Juliet Bernard’s career in knitting, editing, textiles, fashion, public relations, and modeling has given her a fascinating mix of perspectives. It is pure delight to welcome her to MDK. —Kay and Ann
Recently I was on a photo shoot for one of my clients. I met a woman called Kate Goode who is an art director, stylist and all-round amazing person. She is a similar age to me and, as often happens when women in their fifties get together, we chatted about the problem of being who we are at a “certain age.”
To give you a bit of background, Kate and I must have bumped into each other in the heady days of London in the ’80s. Post punk and just about post New Romantic, it was an incredibly creative time in the fashion industry. Within three weeks of starting my job at Courtelle, a large global textile company, I had met Paul Smith—yes, the Paul Smith. What a lovely man—I still have a huge crush on him. Lynne Franks (Edina from the cult comedy Absolutely Fabulous is rumored to be based on her) was our PR person, and the über cool agency Lamb and Shirley designed our graphics. The following year I worked with Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano. The parties we went to were ridiculous, and I loved every second of it.
I didn’t earn much, so I mainly shopped from the High Street. Whatever I bought was chopped and changed to make it individual and trendy. You could wear anything, and it was accepted as you being you. Fetish gear was mixed with twinsets, goth was glamorous, and tailoring could be punked up with acres of safety pins or spikes.
The Victoria and Albert Museum held a fantastic exhibition in 2014 called “Club to Catwalk” which captured the energy and vibrance of this time. In short, anything was possible, and London was the fashion capital of the world.
Right up until I turned 30, I was still brave with my look. I am around six feet tall, so I stand out. When you realize you are the tallest of all your friends you face a decision: do I try to merge in the background or do I just go for it? I always went for it.
Making the Transition
Since I became a mother, I have struggled with my look. I’m not the Yummy Mummy type, either physically or mentally, nor have I wanted to be. But when you are someone’s mum, people’s attitude to you changes. Having been a Sassoon house model in the ’80s, I have always focused my look on my hair as a starting point. I am lucky to have gone a very nice and even shade of gray which spurs me on to take risks with my coiffure—do you remember my mohawk from a few years ago?
Next on my checklist have always been my shoes, and now, as my sight has deteriorated with age, my glasses. But clothes have become harder and harder to wear. For a start I am a bit heavier, and my bust has got significantly bigger since becoming a mum. If I wear a ribbed pullover, the vertical lines distort like an op art image! My legs are still good, but I think my days of wearing short skirts are long gone. Tight and revealing is not in my vocabulary, but I don’t knock women of any age for dressing like this if they are happy and it makes them feel confident. It’s just not me.
Looking Good? Or Good Enough?
Now that I could technically be a grandmother, I feel very much as if I have become invisible to society. I think it’s similar to the way an actress must feel about the lack of roles for older women. The way I feel about myself has also been brought in to sharp focus because my youngest son has signed to a London modeling agency.
Seeing him go to shoots and some of the supercool outfits he gets to wear reminds me of how much of a fashion victim I used to be. I would get comments or looks when I walked in to a room, but this just doesn’t happen now. It’s amazing how much this has dented my confidence. I’m not vain, but I simply didn’t realize how much of my self confidence was wrapped up in how others react to me.
I remember a friend telling me that before she turned 40, she worried about “looking good” when she stepped out of her front door. After 40, she settled for “looking good enough” because she didn’t feel she mattered in other people’s eyes. These days I would rather don a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and cocoon myself in a voluminous cardigan so I can merge into the background.
I have a fantastic pair of mock leather culottes I bought from Zara in my wardrobe. I would love to team them up with ankle socks, killer wedge suede boots and a man’s shirt, but I just can’t get past the fear that I would look ridiculous. I have avoided bright lipstick in case I come across as trying too hard. I never used to worry about this, so what has happened to me? Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to be, or look younger. I am happy with my age, I just want to be a bit more me.
This is what Kate and I talked about, the dilemmas of the aging woman. I don’t really have any answers, because it is a very personal thing. But seeing how great Kate looked, and following our chat, I am determined to take a few more “risks.”
Kate has coined a hashtag just for us gals of a certain age: #WeAreNotInvisible.
Brilliant! This is now my mantra, and I hope you can make it yours. Watch out, world—I am already planning a few bolder outfits!