Post-menopause: After The Change, hello, more change

There's life after fanning
I went into menopause early, and looking back, it was truly an altered state. Excellent books abound, so I'm going to address what they don't: what happens next.

A woman might be so thrilled to step off the roller-coaster that she doesn't notice the new territory. But she will have new changes to address. 

She is now in the years I call peri-elderhood. The hot flashes, mood swings and insomnia abate, but despite the cessation of night sweats, one is not going back to 40. Dear ones, do not shy from the term.

1. Body shape

Look for the lady with the tape
Whether you have weight gain or not, your body shifts, thanks to gravity and decrease of muscle mass. 

Get a bra fitting. Above a B cup, change your bra every 6-8 months to get unequivocal support. If you were proud that you never needed a bra, consider that even small breasts change shape and placement. A light sports or cami bra will give you a better profile.

Resist cramming into your former size. If your undies or pants are too tight, you'll feel crabby. Your feet might spread, requiring a wider fit.

If you want to reduce your weight, let go of the number you were at 30; set a realistic goal related to health, not dress size. Notice your posture, which completely changes how you look, regardless of weight.

2. Strength and vitality

Maintain muscle
You might experience what I did, a surge in sense of well-being as the menopausal static dies down. Wow, I feel so much better... but then a sneaker wave hits, the awareness that you no longer have the stamina you once did.

An exercise physiologist advised me, "Move it for an hour a day, any way you can." This was probably the best advice I got post-50, and it's still valid.

Peri-elders need to retain muscle mass and strength, so if you only run, walk or cycle, add weight work or weight-bearing exercise like yoga or Pilates. I have 60+ friends devoted to Zumba; the key is finding something you like or at least can stand.

You know about osteoporosis, and you don't want it! But one day you might see a photo and be shocked; debilitation happens gradually. Here's a good summary of preventive steps.

3. Hair

Nora Ephron said, "At 65, Mother Nature gives you a birthday present: a moustache." That "Grow a 'Stache' for Prostate Cancer" is a guy thing. Waxing, electrolysis or laser: name your weapon. 

Your hair may be thinner than before. If you colour your hair deep brown or black, try a shade or two  lighter than your usual or experiment with lowlights, because very dark colours accentuate the scalp, making even slight loss more evident. (See this previous post on thinning hair.)

Try new haircare products; texture can change, too, and you might need masques or different shampoo. Conditioned grey hair looks very different from underfed grey.

4. Face

Annie Liebovitz
The major wrinkles and furrows are now untamed by anything in a jar. Skin care remains important, but reject widespread manipulation of insecurity you'll find in ads that tell us to "fight aging". They remind me of the era when obviously pregnant women were not supposed to be seen in public. To revile age is to reject life.

Annie Leibovitz, 62, said, about the photographs she took for her book "Women" (written with Susan Sontag), "I didn't want to let women down. One of the stereotypes I see breaking is the idea of aging and older women not being beautiful."

At the same time, I have a few acquaintances who look, thanks to eye lifts and jowlectomies, pretty much their age but without the major sags and bags. To each her own, but surgery (especially the anesthesia) terrifies me.

Find something to smile about every day, and frame the smile with a pretty lipcolour. (Even though Annie seems not to wear any, I like it!)

5. Teeth

You now have lower estrogen levels, which can affect bone density, extremely important to your oral health. If you need dental work, don't put it off. (For my money, a better investment than Botox.) Dental faculties of universities often have clinics that offer work at reduced cost if that helps.

Whitened, but not extreme
If you got thorough a sleep-deprived menopause on daily beakers of caffeine (and, I admit, red wine) like I did, bleaching products lift the worst of the damage. 

You don't need to achieve Regis Philbin florescence, but the removal of dingy stains boosts your confidence and looks.

6. Sexual health

If you have a partner or partners, keep talking as well as doing. Your body changes internally as well as externally; topical creams and lubricants are available through online boutiques like the wonderfully-named YesYesYes.
Partner or not, what pleased you in previous decades may no longer, and you might find new modes of expression enjoyable now. I have friends who are contentedly celibate, too.

