Monday, July 7, 2008

You wear it well

Inspired by materfamilias' touching and observant post pondering whether her beloved dress-leggings-cardi ensemble might be too young for her, I've been thinking about what you have the right to wear at 50+.

Le Duc says "When a woman grows older she has the right to wear things she could not before."


One might wear the items below at 25 or 30, but they have a different effect on a mature woman.

1. Decolleté
Not the tarty old trout look, but the discreet flash of a lace bra.
European women know how to do this (see Catherine Deneuve at left); North American women seem to handle cleavage by thinking "Full-out Ho, here I go!"

A beautiful jacket with a lower-cut shell, or a tailored blouse
with one more button undone is the right of the older woman.

2. Hats
A che
etah cloche, a taupe felt bowler, a wide-brimmed straw with a scarf tied as a band. What looks costumey when younger looks (with the right proportioned clothing) striking when older.

3. Fur
I'm ta
lking real, if you are willing, because a "fun fur" on a 70 year old woman will not work unless she is Iris Apfel.

Several years ago I saw a woman that age wearing an impeccable knee-length mahogany mink coat, low walking shoes and
a ruby red beret. This offhand combination was fantastic; I imprinted it in memory to someday duplicate. Same goes for a fine bag in an (unendangered) exotic skin.

4. Jewelry with presence
My friend Jeri told me about a family wedding she attended, all the matriarchs in their d
iamond rivieres or huge dinner rings.

Her 80 year old aunt wore a damask cocktail suit accessorised with a Schlumberger Bird brooch th
e size of a turkey egg.

The piece shown is French jet and diamante, from Heritage Jewellery Company.


5. Dres
sed Up
This is m
ore an attitude than actual pieces; it's forgoing dress-down when appearing in public or accepting an invitation to someone's home- preferring to be what the French call "sortable".

When my 50+ friend L. came to a dinner party in running shoes and a dress over jeans, I thought, there is a time to dress like a grown woman instead of a grad student, and by 50, the time has long come.

To every dress, there is a season


Probably 30% of the clothes in a typical 'better' department store are ageless: the well-cut trouser and cashmere tee, for example. These classics, in the best quality I can afford, are the foundation. Then I look for twists, updates, amusing details, but not too-junior trends.

Though classic, I avoid menswear; me
ns'-styled jackets make me look like an usher. The preppy young-guy look no longer charms: high crew-neck tees, polo, rugby or button-down shirts, bermuda shorts.

Skull-printed anything, things prefaced with "baby" (tees, pearls, blue), madras, Juicy trac
k suits, smocks, neon colours, bitsy jewelry (much as I like Ten Thousand Things, I need One Big Thing), running shoes for anywhere but the gym, banana clips, and 98% of all denim- over for me.

You can guess I'm not a Charla Krupp fan; I think she looks plastic and hard. Compare to Ellen Burstyn, below, age 76.


15 comments:

greying pixie said...

What a great article! Such a wonderful celebration of maturing gracefully. I agree with all your points on what to wear and what not to - the question is how do we spread the word?

It's so good to read a supporter of real fur. I've spoken to other Canadian ladies with the same attitude. Unfortunately in the UK they are really unpopular, so my mink is only taken out a handful of times each winter. Nevertheless I love it and treasure it and often wear it to annoy self-righteous vegans! How's that for subversive?

materfamilias said...

I've embraced hat-wearing the last few years, exercising my mature woman's right, I guess! And I do exercise my right to dress up for events for which other women might choose to dress down (although perhaps not as much as you might do in Toronto -- dressing up is context-specific, don't you think?). I also exercise my right to keep my shoes on when I arrive, expecting that my guests will also be mature and, dare I say, sophisticated enough to be willing to tolerate my heels. (The shoe-removal episode of Sex and the City was one of my favourites ever.)

Duchesse said...

GP: The fur issue deeply divides people here and I anticipated some very critical comments. I buy used or recyled, a compromise unacceptable to no-fur people, but one I'll live with.

ma: My remarks about making an effort re city-specific, though I'm still annoyed in the country if people show up for dinner and aren't what my mother called 'slicked up'.

Heartily agree about shoes! We were invited to a party and told could not wear fragrance or shoes- declined the invitation.

greying pixie said...

The trouble is that no-fur people tend to speak from a position of ignorance. I, too, only have second-hand fur coats, one (mink) I wear and one (wolf) I use as a bed throw in winter. Not only is fur ecologically completely sound, but I have not found anything as warm or as comfortable. Maybe if more people wore them we could cut down on central heating bills and carbon emissions that are speeding the planet's demise.

Mardel said...

Wonderful post! I have embraced hat wearing again the past year or two, loving them in my early 20's, then feeling they looked childish or too much like a costume, and now feeling that I have grown back into them. As to jewelry, tiny was never my thing as I have always felt that when one is tall, tiny jewelry just gets lost; again now I am growing into the jewelry.

It is too bad that the fur issue divides people so much.

I can't imagine no shoes and no perfume. I too would opt to stay home.

Some other things are more person specific though. I have a dear friend, well over 50 and an artist, who looks fabulous in dresses over jeans, often layered with other pieces and worn with very fierce boots or sandals and statement jewelry. The look is somewhat over the top, not sloppy, and she looks fabulous. Although perhaps the reason it works is because the entire look is more finished.

