Is this outfit too Jung on me?

With all the comments about Eccentrics on my blog, Deja Pseu's thoughts, and your forthright comments, I'm wondering "Is this outfit too Jung on me?"

Dr. Jung, why am I trapped in here?
I've been dreaming about shopping, clothes and wandering, lost, in Bloomingdale's. I won't bore you with interpretation (and if you think you might not be bored, I recommend Jungian psychoanalyst James Hollis' book, "Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life".) 

It is Hollis' work, and that of Marion Woodman that inspired this post.
When a woman says "I don't want to dress like a dreary old lady", she means it. And she may mean that on a number of levels. The most obvious concern is that she does not want, as so many commenters said, to "be invisible". 

But: why does she not want to be invisible?

First, because the ultimate invisibility is death. And before that, if you live long enough, comes old age, with its diminished vitality and sexual allure, its inescapable losses. Unless you're sure you'll be reincarnated as a world-class beauty, this is not a thrilling prospect.

Second, every woman hears a profound inner and cultural message: youth is everything we prize– so stay young!

That message is heeded by the ego, the part of the one's consciousness that has worked intently through adolescence and young adulthood to weld a firm, defended, change-averse identity. It is only in midlife, Hollis says, that the ego is strong enough to withstand the issues of life's meaning and our vulnerability, and to face the Shadow, the disowned, shameful, irritating dimensions of ourselves.

While ego strength supports our successes and drive, it is also invested in the status quo, control, self-protection. Invested in running the show, ego does not take kindly to the pain of being told, "As a matter of fact, you don't own the road, missy."

What does this have to do with a dress?

Charles James Four Leaf Clover Dress  
Flooded with the culture's collective worship of youth, the ego tells the woman, "Try to look younger." Fussing about "not being invisible" or "losing your relevance" is the cry of the discomfited ego. 

Fortunately, (according to the Jungians) we have souls, a deeper Self infused by the unconscious and supported by the Universal Essence, God or whatever you call the  supreme life force. 

So whether you are considering a hat with little tentacles all over it or the quietest tweeds, invite your soul to help you choose. Usually that shows up as "Ah. Yes." There is that tangible joy Pseu describes and seeks.

It is time, at midlife, to let the deeper Self shine, whether in gold lamé or grey flannel. When you are as conscious as possible, freed from the cultural clamour, you will chose what pleases you, not what "they are wearing". 

You will remain unconvinced by dictates like those of Hollywood costumer Edith Head in her recently re-released book, "How to Dress for Success", urging you to dress "as young as you can get away with".

We ought not worry about visibility. If we strive for authenticity, for being as awake as we can be, accepting both our gifts and flaws, visibility takes care of itself.

And I wish we would not denigrate aging by refusing its every sign. Ram Dass says it far better than I could:

"Aging is the opportunity for growth. It's the greatest learning we have. All our old desires are off our backs, finally. We're quiet. We aren't dancing to the culture's dream. And we are silent inside. That silence is there so we can hear our intuitive wisdom."

33 comments

coffeeaddict said...

As a society we are obsessed with promulgating the youth myth and burdened with the images of young, sexy, skinny models and actresses.
It isn't only about looking young it's about looking sexy as well. I find it tiresome to be bombarded with images of women showing too much cleavage or wearing too short skirts whether they be 25 or 55.
I think Deja Pseu really nailed it with the term joyful dressing. To be free from the moral constraints and be happy with who we are (young, old, busty, short, plumpy)
And as for the fear of quietly fading away: a much more complex and deeper issue that can't be resolved by wearing a funny hat.

Deja Pseu said...

Stellar post, Duchesse! Yes, it's that dance between the ego and the shadow I've been wrestling with, and you've distilled it down so beautifully here. I'm going to have to read Hollis and Woodman now.

And this,
We ought not worry about visibility. If we strive for authenticity, for being as awake as we can be, accepting both our gifts and flaws, visibility takes care of itself.

I just want to print it out and frame it!!

Artful Lawyer said...

Thank you for reminding me to re-read Hollis. That very book is on my Kindle, I read it in late 2010 during yet another phase of discontent over work life and resulting life direction, and I could do with a re-read now.

I've certainly made some mistakes in joyful dressing, but found some keepers too (textures, some vintage silver jewelry, etc.). One is a work in process....

Mardel said...

I had already planned to reread Hollis and now I must read Woodman as well.

Frankly, I've learned that I for one don't dread invisibility nearly as much as I dread being seen as a kookie old lady or a clown. This does influence my sartorial choices of course, and all that I love a gorgeous stand-out piece (one is enough) there are times where I find that invisibility or at least the quiet unassuming voice offers the most freedom of expression.

