Nikki Garnett is that rare thing; a 55-year-old mother of three who can pose in a bikini and radiate positivity like a hot sun.
It’s hard not to be wowed by how great she looks, whether she is wearing a bikini, a one-piece or a spectacular summer evening dress. The most important thing she’s wearing, of course, is confidence.
And Nikki, knows it: “More than anything about your body or what you’re wearing or what your hair looks like, it’s to do with your confidence in midlife – that’s what people notice,” says Garnett, a former editor of Selfridges magazine, who lives in Cumbria and has for the past 10 years written a blog called Midlifechic.
Her Instagram of the same name is peppered with feel-good photographs. While body positivity and ageless style are popular themes online, there are few bloggers putting their bikinis where their lumps and bumps are.
Skimpy-clothed style is something British women and men tend to lack on holiday. Our European cousins from the south wear their swimsuits in a relaxed way, regardless of shape and size.
There’s no doubt that we spend far more time wrapped up to protect us from the elements for most of the year. And then we are yanked from our busy lives by the shock of summer, and thrust from coats to bare arms when we’re just not ready.
With anxiety building, how can you ensure you actually enjoy your summer holiday without resorting to self-flagellation about all the things that you meant to do to look good in a swimsuit?
“I think the two best things you can have on the beach are good posture and a great smile,” says Garnett. “You can’t beat those. If you see a woman, whatever size she is, walking along the beach and her shoulders are rolled back and there’s a big smile on her face, I think everyone’s heart leaps. You think: ‘She’s having a great time.’ Because that’s what everyone wants to see.”
What gives Garnett her confidence is the mantra: “You’re never going to look as young again as you do today.”
“Looking back at photos from 10 years ago, everyone is always surprised by how great they looked. So why waste the opportunity you have now?”
As the mother of three sons, she also sees her body confidence as a social responsibility: “They need to know what’s going to happen to their wives once they’ve had babies. They need a realistic view.”
Style blogger David Evans, who posts as @greyfoxblog on Instagram to 37,000 followers, is yet to put up a photo of himself wearing beachwear, admitting that perhaps he’s not quite as confident in his appearance as he might have thought.
While mowing his lawn during the heatwave last week he stopped to take off his shirt and said: “I noticed all these long hairs on top of my shoulders. Luckily I’ve no neighbours!” he jokes.
While many beach-body confidence talks are focused on women, men can also feel self-conscious about getting their lily-white shoulders and less than muscular abs out.
At 67, Evans wonders if it’s worse than it once was for men. “There are all these external pressures today. You see all of these totally ripped, shaved and tanned bodies everywhere you look nowadays and that certainly makes a difference.”
Comparison is confidence’s biggest enemy, and how we think of and speak to ourselves has a physiological impact on our stress levels, our posture and our facial expressions, all of which contribute hugely to how we look and feel.
Letting go of that is liberating. After all, if you’re too busy to look at anyone else because you’re worrying about how you look, the chances are that everyone else is doing the same.
Evans agrees. “We worry so much about having a white body and a bit of a beer gut and actually the reality is that people don’t notice,” he says.
Style-wise he gives himself the best chance on the beach by making sure he’s in simple but well-fitting shorts, shirt and canvas trainers.
Beyond that, his secret is regular exercise. “Without sounding preachy, it helps you to feel slightly better about yourself even if the exercise isn’t such that it flattens your stomach and builds muscle. The fact you got out there and walked or cycled makes you feel better about yourself. And that all seems to affect how you feel about yourself and how you appear.”
Nikki Garnett’s holiday fashion advice
When you start packing, lay all of your outfits out on your bed. Work on doing daytime first, and aim for two dresses, working the rest of the days around separates and adding five bottom pieces: shorts, trousers, skirts.
Then choose five different styles of tops that will work across all of the bottoms, giving plenty of opportunity to mix and match. With all of the outfits still laid out, sort out your accessories – jewellery/sunglasses/hat/footwear.
Take a photo on your phone of every option, fully accessorised, and file for inspiration while you’re away, then do the same thing with evening and beachwear.
Remember you’ll feel best in natural fabrics and either opt for neutrals with splashes of colour or a palette that works around three strong colours. Let your destination inspire your palette – the French coast says shades of blue with pops of yellow perhaps, whereas Turkey might be more pink, orange and white.
