Safe or Smokin' occasion wear: Lessons from Helen Mirren

Most of us past 50 deeply admire Helen Mirren, both for her talent and enduring beauty. However, her styling varies, and for that I thank her, for she provides an opportunity for us to consider what works, what doesn't.

Few women over 50 (let alone 60!) are blessed with Mirren's figure, but each of us has our alluring features, soon on display at summer occasions.

Notice how these two ensembles fight or flatter Dame Helen:
First, beyond safe into getupy.

The fit, too tight across the hips, makes
Mirren look matronly. And could you pick more atrocious colours for her pale skin and blonde hair than flat mulberry mated to limp lavender?

The fabric mix, a heavy velvet jacket over shiny embroidered gown, lends neither movement nor grace. The somewhat dated multistrand pearls are too stark. Grey or pink pearls would be much better, but the clothes are such a disaster it would be a waste of pearl.


Reclaiming her goddess rep, Mirren appeared at "The Last Station" premiere in a black chiffon with a dramatic, jeweled satin bow that draws the eye up. Matching satin clutch, cuff bracelet, diamond studs.

In this dress, she projects an assured, dance-till-dawn glamour. She's one of the blondes who can wear black, and puts paid to the notion that the colour is draining on all women.

This approach, less (but a beautiful less) is more– is available to all of us.

If you prefer pattern for your occasion dressing, consider the scale and pattern of this gown, a blurry, indistinct one that doesn't obscure the long, sleek line.

I love the liquid silk chiffon shawl, softer than a jacket, which bulks up evening gowns and adds weight. See how the long pearl-and- chain and crystal necklaces look so much lighter than the multistrand Queen Mum pearls in the purple shot?

Safe again: A teal wrap dress oddly accessorized with gold shoes. While metallics are often sold as "goes with anything", these shoes are a warm colour, the dress cool.

Silver would be a better metallic, but Mirren, whose toned legs can take the attention that patterned shoes draw, would look great in a shoe like the "Berry" by Bandolino,

or the "Gretel" by J. Renee.

'll post more on summer dressy shoes on Thursday.

On the positive side, her scoop bodice fits well, the famous poitrine well-supported. But a sweater-in-hand looks unpolished. For a dressy occasion, do not wear any garment that you have to schlep.


Another Mirren miss, and one many women think should work, the black jacket that is supposed to "look right over everything".
Too many horizontal lines, and that jacket seems to be saying, "Let me see, my waist is somewhere around here".

The dress might look better in person, minus the jacket, but I think it's too
jeune fille for a woman of her stature. And where le heck is her jewelry?

Smokin: Not many of us can pull this off this fitted sheath, but Mirren (age 65) can, and it's miles more sophisticated than the babydoll effect above.

If you wish to wear a jacket, I like Mirren's choice of complementary tones (not matching) to the dress, to keep down the noise but raise the heat. A chic nude pump is high enough but not vertiginous.

Large gold flower earrings with pearls at the centre let the asymmetric draped neckline speak without the distracting static of a necklace.

Mirren shows that occasion wear, from cocktail to formal, even with estimable natural gifts, looks best sleekly simple. Even on a Dame.


mette said…
I admire HM for her great actress skills. She really looks great at the age of 65. Obviously she has inherited some fine genes. What I can´t understand is, that out of the three outfit pictures shown, only the third and the last ones look nice. With her assets and with anything imaginable available for her, those pictures need not have been taken. Well, I guess, we are all only human.
Susan B said…
She really does shine when she sticks to the simply elegant styles and doesn't wear pieces that compete with each other. A good lesson there for all of us!
Rubiatonta said…
Nobody, even a knockout like Dame Helen, looks good in Mumsy. I'd give my eyeteeth for that last ensemble -- and for a place to wear it, natch.
M said…
I enjoy looking at pictures of HM because she appears to be comfortable with herself and isn't chasing the ever illusive fountain of youth. Conversely, there seem to be a lot of over 40/50 celebrity women who look and act more like adolescent girls (think SATC) than grown women. I don't get it.
mette said…
OOPS-You showed 6 outfits, my mistake!
She is in tip top shape to be sure and 65...what a stunning gal.
Her choice of clothing is usually flattering, but I can she made a few poor choices that last outfit!
Vix said…
I appreciate HM's talent and admire her public persona a great deal.

It's always interesting to see what she'll turn up in for events; while she project confidence in whatever she's wearing I always think there's a bit more there when she is in something that flatters 1000%.

I must say that while she has always had a lovely figure, her trim waist has never been particularly defined (indented).

In all of the examples you like, she is following "dress your shape" guidelines with fantastic results.* By forgoing a set-in waistline and instead letting the gown's design help create the illusion of a waist, she looks sleek and stunning.

A useful case study for innate H/Rectangle shapes like me, sure, but also for any woman whose shape has changed from a very defined waist to a less defined one thanks to the years rolling by....