Anonymous said...

I will look for the books by Hollis and Woodman, Duchesse, and thanks for that quote from Ram Dass. I'm remembering a scene in a documentary film about his life following a severe stroke. He was visited by the most radiant young woman--his student, I believe, the child of dear friends--who told him about the violent death of her lover in Central America. As she described her struggle to make sense of his murder, Ram Dass followed her words encouragingly, his eyes streaming with tears, his face full of love. I will never forget it, just as I will never recall what clothes they were wearing. Maybe the task of aging is to become less visible, yet more present, for oneself and others.

C.

MeiluMary said...

What I don't understand in a lot of discussion around your recent post and Pseu's (both of which I read with interest), is why, as we age, we should neccessarily wish to dress in a different spirit from that in which we have always dressed. I am 54 and have always liked to dress in a way that stands out a little bit - I'm 6'1" (1.85m) so I stand out anyway, and I've always quite liked that. As I get older, that liking to stand out, hasnt changed. The way in which I choose to do it has changed somewhat (I'm not comfortable in 5" heels any longer - or very tight jeans) but I still like my clothing - my style - if you like - to be abit visually unusual and to draw the eye. Possibly as I get older still, that will change, possibly it won't - but I certainly see no reason why it SHOULD, simply because I'm no longer 25 years old.

Gretchen said...

I'm of the mind one should never look like they're trying too hard...to fit in, nor to stand out...but to, as you say, let one's soul speak, not the outside chatter. Be true to yourself, at any age, and you shall certainly radiate that indescribable glow, "bien dans sa peau." A young girl struggling with a navy suit and pumps is just as sad as the 60+ striving to look like she's still 30. Trust yourself, and you'll know when it's "right" or a costume.

Jane W. said...

This might be the best article on Aging that I've ever read! I'll have to pick up that Hollis book.

Duchesse said...

coffeeaddict: Your last line distills what I'd intended to say.

Deja Pseu: Thanks; I've enjoyed how we have bounced off each other's thoughts.

Mardel: It is true for me too that quiet unassuming pieces offer more freedom. And I think the women who dress in eccentric garb all the time are likely practiced and comfortable doing it, they have built their eye and wardrobe.

C./Anonymous: Oh, I saw that doc! It is the empathic presence, and the connection between them, sheer grace. Your last line is such a gift.

MeiluMary: Hmm, I spent some time thinking abut your comment and what I wore at 25: minis, tiny dresses and coats, and to the theatre, leggings with a man's Victorian nightshirt and over the knee turquoise suede boots.

now I do dress "in a different spirit", more quietly and with far more insistence on quality and fit.

But more significantly, I then literally bought into the idea of consuming, wanting something new, and the latest thing. I was a good little consumer who would drop an entire paycheque on a new outfit- now I am not.

Duchesse said...

Gretchen: Thank you for your point about all ages, well said!

Jane W: I am honoured. Hollis' book is deep and in places unsettling, as he is unafraid to address the struggles of living.

laurieann said...

This has to be my favorite post of yours of all time Duchesse! I've been a fan of the Jungians for decades now and Hollis is one of my favorites. Can honestly say I never thought about the relationship of ego-self in the context of dressing but I can certainly see it now.

For me it comes down to, I Want to Be Seen by Myself. In other words, I want to not be invisible to my 'self.' Make my deeper self easier to access and more integrated into daily life. How we dress can help with that process if we are dressing in accord with who we are becoming.

Like Pseu, I went right for your perfect sentences on visibility. I'm sending it to my therapist.

Belle de Ville said...

Excellent post! Now I need to read Hollis and Woodman.
Thank you for that very touching quote by Ram Dass.
The older I get the more I dress (up or down) for myself, not for what I think others are expecting of me.
But honestly, sometimes I love being invisible and dress accordingly. I don't always need to pronounce myself by dressing to be noticed.

Rubiatonta said...

I read a bit of Hollis today, just before reading this post. Wonderful to be in the same vein. I'm grateful to you for this post.

In my opinion, soulful dressing is a lot like soulful eating (or soulful exercise, soulful communication, etc.). Not so much about should and shouldn't, but about what one really needs and wants to feel fulfilled. Both also require a certain amount of presence, or centeredness, in order to hear the Soul's answer when we ask, "What do I really want?"

Lynda said...

