Older fashion and the new rules of grown-up glamour
OPINION: Shock, horror - Britain's prime minister Theresa May bared arms AND legs at the same time.
As she stepped on to the red carpet for the Pride of Britain Awards, with the confident wave and smile of a Hollywood celebrity, Theresa May proved once again that when it comes to style, her self-assurance is rock solid.
It may not have much bearing on Brexit, but her bare upper arms and a hem-length several centimetres above the knee sent a mighty signal to women who think that once they hit 60, as May did last month, they must cover up and resign themselves to invisibility as far as fashion is concerned.
Posing for the cameras in a midnight-blue Amanda Wakeley dress (£595 or NZ$1006) and bejewelled blue pumps in Taormina lace with Swarovski crystal ($1006) from Dolce & Gabbana, the Prime Minister appeared the epitome of grown-up glamour.
Since she took over at No 10, we've seen a subtle change in her style: a clampdown on cleavage, but more leg. Navy, rather more flattering on mature, English skin than the draining-the-blood effect of black, is fast becoming her signature colour. And now she is claiming the right to bare arms.
While the pictures may have given some pause over their cornflakes, it's indicative of just how far older women have come in the past 20 years that, in fashion circles at least, the new "dare to bare" rules have less to do with your years, and more with whether you still regard your limbs as an asset.
Which is not to say anachronistic attitudes don't still hold some sway. A poll of 2000 adults by retiresavvy.co.uk revealed that the majority think 39 is the cut-off point for wearing a mini. May's hemline doesn't go quite that far, but further than many women her age might. On this, as in her so many of her political proclamations, she's forging her own path.
Having never liked my own knees (always too fat, and now wrinkly to boot), I've generally shied away from short skirts, unless I can camouflage them in black, opaque tights. But if, at the age of 64, I had legs as good as May's, I'd be damned sure they were on show - just like my friends whose pins still look great.
My arms, until recently, were rarely hidden from view, and I revelled in compliments such as: "I wish I could get away with sleeveless dresses." But, as is the way of all (or at least most) flesh, they seem to have given up the will to live and I am resorting to hunting for dresses that cover up my fresh vertical pleats as much as possible.
May doesn't appear to have much in the way of bingo wings. But neither does she have the overworked arms of older women like Madonna, whose prominent veins are as much on show as her muscles. Instead, she has womanly arms, neither plump nor skinny: why wouldn't she let us see them, given how elegant a sleeveless cocktail dress can look?
As for her legs, long may they - and her Nordic walking - last. Harrumph as some did over the thigh-high split in the dress May wore to meet the European Council president, Donald Tusk, at Downing Street in September, if the PM is comfortable choosing to be more decorative than decorous as she negotiates Brexit, it's evidence that women at the top need no longer mask their femininity in order to be taken seriously. It reminds us, too, that fashion can be a joyful expression of womanhood, rather than something that marks us out as frivolous and superficial.
Unashamed to announce, back in 2014, that her Desert Island Disc luxury would be a subscription to Vogue, May's interest in fashion was well-known and much commented on even during her six-year stint as home secretary. Her occasional fashion faux pas - like the over-the-knee snakeskin, patent boots worn with what looked like Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - caused many women to wonder if she was enduring a midlife fashion crisis. At the same time it was reassuring, because we all make mistakes, however fashion-savvy we think we are. In many ways, it made her seem more human.
Even as late as March this year, May was seen to have overstepped the mark, revealing just a little too much embonpoint (inadvertently, I thought at the time, though in the light of what followed I'm not so sure) as George Osborne unveiled his last Budget. But now she's really hit her stride, making the most of her figure, with fewer garish prints and a more confident, muted palette.
Although a slavish devotion to trends in older women is inadvisable (something May seems to have learnt through trial and error), glamour, as Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda and Joan Collins all prove, can endure. And while most of us can't relate to multimillion-pound Hollywood actresses, regardless of your personal politics, in Theresa May - who styles herself only with help from Fluidity, her favourite Henley boutique - we have someone from whom we can all take a fashion fillip. Bared legs or arms, notwithstanding.
- The Telegraph