Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Age and Clothes

This is a guest post by Wendy, a menopausemoi supporter and subscriber, in response to my post Style (fashion?) at a Certain Age.  It is somewhat longer than my usual posts, but I have left it intact, as I think she makes some very good points, as well as highlight how attitudes towards clothes, fashion and how we dress have changed over the last couple of generations.  Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that she is my Mum!  Here's Wendy:

I have always believed that, what to wear (i.e. dress sense) in any situation, was a matter of an innate sense of what feels and looks right - maybe nurtured by one’s family.  But of course, not everyone has it – then the question is, if a person doesn’t have any idea how to dress appropriately, is it because they don’t have an innate feeling or because no one nurtured what they were born with?  I think the latter applies. 

I remember back in my early teens the fashion fad was pencil slim, tight skirts that moulded to ones waist, hips and thighs, paired with an off shoulder blouse, fluorescent socks, black flat pumps and the hair worn in a pony tail!  Along with this the girls wore the “waspie” belt – it was black, five inches in depth, made all of elastic and worn tight around the waist!   My mother refused to buy any of it for me!  She said the girls who wore those clothes were “common”.  She would also impress on me that “clothes maketh the man!”  My class at school, like any class in any school in the world, had its share of hard necked girls (and boys) – the ones with the nerve to stand up to the teacher or answer back, formed clicks that everyone wanted to be part of and thought of themselves as “pretty good” or cool as they say today. They were the ones who were always in trouble and if you were part of their circle then you could be tarred with the same brush!  I remember one day one of these girls came to school dressed as I have described above.  Not only was she not wearing uniform, but she had makeup on – foundation, eye shadow, rouge and bright red lipstick.  In those days a big no-no!  When she caught sight of her the teacher saw red.  She dragged her to the washroom, scrubbed her face with water and toilet paper and told her to go home for the day and to make sure the next day she was wearing her uniform! So much for dress sense!  By the way, my mother relented and allowed me to have the fluorescent socks – bright pink ones! 

When I started work, as a junior clerk in an office, I instinctively knew that the correct clothes to wear where nice dresses in the summer and skirts and blouses with cardigans in the winter.  As I worked my way up, I graduated to two-piece suits with matching shoes and bags.  How I loved those suits – I had several – all bought from C & A Modes in Liverpool.  When I was in my twenties, lo and behold skirt hem lines started to go up - the mini had arrived!  Oh wow! I went for it big time and the hot pants that followed!  But again I seemed to know what was tasteful and what was not.  I never bought flashy, garish or brassy – and definitely not blatant!  But my hem line was quite high.  So how did I remain decorous?  Well everyone was wearing minis so I didn’t stand out as extraordinary, but mine were in tasteful colours with blouses bought to tone and my shoes either contrasted the colour or matched.  I didn’t wear plunging necklines and blaring colours that clashed or eye shadow that leapt out at you!  I remember I had a pair of red, hot pants with a white satin blouse and white, knee high, vinyl boots! My hair was blonde and I looked and felt fantastic.  As I said, everyone was wearing the miniskirt but not everybody should have.  I once met a women dressed in a tartan mini who was about 45 year of age, short, plump and frumpy!  The skirt did nothing for her, she just looked ridiculous.  Plus she had dark hair that was too long for her round, chubby face and wore no makeup.  Now if she had chosen a nice, dark pair of pants with a bright coloured top that hung loose to her hips, worn her hair shorter and styled to enhance her bone structure and a touch of makeup with rose coloured lipstick, then she could have looked personable or even attractive. Obviously, she didn’t have the innate sense to know this, or again, maybe no one had ever encouraged her to be aware of the image she was presenting to the world and how it affected the way the world saw her.

How we dress and sally forth into the main stream of humanity says a lot about who we are.  Today, the way a lot of people dress says “I don’t care how I look – don’t even think about the effect I’m having on other people – don’t think enough about myself or have the pride to care.  I’ll just wear what comes to hand every day, whether it’s clean or not – usually jeans that are completely washed out and torn, a dirty, baggy T-shirt and runners that have seen better days and of course a baseball cap, set backwards on my head that is covered with long, greasy hair!”    When you come across them at the shopping mall, in unbelievable numbers, it is depressing.  Whatever happened to the attractive, tasteful and interesting masses?

Referring to your sixtyish lady in the grocery store; as you say, maybe if her hair had been its natural colour with her makeup somewhat understated, she would have looked suitably turned out for one in her age group and something of an example for her peers to follow.  But why couldn’t she see that for herself?  Of course there are people, usually women, who have set themselves up as consultants for fashion and style – they could advise you on what is right for you - at a price.  But are you sure you couldn’t tune in to your innate sense of the appropriate – the right look for you? 

 Remember last year when I purchased a very pretty top that is cut quite low at the front but has three beautiful colours blending into one another?  I needed a new bra too and the sales girl persuaded me that I would look great in one that was made for plunging necklines and had pads that pushed up my boobs into an unbelievable cleavage!  I wore them both on my 70th birthday when the whole family went out for dinner.  But I remember being absolutely grateful that you had bought me that gorgeous lavender, scarf/shawl from Ireland and I could drape it around myself to cover my cleavage, which felt to me way too obvious and totally inappropriate for my age!  I have never been one for displaying my boobs and I guess I am not about to start at this point in my life. So again it comes back to: what is an appropriate way to dress?  And the answer is whatever feels right for you – what has always felt right without too much agonizing, interior debate!

 Do you agree with Wendy, that style comes with nurturing?  Have we gone from being too restrictive to too permissive in what is acceptable to wear in public?  Or is style/fashion cyclical, like so many other things in life?  I'd love to hear from anyone else about this.

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