Not a Good Look for You
By Lyn May
Really!? Who would say that to anyone? A friend said it to me recently, after dancing around what my reaction might be to having my clothing (just that particular choice?) or my taste in clothing (Was it a general comment?) or my personal style (whoa, mama!) criticized.
Before you ask if I’m still speaking to this person – yes I am. I like her and I found her comment more interesting than hurtful. And, I’m grateful to her because it got me thinking about dressing ourselves, how we look at what others wear, and the effect it has or doesn’t have on us. And, of course, since I look at so much through the prism of my own aging, that factored into my reaction to her comment that something she’d seen me wear a week before was, to her eye, unattractive on me.
One of my responses, after telling her I wasn’t tossing out a beloved skirt because she thought it was unflattering, was to say how much I’ve always loved dressing myself. Of course, as most of us do at least some of the time, I’ve tried on something I thought would look terrific and howled with horror at how terrible I thought I looked. And, who hasn’t been undone by trying to find a swimming suit that hides what you want to hide and shows what you want to show?
The deeper reality is that what we wear matters - to us and others - and says so much about us. Clothing is not a superficial part of self-expression. It is one of our calling cards in the world, just as our skin color is, and I like that. I like making clothing choices that help tell people who I am and what I might be thinking about who I am on that day or in that place.
Her comment reminded me of a life-long battle my mother and I waged, perhaps because the skirt in question is a long, heavy denim skirt. I have, all my life, loved and worn long skirts even when they weren’t “popular.” For some reason, it drove my mother to distraction and she never failed to mention – make that hiss – how unappealing she found my look. I have no idea why it didn’t bother me, but she never stopped making snotty comments and I never stopped ignoring her.
The only thing that took her mind off my occasional long skirt – even when everyone was wearing them – was the pale lipstick phase in the Mary Quant sixties. “You look like you’re DEAD!” she’d snap. “Well, I’m NOT,” I’d snap back.
So, are you ever tempted to tell someone that you think what they’re wearing is unflattering? My friend made me aware that I’m not tempted to do that. I certainly do think it because I’m forever scanning the crowd and making mental comments about what men and women are wearing, including their jewelry. I do note when someone I think of as stylish wears something that seems off-kilter to me. I especially love telling people when I think they look splendid, especially older people because we are so often unseen, even when we look great. My comments have started some delightful conversations with strangers about wardrobing.
If you are criticized how do you evaluate the comment? I was quick to say to my friend that I have no intention of not wearing the skirt (or the blouse) because of what she thought. Here’s why: I like my style and I’m comfortable with it, and I like being at an age and place in life that I don’t have an office dress code to think about. I do a lot of self-evaluating though, based on my age and what I think is appropriate for me.
I mostly hold to my informal rule of not keeping anything I don’t enjoy wearing and I know Marie Kondo would be so irritated to know I don’t love every single thing in my closet. Some I like a lot this year and may or may not love next year. I do push myself away from the “safe” choices most of us are inclined to lean on. It is hard to go wrong with black pants and just about anything. And, when I feel I’ve made bad choices, and I certainly do and always will, I try not to repeat them.
But when I've decided whether I want to blend in or stand out that day, look casual or a bit more "uptown," I can promise that I’m physically comfortable in my clothes (Heaven help us all when our underwear doesn't stand by us.). Once I’m happy with myself, my mind isn’t on how I look to others, and I'm cheeky enough to think that if I think I look good, surely everyone else does too. Apparently not. Recently, someone pointed out that I was wearing my blouse inside out. That cracked me up, but I didn’t feel a need to dash to the bathroom and turn it right side out since, clearly, it looked about the same to me. I’m just out there, moving along in the world as happily oblivious to my “look” on a given day as a crazy woman wrapped head-to-toe in toilet paper.