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.

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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:

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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:

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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!