Style: It’s Not Just for the Young

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These photos were taken on an extraordinary Sunday afternoon in Napa. Pictured are my friends Hilary (left) and Kiky (right), and I’m in the middle. I’m sharing them here for several reasons:

  • The sky doesn’t get much bluer than this.
  • The joy in the three faces is almost tangible.
  • We each embrace our own style.
  • We are all over 60, proving that getting older doesn’t mean getting frumpy…or conservative…or boring…or invisible.

Life. Is. Good.

Aging without a Road Map

Think about it for a minute: baby boomers are the first generation of women who are moving into maturity without role models. As we enter our 50s and 60s, we cannot look at what our mothers were like at the same age and say, “Yep. that’s going to be me.”

The boomers I know are far more focused on fitness and healthful eating than the generations before them, and whether it’s a testament to good genes or clean living, we all look younger and are more vital than our mothers. That’s the good news. The bad news is: what can we expect as we get older…and older…and older?

In truth, we are aging by the seat of our pants. Our mothers had their mothers to look to for what to expect. Our daughters have us, and if they’re paying attention, they’re learning that it’s possible to run marathons at 55, have a book published at 58, and play the romantic lead in a movie at 61.

But we boomers are a generation stuck in the no-definitive-answers zone, not knowing what’s lurking around the next corner as we make our way toward our golden years.

In truth, it will be a very different journey for all of us. Genetics and lifestyle will certainly affect the paths our lives will take. In spite of the variables, we will all share the not-knowing part…the unexpected, unpredictable changes that will appear as we continue to move forward. The road is not well lit–heck, there are no street lights at all!–so we’re left to make our way through the dark.

In situations like these, it’s good that we have each other.

Style Attitude–It Can Make or Break Your Look

Very often, women of a certain age worry that what they’re wearing might be too young. On many of our mature sisters, that concern magically–tragically–moves from the outfit to the face, where their uncertainty shines like a beacon. Am I too old to wear this? their expressions ask. Their clothes become costumes when confidence and conviction aren’t there to make the look work.

On other women, their belief in themselves is reflected in whatever they wear. I am me. This is me. And they manage to pull off just about anything.

I recently saw a woman, clearly in her 50s, wearing skinny, dark-wash jeans and purple Converse hightops–and she looked fabulous. On someone else, the outfit might have look like the result of a raid on a preteen daughter’s closet, but this woman wore the outfit with style and grace. Something in her demeanor defined the look as all her own, and it’s that something that determines authenticity.

One woman can be dressed head to toe in black and exude elegance. Another can embrace the same color palette and look as if she’s bound for a Goth funeral. It’s all about the attitude.

Take this woman, for example:

The prairie-esque black dress…the chunky, voluminous sweater…the military-inspired boots…the knit tights…the funky necklace and ring, which convention would say should not be worn together…even the black nail polish which is usually taboo except on the young…these disparate elements all combine to create a high-fashion look. Why? Because the wearer says so. It’s in the way she carries herself and in the way she looks at the world, which defines how the world looks at her.

Buying Cheap–It Just Doesn’t Pay

When I was a little girl, my mother took me to our area’s finer shops to buy clothes. It’s not that we were rolling in disposable income, but she was a firm believer in quality over quantity. So instead of three inexpensive dresses, I might get one really good dress that would last until I outgrew it.

When I was older and started shopping on my own, my mom reminded me of her theory. Lines such as, “Cheap clothes don’t hang well, and they certainly don’t last” swam through my head whenever I walked into a store.

Even now, as a woman of a certain age, I still hear her words when I’m considering a purchase. Oh sure, I’m a big fan of places like Target for workout clothes and T-shirts (the store’s tissue Ts are among my favorites), but for more serious clothes, I usually go higher end.

But then, I blew it.

