Over the hill or under it?

Art & Lit Fashion

article written by Alicia Luba

Other fashion conundrums aside (sheer, maxis and how we can possibly ‘do’ tribal), this season has re-spawned the familiar problem of ‘age appropriateness.’ The phrase may connote social taboos like the over sexualisation of Katie Price’s pre-school daughter or the middle-aged donning similarly unfortunate attire but this latest onslaught of maturity mix-up is an altogether different beast.

Dressing appropriately (when considering the decade into which you were born) used to be simple. Anyone who was credit card savvy knew which shops targeted the under fives, the pre-teens or those in their early twenties. Shopping was scouring the high street and distilling it for brands that courted your quotidian, sold clothes and accessories that flattered the average figure of said quotidian and wouldn’t result in social exile for the wearer. Now it’s a totally different ball game. Items are cropping up that seem to have been destined for Mothercare, got lost on the way and now adorn the River Island rails. Yet at the same time that playsuits, headbands, buckle shoes and frilly ankle-socks are selling out, so too are the sensible midi-skirts and the lace up brogues. Perhaps it is nostalgia, perhaps it’s a bonk on the head but more likely it’s the legitimised indulgence of familiar human urges: the little girl’s dream to dress as the older ‘sophisticat’ or those approaching the dreaded ‘hill’ being able to re-visit their nimbler days. The dungaree explosion is a case in point. OK, someone will start shouting about the eighties but for us nineties babies they were worn when under the age of three and when under the thumb of someone else. Then, happily, never again. Now no longer slaves to the whims of our parents, we seem to take ourselves to the high street only to navigate back through the vestiges of our youth. Yes, Gossip Girl momentarily legitimised headbands but has anyone forgotten the time when they were predominantly velvet and had your name inscribed on them with glitter gel? The playsuit, evolved out of last season’s jumpsuit in time for the warmer weather, poses a more difficult problem. Playsuits belong with polka-dot patterning (which they have frighteningly been granted) but they do not belong in French Connection (where they have frighteningly been found). At the other end of this age-confused spectrum is a return to the overly modest. Body-con minis are out and in there place comes the reign of the midi. Not that midis are a new invention, they’ve been a staple in care homes nationwide since the dawn of the post-war pensioner. But now they’re in Topshop and I’m more confused than ever. Navigating the rails is a struggle between the pre-teen and the post-menopause. Brands that spoke sophistication, womanhood and even sex appeal are championing either the playground or the retirement home.

So, how to wear these clothes? You either avoid, avoid, avoid and negotiate the catacombs of your favourite stores to which all manner of normal and wearable clothes have been temporarily banished or you adapt. But despite my anxiety, the adverts, the mannequins and even my sister tell me I’m wrong. This sister, recently inducted into the ranks of New Look, when picking her in-store work clothes, selected a bright pink playsuit. The mindset that dressing below our years is now acceptable has infiltrated to such a degree that she felt comfortable buying it from the pre-teen section in an ‘age’ not a ‘size’ 12. My sister is 17. Despite being forced to try it on and forced to admit that I like it, my pride simply would not allow me to venture to that dreaded first floor. I’ve ordered it online instead.