Cathy Horyn's New York Times article "Irony and the Old Lady" is subtitled "How fashion's clever twists fall flat when you're 50". It's essentially a riff on the "if you wore it the first time around, don't wear it the second", and specifically cites the outfit a bunny-eared Madonna wore to a recent Metropolitan Museum of Art gala. Of course Simon Doonan loved Madge: "Scandal"!
Horyn asked Luca Stoppini, art director of Italian Vogue, why fashionable women can't wear certain things after 50. "Luca had the answer right away. 'It's like fighting with the wind', he said." There's nothing you can do about it.
When I see a woman over 50 in certain types of overdesigned shoes, anything with skull and crossbone pattern, porkpies, tights with legs in two different neon colours, or '70s concert tees restyled with studs, I recoil.
Then I recoil at recoiling; I sound like my mother: "Can't you dress like a grown woman?"
On one of my last visits to her in Florida, I wore an Egyptian cotton blouse in a large print of a French breakfast table laden with café au lait bowls, flowers and a checkered tablecloth. It's not an ironic garment (I guess that would be a print of Gertrude Stein, strewn with roses), but it violated her sensibility: too 'unusual' and loud. She asked me to change before visiting a prospective retirement home.
She was much happier with my pool-blue linen blouse, but she missed the subversion of the yellow '50s alligator bag I carried, in fact, ironically.
Irony is defined as "an objectively sardonic style of speech or writing", extending this to dressing, irony may play with visual cues of opposition, contradiction and satire.
Our beloved blogger sallymandy, who writes The Blue Kimono, recently posted this Sartorialist shot taken in Paris (in her entry "Mixing It Up"), and asked what we thought. Madame is wearing those denim overalls ironically, don't you just know it? But, given my more conventional eye (and her age), I want to say, Go home and put on some clothes that don't reference the Back Forty; I know you have them.
Dressing with ironic intent is best left to the young, who enjoy irony's cousin, sarcasm, and think their costumes are highly original. And sometimes they are, but mostly they're just a goof, a wink, a bagatelle.
Irony is a form of self-referential elitism: I get the joke, do you? I'm willing to miss the recherché humour, and aim for well, instead of ironically, dressed.