Every woman may think she has a style challenge on her hands when she looks in the wardrobe each morning, but believe me, the Cougar has twice the dilemma. Whereas most 40-somethings are simply working out how to hide various lumps and bumps and avoid looking like mutton dressed as lamb, the Cougar is also wondering how on earth one should dress when one IS a mutton but spends one’s life permanently surrounded by lambs. I frequently lose track of which field I am supposed to be grazing in, and either meet AdMan feeling as if I’m dressed like his mother, or head into work looking like I’ve had an unfortunate date with Paris Hilton’s stylist.
That said, I must admit, I have always wondered why, if your body is in relatively good nick, the older woman is suddenly supposed to abandon certain fashions in favour of the classic black trouser suit, and head for M&S rather than Top Shop. My passport might say I’m 40 plus, but my body is pretty much the same now as it was when I was twenty or thirty, so why, when there are high streets packed with overweight twenty-somethings, squeezed into items completely unsuitable for their body shape, should I feel that I can’t enjoy a fashion moment or two as much as they can? After all, I’ve never been someone to expose vast amounts of flesh, and bare legs and plunging necklines are just not my style, so is it that inappropriate for me to go for a bit of skinny jean street fashion or throw on a mini and opaques now and then?
Ad man of course, is very much in favour of the skinny jeans, or anything in fact which is tight and shows every curve. But then he’s male, and as such his tastes are shaped by what’s ‘sexy’ rather than what might be appropriate, so I don’t feel I can always rely on him as an acid test.
I decided instead to check out the pages of Grazia this week, to see what key looks might be Cougar friendly. Unfortunately the edition to hand was a little low on Cougar style (Elle, Madonna, Sadie and co were all obviously having a quiet week in the Bahamas) while all the females of AdMan’s generation - Sienna, Fearne , Holly etc - were out in force as usual, variously featured in their ‘favourite skinnies’ or a short frock or two, but mostly in this season’s short shorts, black tights and boots.
“Well,” I mused, immediately losing focus on my original mission.. “There’s a look I can pull off.” Of course I was basing this purely on the fact that it was a trend that I worked – and loved – way back in 1990. Admittedly, the look then was a bit more Yaz (ie ripped denim shorts, black tee, tights and DMs,) but with a bit of tweaking and the help of my daughter’s wardrobe, I knew I could give the 2010 version a go.
And so it was that I found myself in, broad daylight, dressed in tiny TopShop black shorts, laced up boots, and a checked shirt… Admittedly when I got outside and the cold air hit my thighs I did have a momentary sanity check, but undeterred, I headed out on my errands. Less than an hour later and I’m asking the fashion gods why on earth they hadn’t reminded me that today was the day I had to drop the car at the garage… Walking into a mechanic’s domain is always something of a challenge when you’re tall and blonde, but doing it in micro shorts is just bloody madness.. Do Fearne and Sienna get these problems? Of course not, they have someone else to do such menial tasks, leaving them to get papped simply clutching a latte and an oversized handbag and looking as cool as a well-iced gin and tonic. Being a lesser mortal, all I could do was hug my short trench coat tightly around me and try to brave the quips and leers with as much dignity as possible.
Next stop, the library to return AdMan’s Sherlock Holmes’ collection.. That should be fine, I reassured myself, At least everyone has to be quiet in there. But even strolling down the high street towards the library, I was having my doubts. A van came up behind me and beeped appreciatively, but a nagging fear inside me was already imagining the occupants feeling completely conned, or worse, laughing their heads off, when they clocked the unexpected extra years on the face on the other side.
I began to wonder if that’s where I was going very wrong. Today your choice of clothes is all about sending a clear message to the world about what sort of person you are. What you don every morning is a way of letting everyone know what sort of people you hang out with, what music you like and maybe even what decade you were born in. And if that’s the case, was I sending out massively confused signals? Did my shorts and boots combined with a 40-something face say, “Here’s an older woman who’s still in touch with what’s hot?”, “ Here’s a woman not afraid to wear what she wants?” Or simply, “Here’s an older woman who should know better”?
But of course, the Cougar is going to get a mixed bag of responses whatever she’s wearing. Whether in black trouser suit or micro mini, when I stand by my man, people will still do a double take, and will still judge. And for every person who says, “good for her, bagging a toyboy” there will be those who tut and disapprove. Society doesn’t like people who challenge the usual way of doing things. The average person on the street wants us all to date someone of the same height, same colour and same background - and it rocks their suburban way of thinking when someone takes a different path. Well, to hell with them, I don’t want to be a sheep - whether I’m classified as mutton or lamb - I’m very happy to be a Cougar and, yes, I’m still quite liking the black shorts too…………….