Friday, February 3, 2012

When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear . . .

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. . . gladiator sandals in France, no matter the age of the woman

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple …” warned poet Jenny Joseph.  She wrote it during an era that women got married, had children, managed households, cut their hair short, and wore incredibly sensible outfits.  Now, we have mothers competing with daughters over who can wear their jeans tighter or their heels higher.  At the opposite spectrum, I can walk into a grocery store and see so many women my age who have surrendered their style to gray fleece comfort.  “Please,” I pray, “don’t let me look like I’ve given up on life.”

My trips to France inspire me because I can travel the entire country and not see one woman in sweat pants or athletic shoes.  They may not be dressed in purple, but they all have style, that unique sense of who they are and what they want to say with their clothes.  There are not teenager clothes here and old lady clothes there in the stores.  There are just beautiful clothes that make you feel like you could float down the street.  Even just draping one of their colorful scarves around my neck quickens my step at home today.

The idea that you don’t have to capitulate to your age is the topic of a fun blog, Advanced Style, by Ari Seth Cohen.  He’s working on a documentary (see the video below) about the uniquely fashionable women of a certain age who stroll the sidewalks of New York City.  One of his spirited characters declares “I dress for the theater of my life every day.”

“Theater of my life.”  What a wonderful sentiment.  My favorite costume ever for my own theater was a jacket I bought when I first became an assistant professor.
 
I bought the jacket when I first started earning real money and didn’t have to shop discount. The wool-blend piece, sans lapels, was adorned with quarter-sized flat pearl buttons down the front and smaller versions on the cuffs.  With bold, oversized black-and-white houndstooth checks, it trumpeted my arrival with threads of fuchsia, pumpkin orange, teal, and Easter-grass green woven through the black rows.
Close-up details
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It marked that I had arrived where I wanted to be in my academic profession.  It set me apart from the typical university wardrobe of olive tweeds and sensible shoes.  I wore it over knit dresses and I wore it with skirts and slacks.  I wore it to mark the blossoming of spring and I wore it to brighten a dreary winter day.  And I wore it because I planned on standing out in my world.  And it did the trick.

On one of the last days I wore it one of my female academic gods walked up to me at an evening party at a professional conference and told me that she like this jacket much better than the blue one I had worn that afternoon at my presentation.  I was floored.  Of course, I would have preferred she told me what she had thought about theories actually raised in my talk, but for now this was enough.  She had been there and she knew who I was and she had noticed.  Next year would be soon enough to dazzle her with my brilliant analysis of the work she had published. 

But next year didn’t come.  I found out I couldn’t have it all.  The children my husband and I had adopted needed me more.  I knew where I had to be.  So I let go of that life I had thought was my destiny for the life that was my reality.  But I couldn’t let go of that jacket.

Fifteen years later it barely fits, but it still hangs there in a back corner of my closet.  Some days it mocks me with what I once was; some days it reminds me of whom I could still be.  But mostly it reminds me not to wait until old to live a life colored in shades of purple, or fuchsia, or teal.  My daughter recently told me I was wearing “mom” glasses.  I think I’ll go out next week and find new frames in blue or green or leopard print.  And maybe I’ll buy some red shoes.

My jacket and my rainbow of scarves from France
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What’s in the back of your closet to remind you of another you? What do you wear that wakes you up and makes you feel young, that makes you ready to face the theater of your life?  Or do you dress strictly for comfort and efficiency?  Which is your favorite stylish lady in Cohen’s video?  Do you wear hats? What about men of a certain age and their fashion choices?  Give us your fashion philosophy in the comments box.

18 comments:

julietgreenwoodauthor said...

Great video!

I love the hats. I think the blue sequined cloche is my favourite. Go, girl, go! And as for the lady who is 90 - stunning!

Because I live in the Welsh mountains, with a highly unpredictable climate,I wear sensible clothes for much of the time. But I love dressing up, especially when I go back to London. I'm in my fifties and just dress the way I love and don't give a hoot what anyone thinks. Mine is colourful and flowing with unashamedly hennaed hair!

Thanks for sharing this. Hurrah for stylish older women. We are not the fashion slaves. We are the best!!

Juliet

Brenda said...

I loved that poem. I bought it for my mom years ago (it was framed) and she asked me, 'you're not old and you are already like the woman this poem is written for..' we laughed because it was so true. What I loved about it ( and I don't think it's age dependent) is that is speaks of being true to yourself and being who you are... Anyho, I do ramble on.. Loved the video. I can't wear hats, although I love them dearly. I still wear my hair way past my shoulders..

nadinefeldman.com said...

This video is so much fun!

In this past year I've added (one) hat other than my usual baseball caps! For a long time I dressed in hiking clothes because they're comfy and, well, I love to hike. In this last year I've added more dresses (great for Houston's heat) and little jackets. I always want my reading glasses to look cute, too!

