I’ve always thought of myself as a decisive person. I love Brussels sprouts; don’t like cauliflower. I’m that way with my clothes, too. I look terrible in yellow and most greens, and I just don’t like blues very much. I buy red but it hangs in my closet mostly unworn. I’ve worked much of my adult life and, just like my school days, I always figured out the next day’s wardrobe the night before to avoid those “what to wear” morning blues.
During the years I worked in the corporate or semi-corporate world, I knew enough to dress appropriately, but as I got closer and closer to retirement I began to dream of soft-shouldered, flowing garments with great texture and of dramatic, noticeable jewelry. During the nine years I’ve been semi-retired I’ve transformed my wardrobe into a combination of artsy and conservative clothing, and my continuing work as a communications consultant and occasional television performer has helped keep me up to date on what working woman wear.
Managing my wardrobe has always been fun because I enjoy shopping, love bargains and I’m attracted to pretty things. And, I’m vain enough to care how I look, and I believe the way you look when you walk into a room has a lot to do with what happens to you there.
Like most of us, I don’t cull enough and I keep clothing I like far too long. I’m writing this essay dressed in a wine-colored, tent-like silk dress I’ve owned for twenty years. It used to be my New York dress; now it’s a comfortable, still beloved house dress. Yes, I do own a full-length mirror (I think we all should have three-way mirrors since they’re much less forgiving), and once-in-a-while I’ll put something on, take a look and yelp “yikes!”and into the giveaway bag it goes.
But despite all this organization and awareness, over the last year or so I’ve lost confidence in my “look.” I’m just fine with the realization that I’m an aging woman, and while I still wear the same size I’ve worn for the last three decades, the body under the clothing is different. My breasts are heavier and lower; my tummy softer, my hips wider; and, my waist thicker. Not by much; but by enough. Now, some of what I wear looks different on me than it once did – and not in a good way.
In addition to working harder to get beloved clothing and a changed body in sync, there’s another issue: What is “appropriate” on a nearly-70-year-old woman to who is still interested in fashion? We’ve all seen women my age wearing something that makes us stare and want to throw a blanket over the whole mess. I don’t want to be one of those women.
I resist sinking into the jeans-with-everything syndrome. I think it’s tiresome and unimaginative and way too easy to do. But I’m only a half-step away from jeans in my reliance on black slacks. And, I love pants socks. I’m totally comfortable just about anywhere in black pants, socks, a good-looking shoe, discreet top and a well-cut jacket.
How boring is that?
Because I’ve always resisted being safe and still like a little harmless risk in my life, I’ve decided to step out of my comfort zone and shake up my wardrobe. As a result it is taking me a lot longer to dress these days and it seems harder to get it right. I’m expanding my color palate and working against my “matchy-matchy” habits. To reduce my dependence on pants I’m wearing more skirts, but I’m struggling with what kind of shoe works with skirts since I’ve just about given up anything with a heel.
And what about stockings, for heaven’s sake? It’s getting hard to even find stockings in most stores, and no one seems to wear them anywhere anymore. I certainly have questions about showing my fish underbelly naked legs, not to mention wearing anything sleeveless enough to show my aging, but still reasonably firm upper arms. My mother would be horrified by it all.
But most important is my search for that point where comfort, style and good sense meet. My goal is to continue to enjoy dressing myself; to do it with interest and enthusiasm; to take some fashion risks; but, not so many that I look ridiculous or like I’m trying to hold back time. I’m not.
My age cohorts and I are different than any other generation. We’ve spent decades as workers outside the home, but have also been wives and mothers and busy, active single women. Now, many of us are out of the mainstream – whatever that is – and sometimes we feel invisible and – dare I say it? - FRUMPY!. But we’ve always pushed against ceilings of one kind or another, so figuring out how we want to look at this stage of our lives should be a happy challenge.
Re-vamping my closet, refining my look and taking some chances with my wardrobe as just another way to set an example for those beautiful women coming up behind me – to create a “look” that says I’m still having a good time and that they, too, can look forward to the seventh decade of their lives, not dread it.
As I work my way through this delightful dilemma, I can promise you this: I’m not going to give up my red cowboy boots. Not yet.
BTW: If you have any doubt about the importance of what we wear or its meaning, I recommend the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan piece on the late Dorothy Height (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/28).