Two weeks before leaving for New York, I decided that my travel wardrobe needed a boyfriend blazer. I’d seen these slightly oversized jackets online and in catalogs, and I liked how they add polish and a bit of dressiness to a pair of jeans. I jumped on the Nordstrom Web site and found this one by Necessary Objects:


It was in the junior department, it was only $58, and it was made of polyester, rayon, and spandex. The fabric content sounded dreadful and I wasn’t crazy about the fact that it didn’t have any buttons, but the price appealed to me and I liked the idea that it would be delivered to my door well before I had to pack. So I ordered it in black.

The jacket was certainly cute enough. It looked good with both blue and black jeans, and the striped lining really popped when I rolled up the sleeves. I didn’t particularly like the sheen of the fabric, but I thought I’d be fine if I stayed out of direct sunlight.

Three days into my trip, the lining of the blazer took a nosedive. It ballooned below the hemline like the jacket of a tacky, shiny, man’s suit. Since I tend to travel with equipment for any clothing emergency, I doctored it with my stash of safety pins and hoped for the best. All the while, that little voice in my head kept repeating, “You shouldn’t have bought such a cheap jacket–and you’re wearing pins, fer gawd’s sake!”

As soon as I returned home, the blazer went straight back to Nordstrom. The store has the best customer service in the retail world, and they took it back with no questions asked.

But I still wanted a jacket just like it. Fortunately, in Nordstrom’s grown-up department, I found this by Kenna-T:


It’s a lovely tropical wool–four times the price at $238. But what a difference! Even though it has the same menswear look, the drape has a body consciousness that keeps it from looking like I swiped it from my husband’s closet. The armholes are cut higher, which visually elongates the body. It also has a single button that just seems to add a certain polish and finish. Best of all, it will likely look great for years.

So lesson learned–loud and clear. Cheap clothes will always perform like cheap clothes, and I simply don’t want to deal with a wardrobe that falls apart. Mom was right when she said that a few good items will serve you far better than a closet full of junk.

An Ode to Aging

Aging is a state of mind
Be wise—avoid the mental bind
There’s really nothing new to fear
It’s just another stinkin’ year.

Okay…it’s true your boobs will drop
Your bones will start to crack and pop
Your brain goes soft, your gums recede
You can’t remember if you’ve peed.

Your hair goes thin atop your head
And sprouts up someplace else instead
Your vision blurs, your hearing fades
You’ve lost the point of panty raids.

You’re gray in places no one sees
Small mounds of fat embrace your knees
Your feet get wide, your butt keeps pace
You’re winded if you hum in place.

But keep in mind it could be worse
A gypsy could intone a curse
A witch could cast an evil spell
A warlock damn you straight to hell.

Instead it’s just an aging thing
With many years to dance and sing
Your book of life’s not nearly shut
You’ve still got lots of stuff to strut!

A New Brand of Youth

The aging process. Dontcha just love it? As women, we spend years convincing ourselves that we look good—better than good, dammit!—and then one day the mirror reflects back a face we hardly recognize. (“Mom? Is that you?”)

We realize we can no longer pretend that the eighteen-year-old supermarket checker finds us mysterious and intriguing and sexy, albeit in a Mrs. Robertson sort of way. (Okay, I’ll own that one, and it happened a very long time ago.) We have crow’s feet, laugh lines, and jowls. Sure, we’ve earned them. And yes, they are indeed a testament to a life well lived. But they are also visible proof that we are no longer young. On the outside, anyway.

It’s time for denial to pack its bags (of course, it will graciously leave behind the ones under our eyes) and slip from our mindset for good. We’re older. We’re different. It’s a fact of life, and it’s not going to change.

Basically, we have two choices. We can spend gazillions of dollars on cosmetic surgeries—or we can genteelly slip into a new brand of youth. The latter is all about being open to new things…to listening to what others have to say…to being willing to consider a different perspective…to reflect an inner spirit that absolutely shines with agelessness and wonder.

Sounds to me like it’s worth a try.

How to Avoid the Invisibility of Aging

As “women of a certain age,” many of us fear the curse of invisibility. Our challenge is to find ways to move past the wrinkles and age spots and gray roots and get people to actually see us—and all the wisdom and talent we have amassed over the years. Ours is not a culture that universally celebrates its elders. When the outer shell begins to wither and fade, the glory and beauty that remain inside often go unnoticed. We know we’re still fabulous…and the people who love us realize it…but what about everyone else? What about the generations coming up behind us? Do the women who are not our daughters even see us?

