Post 50, past fashionista

This remark, from hotcha-blogger Style Spy, struck home:
"It seems to me that hard-core fashionistas in their 20's and early 30's these days divide into two camps: those for whom fashion is about showing off their sexy bodies as much as possible, and those for whom fashion is about costuming to a degree that they would look right at home in any number of video games or science fiction movies."

(Shown above, Alexander Wang's "wild power-babe" look,which, according to Style.com "clearly speaks to twentysomethings".)

If I'd ever been a "hard core fashionista" I certainly am not one today. In my 30s I evidently had aspirations, because a friend said recently said that I always wore the latest (if not the most flattering) styles. I shredded paycheques in boutiques and drank white wine spritzers
with the saleswomen on after-work Fridays. The gossip was even hotter than the merch.

I've read those fashion editorials called "Style at Any Age" which assure me that I can wear runway looks by making them age-appropriate. But I don't need Vogue to nudge me into a Donna Karan jacket; I can figure it out by now.

At going on 62, I'm largely uninterested in fashionista fever, by which I mean trophy labels, trends, and costuming myself to look at home for any game other than Texas Hold 'Em, which I play once a month with a rowdy group of women in non-designer jeans.

What still interests me still is beauty. Fashion does not consistently deliver beauty; its primary agenda, to drive the engine of consumption, requires the evocation of desire. If the clothes are merely beautiful, the designer is a sitting duck for a charge of complacency, and soon out the door.

Guy Trebay's "Taming of the Runway" in the October 8, 209 New York Times, quotes Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director of Bloomingdales: "The trick to stimulating the customer is to make her believe she needs to update her wardrobe, to make her feel there is something she needs to have to get that emotional lift."

But if you've developed (or consulted) an aesthetic talent, like Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani clearly has, you will choose what is beautiful on you. Though her clothes are no doubt luxury goods, it's colours that are arresting. The ensemble is classic, the season of acquisition undefinable.
(Photo from The Sartorialist)

You may consult 'fashion', but are not run by it. You begin to notice that those trend reports sound the same year after year: studs, animal prints, dots, military-inspired, neon, statement-this-or-that spin before you like a never-ending roulette wheel.


Life after hard-core: what to care about?

I look for fine fabrics. High-qu
ality materials do not perforce confer beauty, though. I looked through racks of Geiger clothing recently. These Austrian woolens are classic in the extreme: think Eileen Fisher crossed with the von Trapps. They did not incite the slightest flush of clothing lust.


On the literal other hand, I caressed a printed-silk Etro blouse. Perhaps too safe for a fashionista, but I wanted it.

The second aspect of clothes that escape high-fashion fever is wearability, a dreary word compared to fashion. Even its synonyms, utility and longevity sound as exciting as a flannel nightgown. But there it is.

When I regard the vertiginous heels of which Style Spy is so fond–and wears with sirenish aplomb– there's little longing. I need to negotiate subway stairs. For me, they're an impediment, not an accessory.

The code word fashion uses for wearable is classic, and in my 20s and 30s, I remember recoiling. "Classic" was out of it, boring, uninspired. Stores selling classics were to be avoided like kryptonite: goodbye Peck & Peck, hello Paraphernalia.

While classic still invokes fear of the too-safe and matronly, if I see no classic items in a shop, chances are I
am in the land of the short, tight and disposable, and I flee.

"Showing off the sexy body" is relative– showing that you still have a body is more like it— and requires more fabric and different cuts in the sixth decade than the second.
(Shown, Caroline Charles Phyllis tweed jacket, £696.)

I still enjoy a runway slideshow on Style.com or Style Spy's trenchant observations on the latest designers. Each season, fashion rains ideas, colours and cuts, sometimes something wondrous, like this Hermès crocodile coat.

Post-fashionista, I would still sell my mother's china for this Dries Van Noten jacket and skirt, because, if you didn't guess from the audacious colourway who made it, it could be from three different decades. Longevity wrapped in singularity.

And if I'd bought this Van Noten leather skirt in 2008, I'd still be wearing it when I'm seventy.


17 comments

metscan said...

Oh, the part where you wrote about selling your mother´s china, really made me laugh! I would too, and btw van Noten is great; I found a coat and a skirt by him and I really like his style. Etro is familiar too. I have said it before, but I, at this age, feel free to place my euros on quality stuff. I like classic with a modern twist. My clothes have to feel comfortable on me. Naturally I wish my clothes to be beautifully made, starting from the lingerie. Last but not least, I try to keep my wardrobe within a sensible size.

downthegardenpath said...

i love your attitude. registering in at 51 i'm looking looking looking trying to find my way...
i've been reading your posts for some time now and will admit that many of your featured items are far out of my price/lifestyle range but your attitude is priceless!!thanks for your insights .