Don’t overpack shoes: you won’t wear heels if it’s hot so take just one pair, along with flat sandals (Ancient Greek are great; ancient-greek-sandals.com) for sightseeing and the beach and trainers (Nike VaporMax for me) for the airport and active days.
Take a dip...
From top left to right: colourblock swimsuit, £75, Boden; bikini top, £140, and bottoms, £90, Form and fold; ribbed swimsuit, £49, Cos. From bottom left to right: plain swim shorts, £58, Reiss; recycled-plastic shorts, £120, Lovebrand; Floral shorts, £70, Wax London
When you’re thinking about swimwear, look at your body's architecture objectively. Broad shoulders always look better with a halter neck, whereas a narrow frame can carry off slim straps or a bandeau. Know where your waist narrows – that is where you want waistband detail on a one-piece to sit, otherwise you’ll visually broaden your body. If you’re short-bodied with long legs, the full block of a swimsuit will look great, but if you have a long body, a tankini or bikini will rebalance it and make your legs appear longer.
Always have a deep-conditioning hair product (I use Living Proof’s Perfect Hair Day 5 in 1) in your beach bag. When you come out of the water, rinse your hair and apply the conditioner – it will stop your hair drying into a frizz. Rinse before going back in and repeat every time. Have a tinted lip oil or gloss and a coral-coloured cheek crayon to apply before going beach-to-bar to make the most of a sun-kissed look. Add a hat and a pair of oversized sunglasses and you’ll look ready for a cocktail.
Take a few beaded bracelets and necklaces to wear during the day rather than silver or gold. And I always look out for sea-glass pieces when we’re away – turquoise or coral looks lovely too, especially with a bit of a tan.
Jeremy Langmead, style guru, on T-shirts
The humble T-shirt should be a simple item to choose, and yet so many of us get it wrong. The following styles are best avoided. Jeremy Langmead and Dr David Jack's book ‘Vain Glorious: A Shameless Guide for Men Who Want to Look Their Best’ by is published by Short Books.
Patterns If you’re over 30 avoid any brightly coloured or bold designs. They look great on teenagers on TikTok, but less appropriate on you on Facebook.
The black T-shirt is a perennial favourite with ageing rockers and reality-TV stars who’ve spent too much time in LA. Avoid.
Gaping necklines Many men choose T-shirts that have low-slung, baggy necklines. Not a good look.
The most stylish option is a classic white tee. There is no need to choose anything else: look at how they worked for James Dean and Marlon Brando.
David Evans on men’s summer kit
Fit and quality is key. If all you’re wearing on the beach is a pair of swimming shorts, a shirt and a pair of sandals, it can make you feel better if it’s of a nice quality that fits you well for your shape now, not what it was 20 years ago. Many men go for shorts that are far too long. Best is just above the knee, whatever body shape you are.
A lot of men worry about their feet if they have bunions or gnarly toenails. Instead of bare feet or flip flops, wear some nice canvas sneakers. Have a good-quality linen shirt you throw on once you’re out of the water.
Go for nice panama or straw hat. They come in all shapes and sizes. M&S does good ones, or try sustainable hats from Pachacuti. It doesn’t matter if it gets battered; there’s nothing wrong with looking like a seasoned traveller.
Try and have a capsule collection where everything goes with everything else. You may have a few patterned things, but make sure the colour in the pattern goes with your plain shorts or trousers. If you’re wearing a Hawaiian shirt, wear it with a plain pair of tailored trousers or shorts, and some cream or white canvas sneakers.
Four-week diet tips
Eat at the same time
Eating our meals at roughly the same time every day and ensuring we give our bodies a rest from digesting for 12 hours overnight.
Cut out snacks
This will not only give your gut a rest between meals, but help you keep track of how much you’re eating.
Start with vegetables
Then make sure you are eating enough protein-rich foods, such as nuts, chickpeas, lentils, chicken, fish and eggs.
Hydrating adequately can be the most effective health intervention we can make.
Swap carbs for protein
Swap your porridge oats or granola for a protein-rich breakfast such as two boiled eggs.
Go to bed at the same time
Studies suggest that those who sleep less than seven hours a night consume around 200 extra calories the following day.
Three easy exercises to try
‘Four weeks isn’t really enough time to go through a total body transformation, at least not healthily, but we can do a lot by playing to our strengths,” says top fitness trainer Luke Worthington.
