My mother made many of our clothes when we were small and, in her book, frills and little girls were a match made in heaven. Also, she believed women went into sartorial retirement the moment they had their first baby. Having had five kids before she was 30, she wisely relented on the latter point. Unfortunately, however, either her dressmaking skills, or the speed at which she felt compelled to work, meant her frills never appeared quite where they were designed to, and the item of clothing itself generally fitted only where it touched. So probably my only rule in life is: no frills.
That said, other people look lovely in frills, so it seems silly to smack a blanket ban on them for anyone over the age of 40, as Alexandra Shulman, the former long-time British Vogue editor, says. She would also ban bows and, while I am more instinctively sympathetic to that, if women, or men, want to channel their inner Margaret Thatcher, I’d say that’s their choice.
Shulman says: “Frills are only remotely possible if you are young enough to think that Princess Diana’s wedding dress can be referenced ironically” – a dress that I vaguely remember as a big puffy creation, the kind of thing that might be worn by a bridal Barbie.
The key to ironic dressing is having the confidence that the reference will be picked up by people you pass in the street – or not caring if it isn’t. Yet Shulman might be on to something with her age-based style rules. Not on their own, as if, on your 40th birthday, half your wardrobe has to be recycled, and on your 60th you might as well just give up and buy a few beige tents.
It goes without saying that, however old you are, you can wear what you like. But for most people I know, that tends to be a muddle of how you feel and whether you want to keep warm or look cool. A willingness to embraces irony, of course, often increases with age.