We all know, because we’ve been told, that 40 ish is a difficult time for the smart lady about town. You are not young. You are so definitely not young! Ha ha, you said young like it might apply to you, you are RIDICULOUS. But also, you are not old. Not really. These days, 50 is the new 40, so essentially 40 is the new 30 and you are both 40 and 30 and you have gone back in time to warn your 30 year old self about the wtf is about to happen sometime around 2016, because 40 is the new 12 Monkeys. I mean, you are basically 20. Times have changed. Fiona Bruce is 53 and she barely has to think about her age as a TV presenter. It’s a pretty sweet deal for women now – they get to present programs with old things, so that they can place a tiny piece of their soul into every ancient artefact that they touch on the Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune, like a Horcrux, making their human form immortal. Then they are allowed to remain on TV.
Anyway, anyone who has read women’s magazines recently or looked at the internet with their eyes will know that 40 is great and older women are fierce and powerful, and they should also worry a lot more because their husbands are probably going to leave them. It will be ok though, because then they can go on to run their own ethical business wearing a capsule wardrobe made entirely from inspiration. The aim is to undermine the mechanisms of an oppressive patriarchal capitalist state (women’s magazines are so feminist and intersectional now! Go girrrrrl!), but also to look young, but not like you are trying to look young. Never forget that the aim is to look effortlessly chic. EFFORTLESSLY. For Christ’s sake don’t look like things require effort.
Luckily, I am here to help your confused old lady brain decipher the cryptic clues of media and advertising aimed at women, with my handy How To Look Good At Forty guide. You are *welcome*.
Looking at your old face is the main way that you know you are getting old. If you aren’t sure what getting old looks like, because there is only Helen Mirren and that doesn’t look like you, then you can handily refer to the Boots No.7 Seven Signs of Aging. If you haven’t seen them, here they are:
- Looking older
- Looking older
- Looking older
- Not giving a shit about looking older
- Enjoying looking older
- Not noticing that you are looking older
- Overthrowing your corrupt and unjust government
Your face says a lot about you. Sometimes it says that shit out loud, even though we’ve been told, over and over again, that evidence based opinions make us sound fat. They also give you mouth wrinkles of the mouth. It’s almost like we’re not even listening any more! Heads up, everyone, here are some things that will age your face:
- The sun
- Strictly Come Dancing It Takes Two
- Royal weddings
- Elon Musk
The beauty industry has so many products for the older woman, whose mind is literally unravelling at the prospect of no longer being able to seek validation based on her appearance, as she has been conditioned to do since childhood. ‘Women are idiots!’ they think. ‘They need help for their faces.’ So true. But many items of make up are also unnecessary, so don’t get suckered into buying the latest fad like a thing that is called a serum that is made from crushed hopes and literally magic, you old ladies whose insecurities are manufactured over a lifetime and then mined for profit. Women are idiots! SO make sure you look good and buy the right stuff so men will know that you don’t give a shit about them.
Luckily, I have a go-to make up range for really making me look confident, almost as if I’ve lost weight. Especially if I know I’m going to be photographed – even the most assured of us can feel nervous about appearing in front of the camera! Or the judge! It’s an organic range, called ‘camo paint’, and it works almost exactly like contouring. Camo paint is very slimming.
NEVER rub your make up in, ladies. Such a common mistake. Sad! Rubbing your make up in will cause you to rub off the woman suit you’ve been wearing and reveal the Many Breasted Bride Queen of the Underworld, Destroyer of Men underneath. Pat your make up in. With your fingertips – pat, pat, pat. Sleep upside down, like a bat. Do this, and your skin will carry on bouncing back, firmer, stronger, flexible – just like your career when you had to take 5 years off to be a mumtrepreneur. Follow your dream, ladies! During school hours!
All the same, a fair and impartial system has shown that women are not as good as men at being competitive in the workplace (science!), so some of us may not be earning quite so much. Or anything at all! So here is how to save money on make up:
- Imagine you are already wearing make up.
- Imagine your face looks nice. Imagine if we all did this.
- If sometimes you like to wear make up because you want to, you can also wear cheap make up that is pretty much the exact same thing as the very fucking expensive make up. You’d be amazed how many different brands are owned by the same people and made in the same factories, although they don’t really shout about it. Be aware that every time you buy Chanel eyeshadow for your sad lady eyes at full price, somewhere a make-up industry executive sitting at a mahogany desk presses a button labelled ‘IDIOT WOMEN’ and is showered with cigars from a trap-door in the ceiling, which he lights with £50 notes. YOUR £50 NOTES. If you don’t like one of them, you can boycott their products.
