Welcome to "Life Lines," a new column on aging gracefully by writer Laura Black.
I wasn’t sure how to dress for a business meeting with a pair of thirty-something women at one of those nouveau coffeehouses. I had my go-to uniforms for board meetings and lunches with contemporaries at the Center Club,—but, these executives were the same age as my kids.
My wardrobe is centered around 40 pairs of black pants—37 of them have elastic waists. (The other three I never wear). Not that I need to justify, but, I need different lengths, fabric weights, and (especially) sizes. They run the gamut from tight-fitting leggings to wide legged, or what we used to call bell bottoms.
I stood in front of my full-length mirror and tried on several black pants and top/jacket combinations. Finally, I settled on a pair of medium weight pants and navy hip-length top. I hoped I looked somewhat stylish. I was tempted to ask Alexa, “Does this make me look old?” And, if she answered, “No,” I would add, “Does it make me look fat?”
In the last few years, like many parts of my body, my confidence in fashion has sagged. My angst is not limited to business meetings with millennials. Simply packing for vacation is cause for confusion. I wonder: Is it okay to wear a fanny pack? How about my extra-wide and super thick Saucony tennis shoes? (Those dainty white sneakers don’t have enough arch support.) And, if it’s hot, can I wear sleeveless tops—even if my underarms jiggle? How about shorts—am I past the age limit? Are capris better? Will they make me look like a Boca Bubbie?
Black-tie events bring a deluge of decisions. Are pantyhose still in? If so, nude or black? Heels are out for me and wedges don’t work either—after a few drinks, they make me wobble. I need flat and fashionable, but wide enough to accommodate custom orthotics. Will I be condemned if I show up in SAS rather than Manolo Blahnik?
Like, technology, I’ve kept-up enough to get by—but always run into problems. The difference is, when my computer freezes, my husband can help. But, where do I turn to find out if eyeliner is in? And, if it is, does it go on both the top and bottom of my lids? How about nail polish? My manicurist suggests blues, greens, and yellows. Does that mean red is a no? Getting more personal—is everything supposed to get waxed?
And, those undergarments—I think they’re called shapers. Admittedly, they’re much better than the old girdles and long-line bras. But, while they suck in my stomach and hips—somehow, like ants in the summer, my fat finds a way to escape. I also tried thongs from Victoria's Secret. I wore a purple pair for a few hours—I just don’t get it. I know my granny panties are not a turn-on; but, my tush is grateful.
Looking for fashion direction, I observe other women in my age group. Some fight like David against the Goliath of aging. They subject their bodies to lifts, tucks, and fillers. They wear jeans with holes and boots without toes. And, many of them carry it off. I don’t.
On the other extreme, are the women who surrender to age without fighting. They wear floral house dresses or fashion favorites from the '70s. They don’t have to lug plastic bags of clothes to Goodwill. For them, nothing is out of style.
The group I most admire have a knack for classic dressing. Their silver hair and designer scarves epitomize elegance. They don’t concern themselves with what’s in—they reach for what’s timeless. They walk tall with confidence and embrace their maturity. I can’t tie a scarf.
I know, I could make an appointment with a fashion consultant. Or, I could study Vogue and shop at Saks. But, whenever I learn the rules, the game changes.—and nobody sends me an alert. More importantly, I don’t care enough to stay up-to-date. As my 10-year-old granddaughter said, when we were shopping for a dress for her lower-school graduation, “I want to be myself, but I don’t want to stick out so much that other people talk.”
When I got to the coffee shop I noticed that one of the millennials was wearing a dress with a denim jacket, the other, jeans and a black top. Between sips of java and bites of avocado toast, we closed a deal.
On the way out, the one in the denim jacket said, “You look great for your age.” In other words, it didn’t matter what I wore—in their eyes, I’m old. And, that’s okay. I realized, my real fear was not fashion; it was marginalization.