Wonderful post, Duchesse. As I age I find that I dress for myself. I am trying to love my body and dressing it as it is now, not 40 years ago. I will get Hollis's book and put Ram Dass's quote up on my mirror.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

LPC said...

I've been thinking about this a lot, what with letting my long hair go gray. I find I like the way I look in the mirror, and I even feel more beautiful. I certainly look older. But I'd rather look like a hot, remnants of pretty, intelligent, 54-year old than a trying-hard 48-year old.

When I say, "I'm old," and people say, "You're not old," I say back, "Yes I am. I am in very late middle age and coming up to early old age. But old is not bad."

The only bad part about this early old age era is that death is closer. I do not want to die. Not one little bit. And that part is sad, to have to close my eyes forever. But the gray hair, in my opinion, hot. I look like I know something. Which is always sexy.

Susan Tiner said...

I am so glad I found your blog!

I love this post. Must read Hollis and Woodman.

Like Mardel, I prefer quiet and unassuming, for the freedom, and don't mind invisibility at all.

Unlike LPC, I don't mind the thought of death at all. It will come, in its time, at the end of a long journey, and I believe it will feel like coming home.

What I do mind is thought of losing any of the people I love. I shudder to think of it.

Susan said...

LPC, I'm with you---will be 59 in a couple of weeks and letting my long hair turn white. I like it that way and think it fits with my softening face. I like the phrase "remnants of pretty." It sounds charming.

Chicatanyage said...

One of the best pieces of advice I was given by a fantastic coach and mentor I trained with for 7 years was "make friends with your ego". It seems to have worked as I become more harmonious and accepting as the grey hairs (which I actually like) multiply.

materfamilias said...

I'm on holiday, as you know, and trying not to spend too much time reading and commenting on blogs -- not really fair to Pater. But I do want you to know how much I appreciate this post -- we've had some charming conversations here with women in their 70s and 80s, and I continue to think about my mother and his, and my own movement closer to that stage. I find it all quite interesting, honestly. . . not frightening yet, at least.

Duchesse said...

laurieann: I find many concerns about dress are in fact the tip of an iceberg, and the essence is avoided in our culture. Thanks for sending the post along.

Belle: Hollis is the more accessible, but not "pop". I respect that sometimes you like to feel invisible, I feel that way too. It's calm there.

Rubi: Yes, that's true about any activity, I realize from your comment.

Lynda: I am touched that the quote resonated with you. Forty years ago I would not have had these thoughts, either.

LPC: I am moved by your forthright self-honouring. And your reply! I too respond to friends who try to reassure me that I am "not old"; I am, and am lucky to be here.

Susan: My mother said the losses made it easier for her to leave, and I think she meant it.

materfamilias: Know what you mean about blogging or responding while on vacation. Just have fun and I'll catch up with you in a month or so!

Susan said...

Duchesse, I don't understand your comment:


" My mother said the losses made it easier for her to leave, and I think she meant it."

Can you explain. I certainly don't consider having "remnants of beauty" to be a loss. I would consider it a loss if I did not have the opportunity to grow older. Maybe I misunderstood your comment.

Tiffany said...

Fascinating stuff. I think what I am searching for as I get older is what so many others mention, a sense of authenticity. My mother - having been a rather beautiful young woman - strove to maintain youth and visibility, in a way that I found painful to watch. I wish for more grace and authenticity for myself, however they manifest themselves.

Terri said...

Is it possible that our "shadow self" is one who loves to play dress up? I know that I struggle with invisibility...but I also have a renewed sense of my childishness in my "middle age."

william said...

I just want to thank you for this post, Duchesse, and to thank the commenters too. All your remarks resonate with me. Really this is an amazing post. Thank you.

Francie

Duchesse said...

Susan: My comment was in response to yours about "losing the people I love". My mother said that at 99, she had no close friends left, and since she believed she would see them in the next world, the prospect of a reunion made it easier to leave this one.

Tiffany: Trying to retain what we prize is human, but at a certain point, the external beauty of each of us will change. I find people in their 80s and beyond beautiful, but not in the way of youth.

Terri: See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_(psychology)

Francie: Thank you; it was one of those that wrote itself.

LPC said...

Two different Susans, two different remarks, that's the confusion above, I believe.

lagatta à montréal said...

I'll definitely be reading some of these - with the caveat that as a Surrealist, I am rather vehemently anti-Jungian and anti-anything that sneaks in a Soul or supernatural... That does not preclude important insights.

I do fear I'd find some of the stuff rather quietist - I'm more about raging, not going quietly into the night...

