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When I am Old…

As I spin along on my bicycle this morning, exercising my imagination as well as my legs, I find myself bridling over an article I read the other day in The Observer. It was written by a fashion writer named Adrian Clark – a rather stern but distinguished looking man with a silver goatee – who decided to take his fellow fifty-somethings to task and tell us what we must no longer wear and telling us in rather peremptory tones, too. Having recently attained the age of two score and ten himself, he had a Damascene moment about what was and was not appropriate for men in the fifty-to-death age bracket  and being a writer – gosh I know that feeling – he decided to share.

In his opening paragraph, after he establishes his bona fides as one who has – sigh – reached the sobering half-century milestone, he informs his younger readers, those who have yet to have this levelling experience, that despite what they may have heard to the contrary, age is most assuredly not just a number. Fifty, he implies, hurts. Nevertheless he has accepted the new realities with the sang froid of a French aristocrat stepping into the tumbrel, shot his cuffs and retreated from the hurly-burly of London to the coast of Kent in pursuit of a more rewarding and peaceful existence. “As we get older we all hanker for a slower pace of life, right?” he writes, before promptly answering his own question: “Correct.” 

Clearly a man of strongly held opinion. 

As part of this sea change, he cleaned out his wardrobe, with a stern eye to age appropriateness. “Men entering their 50s,” he writes with the conviction of a newly minted 50 year-old, “fall into one of two camps; those who have given up, and those who don’t know when to give up.” For those lost souls who would be guided, he says, look to tweed coats and roll-neck jumpers. As for trousers, ditch the youthful skinny jeans in favour of something with a smart-casual edge, a classic jean made in a luxury fabric, not denim, or ‘a chino that has a careworn vibe’. His tip: a washed cotton twill chino by Margaret Howell, a snip at £165. As for sneakers, he consoles us, they needn’t be abandoned entirely by a man in his 50s, not when he can pick up a quality leather non-branded pair from Harry’s of London. “You can’t go wrong with the Nimble at £295.”

I should ruddy well think not.        

To his credit, he follows his own advice and carries off the style with aplomb, looking far more distinguished in the photographs accompanying the piece, more of an homme du monde than I could ever manage to do. The silver goatee helps, of course, as does the expression of hauteur with which he gazes into the camera lens. I could never pull that off, even if I cared to try.  On me that expression would suggest a touch of gas rather than hauteur, while the recommended haberdashery and the eye-wateringly expensive sneakers would hint amusingly at costume.

But I would not care to try, neither the expression nor the styling, nor at the age of sixty do I feel I ought. Mr Clark may have impeccable fashion sense, and indeed he does, but he misses an important philosophical point. “Turning fifty was inevitable,” he writes loftily in conclusion, “but at least, wardrobe edit in the bag, I can control how stylishly I live it.” Of course he can, and to his own taste, but turning fifty was no means inevitable. Any more than turning sixty will be. Or seventy. Or eighty. Or fifty-one, for that matter. There are no guarantees in life, only the moment in which you are living, and the genuinely inevitable fact that when you have passed your two score and ten, the clock is necessarily ticking louder and more insistently than ever. Surely, if ever there was a time in your life to defy convention, not take yourself too seriously, and give short shrift to those who would tell you what you ought to wear and how you ought to wear it, it’s the back side of fifty.

And so with all due respect I think I shall quietly set aside his well-meant advice and instead take my fashion cues from that gleeful ode to non-conformity by Jenny Joseph: “When I am old, I shall wear purple… with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…”