I rarely remember every fashion article I read, but it was my 36th birthday. My freshly-printed issue of Elle arrived in the mail. I cracked open the newsprint-smelling pages, and my eye focused on an article about fashion and age in the table of contents.
I don’t remember the author’s name, but I remember thinking that she had lost her mind. She had an epiphany on her 36th birthday. Her style was juvenile and dated. She threw away all of the offending items, especially those of the polka-dotted variety, and built a wardrobe of white tees and black jeans.
What a relief. Aging relegates one to a life of monochronism. I was afraid I would have to wear color for the rest of days.
Although I could argue that black and white are not inherently adult colors or that jeans and tees can be equal to polka dots in juvenility, I will resist. I was so put off by the author’s perspective on age and style that I made it a point to wear a polka-dotted top with a sweetheart neckline to my birthday dinner.
A well-meaning lady I know criticized my love for bold nail polish once. Bold polish is a younger woman’s trend. Mature women wear muted colors.
What’s with the hatred for color as we age?
For the record, I’m not old. I would hardly classify myself as mature. At what age does one become mature anyway? Is it the first sign of a wrinkle or gray hair? My grandmother didn’t gray until her late 60s. Is it the passage into another decade?
Age is ambiguously defined, often by our own socially-constructed perception. I mean, isn’t 50 the new 40?
So as I ripen to the not-so-old age of 38, I have some thoughts about age and style as I teeter perilously close to middle age and, apparently, a life doomed by drab palettes of neutrals. I’m perfectly situated between 35 and 40, the moment when the rules change.
My perspective on fashion and style is this -- it's just fabric. Fashion is a medium of self-expression, but it's not expression of our identity. Fabric cannot change your beliefs, values or status in life. You are not less of a mother based on your wardrobe choices.
Style tends to change, not because we age, but to reflect our change in status. A career woman leaves behind the carefree days of sweats for suits.
There's a danger in equating one's value to clothing. You may view a biker as a criminal; but he may be the sweetest, most giving person you know. Society may view the punk as a slacker, but some of the most intelligent, hard-working people I know have pink hair. To be honest, I would have pink hair if I didn't fear what it would do to my career.
My students encouraged me to wear a tutu. For the record, there is a difference between a tutu and a tulle skirt, but I didn't argue the semantics over the term. It was my birthday. This is the first time I have ever worked on my birthday. Either I could take a personal day or the semester was over by the time the day arrived. As you can tell by the photo, the skirt is very elegant, and I am well-covered. I didn't teach barefoot, all though it wouldn't have been the first time, truthfully.
We place way too much emphasis in the external. We misjudge people by their clothes. We create arbitrary rules based on some internal conflict. Most fashion rules are arbitrary. We create our rules based on our own preferences and mete out those rules in grueling measure. We expect others to live their lives as we live ours.
Isn't part of aging the maturity to understand who we are and embracing our true selves? Following arbitrary rules without questioning their validity is a young woman's trend. Purple lipstick and tutus on your birthday? That's a form of self-expression that says I have earned my degrees and paved my way and am comfortable in my own skin.
Want to wear long hair in your 60s? Go for it. It's your hair. Don't cut it, because your book club says that is what woman your age do.
Don't give up color. If you look good in orange (bless you if you do), wear orange. Mature women should call attention to ourselves. How else will the younger generations notice us and emulate us?
Most importantly, be you no matter your age. I didn't become less me when I put on the tulle skirt or took it off. My class didn't dissolve into anarchy or lose respect for me. Instead, it opened up a discussion about confidence and body positivity. It's a message their 20-year-old souls need to hear. It's a message I need to model and to preach.
(Photo credit: © 2016 Rodrick. Emily Rodrick Photography. Photos used by permission. All rights reserved.)
Published by Heather Leigh Stanley