Should 50+ try tough?

Near the end of last year, the New York Times ran a piece in its Style section titled "The Damsel is in Distress" by Ruth La Ferla. She quotes stylists, designers and fashionistas who have abandoned frou and flou for biker jackets, mannish blazers, studs and leather.

Oh, and "ripped hose, worn in an unstudied way by off-duty models and fashion insiders."
In my world, ripped hose would be met by an offer of a spare pair from a friend.

Mannish har
dly flatters me, though I get its appeal for the young and effortlessly sexy. I can do the all-black, the boots, the muffler– 85% of my street looks like this all winter.

But "tough and menacing" is not so appealing when you're asking for your senior's discount.

To all this, I say, taupe. Or grey, bitter chocolate and possibly plum, depending on what you like. If we temper all that black, in a trim but not skintight cut, we will triumph. These are the offbeat, interesting neutrals that offer those of us 50+ a seat at the style table without looking scary.

example, this Aquascutum mini-houndstooth taupey-brown coat leavens the black beneath. Wear with the stole, or not, belted or not.

And (again from Aquascutum) look how this black coat is lit by the club check lining and the black and white print organza stole.

We don't need to toughen up to look current. How about tempering severity with shine, drape and texture, as in this fine, minimalist sapphire-and-grey combination from Calvin Klein?

Anyway,'s Alison Baenen predicts that the tough-a-thon will be turfed faster than last New Years' Eve's playlist:

"The New York Times has wised up to the tough and sexy model-off-duty look everyone’s channeling these days and has summoned psychologists and trend forecasters to break it down. 'It’s not cool to be demure', one stylist polled reported.
We’re guessing this means the trend’s life span is just about up. Bring on the chintz!"

Doesn't matter, I'm over running to keep up. At 61, I can't quite remember what's current, and there's always a leading-er edge.

And trend-chasing's an expense I won't endorse. Though not above being captivated by finery,
there are more worthwhile places to spend my discretionary income. I'm grateful that many of us are helping Haitians through the latest disaster, contributing what we can through organizations we trust. Thank you.

"Tough" has another meaning; these people are living it.


Rebecca said…
I've found "my groove" here! Couldn't agree more.
Susan B said…
Though I do enjoy an interplay of masculine and feminine elements, any look that feels too contrived (and this trend does) is one I'll pass on. I'll probably pass on those floaty chintzes too, not my style either. Love that jacket with the interesting lining!
Someone said…
Personally...I think the fashion self-description of "tough" is them flattering themselves. Skinny fashion victims wearing a bunch of studs are not tough, in all black or not. It's costumey on trend-chasers, and more silly than scary to me.

Now, I have always liked the combo of black and silver on me and happen to like studs and leather (not head to toe!), so I will keep them as accents in my dress vocabulary. But you will not see me on a Harley. Just because something is leather or studded doesn't make it tough or hardbitten. You know it when you see it, and neither models nor I would ever be mistaken for the type of person who really lives that life.
Northmoon said…
I'm more comfortable with a 'tough' look than frou-frou or frilly. Mind you I like what I consider severe or simlple fashion - no ripped tights or heavy boots for me.

Eighty percent of my wardrobe is black, especially in winter. It's part of this city's look. I look washed out in beige or taupe; perhaps they clash with my hair now that I've gone grey. But bitter chocolate sounds interesting, and plum or dark blue are colours I definitely could try out.
mette said…
Sorry, a bit off topic, but don´t you ladies find leather ( soft, the one that reminds us of our wrinkles ) just ugh near the face? Fur is much more becoming for 50+. When I wear a black top/knit, I wish it to have a broad neckline. Actually I don´t like any tops with a tight collar. I´m with Pseu on this subject, no masculine clothes for me either. Layering is ok, when it is put on top of a coat or thick knit. Otherwise I like clothes with an easy structure.
Man style for me equals a crisp white shirt worn with a tailored mans style black vest, a man's watch which is my watch...I soften it with multiple strands of pearls.
I do not want to look mannish at any rate, Je suis une femme!
Mardel said…
Hmm, the "tough" look seems terribly contrived to me, and will be gone in a flash. I do like an interplay of masculine and feminine and would neither go for frills or total tough/masculinity in style. Dressing with intelligence and a bit of wit perhaps is much more fun.
The poseur attitude seems to work best on the young.

I do like the last three options you show, and I am still stumbling down my own path to post-50 dressing, but I know that it is neither "tough and menacing" or frills and chintz. It is rather nice to be comfortable enough in one's skin not to feel that one's worth is determined by trends.
It's a question of style - I think of Isabelle Adjani and Isabelle Huppert wearing leather beautifully (both are mid-fifties). Scarves near the neck can keep both chills and wrinkly leather associations at bay. On the other hand, I find fur very ageing unless it is something like a short fur jacket - I don't think it is because of its texture but because of its dowager associations.

I do like clothes that are a bit "tough" such as one of my black denim jackets with a zip, but I always wear it with a skirt and a pretty scarf.

And no laddered stockings!

Yeah, any lady in Port-au-Prince seen with a hole in her hose escaped by the skin of her teeth from some Ministry or office where she was working. (Haitians with the slightest amount of money are very style-conscious).