Partnered women say that addressing the relationship, not just love-making, can be more effective than new techniques or toys. I especially recommend "Passionate Marriage"  by Dr. David Snarch, a wise and deep book.

7. Psychological changes

Menopause can put a very intense focus on one's self: How did I sleep? How could I have forgotten that meeting? What did she mean by that remark? 

Now, fini. With fond respect, it's time to get over the drama.

You are free of the wild mood swings, but you still have moods. Month-old babies, adolescents, the FedEx delivery guy—everybody has moods. Like the weather, moods shift, deepen, dissolve. Without the ceaseless physical static of menopause, you can recognize your moods for what they are, weather.

Figure out what kind of elder you want to become, then live in a way that's consistent with it.

If you wish to deal with deep stuff, it's not too late.
When there are relationships to mend or improve, I recommend Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's  book, "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life", or workshops led by those trained in his approach. (The web site Center for Nonviolent Communication lists events.)

Life holds potential for growth in each stage. There are losses to face, but as Margaret Mead said, "Coming to terms with the rhythms of women's lives means coming to terms with life itself."

If you have suggestions to add, please contribute. I'll re-visit the topic of peri-elderhood on occasion and am grateful for your wisdom.

Stockpiling: When running out is not an option

Do you have a piece of clothing, accessory or cosmetic that you stockpile because What if they stop making it? 

The New York Times recently ran a piece by John Ortved on guys' squirrelling away of identical items, e.g., boxers, the perfect gray sweatshirt, beloved sneakers. Steve Jobs' sister, Mona Simpson, said in her eulogy, "In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church."

Some men profiled stockpile because they hate to shop, but most are like designer Billy Reid, who said, "My reasons usually have to do with availability, especially if I know it won't be produced further..."  

Ortved says, "Women see shopping as an opportunity, a social or even therapeutic activity", but I have stockpiled, too. 

Stockpiling is the well-behaved cousin of hoarding; the purpose isn't possession for possession's sake; you actually use the product.

Nor is it merely stocking up because there's a sale, like you might with toilet paper. You will buy the item at full price (but are happy about finding it discounted). You just need it. There is no magic number for quantity, but you will know it by your drawer corners.

Over the years, I'll admit to stockpiling:

- Lancome Brun Sepia lipstick (When it was discontinued, I bought a dozen tubes on eBay; I'm over it now.)
- A specific Olga bra
- Black trouser jeans (Black washes out from one day to the next.)
- Lindt fleur de sel cocolate bars, hard to find, at least that's my story.

Will they ever come back?
Often, the item is already discontinued when the stockpiling begins: Iris has a long row of shoes by now-defunct designer whom she does not want mentioned. Le Duc hoards bottles of Eau Cendrée cologne, Jacquie rations her bundle of Wolford diamond-patterned tights, last issued circa 1992. 

And dadgummit, wish I'd stockpiled a few bottles of L'Artisan Parfumeur's L'Eau du Navagateur.

But stockpiling ties up cash, and will that loved item still be essential years from now? When I moved, I unearthed a trove of '80s shoulderpad camis. Remember those? You can still buy them, but evidently I thought they might vanish, leaving me devastated and slope-shouldered.

 Anything you'll admit to stockpiling?

"Am I going to have to go to my own funeral naked?"

Lately I don't feel very excited about clothes. Oh, I like them well enough, but can you remember the days when you absolutely ached to own something, or felt such pleasure in your new dress that you were breathless when you put it on?

I don't think I've felt such a frisson since I bought a Parachute pantsuit in 1973; I felt like Bianca Jagger, and probably acted like her, too. Walked into the boutique where it slinked in the window, laid down an unconscionable amount, never a regret.

Maybe that kind of clothes joy is meant to go the way of first nights with a new love, a memory that may be more entertaining in hindsight.

But now I feel more relieved than anything else when I find something I like.

