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 cant 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, Ive 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 Rubys 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 doesnt 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 ones 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 dont 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 havent outgrown my weakness for romantic, handcrafted details — and Im 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 didnt 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 its all way too young for me, and Id look silly in most of it.”

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

“If you like it, thats what matters,” he said, shrugging. And that was all the encouragement I needed. Next week, Im 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 —