Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Why You Should Dress Your Age
Mr. E took this pic a couple of nights ago, after i'd finished cutting his hair out on the patio. This day was a scorcher and i didn't want to be trying to concentrate in the heat, so we waited until 8:30pm to get started, when the mercury had dropped to a mere 88F. I wanted to take advantage of the light to cut Mr. E's hair, and waited until that was done to request a photo or two. When Mr. E started getting close to the ground in order to capture a 'monumental' vibe, it was fun to play along and channel a different me. Plus, and i know this goes against the common wisdom that all style bloggers are narcissicists who love nothing more than the mirror, it gets a bit wearying looking at the same mug day after day. At the same time, it keeps me on my toes trying to mix up the photos a bit!
This top is another Sorbetto, which i actually finished before the 'dandelion' one. Truthfully, i was making this one more along the lines of a muslin and didn't have high hopes about loving it overmuch. But the fabric was paid for and it had been sitting in the laundry basket for a year - nothing ventured, nothing gained. Happily, in addition to getting the fit just where i want it, i also got a top i love! It is great belted, gives a 'mod '60's' vibe when worn out and loose, the print is wonderful and flattering, and the silk bias trim adds a nice contrast and pinch of luxe to your basic tank.
Here's how i wore it earlier in the day for my walk. I enjoyed the echoes of the sleek but practical lines of 1950's women's sportswear. Just a step up from wearing a plain black knit cotton tank, but much more 'me'. I enjoyed wearing it much more with the black skirt, though, as i've had a 'thing' for wearing all-black sleeveless + skirt ensembles during the summer since i was twenty. I remember a look i wore quite a bit around age 23, 24. I'd cut the sleeves off of a ribbed black mercerized cotton sweater to make a tank, and wore it with a wool knit just below the knee straight skirt. Accessories? Black leather pumps with low pointy heels and almond toes, round green lens moutaineering sunglasses (with little leather temple shields grommeted onto the frames), head full of curls and chains chains chains! I wore a similar look to Oakland International Airport back in the day (early 1980's) and set off the metal detector. The security lady took a look at me and gave a little smile and shake of her head. Then she patted me down and waved me on through. I got a LOT of stares - this was definitely pre-9/11.
Which brings us back to the question of whether your age should inform your manner of dress. There's a discussion on just this question right now on the You Look Fab forum, and as usual many ladies say that age shouldn't be a factor in how you dress at all. Now, on an intellectual level i completely understand why they make this argument. Over the decades there has been a load of utter hoo-ha dumped on the 40+ woman consisting of ridiculous 'rules' as to how you should dress. These rules are nasty, and sexist and ageist and no fun and don't even make any sense. In rejecting this flim flam people understandably embrace it's opposite.
But i don't see why your age should not inform your style. Charmingly, my thoughts on this topic are nicely expressed by rae, the youngest contributor to the thread:
"The one thing I would add is that everyone should always be evolving. Most of us don't dress like we did in high school because we are not the same people mentally as we were back then - different priorities, different jobs, different goals, different inspirations. It's not so much breaking "rules" about what age can wear a mini, for example, but becoming out of touch with yourself that can make something look too young."
Exactly. How old you are is part of who you are. Everything in this universe is subject to change, including each of us. I occasionally run across the person who is determined not to change and they scare me. Frankly, the concept of the 'uncanny valley' comes to mind. Changes you make don't have to be drastic or strictly according to Mr. Blackwell's taste, on the contrary i feel that they should have everything to do with you. But if nothing is changing, something's wrong.
I do have a couple of pieces of advice or topics worth considering as a person approaches midlife. Keep an eye out for body changes that may affect how you'd like to dress. Many women find that somewhere in the 40-55 age range their body shape changes (usually the waist thickens a bit, you may find your bust increases, hair may thin, and so on). Less well known, your coloring may shift as well (beyond just more grey hair). Around 40 i found that all of my 'failsafe' makeup colors and products were doing less than nothing for me. I panicked, but i needn't have. I just found new 'failsafe' colors (warmer, clearer tones with less brown) and switched to liquid foundation instead of powder. In the process, i discovered tubing mascara and can now wear mascara daily for the first time in my life - something i'd wanted to do for years.
Other changes i made were more individual. I found that straight up black felt too harsh, which led to a thoroughly enjoyable and productive exploration of prints and colors. My relationship to myself and my goals changed with age as well. This led to my commitment to developing the 'dream wardrobe' i'd fantasized about the whole time i was growing up. I now choose nicer fabrics, splurge on a few dressier pieces, commit to fit and detail, and spend time planning and dreaming about where i want my wardrobe and style to go. In addition to showing myself and others that i value myself enough to make this happen, i find that it's helping me to move forward with other projects in my life as well. What was i waiting for?
I realize that body and philosophical changes take place at various times in life. But certain of these changes are indeed tied to age. And i don't see what the trouble is in acknowledging this. I personally would feel very awkward trying to dress as if my age played no role in my life and who i am. (Not to mention how boring it would be to never change!) Sometimes i wonder if the extreme commitment to 'age doesn't matter!' reflects a bit of the desire to stay young. Or at least to not get 'old'.
But the big reason why i think age matters is the skill and experience i've earned in the style realm and which has come with age. Practicing and studying and making mistakes over decades leads to improvement in any endeavor. Truly, my approach to and appreciation of clothing and style is so much richer and subtler than when i was in my twenties and thirties. It's not like i'm some genius, it's that anyone who puts in years and years studying any subject will achieve a more profound understanding of it. You can get better at it.
Style is so much more fun and satisfying when you're not just fussing with trying to look halfway decent or worrying over what colors you like and how they go together. Knowing what silhouettes will look great on you, what style references will delight you for years, the colors which intrigue you makes shopping much easier, it is true. It also allows you to focus on the details that take your style to another level - how can you use fibre and texture to enhance the color story of a particular outfit? What jewelers make pieces that magically convey your own message? What are the little alterations you can make to clothing (even tees and undies!) that absolutely finesse the fit?
To me, this is the wonderful gift of being older. It is quite possible to become expert at dressing your body, to have developed a great closet, to hone your own style in exquisite detail. I love how this influences my style, even more the style of many other older people i've known through my life. I say let this secret of age out of the closet, and say 'yes!' to dressing your age!