Karen Arthur presenter of the podcast Menopause Whilst Black talks to This Age Thing about confidence, changing careers later in life and how money can't but style at any age.
Can you tell This Age Thing your name and age?
I’m Karen Arthur and I’m 60.
What does style mean to you, how has it changed with age?
I was a teacher for 28 years before moving into becoming a fashion designer and now a fashion creative. I have sewn since I was 15, having been taught by my Barbadian mother, and I had a small side hustle making bags. But the move to work specifically with women, to create clothes that help them to feel good about themselves happened after my career ended. Funnily enough I wrote a blogpost about style in the days when I wrote blogposts.
…there is something about the wearer’s confidence that shines through any outfit. No matter which size or age you are, body confidence is one of the most effective accessories…
I think that whilst you can be taught to put outfits together, style is more often something that is natural and inherent in some. In the past my style has been pulled together to create a look that placed me either on trend or in charge or both. As I’ve aged and particularly since leaving my teaching career and entering the menopause (yes they were linked) my style is pulled together with clothes and items I love. Whatever I wear there will be a memory, colour, texture or history (mine or others) that makes my pupils dilate and brings me joy. I don’t care what others think of my look. It suits me because it’s what I want to wear. Done.
The menopause has given me a voice I didn’t know I had. I no longer hide behind my clothes. They are a true expression of me – an older Black woman who has no intention of becoming invisible.
If you could change anything about the way people buy and use fashion, what would it be and why?
Stop. Consider. Will you be able to make more than one outfit from it? Will you still want to wear it in 3 or 4 years time? Will it last the distance? Do you know who made it or whether the brand pays fairly? Will you wear it again and again? I’m a big fan of slow fashion and I’m aware that paying more for a garment that comes from an ethical brand is an incredibly privileged stance. So I would ask the questions above. I’d love people to take a moment to think before buying something that they won’t wear or will only make a few items. I also think that saving outfits for best is an outdated concept. We’re just emerging from a global pandemic and most of us know people who didn’t make it through. Life is a special occasion. Wear the posh dress and celebrate yours anytime you feel like it. If that means wearing a ballgown to Sainsburys? Why not?
What (Which?) items in your wardrobe bring you joy?
So so much! The piece of fabric I use as a head wrap slash scarf that I bought 35 years ago and has been on most holidays with me since. Memories woven within that fabric are priceless. The gold nike air max 90s that I bought to wear to my sixtieth birthday party. Because GOLD TRAINERS! The faded orange wooden earrings my eldest daughter brought back from her travels in Vietnam six years ago. The vintage St. Michael red maxi skirt that belonged to my late aunt Monica. And more. Every item has a story.
Do you have a game plan for the future?
Yes and No. Yes because I know that I want to continue to do the things I love, do less and get paid more. I am much more cognisant to my worth these days so I don’t offer my time freely or lightly. No not exactly because life would be so boring if we knew precisely what was going to happen and I don’t believe the universe works that way anyway. There is so much that is out of our control. Have a basic plan then roll with it, say I.
Who or what is the greatest inspiration?
I have several in this category. All women, possibly no surprises there. My Mum because she is the blueprint of the woman I am. My two grown up Girls who have a fearlessness that I am in awe with. My Grandson is a masterclass in living in the moment as all toddlers are. My sister went back to uni and changed her entire career like it was nothing and now works as a registered dietitian in a hospital. I have a hankering for strong women I guess.
Do you ‘follow fashion?’ Do you have a favourite shop or brand?
Absolutely not. I mean I read Guardian Fashion email every week in-between sniggers. Recently they told us all that toner midriffs are back ‘in’. Just f***k off. I like to know what madness is going on in the fashion world. I’m most interested in how brands are becoming more sustainable and paying fair wages. And I love women like Aja Barber who call out ‘greenwashing’ and constantly encourage us all to shop smart.
Do you think style is accessible to every age, and every budget?
Yes. Money cannot buy style. I leave that there.
What would you say to someone who might be thinking about changing careers or starting a new business in later life?
It will sound gib but there’s never a right time. Your ducks will never all be in a row because life doesn’t work that way. Remember that the brain doesn’t know the difference between fear and excitement. Do it.