Sunday, September 11, 2016

How I Moved On From My What Not To Wear Style

[ed. Never saw What Not To Wear, but I like this woman's perspective. See also: Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women.]

At my age, if you aren’t Oprah or a man, the stigma of getting older starts to take shape. I’m 47. I am seriously and officially middle-aged. Like, deep into it. I'm here, but heck if I know how I got here so fast. I certainly don’t feel it. In a sense, I’ve grown up without becoming a conventional grown-up. Meaning, I’m not married. I don’t have kids, a second home, or a mortgage. I don’t run an office full of employees. I don’t go to the same job every day. And because of this, sometimes people (myself included) find it hard to measure my value without the traditional milestones of a life lived or a collection of identifiable CliffsNotes at the ready.

There are moments when this unconventional approach to aging feels freeing, and I can romanticize it. Not being able to be labeled so easily has its advantages. I’m a curiosity of sorts. I’m a mystery. An enigma. People seemingly want to know more about me, because I haven’t played by conventional social rules. I don’t “act” my age. That was cute when I was the precocious youngest woman in the room. It can be equally as enticing as the oldest. But my point is that I am usually the oldest in the room these days. Almost all my friends are younger than I am. I simply don’t have as much in common with friends my age who got married and had kids. My younger friends haven’t had to make these life choices yet. They enjoy the kind of freedom that I do. But for all my freedom, as I age, I’m not always sure where or with whom I belong. I’m a new classification of person, really. And like anything new, the unknown can feel a bit scary.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm happy with where I'm at. I am very proud of my career and all that I’ve accomplished. I get joy from work, and that probably keeps me somewhat youthful in disposition. But there seemed to be so much time back when I was 32. It wasn’t this “decision” written in stone that I wouldn’t get married or have kids. Maybe I still will. What has happened is I’ve had to let go of the age when all things were possible (32) and started to look at what is (47). I am part of the first generation of women not truly dependent on anyone. My feminist mom was married, had kids, got divorced, and made a career for herself. Does only being able to check the last box make me a pariah or a pioneer? Because in my opinion, they dress differently, I can tell you that.

One thing I am sure of: I didn’t really start to think about my age until I started to feel that all clothes were not appropriate for me. Now, of course, not all clothes and not all trends are appropriate for everyone. I spent years and years telling everybody yes to this, no to that. But when I started to ask myself if a dress was too short or showed too much skin or the eyeshadow I wanted was a little too bright, I realized my style wasn’t in Kansas anymore. (Or maybe it was only allowed in Kansas. Hard to say. Not sure where I was going with this metaphor.) I’ve been dying to wear that LoveShackFancy pink cotton tiered halter minidress that I got at the sample sale. But every time I put it on I laugh, proof positive that my brain has NOT caught up to my age. She (my young girl brain) still loves too much sparkle and skirts that twirl. But at 47, I really don’t want to go for a Suicide Squad-Harley Quinn-looking pouf skirt. (I know, she wears underwear most of the movie, but you get my point.) For me, that dress simply reinforces that I may not act my age, but I can’t avoid aging. I can make choices that allow me connections with people younger than myself, but I am no longer young.  (...)

It isn’t simply that I no longer play by the gender rulebook, it’s that the rules suddenly feel stacked against me. We still live in a culture where men grow more handsome, distinguished, and even trustworthy with age. Women are not afforded the same. Sociobiologically speaking, in caveman days, if we could no longer bear children our use-value dropped sharply and inevitably. And it was rather convenient that our lifespans were short enough that we would generally die soon after childbearing age anyway. So what’s a modern-day woman, who could live to be 120, going to do with all this extra time in the middle? In the middle of the middle? Current culture leads me to believe I’m supposed to attempt to look 25 for the next 50 years. Even if we’re past bearing children, are we meant to look as if we still can? Is that what Botox and fillers and peels and exercising 11 times a week are meant to do for us? Hang on. What?

What’s so bad about growing older when it’s revered in almost every society except ours? (All of you who hate my gray streak because you say it makes me look "old"? I don’t see why that can’t be a compliment.) Of course we want to stay strong and healthy as long as possible, but young? Why don’t we embrace age for all of its positive attributes? Because to value those things above youth and a particular kind of beauty requires a change in thinking (and seeing) much like changing the way we perceive a woman like me. You don’t need to ask me about my feelings on marriage or children. You can invite me over to dinner parties, even when it’s just married couples. (I have a boyfriend, but even if I didn’t!) Really! It’s okay! You can ask me about politics, the stock market, the best movies of the 1970s, what I think of this election, and of course whether or not you should keep the dress you wore once three years ago. (The answer to that is OF COURSE NOT.) I don’t want to be defined by my age. But I consider it to be a great asset. You can ask me about heartbreak and disappointment, about triumph and fear and courage. I’ve had more experience with it because I’ve had more TIME to have experience. And I want my style to reflect that experience.

by Stacy London, Refinery29 |  Read more:
Image: Winnie Au