You see them at the school gate and pass them in the supermarket: midlife women who wear their clothes like a badge of honour, declaring their allegiance to their chosen style tribe.
Donna McCulloch, a visiting lecturer at London’s Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, comes across these devoted gangs of fashion-conscious over-40s in her work as a stylist and fashion editor – and knows how to spot them from a mile off.
Championing 24/7 athleisurewear is The Gym Bunny, who works, sleeps and eats in her £88 Lululemon Align leggings and favourite Sweaty Betty jumper. Is she on her way to her next barre class? Maybe. But more often than not she simply wants to look like she is.
The Gym Bunny ranks have swelled during the pandemic as we’ve all discovered the joy of putting comfort over style, but has come at the expensive of good old fashion glamour.
At the other end of the scale are the Designer Darlings who won’t leave the house unless they’re head-to-toe in logos (even if her favourite handbag was bought from TK Maxx).
ESCPAED TO THE COUNTRY: Hunter wellies instead of heels? Check. Boden catalogue? Check. New puppy to go with their new country life? Check. Devotees model themselves on celebs like Sarah Beeny, 50, pictured, who have built their brand around country living
DESIGNER DARLING: Kris Jenner, 66, pictured in head-to-toe Burberry, flies the flag for Designer Darlings who won’t be caught dead in high street labels
STARE, I DON’T CARE: She might be 56, but Liz Hurley has a body that’s the envy of women half her age – and is proud to show it off in short-shorts and skimpy bikinis. Members of this tribe are similarly non-conformist and don’t bow to societal expectations. Midlife mini skirt, anyone?
Style tribes have only become more pronounced since the start of the pandemic, Donna explains, because working from home has given us the freedom to wear what we want, when we want, and fewer social engagements means fewer dress codes to negotiate.
‘How we dress, what we wear and what style means to us has changed immeasurably,’ Donna told FEMAIL. ‘If our pre 2020 selves could see us now, they’d be in for a surprise.
‘Gone are the work uniforms we slavishly wore (but actually made our lives easier as we didn’t have to think too much about what to wear) as many of us now work from home.’
The result is the emergence of five dominant style tribes, who are more entrenched in their fashion world view than ever before. Here, Donna, who shares her work on Instagram, breaks down each tribe – and how to spot if you’re a member…
Escaped To The Country
Country chic! Kate Middleton’s casual outfits perfectly embody Escape To The Country. When she’s not in London, she’s cavorting across the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk
From school run to Zoom room: Escape To The Country fans rely on staples like a classic blouse, jeans and boots to take them through the day, as seen on Helen Skelton
Channeling their inner Kate: Escape To The Country converts are inspired by famous faces like Kate Humble, who have live a wholesome life in Breton stripes and Boden in the country
They left the Big Smoke during the pandemic, swapped their Louboutins for Hunters and the high-flying city job for a cosy fireside cottage. And they bought a puppy in the process.
With money to spend and only a short drive from their favourite chains, these dressers can be found exclusively at Boden and Joules, although they might pop into Anthropologie for a night out look.
They spend a lot of time walking the dog and/or their children, which they balance with working part-time from home.
Their wardrobe swaps between their school run Breton stripe top and the go-to blouses they wear to chair those endless Zoom meetings.
When it’s time for a getaway, they like a continental camping holiday where they can load up the Range Rover and head across the channel for a fortnight of animal and child-friendly campsite activities.
Sarah Beeney is their ultimate inspo and they just signed up for a bee keeping course.
The Gym Bunny
Ultimate fitspo: Davina McCall, 54, pictured, is the poster girl for The Gym Bunny gang, who live in their Sweaty Betty tops and Lululemon leggings. Above, Davina in her own clothing range
Fitness first: Nicole Scherzinger, 43, is often spotted in her workout gear on Instagram
Keeping up with Kate! Gym Bunnies swear by Fabletics, the exercise wear company founded by Kate Hudson, 42
Sure, now we’re all wearing leggings 24/7.
But before athleisurewear became cool – and socially acceptable – The Gym Bunny was flying the flag for living in exercise gear.
Fitness-obsessed, and maybe even a PT, the Gym Bunny is one of the few tribes who hasn’t seen a significant change to their wardrobes over the last 24 months because they embraced it before it was even a thing.
But months without any reason to swap the sweats for something structured does mean that their wardrobe is pretty one dimensional – even more so than it was before the pandemic hit.
