THE TIMES
9 JULY 2016

I'M A MID-LIFE PUNK

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It all happened when I lost my prescription shades somewhere between Gatwick security and Nice and had to get them replaced. Now I’m not a wacky specs type of person by any stretch. “Statement” sunglasses, tbh, irritate the hell out of me, unless they’re in a John Currin painting or on Iris Apfel.

 

And yet here I was in Cutler & Gross bypassing the elegant age-appropriate tortoiseshell styles in favour of a pair with, get this, bright pink frames. Wacky bright, don’t-pick-me-up-at-school-in-those pink, you hear, not nice muted rose gold. Lord. What is happening to me? Where will it all end? Is this when I forgo the honey-blond highlights, and the Azzedine Alaïa and the heels for Doc Martins and a septum ring? Am I turning into a midlife punk?

 

The Midlife Punk. Say hello to this new demographic; if you aren’t quite sure what it looks like, well, eye-bleedingly expensive “statement” specs are a pretty good clue. Nutty nail polish, ironic pink or blue-rinse hair and man-repeller platforms are similarly characteristic of the species. Ditto tattoos (cf Felicity Kendal, who only started getting them when she was 63, and Judi Dench who has just had carpe diem inscribed on her wrist) and/or multiple inner-cartilage piercings.

 

Now if you were a genuine tartan diaper-wearing punk in the Seventies, you probably had your piercings done by a friend at a party with a needle and a cork and may even remember the mixture of pride and pain when it inevitably got infected. When you are a midlife punk it’s a much more high-end affair, preferably performed by Maria Tash, the New York-based celebrity piercer who occasionally does ten-day pop-ups in Liberty of London.

 

Get your upper ears pierced, but use diamonds from Maria Tash

Counting Gwyneth and Julianne Moore as clients, Tash is the midlife punk’s priestess, luxuriously puncturing helixes, daiths and tash rooks (the bit in the upper inner rim of the ear, ouch) with a variety of diamonds, sapphires and opals.

But then anarchy, pain, hardship, that’s not what midlife punkdom is about. It’s about the stark realisation that once we hit our mid-fifties we need to keep as hi-vis as possible in order not to be completely ignored. How to show the world there is life in the old dog yet? Pander not to the male gaze, but to anybody’s gaze, frankly, that’s how, and how better than via the well-worn path of punkdom?

 

As I write this, I’m looking at my nails, super-short and painted in a shade of purply black by the new hot nail art eco-brand Kure Bazaar (I ditched the tasteful French pink ages ago). Hard to believe for anyone born after 1980, but once upon a time the only brand to buy for colours other than red or pink, was Rimmel. Nowadays the couture houses would be nothing without their non-pretty colours. A case in point is the hot new shade by Guerlain, Denim Jacket (exactly as you would picture the colour to be).

 

Nails are a great canvas for us fiftysomethings to act out our punkish tendencies. This summer in Mykonos I’m thinking of doing turquoise blue nails, with stick-on appliqué eyes by the super-cool Parisian brand Alfa K Divine with a tan and my diamond “atomic pop art” rings from Diane Kordas.

 

I’m also, if truth be told, thinking of dyeing my hair candy-floss pink, Helen Mirren style, maybe even cutting it short, once summer is out of the way. The honey blond balayage and the cute bedhead tonging are all very well for now, but is it a look I can take into my sixties? One needs to be prophylactic about such things, and if I did take the plunge I know I wouldn’t be alone. As my finger-on-the-pulse colourist Josh Wood says, “If you’re out and there isn’t someone at the table with pink hair, you’re probably in the wrong place.”

 

The trend is clearly filtering down. I went to my son’s prize-giving the other night and there were definitely more than a few ironic blue rinses (not to mention those Bella Freud 1970 sweaters) in the audience.

 

“Pink is very popular because it suits a lot of skin tones,” says Sapphire Driver, the salon manager at Bleach, the London salon that started the trend for bright, pastel-coloured dye jobs and which is frequented by Florence Welch and Sienna Miller. “Lilac is also really popular, and great for women who are going grey.” She says that many clients who came to them when they first opened five years ago are now in their forties and beyond and bringing their friends with them. “In London it has become such a recognised thing. People aren’t weirded out at all by seeing an older woman with pink hair.”

 

So unfair somehow, isn’t it — us older folk hijacking what rightfully belongs to young folk, thereby denuding it of all trace of cool and forcing said young folk to find something else? But then, plus ça change, right?

 

Meanwhile, if you see a middle-aged lady in fluorescent pink glasses advancing down the Talgarth Road with her brake lights on and Fat White Family blaring out of the windows, that’ll most likely be me.