How do you start to dress like a ‘grown-up’ without losing your style soul?

I've finally, firmly turned the page on my twenties and am at last getting into my thirty-something stride, at least as far as my clothes are concerned.
Publish date:
October 5, 2012
fashion, grown-up style, wardrobe maintenance

Most of the time I make minimal effort when dressing for work. That doesn’t mean I look bad, or scruffy, but just that I have enough idiot-proof ensembles that I can sling on in the dark morning and step out looking vaguely put together, with zero effort or thought required. But oh how interesting it is, how powerful you feel, when you really make an effort. It feels strange to put together an outfit that you know people will notice, rather than ignore, to select accessories – earrings, bracelets, a necklace – to finish it with a slick of bright lipstick or some elegant heels.

Striding around in my ‘Country/Goth’ Johnny Cash look (black Karl Lagerfeld for H&M shirt, black jeans, high black boots) I feel a bit scary and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Admitting so publically that you care about the way you look can feel strange, almost an admission of vanity - surely a weakness - but when everyone else is being sartorially lazy, or at least pretending that they don’t care, you are the strong one.

I see it in my friends as we get older – yes we care about how we look, yeah we want to feel good in nice clothes. It’s ok to want that! I start to understand how Anna Wintour, Emmanuelle Alt and Grace Coddington have built up a uniform that, once they’ve discovered the magic formula for them, frees them up not to have to think about clothes anymore – it sounds counter-intuitive to say that about fashion editors, but I think it’s true.

I take a long, hard look at my clothes and try to be brutally honest with myself. What do I wear that fits properly, that always makes me feel comfortable and confident? The answers, as always, are obvious, if you care to look for them; I like plain, tomboyish, ‘intellectual’ (yes I’m pretentious) clothes – wool sweaters, shirts, chinos, brogues – that give me a clean, crisp background onto which I can layer something more feminine – a stack of bracelets, red lipstick, a jaunty scarf. I like that juxtaposition, the contrast feels like ‘me’. I also love Breton tops - they’re so crisp and fresh.

High street sources for this stuff include Uniqlo (always no.1 destination) for men’s t-shirts, polo shirts and shirts, Gap for chinos, John Lewis for basics (Falke tights, blazers), M&S for men’s sweaters, Boden, Petit Bateau, Russell & Bromley and sometimes COS. The pricier stuff that I’ll invest in when I have the cash and want something that’ll last forever: APC, J. Crew (I don’t quite see how this is classified as ‘high street’ in the US – it ain’t cheap!), Paul & Joe Sister, Jaeger Boutique. And in fantasy-land: Carven, Celine, Jil Sander, Cacharel and Paul Smith.

So given that I actually do know what constitutes my personal ‘look’, how do I get it to evolve and become more grown-up? It’s not a case of suddenly trying to totter about in heels to ‘smarten up’ a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, that’s just not practical, I can’t be bothered. Instead, if I’m honest, it’s about maintenance; I keep clothes waaaay past their sell-by date – jumpers have pulls and moth-holes in them, white t-shirts have faded to grey and there are shameful yellow stains under the arms, tights are baggy and snagged and dresses are crumpled. It’s a combination of laziness and stinginess.

I need to start replacing the basics more regularly (a white men’s t-shirt from Uniqlo is £4.99 – I have no excuse), looking after the stuff I have properly – hand-washing jumpers, not optimistically ignoring the ‘dry clean only’ labels and sticking things in the machine and crossing my fingers, throwing out 20 pairs of unsatisfactory black opaque tights and shelling out on a couple of new pairs, that kind of thing. I might even buy an ironing board. That’s being a grown-up to me – looking smart, neat, put together, like you’re taking responsibility for your stuff. At 32 I've finally, firmly turned the page on my twenties and am at last getting into my thirty-something stride, at least as far as my clothes are concerned.

Which isn't to say I've suddenly become this groomed, glossy creature - ha ha! Hardly. I'm just making a bit more effort; you can get away with looking scruffy in your 20s, in the 30s it's not so cute. I even finally changed my hair - I don't need to hide behind it any more so I grew out the fringe and lopped off a few inches. It couldn't be more different to the curly, matted mass it was a few years ago. (In the same vein, was I the only one who nodded approvingly when Susan Kennedy finally cut her witchy tresses in Neighbours?)

It also helps to have someone in mind whose style you admire - currently mine is Sofia Coppola - she always looks SO COOL. Apparently this tactic never wears thin - my mum (who proved her mad style skillz during fashion week) still maintains that when she 'grows up' she wants to look like Isabella Rossellini or Diane Keaton.

What do you think? How is your style evolving as you grow older - or is it? Am I overthinking things just a tad? Who do you want to dress like when you grow up?!