For their sweatshirts, tank tops and trainers, they swear by high-end brands like Sweaty Betty and Lululemon, and make sure they always have something new coming in with a £49-a-month VIP Fabletics membership.
When they’re not busy at a barre/spin/body pump class, they’re booking in their next escape to a yoga retreat in Andalusia. Their poster girl? Davina McCall, 54, who keeps them inspired with her enviably toned physique on Insta.
Big name brands: Designer Darlings take a leaf out of Jennifer Lopez’s fashion book and like to step out with an It Bag on their arm. Above, JLo, 52, with a chic Fendi number in New York
Seriously Posh: Victoria Beckham, 47, loves designer labels so much she created her own!
All that glitters: Beyonce, 40, is never afraid to go head-to-toe designer, as in this Balenciaga x Gucci ensemble
Style simply isn’t head to toe branded designer pieces, but don’t tell these girls that. If it isn’t branded, they aren’t interested.
Inspired by the ultimate Designer Darling, queen Kris Jenner, this tribe may scream money, but the reality is that more often than not their big name brands are bought on a budget.
You’ll find them in the premium brands aisle at TK Maxx, sourcing their next Michael Kors bag, jacket and shoes, or scouring eBay for discounted designer goods.
They hated lockdown perhaps more than any other tribe because they couldn’t showcase their latest designer find.
Now, however, they’re in luck. There are plenty of social engagements in the calendar and maybe even a trip to Dubai, to join their fellow Designer Darlings on the beach.
If it’s not there then they might book a flight to the US to check out those designer outlet malls. With an empty suitcase for all of their bargains, of course!
Stare, I Don’t Care!
Forever Young: Believers in the ‘Stare, I Don’t Care’ mantra look to the ever-stylish Kate Moss, 48, for inspiration. They refuse to throw out the denim shorts and platforms of their youth
Fifty and fabulous! Amanda Holden is known for her bright, figure-flattering wardrobe
Feeling herself: Britney Spears is only just 40, but she’s rediscovering the freedom over her body she enjoyed in her 20s and is a poster girl for the Stare, I Don’t Care crew
This is the tribe who, in their 40s are unashamedly dressing for themselves and not anyone else.
These are the archetypal Gen X women who grew up with The Spice Girls and SATC and don’t conform to any societal norms about what a woman, should or should not wear past a certain age.
Denim shorts over 40? Check, a neon shoe? Check again.
They routinely embarrass their teenage daughters even though those self same daughters will rifle through their 90s & noughties clothing stash on a daily basis.
This woman is not going to go gently into that good night and her wardrobe is a mix of high street (Zara) and high end (Vivienne Westwood).
This woman thinks Kate Moss is boss and her favourite place in the world is Pikes, Ibiza. She is more often than not, a Stylist or Make up Artist.
The Eco Warrior
Feeling green: Sienna Miller, 40, right, with Poppy Delevingne, was an early adopter of the Eco Warrior trend, which now boasts its own sprawling tribe
Leading by example: Angelina Jolie, 46, and her children have championed recycled garments at recent film premieres, with her daughters re-wearing some of her old favourites
The queen of going green! Clothes by Stella McCartney, 50, are essential for Eco Warriors
With the state of the planet at the forefront of their mind, the Eco Warrior puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to purchases and will usually have the disposable income to do so, often working in the creative industries.
And contrary to popular opinion, sustainable fashion isn’t all hemp tunics in varying shades of khaki. Think investment pieces, capsule wardrobes and less is more.
The eco warrior will wax lyrical about green fashion and encourage you to use the rental apps such as By Rotation and My Wardrobe HQ.
But they can also be found in charity shops sourcing vintage gems and at brands such as Baujken, Frame and Stella McCartney.
Boho lovers such as Sienna Miller were early adopters of the Eco Fashion movement and actress, Emma Watson is a big advocate for green fashion on the red carpet.
The eco warrior isn’t a fan of holidaying abroad, that would be too big a carbon footprint, opting instead for a green getaway, glamping or hanging out (not literally) at a tree house, ideally in Cornwall or Scotland.
Sustainable fashion doesn’t come cheap, this is the absolute opposite of fast fashion and they can be evangelical about the true cost of fashion but they have a point and maybe we all need to reflect on what we wear as we ‘add to cart’ on an item we aren’t that sure about.