*I admit I spent too much of the "The Queen" marveling at how the proportions of HM's costumes totally disguised/derailed her glamour.
Ms Maven said…
I love looking at Helen in her various outfits. Thanks for this post and your analysis of what works/doesn't work. I sometimes feel almost pressured into the more matronly outfits. Once you take away all the girly, short, sleeveless, low-cut clothes offered, most of what is left is often what I call "old lady." It is especially difficult to find dressier clothes that flatter.

I hadn't thought about her body shape and waistline--thanks for pointing that out Vix. Now I will go back and look at her again.
diverchic said…
Helen in the red bikini looks pretty amazing. I can only dream of a figure like that. She has made some pretty good Oscar choices in the past - such as the 3/4 sleeve gown she chose for the Oscar win. Her hair looked nice too, unlike in your photo #1. I never thought of her as beautiful, but she pulls it off. I am full of admiration for her.
Belle de Ville said…
I think that "The Mirren" is fabulous and I think she looks classy no matter if she dresses safe or smokin'.
Can you imagine the pressure on a woman like Mirren to look smokin' every time she goes to an event. It must be exhausting.
Duchesse said…
metscan: I don't know why, perhaps she does not use stylists for all occasions. I'd make at least that ratio of errors.

Pseu: Simple/sensuous is my mantra.

Rubiatonta: It and the black evening gown are my favourites.

M: Don't get SATC style at all except as outrageous publicity machine. Will they become the Golden Girls of 2030?

hostess: To me, a goddess. Loved her best-maybe- as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.

Vix: Given her bust, how do you get trim without indented ;)

If Helen can do HRH style, could HRH (relative to her age) do Helen?

Ms Maven: There is not much made between ho-ly and matronly. You have to buy "dignified beautiful" when you see it, even if not sure when you'll wear it.

diverchic: Almost published the bikini shot but this is about occasion attire. I do think of her as beautiful in a very individual way.

Belle: The image goes with the job, and the pressure must be more intense than I can imagine. But Helen Mirren in jeans would still be gorgeous to me.
materfamilias said…
As so often, I find your analysis both trenchant and a bit intimidating -- after all, if La Mirren makes such errors with her attributes and resources, I know your eagle eye could identify many if aimed in this direciton ;-)
I'd be curious to know what Mirren found pleasing about the less visually convincing outfits -- there's no question that they don't work as well from the viewer's perspective.
Vix said…
Duchesse --

I know your tongue was planted pretty firmly in cheek, but the question around "undefined" waist terminology came up in Imogen's blog comment section the other day. [Inside Out Style, for non-readers].

Maybe you saw it?

Though it's easy to get distracted by her bustline and flat stomach, Ms Helen goes pretty much straight down from ribcage to hipbone. I know some women regret "losing" their indented waist, but some of us never had one to lose!

Unless ribs are removed she, Imogen, and I will never indent much, though we can fake it with corsets, peplums, and some judicious hip action. Kind of like HM did in a certain red bikini pose. ;)

And yes -- while noting what I did about HM's costumes in "The Queen," how could I help but wonder about a Freaky Friday swap?

I absolutely think Elizabeth could carry off a fair number of HM's outfits (and lose a few decades in the process!). I can just imagine Trinny and Susannah feeling up E's Rigby and Peller'd bosom, ha!

And of course she could certainly reach the fabulousness of Judy Dench's Bond boss outfits -- and, if she let her hair down a bit, Dench's best red carpet looks. [Compare with JD's dowdy costumes in "Notes on a Scandal" -- another case study!]
I have to say that black and white number is atrocious, looks like she was doing some cooking and forgot to take off her apron before leaving the house.

The reason why those gold shoes don't work with the blue dress (which is a warm blue) is that the gold doesn't work with her colouring which is cooler, so they stand out, rather than blend in.

I'd have loved her in the bottom number to not have had the ankle straps on the shoes as it ruins the line and makes her look slightly matronly instead of as smokin as she often is.
NancyDaQ said…
My favorites of those you posted were the black gown, the gray/silver gown, and the cream ensemble. I'm puzzled by the black and white ensemble and have to conclude that it was the only thing back from the dry cleaner that day.

It's nice to know that even Helen gets it wrong from time to time. And she is so stunning when she gets it right!
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: I don't comment negatively on "what I wore" photos posted by "normal people", b/c we all have good and less than great days. I do find that women bloggers are almost overwhelmingly positive when they give feedback, and I sometimes am not in agreement.

vix: Whether it indents or not, HM possesses one trim waist. Enjoy your image of HRH-meets-Trinny and Susannah. In her heart she may long for less floral, more leather. Yes, I regularly read Imogen's blog.

Imogen: Thanks! Didn't read the teal as warm.

Nancy: Don't know if she always has a stylist or only for awards etc. Perhaps she will read our comments?
s. said…
STUNNING. Even those of us barely in our 40s can admire and envy her sex-appeal (and, of course, talent).
Shelley said…
Your analysis is spot on. What I find interesting is how horrible the ankle strapped shoes look on her - and she has great legs! A salutory warning to us all.
Duchesse said…
Shelley: Check my post Traveling Shoes (2 days later) to see ankle straps worn well. If you have well-shaped ankles, they flatter. If not, there are many other dressy shoes styles to wear.

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