HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: Demi & Sienna & Cate. The contradiction of midlife style icons.

I was just reading about how Demi Moore is a fashion icon at 61.

She’s been wearing clothes like crazy at the Cannes Film Festival this week, where she’s promoting a feminist horror movie that frankly, I can’t wait to see. In it, she injects a 'substance'  - the movie’s called The Substance - that releases a younger version of herself. Reborn Demi is played by Margaret Qualley, who is the literal daughter of Andie MacDowell. It’s many layers of Hollywood irony, considering the injections that the town runs off, and that Demi looks to be a similar age to one of her own three daughters, but life is stranger than fiction, etc.

Demi Moore's outfits at the Cannes Film Festival 2024. Image: Getty.


I was just reading about how Sienna Miller is a fashion icon at 42. 

Of course, Miller has always been very, very good at wearing clothes. Demi once wore bike shorts to the Oscars (look it up, you’re welcome), but Sienna would never. She’s brought her eternal cool to Cannes to promote her new western, which stars Kevin Costner and his white hair. His style did not earn comment, but Sienna looked impeccably Sienna-ish even in the barrel-jeans micro-trend that is universally agreed to be unwearable. Unless you’re her, and you wear them with no shirt and a sharply tailored cropped jacket and maybe I’m making up fashion words.

Sienna Miller in Schiaparelli at the Cannes Film Festival 2024. Image: Getty.


I was just reading about how Cate Blanchett is a style icon at 55.  

It’s not really possible to find the right made-up fashion words for how wondrous Cate Blanchett looks at Cannes, where, of course, she received a standing ovation for Rumours, a dark comedy about incompetent world leaders. The clapping went on for four minutes and the praise for her 'looks' - a strapless body-hugging sheath by Jean Paul Gaultier, slim-line leather pants, a berry-printed structured jacket, a gold Louis Vuitton and etc - will go on longer, because if wearing clothes was the Oscars, she’d never not win. 

Cate Blanchett in Jean Paul Gaultier at the Cannes Film Festival 2024. Image: Getty.


All of these women are being held up as evidence that style 'doesn’t have a sell-by date'. That you can look edgy and fashionable and take 'risks' with your look after 40, 50, 60… and be celebrated for it. Because these women do, and are. 

But there’s a glitch in this you go-lady, good-news age story, and it’s that none of these older women look older. They all look - on a red carpet, at least - almost exactly as they always have: Extraordinarily beautiful, and regulation thin. Demi was first in Cannes in 1997. Blanchett in 1999. And Miller’s first movie roles were 20 years ago, in 2004. Then, they were the equivalents of today’s Anya Taylor Joy, who was also giving great gown at Cannes, wearing 'looks' that could easily have slipped on to any of these midlife women

All this to say, we have flattened age dressing. It’s to be celebrated, in theory, that we have done away with clothes that are 'appropriate for your age'. And that we’ve stopped calling 'mutton', the word my mate used when I turned up at a barbecue in some ill-advised camo-slim-cargos a while back. We have stopped compelling women to cover their knees after 30, their shoulders after 40, their necks after 50. You can play with trends - indeed, you’re compelled to keep up with the right jeans, the right socks - throughout your life. Fashion is no longer a young woman’s game. 


But to understand this assignment, you must be clear that the 'style icon' status can only be bestowed if your age is, indeed, just a number. If it hasn’t left any marks on you. Any tell-tell lines or crinkles. Any loosening or mottling. Any scars or pigment. Any extra pounds, obviously. 

Basically, if you look like a naturally-blessed, well-groomed 34. Not young. Not old. Just… perfect. 

That’s all you need to do. And you too can be a style icon at any age

Is it better or worse for those of us without a permanent glam army, two stylists, a bottomless budget, a dermatologist, a personal chef, a trainer and a skilled surgeon that Demi Moore looks 'better than ever' as she enters her seventh decade? 

Or is it, as I suspect, nothing to do with us at all?

Is the fact that 'Moore is a style icon at 61' entirely irrelevant to 'civilian' 61-year-olds because our realities share no resemblance? 

Is there anything to be learned from the fact that Sienna Miller still looks exactly like the young ingenue in love with Alfie’s dastardly Jude Law, even though she just had a baby, also has an eleven-year-old, and her hair hasn’t aged a smidge? 

And is there true inspiration to be found at the feet of the goddess Cate Blanchett, whose style is as unparalleled as her natural gifts? She just… looks like that. 


Listen to the latest episode of MID where Holly Wainwright speaks with Cathrine Mahoney and what the dating pool of midlife women looks like. Post continues after audio.

I say we look closer to home for reasons to feel good about our bodies, clothes and red lipsticks as we navigate the messy middle. The pair of jeans that might not be regulation shape but somehow have you widening your stride with confidence. That one dress you bought for that one thing that always fits when you have to Bring It. Those shoes that make even the most average outfit on your most invisible day make you feel springier. That red lip that makes you feel less exhausted. 

The celebration of the ageless doesn't mean you have to hide from phone cameras if you no longer look like you did at your 30th. You don’t have to wear “young” clothes to feel young. You don’t have to lace up a corset to sculpt a fast-disappearing waist. You don’t have to scour off your shoulder-wrinkles to be publicly seen in a spaghetti strap.

If your body and face has changed, you haven’t lost, you’ve just lived.

You don’t have to look 34 to be a style icon. 

Leave that un-winnable race to the professionals.  

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Feature image: Getty + Mamamia.

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