- If you would like to wear make up because you want to and your skin colour is not something the rich and diverse beauty industry likes to associate itself with, you can go to mainstream shops where they have two foundation shades and some eyeshadow for you, or you can go elsewhere.
- Btw if you have children, remember that they are agents of the resistance for you to release at will onto the make up counter like winged fucking monkeys.
Do you have a fringe? A fringe is cute. Maybe you are 22! And likeable! The internet has made it very clear that after a certain age, the key to good hair is hiding as much of your face as possible so nobody notices that the unceasing passage of time is bringing you ever closer to your last fuckable day. Nobody needs to see a strong, independent woman who doesn’t give a shit about her hair. Grow your fringe longer. No, longer than that. Entwine it with your burgeoning chin and nose hair to make your very own balaclava. Warm, practical, useful for maintaining an ID defence during a police interview. Nobody likes a lady who talks too much in her shrill lady voice! So go no comment under the advice of your legal representative! And remember, frown lines make you look unapproachable. Frowning while facing down Nazis makes you look unapproachable. Smile!
THE CASUAL WARDROBE
Everyone dreads the ‘smart casual’ event. But we should all remind ourselves that anyone who objects to you attending a school event smoking a cigar and toting a machine gun is probably just as worried about their own outfit. ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ you will say, reaching for another tombola ticket at the Christmas fair prize draw. Anyway, here are my suggestions for a practical yet chic approach to those tricky day to night looks:
Commonly associated with the summer months frolicking in the warm, sunlit waters of the British coastline, many women file the wetsuit under ‘fuck this’ before they have even had the chance to go on a self-catering holiday and throw themselves into the pounding Atlantic surf in an attempt to drown out the sound of their children’s voices. And this is a shame, especially if your days of grunting while trying to take your clothes off in public toilets are now just a distant, mostly consensual memory. There is a well known fashion saying: women over 30 should never miss an opportunity to assume a deep squat in a public place, and of course, this still holds true. But a wetsuit is so much more than just something you can do lunges in next to a body board you rented from a 23 year old white man called Jed. It is also fashion’s one truly absorbent, year round wardrobe staple. The original onesie, it is designed to retain both heat and liquid, meaning you can save on heating bills and bathroom breaks – freeing up valuable time for burning your laundry in the street and fomenting civil unrest. Not only this, but it can form an empowering under-layer for the busy woman who has moved beyond underwired bras, to a higher plane. This is a plane she might at any moment parachute from into the ocean, like James Bond but younger than Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. Try wearing one for a day around the house. Really, try it. I promise you will feel amazing. Recommended.
The Boiler Suit
Are you HANDY? Can you FIX SHIT? Do you work in MAINTENANCE? Are the things that you maintain called ‘relationships with friends and family and the unending list of domestic tasks’? Would you like to be treated as if all the emotional, mental and unpaid labour you do is tough and important and should be shared equally? Well don’t worry ladies – the boiler suit is for you. Cheap, tough, all over you and hard to get out of, this is the Tinder date of leisure wear. And it’s usually the boiler suits for men that are most easily available, so just like gender stereotypes – one size really does fit all.
But don’t be deterred by having to roll up your trouser legs like you are trying to sneak your tits into a Masonic lodge* (and I mean literally in your trouser legs if you have breastfed anything, ever). This is a wipe-down outfit with pockets. Buy 5 of these** and you have a complete wardrobe. Underneath could be anything you like – vest tops, sexy underwear, your pyjamas, a cute dress, your pyjamas. The point is, you won’t have to think about anything apart from which boiler suit you are going to wear. Because you’ve got one hand in your pocket, and the other one’s smashing the patriarchy with a hammer that you keep in your other pocket.
*I have done this. It was not as exciting as it sounds.
**I would recommend a boiler suit from Dickies, but other brands are available.
WORK PLACE CHIC
If you dread having to find clothes that say both ‘take me seriously’ and ‘don’t worry, I like men’ but also ‘this will not harm the case for the prosecution if I am sexually assaulted’ then you might want to consider taking a job where there is a uniform. I have been dressed as a clown since 2014 for this very reason, and the accountancy firm I work for have openly applauded my easy up do and roomy yet professional trousers. Bright colours are very slimming. Of course this isn’t an option for everyone.
