Kate is my first friend to turn 50. And while there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about that, throughout this whole ‘reaching a milestone birthday business’ what I’m most interested in is how she dresses. Kate’s style today isn’t too dissimilar to how it was when I met her in 1996 when she worked for Dazed & Confused mag, and speaking as a woman who’s experimented with more trends than hot dinners, I have no clue how she did that. A true tomboy – and I’m not talking Phoebe-Philo-tailored tomboy or The Row or Haider Ackermann or anything expensive – on a budget, she’s the most resourcefully stylish person I know.
Kate doesn’t look 50, either. But then again, what does ‘looking 50’ even mean today? Nothing. We’re living in a flat-age society where age is meaningless – as long you don’t give it meaning. So, if I had to choose one thing I love most about my low-key friend of 22 years, it would be this: a budding photographer, aged fifty, Kate says she’s ‘still figuring out what she wants to do’. I just love that.
Describe your style
Natural-born tomboy. My sister still remembers the day my mum left her home alone to get me into a party dress aged four. It was a ‘Good luck with that!’ scenario and my mum knew it – and legged it! Even at that age, I was determined to wear what I felt most ‘me’ in – and it wasn’t a dress. Nowadays, dresses sit alongside jeans as my all-time favourite outfit.
I’ve got military-style jackets busting out of my wardrobe. I love clashing prints; tartan and leopard is my favourite. I love a shirt dress and shirts cut like a man’s – no darts, thanks. I’m a terrible inverse streetwear snob. I can’t deal with designer trainers. Street labels only. I realise I’m falling out of step with the times and Virgil Abloh is about to smash streetwear and high-end fashion together and rewrite the rules.
Why do you think your style has remained so consistent over the years?
Because I’m incapable of being anything other than me, which at best could pretentiously be described as ‘scruffy chic’. I’m obsessed with observing how people use fashion and style to create identities for themselves, but when it comes to myself, I’m driven by how I feel, and the comfier I feel, the more I can be me. It just doesn’t work when I try full-tilt ‘done up’. It’s not in my DNA. If I’m wearing a dress, then my hair will probably not have seen a brush. If I’m in heels, it’s not going to involve a short skirt as well. My best days are when I’m dressed in something I feel great in. I will quite literally skip down the street like a show pony, but it’ll always be in something low-key.
Thoughts on trends?
My thoughts on trends are, ironically, anti-trend. I really love what Gucci’s Alessandro Michele said recently about staying in one place creatively and ‘growing beyond season change’, rather than relentlessly reinventing the wheel twice a year. This is such a fresh thought and I think it really chimes with people who are questioning the quality of creativity when it is only driven by commerce.
I think we are redefining what the word ‘fashion’ means. I don’t think people want it to be a thing that destroys the environment, endangers the lives of the people who are producing garments and literally sends designers mad (see: John Galliano). I know people might call me idealistic, but the world is spinning very fast and it behoves us to take a step back and pause. Give beauty and art – and artists – time to breathe. Stop racing. Keep wearing crazy Gucci granny chic if you want to. For me, it’s almost become a political act to step off the merry-go-round, stop following trends and start following my heart. Why else did people love Azzedine Alaïa? Because if he didn’t have anything to say, he didn’t say it. It was ready when it was ready. And when it was ready, it was brilliant.
How often do you shop and what are you currently looking for?
I currently shop less than I ever have done. I seek out fewer pieces, but get the ones I really want and I often buy second-hand. I just bought a Vivienne Westwood dress on eBay and a leopard-print Malene Birger bomber on Vestiaire. I’m over the moon with both. I’ll never stop wearing things just because I’ve had them for eons. A Zara leopard-print skirt has been in circulation for two years, rain or shine. I’ve worn it to everything. I tend to buy jewellery when I’m travelling, especially in Greece. I’ve got more time to browse and also the pieces remind me of the different islands I love.
I also can’t answer this question without mentioning you, Stacey. Basically, reader, we have a recycling thing going on whereby Stacey texts to say she’s having a throw-out and I arrive on her doorstep, breathless, in under two minutes. I love these sessions for two reasons. One, you tell me crazy stories about what you did in the stuff and, two, I end up with items I might not have picked out for myself. You challenge what I think I like and, as a result, I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and evolved what I wear. And the stuff gets a second life with a new owner and new stories to tell…
Style-wise (and emotionally speaking), how are you intending to approach your fifties?
I can’t be arsed to get my knickers in too much of a twist about it. There won’t be a radical stylistic shift. I’ll feel less guilty about spending money on pricier bikinis (side note: I am also a massive fan of H&M swimwear).
My biggest realisation is how fundamental my own sense of style is to my wellbeing; that it’s so easy to trivialise style and fashion, but the fact is I’m quantifiably happier when I’m wearing something I love. I feel more together in my head when I’m pulled together on the outside. How we express ourselves via our clothing is one of the ways we communicate with the outside world. We also gather a lot of subconscious data about the people we interact with by observing how they dress, so this isn’t all in my head.
When I’m much older, I’m going to wear kaftans and head wraps. No question. I’ve got it all worked out. I’m going to move to a warmer climate so that I can give up on footwear, too, and spend the rest of my life barefoot.
Best style advice you can give a woman dreading a big birthday?
Fifty is a pretty onerous number, but I find it disempowering to believe it should be negative. I think it’s down to my generation to shift the narrative and push back against old-fashioned ideas around women and ageing and the brands and media platforms that are invested in women feeling insecure about themselves. The best internet meme I’ve seen recently in response to ‘how to get a bikini body’ simply stated: ‘1. Get a bikini. 2. Put it on your body.’ I love that. I see Greek women of all shapes and ages looking lovely in bikinis on the beach each summer and that sense of comfort is what I aspire to.
On a practical note, being 50 pulls everything into sharper focus. Use that to think about the shapes and styles that have suited you and wear them. Spend more on less. Be realistic without being a fascist to yourself. I don’t look quite as cute as I once did in ripped jeans. But they look lovely with a cuddly sweater. I love touchy-feely fabrics. Again, how you feel affects what you put out into the world. Play with that. And don’t save things for best. I don’t believe in that. Best is right now.
Kate is the author of ‘Losing it: How we popped our cherry over the last 80 years’. Icon books.