an ageing comedian trying to regain relevance with a younger crowd. In episode 6, Smart's character Deborah Vance has a one night stand with forty-something actor and '90s heartthrob Devon Sawa. Seeing it play out was shocking, but in a good way: when was the last time you saw a woman of Smart's age have casual sex on screen?

I'll rephrase: When was the last time you saw that, but it didn't have other connotations? That the woman should be so lucky to seduce a younger man. Or her age was someone's kink. Or the scene in itself was cringeworthy?

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In this scene we saw Deborah not as a "milf", but as the object of someone's sexual desire; purely as a woman. It was sensual, intimate (that knee kiss) and satisfying to watch.

It was hot.

On social media, we're seeing the rise of the 50-plus influencer - stylish women like Grece Ganhem, who posts everything from daily outfits in distressed denim and cut-out dresses to luxe bikini shots and topless images in underwear.

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It's a massive departure from the content we used to consume in the "mature fashion" space. 

For decades, magazines rolled out their annual 'style at every age' issues, the implication being that your wardrobe should change accordingly with your decade. The 60s category was always prescribed a uniform of "classic" pieces: collared shirts, knitwear, smart pants and practical shoes; all very wearable but not fun or experimental. And certainly not sexy.

These tropes aren't harmful, but they do put women's style into convenient boxes. Right now TikTok is leaning into the "coastal grandma" trend, an aesthetic that references female characters from Nancy Meyers movies and their signature beige wardrobes, all cosy cardigans and neutral layers. 

PS: While you're here, listen to us dissect the trend on Mamamia's fashion podcast, What Are You Wearing? Post continues below.

When you're 22, it's fun to dress up in coastal grandma cosplay - and yes, TikTok micro-trends are all just part of the meme-ification of fashion - but style cliches like these also serve to reinforce that there's a certain way to dress if you're a certain age.

So in our best Dame Helen Mirren voice, here's to redefining sexy. Here's to swishy ponytails and dancing in sequins and wearing whatever the f*ck you want... at any age.

Tamara Davis is Mamamia's Head of Lifestyle. For more fashion commentary, follow her on Instagram.

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.



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