Suit patterns from Butterick Fashion News, Oct. 1943. The matador hat is probably not suitable for business.
I have been so inspired by reading the Advanced Style book & blog that I wrote a thank-you note to Ari Seth Cohen. [Cohen blogs about older women — some over 100 — who dress with a sense of chic or a sense of fun, or, preferably, both.] I am an “older woman” who simply lost interest in how I look, but after seeing the lively women Cohen photographs, I have been trying to dress better lately — that is, to present myself a little more vividly and accurately. I have always preferred working “backstage” to being “in the spotlight.” However, that’s different from trying to disappear entirely.
Time to Prepare a Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet. . . .
My lack of interest in my public face is probably due to retirement (The recession didn’t help, but I’ve always had one eye on the budget.) When you’re used to working 60 to 70 hour weeks, and juggling several jobs, once you have no schedule at all, and nothing to do that can’t wait until tomorrow, it takes some adjustment. But I should have been equipped for the change.
As I wrote to Ari Seth Cohen,
“It’s ironic, because I am a retired costume designer. I know perfectly well that the way we dress signals the way we expect to be treated.
“I’ve always preferred being backstage, rather than onstage, but I always tried to dress well enough to inspire confidence in actors [and directors] and respect in my students.
“I imagine that a lot of older people have the same problem: when you have always dressed ‘professionally’ — how do you dress when you no longer have a profession? Having no job creates an [unanticipated] identity crisis — best dealt with, I suspect, by finding a new ‘career’ that you make for yourself (artist, mentor, grandma, golfer, gardener, volunteer, blogger, traveler, etc.)”
Becoming an Older Woman Doesn’t Always Come Naturally
Stereotypical Older Women as pictured in an ad for Naptha Soap, Woman’s Home Companion, Nov. 1937. Arsenic and Old Lace, anyone?
I thought of Lynn, who blogs about fashion and American women over 55 at AmericanAgeFashion, and the “older women” discussions she has started. As she has pointed out, being over 55 also means real body-shape changes for women, even those who have always maintained a healthy BMI. (Which I haven’t.) When I’m overweight — which has been too often — shopping is depressing. A few years ago, when I got my weight and fasting glucose results back to where they should be (after months of diet and exercise,) I decided to treat myself to a shopping spree at Nordstrom’s, where I used to buy the backbone of my professional wardrobe. But the year was 2007, and the store was full of retro-hippie clothes! (I wore my full share of paisley prints in the 1960s, but not see-through, sweat-shop-beaded paisley….) I think it’s usually a mistake to wear vintage clothes from an era that you “wore” when you were young — as if you’ve been wearing the same outfits continuously for 50 years. So I headed back to Ross and stocked up on year-old Liz Claiborne slacks and a coordinating jacket. However, now that I don’t have a job to go to, the jacket didn’t get many wearings, even though I live in a sophisticated city.
Some Women Make the Transition to “Retiree Clothing” More Easily
A group of older women wearing their ”nice” dresses — not housedresses –in the 1930s. My grandmother used to attend Whist parties two afternoons a week.
Women like my grandmother, who always wore housedresses in the morning and ‘nice’ day dresses in the afternoon, didn’t have the “who am I, now that I don’t dress for work?” transition to make.
One friend (now 91), who retired from work at an electronics factory almost thirty years ago, eagerly adopted the bright colored, silky athletic “warm up” suits of the 1980s. She was very active, walking miles each day, and the matching color-blocked jackets made them dressy enough for trips to the shopping mall, too. They were perfect for her new daily routine.
Financially secure women, who have always owned a sportier wardrobe for the weekend and vacations, probably transition easily to wearing an expensive weekend wardrobe most days.
Artists go on dressing like artists — whether prosperous and expensively and/or ethnically dressed, or paint stained, with interesting jewelry….
But what about those of us who aren’t used to staying home, but are used to pinching pennies? I don’t have an audience (actors, producers, students, or even sales clerks) to dress for any more. I used to meet dozens (sometimes hundreds) of people in a day. Now there are days when I don’t leave the house. I don’t need to impress anyone. So, who am I? And what shall I wear?
Oh, Dear, What Shall I Wear! a 1946 guide to dress for every occasion by Helen Garnell. Photo courtesy RememberedSummers.com
Trying to Have Fun with Clothes
Part of my image-improvement project is to think of myself as a person who blogs about fashion history, and to start wearing more vivid colors and more vintage accessories — preferably from the twenties, thirties, and forties.
I used to save this black vintage jacket for opening nights. Now, I’m going to wear it out — literally.
Vintage late thirties or forties embroidered black wool coat, probably from China. I live in a city with a large Asian population. No label.
Dragons bring good fortune — and these have turned a bit greenish, but deserve to be seen. The coat is black.
It’s still hard to spend money on things I don’t need. At my age, I’m trying to de-accession, not acquire more stuff that my executor will have to sift through someday!
Besides, instead of spending money on clothes, I have always saved up for travel — living out a of suitcase for months is easy for me. Anything I buy has to work with something I already have. I love scarves because they weigh almost nothing and put some variety into a limited selection of coordinated slacks, tops, and a good “rain or shine” coat.
Seeking a more colorful me, it’s not surprising that I splurged on a turquoise, cerise and emerald green scarf at a vintage store the other day. I was under the influence of Ari Seth Cohen and Advanced Style. (There is now an Advanced Style documentary film. I haven’t seen it yet; click here for more information.)
I don’t care about the vintage or whether it’s silk or not; it will add some zing to my existing wardrobe. Black slacks + any one of these tops I already owned + this scarf = I’m dressed. Colorfully.
I don’t usually write about personal matters, but it occurred to me that there are probably other women of my generation falling into the “I dressed for my job” quandary. The women who always dressed to be sexually attractive probably have a much harder time getting old, but those of us who wanted to be seen as “a professional who happens to be a woman,” can have adjustment problems, too.