Equally, if you are a person who has produced a human being from your own body, then we all know that what follows is a time for you to take a few months out for adventure and self-discovery, to adjust to this huge transition while your partner takes care of the kids. Parenting can prompt a lot of anxiety about our own mortality and it’s common to express this by dicking off for long periods of time and maybe tackling a risky creative project we’ve always fancied. Or maybe having sex with someone much younger. And who would mention even once that we are parents and should shelve that for a bit like the men in our lives have?! NOONE, GUYS! THIS IS *OUR* TIME! Anyway, what we got up to in Papua New Guinea that time was definitely not idiotic or racist. Well done if you got rescued by helicopter from a place where plenty of people live all the time! Welcome back. But what to wear? And how to wear it on your body??
Here are a few simple rules for hassle free work chic:
So many ladies fret about ironing their beautiful work clothes, when really you can iron the hem of the stained maternity dress you are still wearing with hair straighteners – life hack!
You can iron out the ups and downs of your profound disappointment and exhaustion with rage supressing alcohol, hahaha gin for mummies is funny – life hack!
You know, we call them ‘Bat Wings’, which is a funny little joke between us girls because our arms are undead and will burst into flames upon exposure to sunlight. Aged crone limbs need to be kept under wraps in the day guys, so we can release them at night to drink the blood of younger men, sapping their strength until we control the media. Cosmopolitan magazine does not lie.
Who hasn’t put together a snappy little ensemble for a work Christmas party that says ‘Hey, I’m a young lady! Touch my knee!’ only to find innocent people who have wasted their time explaining things to you recoiling at the sight of your elderly knees. This is not a safe time to be a man! Because – that’s right – your knees were built on an ancient Viking burial site, and now the spirits of your ancestors won’t laugh at anyone’s informative anecdotes. So what I’m saying is that if you really have to sit next to senior management at the annual office do, your wizened harlot spirit medium knees are always there if you need them, to ruin Jesus’ birthday with feminism from beyond the grave.
Play with accessories. Play. With. Them. Go on a lunch date with them. Overshare. Block them. You are a ghost. You are the Merciless Lord of the Accessories. Your accessories will scare other accessories with stories about you. You eat small accessories. Ladies! BE the accessory you want to see in the world. An accessory to crimes relating to the criminal damage of advertising in public spaces. CCTV black spots are very slimming.
How does she look so slim? Well, don’t tell the chaps – shapewear is our little secret. That and the fact that we control the moon with our back fat. My motto is Live Fast, Die Young While Out Walking Alone, Leave A Desirable Chalk Outline For the Forensics Team. Chalk is very slimming.
Hiding your belly
This is a problem area for many women, especially after having babies, or killing and eating the bodies of the men who have wronged them. Many successful working mothers keep theirs in their handbag, along with an all-purpose packet of wet wipes and their prolapsed uterus. Pro-tip.
The centre piece of any outfit, many people will tell you that when it comes to shoes, less is more. And I of course would reply that in fact it is fewer, not less. I have been corrected on this point so many times that, let me tell you, it’s always a delight to hear it, however many shoes I have forcibly removed from the men who cannot stop correcting me and strung around my neck as trophies like I’m Colonel fucking Kurtz.
Peg leg trousers. Leather leggings. Bandeau tops. Are these for you? Well, you’ll have read a lot recently about the powerful, strong older woman who can do anything she damn well likes, so the answer is very clear: Absolutely not.
As we have all understood it, shopping in actual shops is supposed to be a segregated affair, with younger women corralled in places with loud music and shop assistants dressed in ripped irony. Anyone over saaayy, 40, is directed to dimly lit scandi affairs, where everything is soft to the touch and there is only the Radio 2 playlist and Vaseline on the mirrors, like the set from a Fifty Shades of Grey film but with pictures of Dame Judi Dench where you least expect them. (Exactly like the set of Fifty Shades of Grey).
Ideally, of course, women would shop at home. Online. Separately. They wouldn’t get out there and get together in large groups at all. Much is done to deter women of different age groups from mingling in person. In Topshop and Urban Outfitters, the blast of hot air from above the door as you enter is in fact designed to mimic the symptoms of the menopause so that older women leave immediately to protect their shrivelled ovaries. Those who linger too long in the entrance, confused by reflective spandex, are ushered kindly but firmly out of the building and into the nearest White Stuff outlet store, where somebody picks out an A-line mid-length skirt with drawings of boats on it saying ‘This is for you now’.
But don’t be deterred. You have a job to do. Since the public spaces in which we used to gather are increasingly taken up by sort of, maybe, don’t tell anyone definitely private spaces (with handy shops in), then I guess this is just where we are going to have to talk about dismantling the structures of power. If you do make it past security, then here are some tips to avoid detection and alert any women who haven’t noticed yet that they are putting up with a lot of bullshit.
