Little Old Lady – the label every older woman dreads

What does the phrase ‘Little Old Lady’ say to you? To me it conjures up the image of my Granny Hilda.

She always used to wear a shapeless dress, thick lisle stockings, little round glasses and some really clumpy shoes. In the picture she’s actually around 60, ten years younger than I am now, yet she looks years older, and as a child I always thought of her as very old.

Apologies to Granny Hilda, but this look, which I’ve christened L.O.L for Little Old Lady, is one I’ve spent a good amount of time and effort trying to avoid.

I honestly have no problem with getting older which, after all, is inevitable and very much preferable to the alternative, but I am determined never to succumb to Little Old Ladyhood.

Tricia Cusden (pictured), 71, shared advice for engaging in beauty and fashion in later life, she believes it's possible to look stylish while being age appropriate

Tricia Cusden (pictured), 71, shared advice for engaging in beauty and fashion in later life, she believes it's possible to look stylish while being age appropriate

Tricia Cusden (pictured), 71, shared advice for engaging in beauty and fashion in later life, she believes it’s possible to look stylish while being age appropriate

Thank heavens our generation is ageing so very differently — we’re all living longer, and remain keen to engage with the world of beauty and style, and to stay vital and active.

Years ago, after the children had grown and gone, a woman was more or less expected to disappear, to spend her 60s pottering, gardening, maybe with a bit of light babysitting thrown in. Her looks were often the last thing on her mind.

Nowadays, Grandma is just as likely to be found at the gym or Pilates class, or getting her nails and hair done.

But that’s not to say that being in my early 70s (I’m 71) is without its challenges. Looking and feeling good has become progressively more difficult as I’ve aged, and I often feel lost in a world of fashion and beauty which shows little interest in my needs.

Some say the way round this is to pretend that I’m no different to a 30 or 40-year-old, and to fully embrace the notion of ‘ageless’ style by wearing whatever I fancy and splashing glittery make-up all over my face. It’s tempting, but I’m afraid I would feel — and look — ridiculous.

The ideal is to look my age, but a very, very good example of it. It’s nice when people are surprised to learn that I am 71, but I’m really not desperate to pass as someone of my daughter’s age.

The trouble with agelessness is that although you feel decades younger in your head, the message seldom gets through to your body, no matter how many personal trainers you employ.

Tricia who is short-sighted recommends investing in a stylish and colourful set of glasses that match your skin tone

Tricia who is short-sighted recommends investing in a stylish and colourful set of glasses that match your skin tone

Tricia who is short-sighted recommends investing in a stylish and colourful set of glasses that match your skin tone

As the peerless Ria, played by Wendy Craig in the sitcom Butterflies, said many years ago: ‘When I take off my clothes there’s been an avalanche!’

But an avalanche doesn’t always mean disaster. There are ways to get around one — or at least to disguise its impact.

I’ve developed a pick-and-mix approach that lets me age gracefully but never turn into an L.O.L. It’s a mixture of age appropriate exercise and lifestyle changes (like working out with a trainer and eating the right food) and developing a positive attitude (I refuse to lug about a bulky old lady handbag, so I strictly limit how much I carry).

I remain optimistic about style, trying out lots of new trends in the hope that one or two may work for me, despite my maturity.

It’s all about trial and error — but here are my guidelines for how to avoid ever looking like a Little Old Lady.

Ditch the NHS specs

I’m short-sighted, and for a long time could get away without glasses most of the time as long as I had a pair on hand for driving or the theatre.

But recently my eyesight seems to have deteriorated, so I needed a pair for everyday wear. I had a quick look at the styles on offer in the High Street opticians’ chains and was immediately depressed.

The 71-year-old argues big bags can be very ageing, she suggests using a smallish cross-body bag filled with essentials

The 71-year-old argues big bags can be very ageing, she suggests using a smallish cross-body bag filled with essentials

The 71-year-old argues big bags can be very ageing, she suggests using a smallish cross-body bag filled with essentials 

I was hoping for something a bit stylish, colourful and interesting, along the lines of Prue Leith’s specs in The Great British Bake Off. Instead, I tried a few pairs on and morphed into my grandmother.

So while I don’t advocate spending loads on style or beauty, this is one area where it’s worth shopping around and maybe spending a bit more.

I’ve now found some great new specs in an independent optician. I’ve one pair in a dark purple, sort of half-moon shape (pictured right), and another with softer, rounder frames in pale pinky-beige — and feel that they say ‘Stylish Older Sophisticate’ rather than ‘Myopic Old Mare’.

I recommend matching your frames to your skin tone — greys, blues and pinks if you’re cool toned like me, gold and tortoise-shell if you’re warm toned.

Avoid big handbags 

Have you ever been with a friend who has an enormous bag and can never find anything in it?

Purse, glasses, phone, car keys, Freedom Pass. All disappear into the capacious body of the bag never to be seen or found again — at least not without taking everything out while muttering, ‘I know they’re here somewhere!’

That’s a very ageing look, in my view! So about a year ago I decided to go ‘hands free’ because I was fed up with both the weight and the inconvenience of a big, roomy tote.

Tricia who says comfort has become more important than style as she's grown older, advises buying a pretty style for morale

Tricia who says comfort has become more important than style as she's grown older, advises buying a pretty style for morale

Tricia who says comfort has become more important than style as she’s grown older, advises buying a pretty style for morale

I bought a smallish cross-body bag, then ruthlessly edited what I needed to carry in it. I now take a contactless debit card instead of cash, and no longer carry a bulky purse full of heavy coins.