I do have practical problems with women almost exactly my age (and I'm a smidgen older than LPC) calling ourselves "old". I'm well aware of lifespans, but also of the very difficult labour market and I refuse absolutely to accept the negatively-connotated label "old" until I have reached the age when I can enjoy some material benefits such as the Canada Pension, reduced public transport fare, etc.

Coffeeaddict, I do want to look sexy. I think being sexual, or "hot" is an important facet of being vital and alive (being a materialist and all). I don't necessarily mean doing the deed - that depends on what is available and whether a relationship available meets our needs - mais de dormir le coeur ouvert. I do think sexiness is very narrowly defined and commoditised nowadays, and it is not just a matter of middle-aged and older women avoiding looking like the proverbial mutton dressed as lamb.

The way teens and very young adult women seem to be expected to dress nowadays has really become a rather cheap display, and I think it is because of the influence of pornography and the idea that everything is for sale.

Very thought-provoking topic.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Depends where you are. When I spent time in Florida with my parents, "senior's discounts" (rental cars, movies, many shops and restaurants) were offered at 55! I am, at 62, getting them now (but more comes to us Canadians at 65; we're moderate in our age categories, too.) I much prefer claiming "old" rather than coy terms like "golden ager" or the worst, references to "68 (or whatever) years young".

Whether one has a soul or not is a matter of belief, but... is there a dark night of the neuron?

Duchesse said...

LPC: Yes, my remark was for Susan Tiner; thanks.

Susan said...

Oh, that's wasn't me that said something about losing the people I love--at least not on this thread. No wonder I was confused. I understand your mother's comment, but just didn't understand it in relation to my post because it was not in response to my post. Thanks for the explanation.

tinyjunco said...

"When a woman says "I don't want to dress like a dreary old lady", she means it. And she may mean that on a number of levels. The most obvious concern is that she does not want, as so many commenters said, to "be invisible"."

huh. to me the most obvious concern is that she doesn't want to be DREARY, as in lacking in fun, or dare i say, 'joy'.

it's interesting to see the vehement aversion that the 'Nowness' video brought up in many people. a chunk of it, imo, comes down to culture, place, context. in Fresno, CA (my birthplace) these ladies would be outrageously out of place. but in NY, they stand out, but not all that much. and others have mentioned the theatre/arts connection.

there seems to be a great attraction to the idea of wisdom, sophistication, and self-containment increasing with one's years. but what if you're a klutz with skin troubles, three hairy dogs, a veggie garden which needs tending, and an absolutely brilliant talent for saying the one true obvious thing that 'everyone' is petrified to mention? my 72 year old mom could dress in subtle silks with one tasteful necklace, she'd no doubt photograph well but i'd wonder 'who the heck IS that woman?'

and she'd be terrified of spilling wine on her blouse.

which is just to say that we're all different, and aging may well increase those differences, rather than smoothing them out. just because something is anathema to you doesn't mean others won't take to it like a duck to water. i don't understand why it bothers anyone else how someone dresses.

re: Mrs. B, i knew one woman of Mrs. B's age who dressed in that very style. she happened to be one of the most notorious attention-hogs i've ever known. what's it all mean? maybe that you can't judge by appearances....

Duchesse said...

tinyjunco: While appearances may be misleading, it is input upon which people make inferences, accurate or not.

Duchesse said...

tinyjunco: Most of my comment above was lost, somehow.

It does not "bother me how someone else dresses", I just don't enjoy the effect. One of the women states she "does not give a shit" what people think, and I am guessing she's not alone.

When I'm around women dressed like them, I can't wait to get away, as I'm uncomfortable being around the stares, even peripherally. And they do get them, even in the middle of NYC.

There are other people I don't like being around for the same reason, for example my sons, who insisted on wearing certain t-shirts when they were teens-and they didn't give a shit what I thought, either.

re "there seems to be a great attraction to the idea of wisdom, sophistication, and self-containment increasing with one's years":

I am attracted to wisdom in others and aspire to glimmers of it myself; it gives me the goal of continued growth.

As I said in the post, the prizing of flamboyance-which I see as the opposing quality to what you call "self-containment" and I would call restraint-is about ego.

Finally, "sophistication" is relative, depends on where you are and how you live. Standing in a vegetable garden, I wouldn't wear silk either.

But I *would* be interested in taking care of my appearance and general health.

Caring about one's appearance shows one is engaged with life. It's one of the signs oncologists look for in patients, and the basis of the Look Good, Feel Better program.

If your 72 year old mother is terrified of spilling wine on her blouse, perhaps a washable knit (and a spray bottle of Wine-Away) would help her feel that she looks great.