Age-appropriate dressing

The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.  ~Judith Regan

Friends, I’m taking time off for a week or so. This essay ran in Strut magazine in the fall of 2007. I’m happy to report that I’ve purchased two military jackets since its publication….

What is hip?

By the time we reach our forties, most of us have discovered that fashion history repeats itself. What goes around comes around – even if we can’t button it across the middle.

This occurred to me last week at the local mall, where I was haunted by the ghosts of my high school wardrobe in every clothing store I visited. There were racks of ruffled skirts and gossamer peasant blouses. Rows of knee-high boots lavished with embroidery. Stacks of jeans dripping with beads and sequins.

My inner teenage girl desperately wanted to buy everything in sight – including the spiffy military jacket that must have been inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders. But the voice of common sense – the voice belonging to my inner middle-aged mom – told me it was time to shop for something more mature. Something “age-appropriate.”

Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been grappling with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. I mean, with Goldie Hawn posing for magazine covers in miniscule tank tops, and Mick Jagger prancing around in the same hip huggers he wore back in 1968, what do fashion editors mean when they tell us to dress our age?

In my early thirties, not long after I became a mother, I went through the obligatory matron phase. Obsessed with parenting duties, I schlepped around grocery stores and school parking lots in oversized T-shirts and ankle-grazing denim jumpers – outfits that made my late Grandma Ruby’s housedresses look seductive. It took years to correct those fashion mistakes, and I have an album of photos to prove it.

Maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits.

Not long ago, a stylish friend in her eighties reminded me that reaching maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with wearing ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits. Echoing the late Coco Chanel, my friend believes that achieving a style of one’s own can take a lifetime – and that a woman should never stop trying. I admire her savoir-faire.

As a young girl, I spent hours reading Seventeen and experimenting with fashion accessories. Clothes were costumes, part of my creativity.  Over the years I tried several different “looks” until I found one that came close to expressing the authentic self I was trying to become.

Today I have no desire to revisit my youth. I don’t miss the insecurities or the acne or the go-go boots. But I do miss the fun I had with fashion when I was 16. I haven’t outgrown my weakness for romantic, handcrafted details — and I’m still crazy about anything vintage.

During our recent visit to the mall, my college-age son asked if we could stop at one of his favorite clothing stores. Walking the aisles, I pointed out that a lot of the merchandise bore an eerie resemblance to outfits his dad and I had worn at his age. (I didn’t even flinch when my son called the style “retro.”) He wandered off to look for a new track jacket while I admired a gorgeous display of hippie jewelry.

“They carry a lot of great stuff,” I told him as we left the store and headed for the mall exit. “But it’s all way too young for me, and I’d look silly in most of it.”

My son rarely has an opinion about women’s fashion – mine or anyone else’s. But this time he repeated verbatim what I always tell him when he asks for my opinion on his clothes.

“If you like it, that’s what matters,” he said, shrugging. And that was all the encouragement I needed. Next week, I’m going back for that cool military jacket.

Need some fashion advice from the experts? For excellent tips on dressing with style after age 40, subscribe to “Fabulous after Forty” online.

–Photo of the invincible Lauren Hutton on the catwalk —

You gotta have friends

It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”  ~John Leonard

All too often, we put our social lives on the back burner because we’re too busy with work or family obligations. Or because we think we have to pull out all the stops to entertain company.

Earlier this year, within a very short period of time, several of my oldest friends buried their beloved parents. With these losses fresh in mind, my friend Debbie (in the photo at left) and I made a pact to get together more often — and to keep it simple.

As the old Beatles song goes, we get by with a little help from our friends. But new research indicates that it goes much deeper than that: An emotionally supportive social network brings us several health benefits. This week’s column on Royal Oak Patch.com is a meditation on the tender topic of friendship. It includes some new resources to help you cultivate, nurture, or weed out your own garden of friends. Please click here to read it. — CL

Art and soul

The eye is meant to see things. The soul is here for its own joy.” –Rumi

RumibetterFor collectors of inspirational quotes, the ecstatic poems of the Persian mystic Rumi are pure gold. I find most of my favorites in one of the finest anthologies of Rumi’s work, The Soul of Rumi, translated by the incredible Coleman Barks. “The Soul is here for its own joy” is such a powerful line that I just had to use it in a collage earlier this year.

Click on the images for a detailed view. You’ll note that the dress was assembled from magazine ads and scraps of wrapping paper. The word “ops” appears on the elbow of the figure. This was totally unintentional; I didn’t notice it until after I layered another coat of glaze on the piece. Talk about a message for a recovering perfectionist!