My new bag just about fits my Kindle, keys, phone, debit card, bus pass and lippy — and I stand straighter as a result, which makes you look and feel younger.

Knickers matter! 

I have to confess that as I’ve grown older, comfort has become much more important than style when it comes to underwear.

This reached a nadir recently when I realised I had forgotten to pack any knickers on a trip to Edinburgh for a speaking event.

So I found a large M&S in Princes Street and started searching for something suitable. I was in a hurry, so grabbed a six-pack in size 14 floral cotton. But when I got them out I fell about laughing. They were HUGE, and when I pulled them (practically) up to my armpits, I immediately felt like the ultimate L.O.L.

Tricia recommends using creamy products instead of powder for a youthful complexion

Tricia recommends using creamy products instead of powder for a youthful complexion

Tricia recommends using creamy products instead of powder for a youthful complexion

Since then I have bought myself some much prettier stylish lacy pairs in sophisticated colours. I remind myself that even though no one sees it, the right underwear is important to morale!

Go grey – but stay sharp 

When I say Little Old Lady hairstyle, what comes to mind? To me it instantly conjures up the permed sausage curls of our mothers’ generation.

I was a teenager in the 1960s when Vidal Sassoon was cutting Mary Quant’s hair into a revolutionary, sharp geometric shape. Fifty years later, I still believe a good cut is the key to looking truly stylish.

I now keep mine in a short bob, which I blow-dry using styling brushes, because I have very straight hair which needs extra volume on top. I don’t think age determines the best hairstyle so much as the condition of your hair and your lifestyle.

And I definitely don’t think we should fear going grey. My hair has slowly been going grey since my late 50s and I love it. I now have extra ashy-white highlights added at the front so that it’s a nice bright colour around my face, adding light to lift my features.

Every day I see fabulously stylish older women with white hair whose hairstyles are a million miles away from the old-fashioned ‘shampoo and set’.

Give face powder the brush off 

The most my granny did to her face, beyond soap, water and cold cream, was to ‘powder her nose’. My mum might have added rouge and a dab of lippy. But although we’re often told less is more when you get older, I’ve found the opposite to be true.

When doing makeovers I find that the secret is to use creamy products that create a soft, dewy finish — very youthful, because it reflects lots of light and lifts the complexion. Avoid at all costs the powdery, mask-like effect.

The 71-year-old suggests finding a personal trainer to exercise with as its important to have balance and muscle tone

The 71-year-old suggests finding a personal trainer to exercise with as its important to have balance and muscle tone

The 71-year-old suggests finding a personal trainer to exercise with as its important to have balance and muscle tone 

I start by adding definition and colour with a touch of blush and highlighter on top of Look Fabulous Forever’s Light Look Beauty Balm, which creates a subtle glow. Powders settle into wrinkles, so instead go for cream-to-powder formulations.

Then some soft eye makeup and a gorgeous lipstick is all you need. Don’t be afraid of a strong lip colour — as long as you choose a shade that works with your skin tone, a bright pink or warm red can bring the whole face to life.

Perfect posture 

Sometimes, the difference between LOL-dom and perennial style is in your attitude — and how you present yourself to the world matters.

A couple of years ago I fell as I was crossing the road.

Tricia (pictured) revealed she's embraced the trend for wearing white sports shoes, she also suggests trying the trend for jumpsuits

Tricia (pictured) revealed she's embraced the trend for wearing white sports shoes, she also suggests trying the trend for jumpsuits

Tricia (pictured) revealed she’s embraced the trend for wearing white sports shoes, she also suggests trying the trend for jumpsuits

It was the wake-up call I needed to do something about my poor balance and lack of muscle tone, since I’ve never loved exercising. I was also developing the dreaded Dowager’s Hump, so I found a personal trainer who could motivate me without making me feel like a useless lump.

Twice a week I work with her, doing a wide variety of exercises including weights.

Two years on, I’m fitter, stronger and more flexible than I’ve ever been. It’s never too late to take your creaky old body in hand.

Try out trainers

I try lots of things in the hope some may be wearable.

Take the current vogue for wearing white sports shoes with absolutely everything. I’ve just bought a pair and have hardly taken them off.

Jumpsuits have been another surprising success: I’ve just bought a dressy one for a summer event as an alternative to trousers. It looks a bit like a long dress, but it’s much easier to wear with a pair of comfy shoes — or even my trainers.

It’s all about seeing what works for you.

Embrace technology 

Tricia says using her phone as her boarding pass when recently travelling to Dublin, made her feel like she'd joined the 21st century (file image)

Tricia says using her phone as her boarding pass when recently travelling to Dublin, made her feel like she'd joined the 21st century (file image)

Tricia says using her phone as her boarding pass when recently travelling to Dublin, made her feel like she’d joined the 21st century (file image)

I have to admit that I tend to resist upgrading my phone because I can’t stand the kerfuffle of learning a new system.

I’ve also kept the same TV for 12 years because it seems to me that you need a degree-level qualification these days just to turn the wretched things on!

Naturally my children definitely see me as an L.O.L in relation to technology, and even offered to buy me a new smart TV for my 70th birthday (an offer that I politely declined).

However, I recently used my phone as my boarding pass when I went to Dublin. My daughter had downloaded the Aer Lingus app for me. I felt as though I’d finally joined the 21st century and can now see the considerable advantages of not having extraneous bits of paper cluttering up my bag.

Tricia Cusden is founder of pro-age beauty brand Look Fabulous Forever (lookfabulousforever.com).

Link hienalouca.com

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