I suppose a little polish never hurts anyone, but it seems that the way we edit our look becomes more important.

when I could pull off that

Duchesse said...

mardel: Your friend sounds wonderfully dressed. I realize it's the scuffed, ratty running shoes, that mostly evoked my reaction to my dinner guest's attire.

Patricia said...

Regardiing shoes in the house, I remember when I first went to live in Germany from the UK. I was living in a small town which happened to have the main army base for the Canadian Forces in Germany (yes, I eventually married one of those guys!). I remember the first time I had some Canadian friends over and they took their shoes off at the door - this was a revelation to me! Of course, why wouldn't you? When I think about all the things your shoes come into contact with throughout the day! However, I do take the point of shoes completing an outfit, and Carrie did look so teeny tiny without hers. Here in Budapest all our floors are tiled, so I'm not so worried about it, plus my kids no longer crawl around. However, we still take our shoes off, and do so in other people's houses, unless they say not to. Patricia (over from Materfamilias' blog)

greying pixie said...

I think the shoe thing is a matter of culture. In Japan and India it would be considered extremely discourteous not to. At my local Buddhist Center it is the same. But to enter a Western household surely it is a matter of common sense, ie. if your shoes are dirty and/or the carpet is white (it can happen!) then do it until stopped by your host/hostess.

Anjela said...

Totally love your posting and agree on the shoes and furs.....

The runners look lovely on children and also I used to buy Dr Peppers high tops available in lovely red leather and yellow with grey -The children loved them....But adults in sneakers socially look dreadful...I think. Though having said that I found a really nice pair of Nike Stella Mc Cartney sneakers- white and cream. They look great for a person who dislikes sneakers. I can even wear them in place of my usual wellies (Too hot right now for the Hunter's Wellies)

Sometimes, I think I should join most women in my town- Frumpy in Winter and shorts with fanny packs in Summer- hair short as a boy and glasses with strings attached.

I come home and wanna jump out a window- what happened to simple chic. What happened to white capris and strappy sandals (No, they don't have to be heeled) and a simple t shirt or Facconable shirt.

Don't these people have mirrors? I think shorts are adorable on little boys with a polo shirt or on boys of any age but pleaseeeeeeeeee, there should be a cut off age for shorts- No matter how lovely a body is, shorts on a GROWN man or woman are an affront to the senses.
Perhaps they could be a contraceptive device. Like a chastity belt of old. Or we could ship them to third world countries..... like we did the awful Dalkon Shield.

Oh and another thing that needs to be dumped are the obligatory Halloween, Easter and Christmas sweaters and attendant jewelry.
I threw out some clothes that I no longer liked the other day- I had worn them a lot so didn't feel comfortable foisting them off on some poor woman who might need clothes. Or on a shelter or to the local abused woman's center. (Why should they be abused twice)
A girlfriend said 'But what you no longer like might be perfect for someone else" "No" I said" it will just bring home to them their plight. Their sense of hand me downs. The clothes line stops here. If I am tired of it, the world is tired of it"
It/they make wonderful polishing cloths.

Anjela said...

I can't edit on this computer...I meant Doc Martens children's shoes.

Duchesse said...

Anjela: My boys wore Docs too. Now they wear skateboard shoes that last a quarter as long.

Holiday sweaters- never got why grown women want to dress as Christmas decorations- and I'm guessing yours were gifts.

It's so wonderful to receive your comments here, dear A.

Patricia and GP: I'm Canadian and I deeply want people to keep their shoes on, except for (outerwear boots) or if it's muddy. I have other Canadian friends who maintain 'shoe free' houses.
It seems either tied to class here (the mansions rarely have a pile of shoes at the door) or lifestyle (the more Birkenstocks worn among residents, the more likely they will be removed).

greying pixie said...

Yes, I didn't dare write it, but I was thinking it - Western shoe etiquette is definitely linked to class, although class is not necessarily linked to the size of your house!

Regarding bothering to make the effort - I am reminded of my mother during my teenage years. She used to teach Italian at adult education evening classes and would always always dress well to go to work - well tailored suit, silk blouse, gorgeous Italian shoes and of course Italian snakeskin handbag. When I was 15 I went with her in order to gain an academic qualification in Italian. I was horrified on the first week of the semester to see people turning up in jeans and trainers and mentioned this to my mother. Her reply - don't worry, they'll change. And sure enough, by the end of the course everyone was making an effort, taking the lead from my mother.

So I believe it can be contageous, we just have to keep up the standards girls!

Duchesse said...

GP: I love the story about your mother- they learned more than Italian!

When I see a person over 80 making an effort, I know from my mother and her friends the grit behind it, the sheer will, and the enjoyment of a pretty dress or sweater even if the body inside is bent and shaky.

Anjela said...

I must do an add on here.
Today I saw a photograph in The Daily Mail (UK online) showing my old boss, Rod Stewart and wife. I know I said I abhor shorts but, I take it back. I love how he looks in white shorts and a Ralph Lauren shirt, long sleeved. What a lovely man.....I had never noticed his legs before.
Hmmmmmm

Duchesse said...

Anjela: I appreciate the reference this add-on provides! I'm guessing that was an interesting job.

"A little out of time, but I don't mind..."