HELEN MIRREN has played a queen so often, it’s easy to think she’s royalty. In 2003, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, so there’s that, and in 2015 the 72-year-old actress became one of only 23 actors in the world to win acting’s triple crown—an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. She rebels against using the term “anti-aging” in an interview in the September issue of Allure. A champion of women’s rights, she joined the NYC Women’s March in January. A role model for sure, and that’s before we get to chatting about her sense of style.
JANET: Instead of going for the expected glamorous gown, Mirren mixed it up for the Director’s Guild of America Awards last February wearing a shimmery white skirt with silver dots, topped by a simple gray V-neck sweater with silver necklace and drop earrings. Those who don’t like to bare arms, take note. The gray, white and silver complement one another, and the look reads unified. What pops are her eyes and lips. The message: I know what I like and what flatters me and I’m not afraid to experiment.
NANCY: You have to be supremely confident to pull off this understated look. Even now I can hear the stylists clucking about how down-home she looks (and not in an admiring way). I would look as if I had forgotten where I was going! I think it also helps to have a famous face, another attribute most of us are lacking: When the kleiglights hit, all attention is on her wonderful, glowing countenance.
KATHY: I bet the sweater is cashmere. Silk? Whatever. It looks so soft and light. Pairing it with the shimmery skirt is a terrific idea. The combo has a wonderfully dressy/comfy look. I know I harp on comfort (a lot), but I really feel it’s impossible to look good when you aren’t comfortable in your clothes. So many gowns seen on red carpets look so difficult to wear. As if the wearer must spend time worrying about keeping the gown in place. Dame Helen looks as though she could thoroughly enjoy the evening in this combination.
JANET: Looking very Queenie in head-to-toe royal blue, Mirren again pairs a curve-hugging soft-knit long-sleeve cardigan with a skirt, this one shiny and full, with practical pockets. A metallic belt adds a touch of glitz while showing off her trim waist. Pear-shaped dangly sapphire earrings are the perfect matching accessory, along with an over-the-shoulder powder-blue bag that keeps hands free.
NANCY: This look was Oscar de la Renta’s gift to modern woman, here adapted and interpreted by this most-modern woman: an evening dress that’s a comfy sweater on top, a glamorous swish of skirt on bottom and deep pockets in between to let you look as relaxed and elegant as you feel. I can’t quite see a young girl wearing this to a gala; I think she would feel underdressed and unremarkable. But for a woman of standing, of experience and, okay, a fabulous figure, it’s definitely a good way to go. (About that fabulous figure: Some years back, while people [magazines?] were talking about Dame Helen’s “attributes” and how she used to show them off, I was doing a deep dive into old James Mason movies and stumbled upon the 1969 movie “Age of Consent.” In it, James Mason is an aging painter, and Mirren is a wild island girl looking to lock in a sexual rite of passage. So, one day, she waits for him in the surf and then rises slowly from the water, clutching a towel or something and revealing exactly why people have always talked about Helen’s belle poitrine and sensuous hips. It’s always good to go back to the source!)
KATHY: Geesh, she’s gorgeous. Look at the décolleté! Absolutely no call for beauty-enhancing (or distracting) beads on that neckline. She looks beautifully at ease in this monochromatic skirt and top and quite elegant. Even though she’s covered up, her figure isn’t, and there’s a lesson for all of us there: You don’t have to be bare to be beautiful.
JANET: All hail Mirren in this fitted Dolce & Gabbana aubergine knit dress with a flouncy hem, which she wears with black tights instead of more predictable pale hose. A demure look, but the bejeweled pumps and purse provide the sparkle and an Italian fan, the movie prop.
NANCY: Wait a minute. This isn’t the Mirren I know and love. I find the dress contrived, as well as the bag and shoes; probably on-trend, but why? She’s not the Sicilian tart of Dolce and Gabbana’s dreams. Of course she has the figure to pull it off, but I’ll just stand over here on the side and wait until the real Helen Mirren shows up.
KATHY: Let’s talk hair for a moment. I, for one, am weary of seeing long hair all over the place. It’s refreshing to see short locks such as Mirren’s. Her hair always looks fabulous, and I especially like the loose, wispy flip she sports here. They tell us as we age our hair style should get shorter. Okay, I guess I can go with that, but that doesn’t mean it has to look old ladyish, right? Mirren’s certainly doesn’t. Sexy is more like it.
JANET: Proving she’s just a regular dame and that she’s not perpetually red-carpet ready, Mirren turns up backstage before her turn on the runway at Paris Fashion Week wearing a navy blue bouclé biker jacket, long white shirt, jeans with cuffs turned up and suede ankle boots. Note to self and to readers: We can all wear this!
NANCY: She looks great! But can we stop for a moment to acknowledge that America has given the world the single most important piece of clothing . . . ever. Do I exaggerate? Perhaps. But jeans, blue jeans, dungarees, denims, whatever you call them, are tough enough and stylish enough to clothe the world. I know we complain about the ubiquity of jeans, but that’s only when we notice them at all. Most of the time they are the silent soldiers of the fashion army, allowing us to dress them up or down, wear them with a sweatshirt or a bustier, with diamonds or squash blossoms. I’m glad, though, that Dame Helen’s jeans, at least this pair, are not in any way shredded or holey. It’s an affectation that remains weird to my eye, and it would be too much with the fringed, unraveled edges of the tweed jacket.
KATHY: Meh. Maybe any of us could wear this look. However, I’m not so sure we should. But then I’m the one who has that thing against skinny jeans. Just don’t like them. Even when they’re completely intact. Even when they’re on Helen Mirren.
JANET: Who says you can’t walk in a fashion show when you’re 72? Not L’Oréal, which sent a diverse group of about 50 models (featuring the brand’s makeup and the clothing of 15 designers) down the Champs-Elysées. Mirren exchanged her red-carpet looks for black lace-up dress brogues, a dark redingote-style coat with white stitching, wide-legged trousers and a cane she playfully twirled.
KATHY: I wouldn’t wear those pants, and if someone else hadn’t decreed that she wear them Mirren might not either. But you have to hand it to her. She wears them with panache.
NANCY: I bet Kathy’s right, that the L’Oréal stylists put this outfit together for Mirren. The very horizontal pants in particular are a dicey choice, for anyone below 5-foot-11. Mirren is only 5-foot-4; why would they do this to her? She’s giving it her sporty best, but the jeans outfit she wore before or after the show (the previous image) shows more common sense regarding silhouette. In a way it’s the same outfit: jacket, white shirt and pants, proving that fashion is all about the details. (I would wager, though, that she’s sporting the most comfortable shoes on the runway that day!)