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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wear What You Like

For the last few months, I've been chewing on the question of whether there's an "appropriate" way to dress once you hit your 40s, your 50s, etc. Or more accurately, if there's an appropriate way for women to dress, since the "what to wear now that I'm X age" question seems much more live for women for a variety of reasons (women being under more scrutiny, women having a lot more sartorial options in general, women having to deal with all manner of aging-related cultural bullshit that men seem much more free from).

Thus far, I've pretty much felt like everyone should wear what they want to wear and fuck the rest of the world if they don't like it. The tarted-up rebel gang who went by the name Sluts Against Rape was one of my favorite aspects of the annual Take Back the Night March back in grad school, and I've always been annoyed when people tsk tsk at hem length or cleavage depth. When bare midriffs became status quo among teenage girls back in the aughts, I was rather pleased to see girls with round bellies letting their round bellies hang out of their shirts. And I don't recall ever looking at a middle-aged woman when I was in my twenties or thirties and thinking Hm. That's a bit young for her.

But in the last few months, partly as a result of conversations I've had with various friends, thought-provoking questions brought up over at DoctorMama, and random overheard comments, and partly because I'm now in my 40s and finding my self questioning whether I can still pull off spaghetti straps, I've begun contemplating whether there are sartorial lines that can't in good taste be crossed by women of a certain age.

And I've pretty much decided that no, there are not. Women of whatever age should wear whatever the hell they want, and if anyone doesn't like it they can piss up a rope.

I have, however, come up with a few guidelines, which I've developed mostly for myself as I continue on toward a middle-age I intend to make as funky, fun, and sexy as I can while still meeting my basic responsibilities as a mother, teacher, and citizen, but which I will also share with you:

* Don't worry about what other people think of what you're wearing. If you love it, go for it. If someone says something snarky about your look behind your back, there's probably more going on than their disapproval at your choice of clothes. (I've noticed that the women I'm close to, who are mostly not "what not to wear" types, only really lay into another woman's choice of clothing when they dislike her or have some other issue with her. I have also found that I am quite capable of sneering at another woman's look, despite my generally laissez faire attitude toward other people's clothes, if I think she's an asshole.)

* Wear what you're comfortable in. If you feel good in it, chances are you'll look good in it. If it's physically uncomfortable, forget about it. And if it exposes a feature that you don't really like to have exposed, don't wear it, even if you find it cute or sexy in theory.

* If you end up wearing something you're not actually comfortable in, try to fake it 'til you can change. I always feel sad for actresses who go on talk shows wearing really short skirts or low-cut tops then spend the entire interview pulling at their hems or fiddling with their necklines. If your skirt feels too short, keep your hands off it and attempt to relax and pull it off for today or tonight. Then get rid of that skirt so you don't end up going out again in something you're not actually comfortable in. (Note: the "rock it for tonight" strategy does not work with high heels. Nothing looks less sexy than someone hobbling down the street or wobbling across the room. I personally don't like to wear shoes that I couldn't run in if I suddenly had to, but if you love heels, just make sure you can actually walk in them.)

* Create your own individual style. One thing I've noticed since I've been contemplating this age-and-clothes issue is that women who wear clothes that may seem in some superficial way to be "too young" for them (because they're too form-fitting, too skin-revealing, too flouncy, too cute, whatever) seem to pull it off when it's part of a look that seems distinctive. Whereas women who look like they nabbed their entire outfit off a mannequin at American Eagle Outfitters tend to look like they're trying to look younger than they are, rather than just wearing clothes they like and feel good in. Note: I'm not saying don't shop at American Eagle Outfitters or the Limited or the juniors section at whatever department store you frequent. But when you do, go in there with your own wordly, nuanced sense of style that you've been developing over the years, and pick individual items that can work with your style. One way to say this is that younger women have the luxury of being cookie-cutter cute if they want to. It works for them (if they're willing to settle for pretty boring, or boring pretty), whereas older women don't so much have that luxury. But another way to say it is that those of us who were born before 1976 have more aesthetic experience and a deeper sense of lived fashion history to draw on. Let's not just settle for whatever crap the mall is offering up this year.

That's what I'm thinking right now. What do you think?


Anonymous DoctorMama said...

"I have also found that I am quite capable of sneering at another woman's look, despite my generally laissez faire attitude toward other people's clothes, if I think she's an asshole."

I'm glad you said this, because it makes *me* feel like less of an asshole. I realize that these are the people I pick on - but I also pick on their choices in many other ways. It feels right/wrong. It feels specifically right and generally wrong. As in writing, the concrete example is more helpful than the generic "she's an asshole." But in general, it seems anti-feminist to snipe about another woman's clothing choices.

I know I already beat this to death, but I have been thinking more on it. I like your guidelines. For me, I realize that it IS okay to dress so as not to make someone else uncomfortable, depending on the person. Patients and students are vulnerable and I don't want to freak them out.

But I do not care if someone I have no responsibility toward is tsk-tsking about my outfit.

Also I'm totally with you on the showing the rounded belly. Makes me happy to see a girl be confident that way.

7:10 AM  
Blogger E. said...

I agree that it's worth thinking about your responsibilities toward others when you get dressed. Obviously, professional attire is a whole other question, and too complex to discuss here (esp. since it varies from profession to profession). My standards are different for school-day attire versus kicking around the house or the neighborhood. But there are lots of situations where context changes what's "comfortable" for you. I dress a little differently when I'm at my in-laws than I do when I'm home, mostly b/c if I sense that they're uncomfortable with what I'm wearing, I won't be comfortable myself. But I recall that I didn't worry too much about what my old boyfriend's mom thought about my clothes, b/c I knew she had crazy standards for "modest" attire and I wasn't willing to dress like a nun in order to make her comfortable. Context is everything.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So happy you decided spaghetti straps are OK for you, since I'm definitely still into wearing them. It would be kind of odd if I did and you didn't, yes?

yr ma

7:37 PM  
Anonymous DoctorMama said...

No, it wouldn't be odd at all, yr ma! My ma is a little freaked that I'm going white while she's still "blonde," but she looks good that way, and I, well, I don't care.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous power of white teeth said...

Do what you want and always be happy about it!

11:05 PM  
Anonymous top pills said...

I think that 2 important reason are women being under more scrutiny and women having a lot .... you are right , wear what you like... be happy !

7:36 AM  

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