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Forget rules and make your own: Four women’s tips for ageless dressing

We spoke to four women over 50 about their dress sense and style, and how it has changed over the years

Susie Lynch Barrett, Joanne Mooney, Mary Dunne and Denise Meagher. Photographs: Alan Betson/ Tom Doherty

Great style is ageless. Despite so many older women worried about looking “dated” or feeling invisible and irrelevant, stylish dressing is not confined to one age group and that awareness is increasing.

When Advanced Style, Ari Seth Cohen’s blog-based enterprise celebrating the spirit and exuberance of older people, was launched in 2008, it took the internet by storm. Now, with more than 675,000 followers on Instagram, Cohen continues to highlight women – and often men – with showstopping street style over the age of 50. Advanced Style is also credited with creating a consumer movement for an age group usually overlooked or ignored. In an industry besotted by youth, it is changing attitudes.

The trend for using older women in fashion advertising rather than the conventional slender fledglings in their 20s took off in 2015 when the renowned US writer, the late Joan Didion, then 80, was photographed for a Celine campaign wearing a black shirt and oversized black glasses. The images generated huge publicity and both items immediately sold out.

Nearly a decade later, a wave of fashion campaigns involves high profile older celebrities; Charlotte Rampling for Massimo Dutti, Dame Maggie Smith (86) in shaggy fake fur modelling for Loewe, not to mention Supremes legend Diana Ross fronting St Laurent’s spring summer campaign. Dame Prue Leith (83), star of The Great British Bake Off, revealed that she starts the day choosing her specs (from more than 20 pairs) and then picks the outfit to go with them.


At home, image consultant Aoife Dunican says that as women get older, they dress better. “We care less about what other people think, we become less trend-led and we dress for our lifestyle,” she says.

Couturier Peter O’Brien, well known for his forthright opinions on style, believes that “women should wear clothes they love”. A shining beacon, he says, is Linda Wright, an entrepreneur in Paris who runs a luxury boutique called Crimson Cashmere and has a large Instagram following. “Her clothes whisper rather than shout. For me, as a 75-year-old male designer, women are still seen as the more decorative of the sexes – men are not.”

We spoke to four women over 50 about their dress sense and style, and how it has changed over the years.

Mary Dunne

Formerly of Aer Lingus, now modelling and an advocate for women’s empowerment

“I started modelling at 62 or 63 to represent women of a certain age and leave a good footprint for the younger generation. I have always loved style and was never into trends – clothes make you confident and we change when our bodies change. Having studied fashion styling in London, I remember starting work at the Aer Lingus Tara Hotel wearing a red trouser suit with a black floppy hat (my icon at the time was Bianca Jagger). I thought I was a woman of the world, but the reality was that I didn’t have a clue.

“I flew with Aer Lingus and later on private jets before returning to Ireland and working for Christian Dior in what was then Switzer’s in Grafton Street. I then returned to Aer Lingus and I remember spending my time styling the management team.

“I started my grey journey six or seven years ago and it was one of the best changes I ever made as it embodies who you are more. I get more compliments for it than I ever got when it was long and dark. I never had the need to feel younger and clothes are a fun way to feel good about yourself and make you feel happy. You give out that energy to others.

“I wear clothes; they don’t wear me. And many women are just clones. Never compare yourself with others or look like someone else, and never go to a young woman for styling advice because we (at our age) have grown up with lots of different styles and tweaked it for ourselves.”

Joanne Mooney

Former dental nurse, founder of creative style workshops

“I was a goth and a punk in my teens, and always liked to step out of the normal. I don’t like to blend. I use a lot of colour both in my home and in what I wear and I’d describe my style as eclectic – I don’t follow trends and I don’t go for brands and designers, just what I like. Knowing your own style makes it easier to shop because you can be more decisive. Forget rules and make your own – and think of quality over consumption.

“Turning 50 this year has been quite liberating as you are more confident and comfortable in your own skin. I’ve embraced colour more as I’ve got older – it cheers you up. The one thing I would never wear is black – maybe a reaction to wearing it so much as a punk. I have one black dress and only wear it to funerals. Black washes me out anyway.

“My love of colour started with interiors and poured out into my wardrobe. It probably began in my 40s – I was blending in before that. My children were young and there was hardly any time to even bless yourself, and now I have more time and a new little life coming out of me.

“I let my hair go grey and that has been liberating and it goes with my style and how I dress. And I absolutely love glasses – I have black ones and others in all colours which I hide behind. They are a great accessory.”

For Joanne’s Punch Needle one day workshops visit her at

Susie Lynch Barrett

Mother-of-four, studying fashion in the Grafton Academy

“How do I describe my style? I think you could say hippy in the summer and more muted in the winter. I would never go out, even in tracksuits, if I didn’t feel comfortable and confident. If something was very sexual or too tight, I would never feel comfortable.

“I don’t want to feel self-conscious – I rarely wear high heels, only flats now, and I think as you get older you don’t care what people think. I think high heels look great but you do lose some vanity with the years and you have to accept that. I would never let clothes own me but we do get more confident (as we get older) and have more of a sense of humour.

“I prefer winter outfits in all the same colour as I think everything looks better that way. You do become slightly invisible but that can be liberating too and I don’t think women dress for men in the same way as they did when they were younger.

“I always have dressed in an ethnic way – big puffy sleeves and quite feminine and slightly hippy dippy in the summer whereas in the winter it’s more toned – I’d never wear black trousers but I do wear lots of flared jeans and I love the white shirt and jeans the way [US fashion designer] Jenna Lyons wears them.

“I mix clothes a lot – Zara with The Frankie Shop online – they have more masculine suits for women, which are reasonably priced. I used to spend a lot on clothes but now I think twice – I love cloaks, scarves and edge things up with glasses and piercings in my ear – that’s how you’d always recognise me.

“As your body changes you just don’t wear the same things. I would always cover my arms up now and everything else is slowly getting covered up – first the tummy, then the knees and now the arms. I wish I would be brave enough to say, feck it, but I can’t.”

Denise Meagher

MA, PhD – an academic who has completed a thesis on the artist Sir John Lavery and is continuing research

“My late mother, who died at 94, a hardworking farmer’s wife, was such an influence on me. She had no access to Vogue but an innate personal sense of style. I think today there is too much effort to look the same and to follow trends. Dressing no matter what your age or whether you live in rural Tipperary (like me) or the city metropolis is always about expressing individuality.

“I suppose my time as an au pair in Paris was another influence. Natalie Diner was in her late 30s when I was just 19 and was creatively involved in one of the big fashion houses at the time. She dressed simply but elegantly – no big bold colours shouting. The fabrics shouted instead and fabrics have been important to me all my life – organza, like the dress I wore on my recent graduation inspired by Lavery and other portraits from the time – velvets and silks in summer and, of course, lace and satin blazers and dresses. And I love patent shoes.

“My interest in Sir John Lavery is connected to my interest in fashion and identity and has remained consistent. I have clothes since I was in my late teens that I still wear and people are amazed when I show them pictures. But I do mind my figure and diet, and I exercise.”

Aoife Dunican’s style tips

1. Take off your invisible cloak. Try brighter colours or even wearing all neutrals but in different textures.

2. Shop your vintage wardrobe. Give new life to an old Donegal tweed jacket with brown leather trousers.

3. Choose quality over quantity. Work with body shape and give it the support of a great pair of jeans or some cashmere.

4. Are you still in the same look as 10 years ago? If there’s one thing that can make you look modern, generally it’s shoes. A new style jean with your blazer? Think modern not trendy.

5. It’s amazing what some tinted moisturiser, blush and a red lip can do. It doesn’t have to be complicated.