Friedman's counsel will evoke two responses: One group will think, Good for her. Enough with the ironic, or infantilizing offerings.
The second camp will say, Nobody puts granny in the corner. If I want to wear lamé leggings as bottoms when I visit my gerontologist, that's my right.
She goes on to list three "golden rules of grown-up garb":
1. Do not distract
Friedman says, "You want people to think about what you say, not what your clothes say." Why put six dangly charms on the handle of a bag?
When I see a certain contingent of older women in outfits louder than a Daft Punk concert, I wonder what they hope to distract from. I don't enjoy it, but there's room for everybody.
The refusal of distraction need not equal dull. I find this woman wears a perfect mix of individuality and discretion: the clothes are absolutely classic but the skirt is a stunner:
|Photo: Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist|
2. Think of your clothes as costume: Friedman says, "Figure out your chosen part, and dress for the part."
I browsed a chic department store with a visiting friend. "I am trying to figure out who I am before I buy any more clothes", she said. The business-casual wardrobe that Mary Pat rolled into retirement had begun to wear out, and she was now choosing from scratch.
At one point she'd thought she'd lose some weight and wear "cute Parasuco jeans", but you know how that ends up. I suggested she try what's worked for me: play a mental movie, or jot down what you're doing in a typical week or two. That's 'your part'. In other words, observe what you do and you'll see who you are.
Then ask yourself if you have those clothes, or if they go on your shopping list. At this point, if your imagination has stalled or your list does not, in Marie Kondo's useful term, "spark joy", build an idea board and consult stellar blogs such as The Vivienne Files to build your eye.
Also figure out what you want to spend. In an ideal world my closet is filled by Stella McCartney, in real life, Muriel Dombret.
When Mary Pat tried the "mind movie" technique, her life required a three-season dress for a number of upcoming occasions, a "classy cardigan" to replace the work jackets, and deep-blue jeans. Mary Pat knows her palette: reds in the burgundy to raspberry spectrum, navy, grey.
She found a dress by Black Halo, whose collection includes designs by Janie Bryant, the former costume designer for Mad Men. For example, the Jackie O dress mercifully does not end at the upper thigh, and Pacific Blue is gentler than black:
The jeans, after many try-ons, turned out to be Levis 414 relaxed straight legs, with no "cute" details, and cut for a woman's body.
She also realized that the black sneaker-style shoes she bought the instant she didn't have to work sparked only mild depression. She needs wide shoes, and was thrilled to find Rockport's Cobb Hill Genevieve bootie, blissfully walkable, with an extra cushioned insole for arch support, and more contemporary than the sneakers:
3. "Learn to iron."
Women over 50 are permitted an eye-roll here, but Friedman has a subtler point: "Well-kept clothes suggest clothes that are valued, which suggests clothes that have been earned, which suggests independence."
Friedman is addressing young adults, but this pertain to 'young elders', too. Once out of the workplace's scrutiny, we can let our shoeshine fade, our sweaters pill because we haven't bothered to get out that little comb thingy.
It's work to take care of a wardrobe, and even to shop for it, another reason to pare down.
Friedman's article took me back to our sons' early adolescent years, when it seemed impossible to convince them to put on a clean shirt for dinners at a good restaurant or friends' homes. Their reflexive response was,"Doesn't matter".
Nature resolved the problem; when girls started to notice them, they started to care. When one of them borrowed Le Duc's copy of "Dressing The Man" by Alan Flusser, we knew he'd grown out of grunge.
As we age, we can fall into thinking, Nobody Will Notice, or swing to the opposite pole: Dammit, I'm Going to Make Them Notice. The former leads to that whiff of neglect, the latter to a getup and possible attention from street photographers.
Comfortable things that please you, suit your personality and life: you may have figured that out for forty or more years of working life, and now have that task again.
So we too are well-served by Friedman's rules—and if you don't like playing by rules, just change the word to "ideas": three ideas about how to accommodate this stage of life.