‘No way will age make me fade into the background’: one writer on how to nail bold fashion

·4 min read

“As we age, we become invisible.” Not me. If I need to dig out my fluorescent dinosaur sweatshirt to pull focus, I will. “Dress your age!” sounds like fighting talk. Everyone can see I’m middle-aged, I don’t need to dress like Ian Beale to prove the point. I don’t want to be a joke, but I don’t want to be ignored either. Men of a certain age invariably dress in black with accents of don’t-look-at-me navy and please-take-me-seriously charcoal. Everyone loves a nihilistic snoot-goth but, honestly, black is a cop-out, the decision of the defeated. With some bold wardrobe choices, perhaps there’s another way.

You don’t have to follow fashion to dress with intention. You get to an age – for me it was 40ish – where chasing trends becomes futile. Time passes so fast, that no sooner have you bought the right width of leg, than it’s out, and something chicer and shorter is in.

I wouldn’t not shop at the generation Z temple of cool, Supreme. I might even wear the logo, but if you wear something specifically to look hip and with-it, you set yourself up for Malvolioish mockery. Much safer to buy classics with a fashion pedigree, (chinos, chambray shirt, Breton) and avoid fads that are brazenly pinned to the moment.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m by no means a sartorial rebel. I conform to gender-normative drag: trousers, shirts and a comfortable shoe – just in shades of My Little Pony.

In an over-enthusiastic effort not to assimilate into the Greytrix, sometimes I accidentally dress like a packet of felt-tips. It’s easy to get carried away by all the pretty colours. But often you only need one conversation starter. You can’t go wrong with a T-shirt that champions your personal faves: Blackpink, Oscar Wilde, Donald Duck. This summer, a waitress spied my Blackpink merch and told me that she didn’t like the way the system treated K-pop girl bands such as Blackpink. I would’ve had a deep and meaningful conversation with her right there in the corridor, but she was balancing a stack of plates and my chips were getting cold. You don’t have to be a walking pinboard for pop culture, but a little fanboy goes a long way and these small connections can make your day.

When I see fashion for older men in magazines, it always looks so classy and, ugh, tasteful. I’m not trying to sell you whisky or watches and I’d rather look weird than a dullard chasing Don Draper dreams. I don’t want people to respect me. I want to hear what they have to say, and for them to include me in the conversation and listen to my theories on The White Lotus being a low-key homage to comedian Julia Davis and Chekhov. I can’t do that looking like a bank manager on an away day.

Related: ‘I’m friends with the mirror’: two writers on what they wear to feel good

My friend Samantha, who similarly embraces a variety of eye-catching outfits, says we’re “happy dressers”, and I like that. We dress to put a smile on our faces, not to fit in or specifically cause laughter, although that can happen. Boys on bikes will point and guffaw – let them. As soon as you start dressing for the approval of children you’re in trouble.

It’s not a rule, but I’ll admit my wardrobe is less sloppy the older I get. As our faces become more lived-in and, frankly, untidy, clothes do the heavy lifting in terms of freshness. And more structure is better. Fitted trousers if you’ve got a good bum, and a thicker, quality cotton T-shirt that skims over bulges and looks less like something you slept in.

Anyone thinking of giving their look a thrust of vitality could experiment with texture: velour, mohair, neoprene, or bite the bullet with a juicy wedge of colour. Start with outerwear you can take off, such as a bright yellow rain mac or cosy red Guernsey. If you want to stick with trusty blue, give navy the boot and opt for cobalt.

Be careful with seemingly fun, but actually uptight fiddly shirt patterns that stray into cool dad territory – actually not cool at all – unless you love them, then who cares? Dads are hot right now. Google “zaddy” – chances are that shirt is coming straight off.

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