By the time we reach our fifties, most of us have moved past the competitive phase of our femaleness. When we see an attractive younger woman, we admire her beauty instead of envying her blush of youth. And perhaps it is within these vibrant women that we’ll find the answers to our questions.

Take Angie, for example. She’s a striking young woman in my spin class—tall, slender, and leggy—with a figure that does great justice to fitted bike shorts and little tank tops. For months we spent two days a week in the same room at the same time, yet we never spoke. One day after class, I approached her and announced straightforwardly (and perhaps a little goofily), “Excuse me, but you have the body I’ve wanted since fourth grade.” She grinned, then laughed, then said my compliment came at the perfect time because she’d been having a difficult day. Now Angie and I chat on a regular basis, strangers no longer.

Then there’s Carolyn, a lovely Scandinavian woman who’s forty and looks about thirty. Nearly young enough to be my daughter, I assumed I’d never even trigger her friend meter. But one day before spin, as she was about to take her little boy into the daycare room, I commented on how much he reminded me of my own blond-banged son at that age. We ended up mounting side-by-side bikes and chatting during the parts of the class when we could actually speak without gasping. After that day, we sought one another out at the beginning of class. Within a week, we’d made plans to socialize beyond the gym. One event led to another, and we decided to take a chance and introduce our husbands. Now the four of us are frequent companions, and Carolyn and I rarely go a day or two without speaking. She has, in fact, become one of my closest friends.

As time has passed, the act of reaching out to younger women has evolved into a way of life. I relish sharing their attitudes and energies, and I love the wonderful generational overlap that allows our lives to traverse and mesh in such mutually rewarding ways.

Sliding into Sixty

I honestly don’t know how it happened. I swear 40 wasn’t that long ago. And inside I’m still 25. So what’s the deal with this 60 thing?

I used to like telling people my age. It was a kick to see the surprise on their faces when I cockily announced, “Heh, I’m 57.” My all-time favorite response was from a young woman in my spin class who looked at me incredulously and said simply, “Get out!”

“Well, gee – it is dark in here,” I replied modestly, but deep down her comment made me feel giddy. Age’ll never get to me, I thought. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I drew from an Italians-only gene pool, whose surface was marked by a slick of olive oil. For nearly 30 years I wore that shiny badge of heritage on my face, only to emerge in my forties with the relatively unlined skin my mother always promised. My Mediterranean ancestry helped me out in the sun-abuse department, as well. My days of using baby oil and iodine as my only barrier against UV rays left me with less age spots than might be expected, and I gleefully referred to the ones I had as “freckles.” I might have gone on with that delusion for the rest of my life, were it not for an episode that occurred when I was in my late fifties.

I was sitting on the exam table in my dermatologist’s office, waiting for him to arrive for my annual lemme-look-at-every-inch-of-your-skin examination. His young assistant was entertaining me with small talk, when she suddenly pointed to the little brown garden on my chest and asked, “Do those spots bother you? ‘Cause we can fix ‘em, ya know.”

Bye, bye, freckles. Hello, Fraxel.

Looking back, that might have been the pivotal moment when my mindset started its subtle, but definitive, shift. I finally came face to face with the fact that I can no longer count on perky breasts or long, glossy hair to open doors of attention or opportunity. These days, the best I can do in the physical department is flex a moderately impressive biceps, whose majesty is somewhat dampened by the bat wing of skin that sways gently beneath it. And so what? This stage of life is not about youthful beauty.

It’s about the incredible feeling I get when I successfully add ten pounds to the bench-press bar…or when one of my 50-something friends runs her sixth marathon…or when another cycles 100 miles for leukemia…or when another travels to India with Freedom from Hunger to encourage teenage girls to stay in school. And I realize with an enormous flush of pride that we are wickedly wondrous women.

So bring on the turn of the calendar page. We “women of a certain age” are ready to respond with dignity and grace.