Maggie said...

Duchesse, the van Noten stuff is fabulous. Like you said...spanning decades actually. All in all, I guess we have to remember that whatever fashion does for us emotionally, it still remains a business and has to be profitable to survive. Hence, as you pointed out, making the consumer think they need to update their wardrobes with the latest items. Maybe my sewing background sets my point of reference, but finding your individual style is the secret. If you can master that, the rest "should" fall into place. But that isn't easy, is it?

lagatta à montréal said...

downthegardenpath, I also have very little money but reading thoughtful blogs about style, fashion and manners is a great way to hone your eye, even if you are shopping at charity shops, church bazaars and end-of-season sales.

I see you live in a small town in Nebraska, so as you say your lifestyle will be very different from someone in Toronto, but these blogs have a lot to say about contnuing to be creative and fully alive in middle age and later.

duchesse, Geiger can be dreadfully dull, but loden coats and jackets pair well with more stylish items. They last forever, and are comfy warm in damp cold weather. I don't like most of what Geiger designs, but occasionally one sees one with a good cut and drape.

Duchesse said...

downthegardenpath: I often feature things I can't afford either! And lagatta is so on to me: build the eye so a thrift store coat jumps out because we recognize the quality. And I would rather buy one good sweater this year than something ho hum. Thanks for the encouragement.

Maggie: I wrecked so much stuff (amid the occasional triumph) when I sewed, in my 20's. If i thought I could be trusted with fine fabrics now, I might return. How I admire skilled sewers.

lagatta: How I would love a loden coat! Honing the eye is everyting, which is why I walked slowly through a Loro Piana trunk show this weekend- despite knowing I could not order anything!

Duchesse said...

metscan: With an unlimited budget Van Noten would be my first stop! As it is, I settle for absorbing lessons. But that leather skirt is in my dreams.

materfamilias said...

So agree with everything you say here -- for the past few years, I've been keeping an eye out for a leather skirt I could wear to my grave (well, for another few decades, at least). That Dries one looks like a keeper!

LPC said...

Couldn't agree more. How to extricate "classic" from the prison of "dowdy?" Perhaps use "beauty" as the weapon. BTW I saw a Dior dress in this month's Allure on Marion Cotillard that was TDF (to die for). It was in a similar vein.

Mardel said...

The Dreis van Noten is fabulous and I lust after Etro, but so much seems geared to the young and trendy or those who think they can still compete. I can look at some of the extreme stuff with an eye to appreciate it in an abstract way, but I wonder what happened to beautiful clothes for those who just want something beautiful and wearable.

When I was young I remember designer clothes that seemed geared at someone older than myself (I'm only 51) and I looked forward to the day when I would be grown up enough to wear those things and possibly to afford them as well. Now that I have arrived, I wonder what happened.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

I think as women get older (in general) they have less time to play with fashion (and often have families that their pay cheque is spent on), they also often lose touch with the latest fashions.

To me fashion is a tool to help people express their inner personality. It's a tool to get ahead (sometimes). There is no point in wearing something that's in fashion if it doesn't suit you - why use a hammer when a screwdriver was the tool you needed?

Duchesse said...

Mardel: I laughed, recalling the suit my mother bought for me to wear at university- when everyone was in jeans! It was way too old for me and now I would love to have it.

Imogen: For me, fashion is a business, style is a tool. And I agree about knowing which one to pick up!

neki desu said...

Hear!hear!
fashion is a business, style is a tool.

Mardel said...

Duchesse, you made me laugh recalling the same thing, the suit and lovely cocktail dress my parents bought me to go to university, my father recalling weekends when he was in college in the late 40's and early 50's. They were too old, and even on weekends no one dressed anymore on college campuses in the 70s. I too wish I had those things now.

Lynda said...

Duchesse, I have learned so much from you. It's the training of the eye to know what is beautiful and classic. I,too, loved the outfit by van Noten..could not afford that but the look and colors are gorgeous. Please keep up your sensible advice.
You indeed helped me so much in finding a good pair of pants for my petite curvy figure. Thanks

MsMaven said...

Great post--thanks for your thoughtful ideas and research.

Anonymous said...

I'm still in my 30s (barely) but after some major life - and body - transformations, I felt as though my time of being a style-lover were long-gone. But reading blogs like yours has helped awaken something within me. Little by little, I am starting to enjoy clothes, makeup and even jewellery again. Often, this pleasure is purely vicarious, but I truly thought my ability to delight in it was dead and buried and so it's wonderful to feel it gently stirring deep in my (slightly saggy) bosom once more. Thank you.

Duchesse said...

Anonymous: Thank you so much.