Rike LammWhen in historical novels an older lady dresses in a too youthful style, she is often described as “mutton dressed as lamb”. While the phrase is charmingly illustrative, and I certainly don’t blame authors for using is, I find the sentiment behind it deplorable, all the more because it is probably historically accurate.

In the past, clothes were far more coded than they are nowadays: Certain colors and styles were for unmarried girls, others for matrons, others for spinsters, others for widows. If you were an old maid, after a certain age you just couldn’t wear pink or apricot, even if it was your best color and suited you very well. If you were a widow, you needed a very good reason not to wear black.

Among many other things, what I like about living in the present is that these rules do no longer apply. Anyone may wear that skirt from two years ago and not care about where the officially sanctioned hemline is this season. You may combine it with the ballerinas you’ve had for five years, and the jacket from 20 years ago is actually vintage by now. And there’s no sell-by-date on you these days, either. I see older women in bright colors, I see a great variety of shades and cuts and materials on women of all ages, and I really enjoy it. My great example here is Elizabeth II. If she can wear any color she pleases, so can I. Or look at Michelle Obama’s outfits. Part of her (fashion) appeal to me is that she wears any number of different styles, and all are smart.

When I go shopping, although I would like to I am not entirely free from self-doubt. What woman is in the changing room? I do ask myself, occasionally, “Is this appropriate for my age?” (early forties) when I put on an ensemble that is very colorful, or very trendy. I am slowly learning to stifle this voice. This winter, probably the most “youthful” item I bought was a pink tulle petticoat, and it’s been a major success, garnering me a number of compliments and going ever so well with some other favorite pieces.

If I lived in a Regency romance, at my age my fashion choices would be limited to black (if I was a widow), drab colors and a cap (a spinster), or dark purple and a turban (if I was a matron). As neither of these colors suit me, I am very pleased to be where I am. Looking forward to my next shopping expedition, assured that I can buy and wear anything I please.

What clothes are there in your wardrobe that you thought were daring and that proved a great success?