Firstly, play it cool. Blend in. Put your head through random holes in clothing as if you are subversive and not confused. Roam the band t-shirts IN SILENCE. Saying things like ‘Songs about being a Nice Guy are a bullshit part of rape culture’ will trigger the XX to play on the in store speakers, and then, as you are old enough to remember that this is the music that David Cameron listens to during sexy times, you will have only seconds left to live.
Some shop assistants will see you flailing, red faced among the obviously uncomfortable heels and, mistaking your outrage for confusion, pick out some shoes and say ‘these shoes are very slimming’. It’s important to make sure you maintain eye contact while you eat the shoes.
On busy days, try on new things in front of the mirrors in the middle of the store because if they don’t provide enough changing rooms then you will literally show them your ass. On quiet days, try on new things in the changing rooms. The staff won’t bother you in there, because they know you have visible pubic hair and they are afraid. Stand in the changing room Hall of Mirrors, dressed mostly in gold listening for low self-esteem like the poorly lit Louis XIV of Unsolicited Life Advice.
You don’t even have to lock the doors until the end of your lecture on feminism and consumer culture, your very presence is enough. Do not underestimate the power of seeing someone out there who gives no fucks, especially women, especially about their body. If you are over 40, you’ve got a head start on this bullshit. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and in 10 years it’s going to be my daughters in those changing rooms so let’s get in there and set some fucking examples. Try on new things. Love yourself, forget your body.
If you think that you are not strong enough, that change can only be great gestures, millions of people on the march, then think again: 10 years ago I saw a woman in a camo bikini and a gold helmet driving a quad bike down a red dirt coast track. I didn’t know her. She didn’t see me. She passed me, standing by the side of the road, sweating into my long sleeved top that covered up my imaginary flaws, and I looked at her for maybe 30 seconds before she turned the corner. I do not remember whether her body was beach ready or if she was fat or thin or whether her thighs had cellulite. I only remember that somehow, somehow I knew that she gave no fucks. And for 10 years now, every day, I have tried in some small way to be that woman. On the school run, wiping arses, dancing at children’s parties, running, walking into meetings, I am wearing a camo bikini and a gold helmet on the inside. There is no shop that can sell that to you. No t-shirt with strong words on it made by companies run by white men. We can only give it to each other.
So guys, hang out with other women, especially those who are at a different stage in their life to you. Soak it up. Find some hope. For better clothes, a better future. Young people are amazing. Many under 25’s are ripping it up right now, because they are as angry as you are, and they don’t have a mortgage and two kids. They are not the apathetic, dumbed down economic cannon fodder the government hopes they are. There is an army out there of highly educated digital natives on zero hours contracts, with no pensions, no free health care ahead of them, no hope of owning property, who have realised that their parents and grandparents, for whom most things were free and the rest was cheap have gone ahead and pulled that ladder right up behind them. Their future has been driven off a cliff by people who are about to die soon anyway and they have absolutely nothing to lose.
They are activists, organisers, protesters, voters. At an age when I was checking neither my privilege nor my non-existent email at the university I attended virtually for free, people now are organising cultural movements on a massive scale. They are targeting policy makers, campaigning, marching, fighting for their reproductive rights like it’s the goddamn Handmaid’s Tale, making films about activism, making documentaries, reporting on injustice, changing the set text in education, in the workplace, in fashion and consumer behaviour. I have seen discussions online between 19 year olds that make most mainstream political commentators look like fucking schoolchildren. That is, assuming schoolchildren aren’t as woke as they actually are right now.
Youth-quake, Corbynistas, whatever sneery term is applied to them by the increasingly nervous mainstream press, know this: you spent your twenties waiting for a seat at the table. These guys are going to spend their twenties picking up that seat and using it to smash the fucking table up. And you get to watch them, you get to watch their back. It may not be your first time being angry, outraged, passionate or tired, but ladies, this is the first time in history that we’ve gotten close enough to see the whites of their eyes. This is the first time that when other people say that they are not just sick and tired, they are hopeful, we get to say Me Too. And we must, because hope is contagious. It changes things we haven’t even thought about yet. If you don’t see it, if you think that this is all going to blow over, then you are not paying attention.
Women – whatever your goddamn age, the body politic is your bodies. Your face, your hair, your skin, your age, your voice, your height, your weight, your clothes, your uterus – this is what we talk about when we talk about power. The media knows it, they’ve been dressing it up and selling it back to you for decades, and now more than ever, so do you. You don’t need to buy power, ladies. You already own it. So go, tell your stories, listen to theirs, come find me in my boiler suit in the spandex aisle, wear whatever the fuck you like and join the revolution.