Hands up if you love a bit of loungewear? If we’re honest, that’s probably most of us – for cosy nights in, at least. But one of the dangers of midlife – at least, according to some of my girlfriends – is losing your fashion mojo. Does that sound familiar you?
If so, meet Arlinda McIntosh. The loves of her fashionable life? “Big skirts, dance, glitter, soap bubbles, vintage finery and the fairy tale.” At 64, McIntosh is a fashion force to be reckoned with. She’s dressed Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige and Queen Latifah, started her own clothing line, Sofistafunk, and is FunkingAfter50 to her thousands of Instagram followers. For her, growing older has meant refusing to blend into the background with her clothes. “Age-appropriate” doesn’t even come into it.
We should all be more Arlinda when it comes to revolutionising our style. Just look at her – she’s celebrating her life, chucking out the fashion rulebook. Her creativity was apparent at an early age: she would make skirts and accessories just to amuse herself. But as she got older, she realised that, actually, she was hiding. “I used to wear mainly oversized clothing. I would put on leggings and a big T-shirt – things I thought I was supposed to wear, so that onlookers wouldn’t notice anything different about me,” she told The Guardian.
Then came a revelation: “I realised I needed to dress so that I could enjoy what I saw.” The clothes McIntosh wanted to wear didn’t exist, so she started making them herself: big celebratory skirts with trains, so she could bring joy to her appearance. She went from basic to flamboyant almost overnight. “And I loved how I felt as I caught my reflection.” Doesn’t she look fabulous?
What’s the point of growing older if you’re not going to be bold in your decision-making? After all, the alternatives are pretty grim. We’re lucky to be here. Why not celebrate that? According to McIntosh: “There’s no such thing as young people’s clothing or old people’s clothing – it is all fabric.” Don’t you love that? It puts me in mind of Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go… But maybe I ought to practise a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised.”
“Being a woman of colour aged over 60,” McIntosh says, “you might feel like you have to dress down – to become almost invisible. Not me. I’m very visible. But I do it so I can be visible to me. You have to come into your own boldness and understand that you can do what you want.”
She’s not making the rules. She’s not even giving advice: “All I can say is what works for me, and I hope people find a bit of me in them. I like big skirts and I cannot lie; I love the drama – that might not work for everybody.”
McIntosh believes you should start a conversation with your clothes, get to know them. She’s right. Why do you love that particular dress? Working that out can lead to you finding clothes that are a natural extension of your personality – and, I hope, your more flamboyant side. “What I focus on is the conversation I am having with a particular top, or bottom, or earrings,” she told Editorialist.
Are you forever asking others their opinion on your clothes? McIntosh believes that has to stop –though it can be hard if you lack confidence. “If you ask five people, ‘Should I wear this?’ four of those may say, ‘Oh, I love that,’ but it’s that fifth person who doesn’t like it that’s going to make you second-guess.” Her unapologetic outlook is inspiring in the face of an ageist society that requires us to cover up and dull our shine the older we get.
For McIntosh and fabulously flamboyant souls like her, fashion doesn’t have an age. And for those who are vocal enough to disagree, she has a genius way of blocking out the noise. “I love walking down the street and seeing the reflection of my skirt in store windows as I go. I actually just bought some headphones so I can walk to my own soundtrack. You can’t hear people because the music is so loud!”
What I really admire about her is her fearlessness. Because sometimes you just have to grab your courage with both hands, whether that’s in your sartorial choices or something much more profound. For McIntosh there are no mistakes in fashion, there are just new directions – and dressmaking is a metaphor for life: “If your scissors slip and go a new way that means you can change the narrative and try something else.”
Do you want to be one of those people who refuses to blend into the background? Have fun with what you wear? I know I do. We all need more Arlinda McIntosh in our lives.