Six style lessons we've learned from Madonna in the last 10 years

Left: Madonna at her 61st birthday; Madonna in 2002
Madonna has drawn fire for her latest outré outfit, but she’s a standard-bearer for those unwilling to be ignored after 50 Credit: Getty

Madonna is 61 and to mark the event she dressed up in quasi-military, Night Porter meets Susannah York in the Battle of Britain attire. (Come to think of it there’s a lot of Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug in there: remember Bryan Ferry in khakis and eye patch and the backing girls got up like Second World War WRACS?) Anyway. Right on cue we all winced, and if we didn’t spit out our breakfast cereal then we thought “Madonna, what do you look like?”. That’s what we do on Madonna’s birthday – it’s what it’s for.

But here’s the thing that we forget at our peril every time Madonna whips out her fishnet stockings and leather mittens – she’s in showbiz, so overdoing it is part of the job and, more importantly, she is doing us a favour. By us, I mean women who may be 61 in the not-too-terribly-distant future, who, were it not for Madonna, would be feeling rather differently about that birthday and every birthday in between.

Because Madonna is the trailblazer and lightning conductor for women who don’t want to be put in the corner the minute they turn 50. She has elected to be the vampy, opinionated, noisy, early adopter leading the charge into the massed ranks of Those Who Only Attach Value to Women Under 30. We may strongly believe that a woman wearing plaits at her age, or bottomless chaps, or a corset that hoiks your breasts up to chin height (like the one she wore on Graham Norton not so long ago) is not doing herself any favours – and that’s OK too. But the fact is Madonna will not be told or shamed because she has been in the business of ignoring the rules by which women should live for 35 years.

It’s not easy carrying the standard for middle-aged refuseniks and she gets it wrong sometimes, no question, but let’s not knock her for testing the ground so we don’t have to. Here are just a few of the things we have learned courtesy of Madonna in the past decade or so:

  • You can dye your hair to hell, wear it any length, but on no account should you attempt plaits.
  • Leather fine, biker jacket fine, but studs or serious zips/hardware in general somehow does not work. A sheared sheepskin collar and lapels mind you. Why not?
  • Anything cowgirl – e.g. denim jackets, fringe jackets, plaid, chunky belt (remember Madonna’s full Country and Western moment was 10 years ago) but maybe not all that plus cowboy boots.
  •  Leather trousers. But not spray-on leather trousers, even if you are fit as Madonna. Never – and never with a leather jacket. u You can get your legs out provided you don’t get your top out at the same time and you’re wearing great tights.
  • Hats can misfire. Hats sometimes make a woman close to Madonna’s age look like a dowager.
  •  You can definitely overdo plastic surgery.