Who’s aging gracefully?

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

I get annoyed when the terms “anti-aging” and “age-defying” are used to market products to women who are barely out of high school.

Whether I’m thumbing through fashion/lifestyle magazines or surfing channels on TV, I’m bombarded with images of nubile celebrities touting the wonders of wrinkle creams, facial peels, and eye serums. And I rarely see photos of mature women representing my own middle-aged face or body when I browse through mail-order catalogs targeted to my own demographic.

So, I get the message: She who looks youngest wins.

Two years ago, I tried tackling this issue in one of my weekly columns on midlife issues. As a 50-something journalist, I vowed to join the campaign for honest aging. In my column, I promised to celebrate the beauty of graying temples and applaud the infectious charm of laugh lines. I also admitted that I plan to avoid cosmetic surgery (and that I’m terrified of Botox). I know the cliche is as exhausted as I am after a day of caring for my elderly mom, but I’m seriously trying to grow old gracefully.

“Women can look older and fabulous at the same time,” I wrote in the column. And I wasn’t suggesting that middle-aged women ought to give up on their looks. I even disclosed that my own medicine cabinet is an arsenal of anti-aging weapons. (Right now, there’s a back-up tube of Retinol and an outrageously expensive eye cream that promises to perform miracles just short of raising the dead.)  But I added that we all need to be more realistic — and that we’d all be happier if we paid less attention to the beauty-and-fashion police.

Days after the column was published, I received many grateful notes and comments from women even younger than I am. But soon enough, my editor — a sharp woman in her twenties — e-mailed a disturbing note of caution.

“Were getting complaints from plastic surgeons,” the editor warned me. “With so many plastic surgeons and cosmetic salons as our advertisers, its really important that we cater to them.  So I am asking you to stop writing against face lifts and other cosmetic procedures. You can keep writing about the beauty of midlife, but be sure to say that cosmetic surgery is a good option.”

It was the first time in my 25 years as a columnist that Id been told to alter or censor my editorial opinions.  I was miffed – but not totally surprised. Though Id learned years ago in journalism school that its unethical for editors to allow advertisers to drive their editorial content, experience has taught me that many publications – especially womens magazines – are highly influenced by advertising dollars. The editor who scolded me was simply trying to keep her job.

At 56, I hope to keep working and writing as long as there are markets open to me.  Id like to use my years of experience to enhance the quality of life for other women my age. Yet I know it won’t be easy to write honestly about aging in a culture that worships at the temple of youth. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that the “advice” you read in most beauty and fashion magazines is barely skin deep, if not totally inspired or supported by advertising dollars. — Cindy La Ferle

–A different version of this column originally appeared in the Oakland Press. Photos by Cindy La Ferle–

Vintage duds

Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  ~Mark Twain

I have a love-hate relationship with fashion — or, should I say, fashion trends? I’m suspicious of magazines that try to dictate what’s in and what’s out. And I resent the fashion editors and “style experts” who make me feel old or uncool or unattractive if I’m not following their advice or wearing what they advertise. (Who the heck are these people, anyway?)

Yet I’ve always adored beautifully crafted and unusual clothes, new and old.

I’m especially intrigued by vintage clothing, and for years I’ve haunted thrift shops in search of one-of-a-kind treasures to mix with my own wardrobe basics. What I enjoy most about vintage pieces is how they make an outfit totally personal — especially when combined with something classic or relatively new.

Among my favorite pieces: A vintage Christian Dior tux jacket; a way-cool military style coat with unusual detailing; and a double-breasted black polyester blazer with big buttons, circa 1975. I also own vintage scarves, belts, and evening bags — always handy for jazzing up an outfit. While some of my evening dresses from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are collectibles and not entirely suitable for wearing out, I use and enjoy most of my vintage clothing.

Luckily, I have a large attic for storing my finds. And lately, some of the things I’ve collected have come in handy for my part-time work as a background extra in films.  Typically, background actors are given costume guidelines and asked to bring their own clothes to a shoot. The wardrobe department must approve our choices, or provide another option. The more clothing options we have, the more likely we are to make the production people happy — and ultimately snare more bookings. So it helps to keep a variety of clothing at the ready for this type of work.

Earlier this summer, though, Doug and I were cast in a scene calling for western wear, which sent us on a quick search for western-style shirts and cowboy hats. This isn’t the sort of attire we’d typically sport in suburban Detroit unless we were invited to a Halloween party. So thank goodness for the local thrift shops, which happened to have all kinds of affordable options.

A week later, we were booked for two scenes set in 1980s Paris.  As it happens, I own an Ungaro khaki blazer and a cool trench coat (both thrift-shop finds) from the era. I made a quick trip to the Salvation Army thrift store (during their summer sale) and picked up a couple of 1980s dresses for less than four dollars each.  I brought it all to the fitting with my vintage Chanel scarf — and voila! — the wardrobe people were duly impressed.

Whether I’m shopping for a costume or my personal wardrobe, I carefully examine thrift-shop clothing for damage before I make a purchase. I’m not an accomplished seamstress, but I’m handy with minor repairs and stain removal — and always willing to change buttons.

An added bonus: Some of the best thrift shops in my community support local charities, or are run by charitable organizations. It feels good to know that my purchases will benefit others in need. Fashion is fleeting, after all, and I’m glad I don’t have to break the bank for it.  — Cindy La Ferle

If you’re new to “thrifting” or want to learn more about vintage clothing, start with a copy of The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping, by Melody Fortier, which provides a good introduction and is one of the newer books on the topic.