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 —

Another birthday

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.” — Samuel Ullman

My birthday rolled around again this week. As I do annually during the first week of August, I take stock of everything that’s happened over the past year. I ask myself where I’ve fallen short or succeeded — but mostly consider what I’ve learned along the way.

Smack in the middle of my fifties now, I’ve finally accepted my imperfections and my weird streak. It’s been a struggle, but I’m also at peace with the idea that not everyone on Earth is going to like me or my ideas.  A woman whose political views I admire once pointed out that if everyone adores you, it’s likely that you don’t have a spine — or any opinions worth defending. I’d rather keep my spine and my opinions.

That said, I don’t ever want to stop growing, changing, and attempting to improve. With that in mind, here are a few things I want to keep working on in the coming year….

Curiosity. One of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury goes like this: “Life is trying things to see if they work.” Enthusiasm and curiosity demand a lot of energy — but they keep everyone young in spirit. I’m finding that it helps to hang around with creative people who take risks, seize their passions, try new things, and encourage others to do the same.

Patience. Growing up in the age of instant gratification, I have to keep reminding myself that waiting isn’t such a bad thing. Sometimes I need to chill. Anything worth its salt — including well-written articles, durable relationships, and a great marriage — takes a fair amount of time. And patience. The older I get, the more I appreciate the things I’ve earned through sheer perseverance. But I still need to learn to wait patiently for answers, and to keep the lid sealed on the slow cooker.

Being silly. When I’m at my lowest, it’s usually because I’ve started taking myself way too seriously. And I never cared much for humorless people who take themselves too seriously. I was lucky enough to be raised by a boatload of whimsical Scots who believed that acting silly — really silly — keeps you sane when nothing else makes sense. Now that I’m almost grown up, I know they were spot on.

Listening skills. I’m a talker and a teacher by nature. But as I mature, I hope to become a more accomplished listener and thoughtful conversationalist. My biggest pet peeve is other people who deliver self-absorbed monologues in social situations. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve had to spend with tiresome folks who ramble on and on about their their own stuff — and never ask a single question about my stuff. My new rule of conversation: I must never leave a party, family gathering, lunch date, or interview without knowing at least three new things about the people with whom I’ve spent a few hours. No matter how well I think I know them.

Reality checks. One of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz is when Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals the goofy old guy pretending to be Oz. I’m grateful for every opportunity that serves to zap false illusions and expose the naked emperor. As I age, I hope to have more of these opportunities. This year, I’ve been booked to work as an extra in several feature films and TV episodes. I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking — and human nature. I’ve learned, for instance, that Hollywood is synonymous with hard work, long hours, and sleep deprivation. I’ve met some of the nicest people behind the scenes, and also discovered that real movie stars aren’t quite as glamorous up close as they appear on film. Of course, I knew that all along, but wanted proof. Movie stars are (mostly) regular folks with a knack for high drama. I prefer to be a regular person without the high drama, and I’m ever so grateful I came to that conclusion in my own backyard.

Authenticity. I believe this is the highest quality anyone can aspire to.  As surely as I continue to seek it out in other people and experiences, I must continue to nurture sincerity in myself, in everything I do.

Reading the fine print. I hope to live a healthy life, well into old age, and to die clutching a book in one hand and a real newspaper in the other. I appreciate the Internet and all its wonders, but there isn’t a blog or site in cyberspace that can top or replace the scent of fresh ink on paper, or the discovery of a wonderful novel at my favorite bookstore. This year I must, and will, continue to support the printed word by purchasing newspapers and books and magazines. The employment of many of my dearest (and most respected) friends depends on the endurance and triumph of the printed word. I believe that civilization itself depends on it too.

Appreciation. This has been a year of loss and worry, laced with many reminders to cherish and appreciate the people I love. My father-in-law died in June, and my mother’s health is in question. Meanwhile, a very dear friend is recovering from cancer surgery. Appreciation is the incomparable thrill I get each time I walk through my side door and am reminded of my day-to-day blessings. It’s the sense of comfort that washes over me when I hear my husband breathing next to me, or my son’s voice on the phone. Or when I flip through my address book and glance at the names of the good people I could easily call on for help any time of the day or night. I appreciate every single day and every friend I’m given, and I need to send a thank-you note to the Universe. I really do. — Cindy La Ferle

— Photo: “Crazy Science” by Doug La Ferle —

Living art

To improve the golden moments of opportunity and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of living. — Samuel Johnson

Lately we’ve had some wonderful conversations here about the arts — writing and the visual arts, in particular. But in my view, just as essential to “the great art of living” are several gifts and talents that we sometimes take for granted.

These include cooking, baking, nurturing our relationships — and occasionally pulling out all the stops to host a party for someone we cherish. All of this came to mind last weekend when I attended a tea party honoring my friend Norma, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday.

Since Norma’s birthday falls close to Christmas, her daughter Jan had decided to host the party on a quiet Saturday afternoon in January. Wise move. The tea was held at Norma’s church, and Jan, a talented caterer, made all of the tea sandwiches and baked goods. Everything was perfect, from the coral roses and deliberately mismatched vintage tea cups on the tables to the large gathering of devoted friends who came to celebrate Norma.

Clearly, a party can be a work of art. I’ve known Jan for years, and have always admired the creative sense of style she brings to everything she does. Aside from the pretty tables, Jan also arranged a small gallery of photos chronicling her mother’s life from her girlhood in New England to the present. The photos prompted conversation around the tables, and even those of us who’d known Norma for years got to know her better.

Norma looked more beautiful than ever at her tea party.  Seeing the sheer happiness on her face as she chatted with her guests on Saturday, I was reminded how important it is to celebrate our mothers — and our elder friends — while we can.

Jan is Norma’s only child, and since I’m an only child too, I understand the special closeness of their relationship. My own mother turns 80 in September. Inspired by Jan’s generous spirit, I’m already planning Mom’s birthday party in my head. — CL