I've also decided to break the rules and grow my hair. It's long enough now that I can put it up in a French twist or braid or little bun -- it's easy, it looks nice with my face, and it gets the hair off my neck in the heat (great for gardening). As I read this, I realize that I am seeking to combine comfort and ease with looking good.

Julie Farrar said...

Juliet, if I lived in your climate I would go wild with scarves and sweaters. I collect sweaters the way some people collect salt-shakers. Sensible doesn't have to mean colorless.

Brenda, I'm with you on the hair. My sisters are always telling me to cut mine because I'm older, but I love the change of up one day, down the next.

bridgetstraub.com said...

I have a small "Born To Run" Bruce Springsteen sweatshirt that my middle school daughter wants to steal and that I'll probably never be able to wear again, but I love it.

Julie Farrar said...

Oh, yeah, Bridget. I have those concert Ts that are pretty tight, but I'll never give them up. Good times. Nadine, glad you're finding that comfort and looking good are not mutually exclusive. Maybe we should all start and "old ladies" long hair club.

junebug said...

What a fantastic post!! I love it! I rarely find joy in dressing anymore and this is such a great reminder of how fun it can be. Great inspiration.

monicastangledweb said...

Someone once gave me a book with this title. It's a collection of writings, photographs by women and it's wonderful, but then, so is your story of the jacket. Thank you for reminding me of our attachment to certain clothing. I, too, have had my share. ;)

Kat Ward said...

Great post; lots of fun. I'm afraid I have never been an interesting dresser. I'm not one who really likes to shop. I try to keep it real simple with mixings of cream, white, black, chocolate, and maybe a pink and red plaid scarf. If I had my druthers, I would be in sweats all day because they are too comfy, but I do believe in presenting yourself like you actually are happy to be in this big wide world. I'm not here to make a flashy statement, but I do feel like I'm showing myself and those around me some respect when I put myself together before I head out the door. And besides, my teenager daughter is mucho more pleased!

Carrie Daws said...

I am so clothing-impaired!!! I once had a friend who took me shopping to help me find the styles, cuts and colors that fit my body shape and skin tone. She proudly announced -- well, you need jewel tones! Uh, yeah. No idea what that meant! After two hours of trying on clothes and picking out the best of the lot -- I went to a home improvement store and we picked out paint sample cards that I still carry with me to know what colors I should (and should NOT) be looking for! I love style -- I just can't find it for myself! LOL....

Laura@Catharsis said...

I wish I could wear hats. I have an oddly shaped head, so hats don't look good on me. I look back to the days when women wore hats to church, though, and I marvel at their beauty. Comfort is important these days, particularly with my back condition, as I'm sure you know. I don't want to risk hurting myself with a killer pair of heels. In some ways, it's depressing. But in other ways, it's challenging to find the right balance between comfort and style. Recently, some of my students told me I had the best fashion sense of all their teachers. This not only inflated my self-esteem, but it also made me feel less in the dumps about my recent switch to sensible shoes. Apparently, I can look stylish while saving myself from a week of regret.

Julie Farrar said...

Carrie, I love the idea of the paint chips. Kat, you don't need a lot of colors to have style. In France during the summer all the women wear variations on taupe or white (see picture above) but they top it off with great scarves or jewelry -- something I've started adopting. And Laura -- in Dijon, FR all the shoes in the store windows are flat. These women walk EVERYWHERE and it's frequently on cobblestones. So your non-heels are tres chic. As for me, in the winter I love boots with low heels.

Gail said...

Sadly, I am one for comfort. If I dressed the way I felt, it was be in dresses that flow as I walk and colors that quietly announce my presence. I love purple, the color and the poem.

Fantastic piece!

MuMuGB said...

You will truly be French when you can wear a mini when you are a grandmother. Thats one of the reasons why i am getting a British passport!

Julie Farrar said...

LOL! I will NEVER be able to wear a mini again, although I've seen many my age in France wearing them and not looking ridiculous.

thedustbunnychronicles.com said...

I too have a couple of killer suits that are no longer in style but remind me of a professional "me" before scaling back for precisely the same reasons as you.
I also have a pair of "those" jeans. Maybe someday I'll fit into them again, maybe not, but I just can't bear to toss them!

Tami Clayton said...

You have such wonderful posts! I love the sentiment "dressing for the theater of my life", too. Because sometimes my life has as much drama as a theater production! LOL. :)

In the back of my closet are a variety of sundresses - I love wearing dresses in the summer! - most of which are a bit to dressy or revealing for my every day work environment. Every once in while, though, I get bold enough to wear one of them somewhere unexpected - the farmer's market or the library. It's good for them to get out of the house once in a while. :)

Cora said...

I absolutely loved the video, my kind of women. I used to wear a black and white pony skin hat (not real hide) that I loved. Leopard print is another favorite pattern of mine. I don't step out there everyday like that, but it certainly makes the day brighter when I wear something that's out there a bit. Gets the conversation going. Smile.

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