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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Style watch

Middle-aged women can now be seen wearing clothes more suited for younger people. Is it appropriate or more a case of mutton dressed as lamb?
The Sunday Times - February 19, 2012
By: Kimberly Spykerman and Cheryl Faith Wee
| More
Style watch Ms Adel Tan (left) and her 24-year-old daughter Cassandra Lee share clothes such as tops. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIM THAI

Skimpy tops, high heels, skinny jeans, mini skirts and even cut-off shorts - these sexy looks are being flaunted not just by pretty young things, but older women in their 40s and 50s.

A check of the crowds along Orchard Road finds that middle-aged women are squeezing themselves into the same kind of clothes as their thinner, fresh-faced daughters.

To some, they are adventurous aunties who are young at heart, never mind that hot pants do not flatter fuller figures.

To others, though, these mutton-dressed-as-lamb types are more pretty desperate than pretty woman.

And it is not just older women who dress young. Think wannabe hunky uncles - huncles - who pull tight T-shirts over paunches or worse, whose low-slung jeans make them the butt of jokes.

LifeStyle put together a panel of judges from Singapore's fashion industry to give their take on ageappropriate dressing for both women and men (see other story).

Their verdict: Some looks and trends just do not work after a certain age.

Still, most older women interviewed by LifeStyle said that those in their age bracket should be free to dress how they want - as long as they have the figure for it.

'If you don't have a good body, then some clothes just won't look good,' declared housewife Sariman Bonehill, 40, who wears skinny jeans but draws the line at body-hugging dresses and crop tops.

But property agent Eileen See, 53, felt that clothes which are too tight and revealing may not be appropriate. 'Older people should dress a little more modestly,' she said.

Indeed, young fashion-followers can be scathing about mature-aged women intruding on their stomping ground.

Former flight attendant Yasmin Chua, 26, said that when she shops at Forever21, a boutique popular with the younger set, she often finds in the changing rooms women in their 40s or even 50s taking the shop's name literally.

These Forever21s - in their heads - will be trying on the same item, such as a tank top or a tiny skirt, as her. It is a scene repeated at other boutiques such as Topshop and H&M, said Ms Chua.

'Some of them have nice hair and a good body, but you can immediately tell from their faces that they are older,' she said.

But who can blame them for thinking that they can pull off looks meant for those half their age when older celebrities such as Demi Moore, 49, Madonna, 53, Chinese-American singer-actor Kevin Cheng, 42, and Hong Kong actor-singer Kenny Bee, 58, often wear threads that would not look out of place on people much younger than them.

Still, some younger folks such as 24-year-old human resource assistant Cassandra Lee do not mind their mums borrowing an outfit or two.

Ms Lee and her mother, 44-year-old sales executive Adel Tan, share clothes such as tops from shops such as Forever21. The hip mum is comfortable with wearing her daughter's clothes as long as they are not too revealing.

Madam Tan never wears shorts or skirts that are shorter than mid-thigh length and adds: 'When I was slimmer, I was more daring about my clothes. I feel it's good to always keep ourselves young. It's very important.'

This reflects the larger issue of modern society becoming more youth-oriented, said sociologist Paulin Straughan.

'Our culture worships youthfulness. Many of us try to hold on to our youth. When we fail chronologically, that's where the cosmetic dress-up and lifestyle changes come in,' she added.

Retailers do not seem to be complaining. For example, retail distributor Wing Tai Asia, which handles trendy brands such as Miss Selfridge and Topshop, admits there is no defined age demographic for those who buy their clothes.

But even as 40 is touted as the new 20, stylists told LifeStyle there are limitations to what older people can wear, given the toll that time takes on their bodies.

Ms Lani Chan, 51, head of style services at fashion retail group Club 21, said: 'The most important things to consider are whether the clothes fit, whether they suit the woman and whether they are appropriate for the occasion.'

For example, crop tops exposing the tummy are a no-go, especially if the woman has a muffin top, where belly fat bulges over a waistband.

And leg-revealing denim cut-off shorts can make an older person look tacky.

Mini skirts or a short frilly dress? Do not even think about it, according to Her World fashion editor Patrick Sin. 'You'll look like mutton dressed as lamb. It's too girlish and best suited for teenagers.'

Singer John Molina, 41, is aware he can no longer dress the way he did 10 years ago, when leather and studs were a staple in his wardrobe.

He avoids skinny jeans and sticks to well-cut pants, blazers, scarves and vests. But the earrings on his left ear remain.

When asked if he was concerned about his jewellery being age-appropriate, he said: 'You have to take a good look in the mirror, be honest and ask yourself if your physique can carry off the look.'

Mr Sin, meanwhile, points out that 'sexy' in your 40s and 50s should not have the same definition as in your 20s and 30s: 'It doesn't mean you have to be less adventurous and more conservative as you grow older. You just have to make an effort to find suitable trends that can work for you to look good.'


If you really must wear these items of clothing, here are some tips from the panel.

Skinny jeans

Wear those that come in a dark indigo shade. Skip those with embroidery, flashy or elaborate jewel designs and frayed hems. Instead of matching them with a tight top, select a long and voluminous cotton shirt or a soft blouse.

Tight, revealing dresses

Dresses should not be super short or cut too low. Choose one that ends just above the knee. Or opt for a sheath design.

Mini skirts

For those who prefer a shorter skirt length, stop at around 7cm to 9cm above the knee. Try layering with leggings.



Fashioning up Singapore