He advises basing your workouts around “more bang for your buck” exercises. “Multi-joint exercises such as squats, hinges, pushes and pulls utilise the greatest amount of skeletal muscle, require the greatest mechanical work, the highest energy – calorie – burn, and the greatest potential for building and maintaining lean tissue.”
You don’t have to go to the gym to do them. Those two minutes in the morning as you brush your teeth could be your new squat-hold record.
It’s also a perfect example of upping your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which is the energy we use for everything that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.
“Improving body composition is a case of maintaining a mild energy deficit over time,” says Worthington. “Deliberate exercise – workouts – make up only around 10 per cent of our daily energy expenditure, so we have more of an impact on energy balance by addressing our background activity.”
Think about using the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus or the train one stop early, walking to the shops instead of ordering online. “These small steps all add up to create a significant impact.”
In a similar vein, don’t knock yourself out with HIIT, but instead opt for LISS: low intensity steady state cardio. Activities such as walking, cycling and swimming are less stressful to the nervous system than high intensity activities, so you can fit them in at any time of day without any concerns about disturbing your ability to sleep.
LISS activities also require minimal downtime in between, says Worthington, “so you can do them every day if you wish. If you’re looking to make changes in a relatively short period of time then being consistent with your activity across each week is key, as well as maximising the frequency.”
If you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all move then PT and Living Retreat founder Luke Grey says it’s got to be the plank. “It’s not complicated,” says the 62-year-old, “but it’s highly effective.”
It’s the midriff that most of his clients start panicking about ahead of holidays. Grey says the plank is an effective way to strengthen the core. “By addressing the core, you flatten the tum.”
Bear in mind that hormonal changes during midlife can cause new or worsening musculoskeletal symptoms.
“As you get older, your body won’t change by doing HIIT or cardio classes alone. You need isometric and eccentric exercises, which work both the short and long muscles in the body,” says PT and head of barre at Psycle, Maria Eleftheriou.
“Too much high intensity exercise increases your adrenal load and can cause inflammation, which speeds up the ageing process. My recommendation is always quality rather than quantity of workouts. Otherwise, you won’t achieve sustainable results and you’ll start to see your workouts as a chore.
“Even if you only exercise for 20 minutes on a busy day, if the quality of what you are doing is focused, you will still sustain your results.” Eleftheriou suggests trying these simple daily exercises to boost your body confidence this summer.
Stage 1 is on the elbows holding the body parallel with the floor (take care not to drop the hips) or if that is too difficult start on the knees.
Hold for 30 seconds and return to the knees. Every day adds on more and more time – in six weeks many of my clients are holding for four to five minutes!
If you improve rapidly, start with arms extended and hold the position below – but always make sure that you are pulling your belly button up towards your spine.
Seasoned exercisers may want to try a transitional plank – starting in the elbow plank and straightening the arms to an extended plank and repeat. “Always keep the belly button pulled in! If the core isn’t engaged it puts pressure on the back.”
Start in a high plank position, hands shoulder-width apart, and make sure your shoulders are stacked over your wrists, legs are extended behind you (or come down to the fleshy part of your knees to modify) with your core and glutes engaged. Bend your elbows, and lower your chest to the floor. To lift, push through the palms of your hands and straighten your arms. Take single push-ups 10 times and then hold at the bottom range and take 10 small tiny pulses. Relax for 20 seconds and repeat the whole set again.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor and hands behind you with fingers pointing towards your body. To begin, lift hips off the floor and slowly and gently bend your elbows and lower your body to the ground. Keep abdominal muscles tight and chest and eyeline lifted. Bend elbows and stretch in single counts 15 times making sure your hips don’t drop. Lift the left leg in the air and pulse elbows 10 times. Repeat with your right leg in the air and pulse 10 times. Relax for 20 seconds and repeat the whole set again.
Shoulder and bicep extensions
Sit on your knees, with your core tight and a neutral spin. Bring your arms to a cactus position WHAT IS THIS and tense your biceps and squeeze your back muscles (as if you were holding weights). Keeping the tension in the arms for the whole set, pulse your arms very slightly up and down for 30 reps. Extend arms out to the side and back in 20 times (bicep curl) without releasing the muscle engagement. Repeat pulses in cactus position and then lift arms over head into a shoulder press and back to the cactus 20 times. Finish with 30 more pulses in cactus position.