Inevitably, given the ties between Montréal and Port-au-Prince, there are people I have met and knew (slightly) among the dead.

A university professor friend I know worked down there for years, on opening up education after the fall of Duvalier. He is mourning many friends and colleagues.

But I have to try to think of other things - all weekend I've been working on Haiti.
materfamilias said…
Like some of your other commenters, I like a mix of masculine and feminine, and I often like garments that have a patina of use and wear, but affected toughness isn't appealing or convincing to me. I like a jean jacket, faded but not with holes; I like my black patent brogues; I like a leather jacket and a military/equestrian boot, but these elements I'd prefer to play against something softer -- and I'm careful where I wear them -- they're obviously not appropriate to all environments. Most of these preferences, though, have to do with my personality and style rather than with my age -- if tough was a credible style for me, I suppose I would keep wearing it in my 60s and 70s -- certainly, I've seen a few examples where it continues to be convincing.
Vix said…
I think once one is past 30 or so, personality matters when trying to pull off either "tough" or "demure."

Because the looks are at extreme ends of the spectrum, I have a real "oh COME ON, who are you kidding?!" reaction when there's an apparent mismatch.

See (not 50) Carla Bruni trying to pull off demure, ha--when actually I think she would rock "tough." As would (over 50) Helen Mirren, should she *choose* to go that route.

[Tough seems to lack a sense of humor, though, and Ms Mirren's sense of humor seems to be very well-developed!]
Vix said…
I see I cross-posted with Materfamilias, who said exactly what I was trying to express about the role of personality!
Belle de Ville said…
Any woman of a certain age who is overly trendy in any direction, too masculine or too frilly,too sexy or too coy, looks like she's tryiing too hard.
lagatta à montréal said…
A comment in the Globe and Mail about the deep ties between Québec and Haiti and why this is hitting us hard:

And UTTERLY off-topic - what does one do when almost-new, rather expensive leather boots crack between the upper and the sole? Who is responsible? (I'm certain there is a manufacturing defect).

These are my "mid-season" boots, not my salt and slush-resistant winter ones...

Grrrrrr... I feel tough.
Duchesse said…
All: So many have made the distinction between looking contrived or overly trendy and being yourself, and the important element of personality.

I don't mind fine leather next to the face, and lagatta, also would not restrict fur to short jackets, as I need to cover my seat!

We seem to be in agreement that dictating trends to 50+ women is simply not achievable!

lagatta; Read that this morning, thanks! Take boots back, good luck.
Duchesse, I didn't mean THAT short! That look, usually combined with jeans that reveal a bit of tummy, is best reserved for the VERY young.

I'm going to try taking the boot back - if not, I'll write to the company, which has a reputation for "solid" goods (still) made in Europe.

These were my booties for my trip to Europe at the end of winter... :-(

Oh well, unlike a lot of Haitians, I still have feet. (There were a lot of amputations on perfectly manageable wounds because medical help was so slow to arrive).
LPC said…
Confession. I dig tough. Having always been accused of having more testosterone than some of my male co-workers, it's fun sometimes to take that sartorial road. On the other hand, I've had to grow my hair long to do it now. The sexes regress to the mean as we age - I'm only willing to go tough if you can still tell I'm a girl.

Wonderful post, BTW. Navy is my neutral. For skin tone reasons alone.
Frugal Scholar said…
I like "tough" too. Love the selection of neutrals, but I think taupe is even harder to wear than black! As your post and comments indicate, we're trying to figure out what to do/think while there is such misery elsewhere. Interestingly, I just found my daughter's Katrina journal (she was 14). She started out calling the storm "Kathleen," before the name was etched into our consciousness forever. The part I had forgotten involved the military convoys heading in --and the military planes flying overhead--after about 5 days.
lady jicky said…
If I wore the ripped tights down the street I am sure someone would order a ambulance thinking that this old chick has had a fall!!! LOL
Duchesse said…
LPC: Confession back: I had a pair of those pleather and stretch skinny jeans and wore them to death... in my early 50s. Still have skinny navy leather stovepipes, custom made when I 'outgrew' an agnes b. pair.

Frugal: I really love taupe but have to wear a scarf or coloured jewelry or it's awfully bland.

lady jicky: I have actually ripped them on a brought desk and couldn't delude myself that it looked deliberate!

lagatta: I would love smart 3/4 length jacket. But last winter saw a short, supple fur jacket, little more than a vest. Not very practical in our winters but so chic.

materfamilias: "Affected toughness" is a good term, thanks.
tippchic said…
RE Haiti- second that-THATS tough. Need I say more?
And while I enjoy fashion- its part of who I am to watch it and want to be current; a mention of life's realities such as Haiti is also part of who I celebrates being alive and and being lucky enough to have one's basic needs met- BUT it is not an essential. I enjoy your blog's daily balanced perspective on it- fashion is not necessary but it is not to be disdained either.
As for tough:- I am a 40+ big-boned Farmer's daughter; I AM tough and I dont need or like clothing to play it up.
BTW- I LOOOOOVE the CK outfit -that is MY style. Maureen
Duchesse said…
tippchic: LOL, I too am big boned. When I was younger, wore jeans, had very short hair, I would sometimes get called "sir" (mostly from the back! So how "tough" would I want to go from there?

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