I once stopped in Detroit to visit my 80-something year old Aunt Mabel, a glamourous blonde who was the life of any party for, as it turned out, 102 years. You would have loved her: Lauren Bacall meets June Cleaver. "I am desperate for clothes", she told me in Hudson's parking lot. "Am I going to have to go to my own funeral naked?"

It's getting harder to muster an outfit that delights. Lumpy hems, plastic thread, acrylic fabrics on garments that cost more than a plane ticket to Barcelona.

Maybe, given the boomers shifting up the ladder, someone will get hold of decent textiles and draft patterns for shortening and shifting bodies, for fingers not as nimble as they once were, for hearts still lifted by a beautifully-cut garment.

We need more ageless items, things that don't look like one has given up.

Several nominations, with love to Aunt Mabel (and there better be Old Fashioneds in heaven):

Tweed dangle skirt, Lafayette 148, current season
Yeohlee trench, Spring 2012

Yeohlee silk dress, Spring 2012
Lands' End velvet blazer, current season
Brora mohair coat, current season
Lafayette 148 jacket and shell, current season

Marni Spring 2012

Looks like someone might be catching on?

Recommended: The Gentlewoman

It's gorgeous, quirky, and assertively feminine, as if British Vogue and Ms. had a baby with the dad duty contributed by Tom Ford.

I, who rarely read and reflexively dislike fashion magazines, am addicted after two issues.

The editorial content features women in their own jewelry; the current issue features Italian beauty and jewelery designer Gaia Repossi (yes, that Repossi) who likes to wear her father's bespoke suits, re-tailored for her. (Papa must be quite svelte himself, you can only alter a suit so much.)

Other interview subjects are women of accomplishment, such as Appolonia Poilâne, the 27-year-old Parisienne who has assumed management of her late father's famous bakery, actor Olivia Williams, shown here in a divine Prada black lace dress, and American writer Jennifer Egan.

There's a feature on London magazine editors (shown, Paula Reed), making their way to work while putting on makeup, a light idea beautifully shot (most of the photos are black and white), so engages more than you'd think. I was engrossed by a similar feature in last spring's issue, in which women reported what they did upon rising. Rather like reading a Zen koans, it was oddly comforting.

Another feature shows Designer Roksanda Ilincic at lunch with real-life girlfriends. The fey copy offers luncheon etiquette: "Ordering is a delicate subject when women are lunching. The hostess needs to be thoughtful and volunteer a number of small courses immediately, so no one appears to be out of control for wanting two courses, or on a cycle of self-deprivation for choosing just one."

The Gentlewomen's elegance and deliberate, recherché sensibility is refreshing and slightly intimidating. The same extremely expensive garments (Prada, Stella MacCartney, Trussadri, Hermès, Chloé) that are shown in Vogue are presented here as if a woman getting on with things simply decided to wear her embroidered navy satin neoprene Marc Jacobs pencil skirt. 

Such a skirt can elicit mournful wistfulness for clothes ethereally beautiful but mostly removed from my current life and budget. Still, like an exquisite Japanese garden, they lift the heart.

I'm relieved to be finally spared from seeing everything presented in hyper-saturated fake colours like that celebrity-worshiping mess, InStyle. The simple, sparse layouts and unfussy, straightforward language are worth the price of admission, $13 at my local newsstand.

Snag the spring copy (look for it in April); if you're already a reader, what do you think?

(First four photos courtesy of The Gentlewoman web site; last photo retrieved from's blog.)

Winter wardrobe: Into the dark

Yes. This is the skirt/pant section of my closet. Oh, and those are those multiple hangers; you are looking at at least sixteen black skirts or pants.

When dark falls a short time after the school day and the north wind serves an Arctic Cocktail shaken over ice, I'm living in black, with occasional departures to charcoal or indigo.

Those black pieces are not identical, Duchesse says defensively: leather, jersey, silk, denim in different lengths, cuts, attitudes. 

On top, a sweater like one I'm wearing today, a pink Bompard button-turtle, but below? Dark as the bus stop at 5 p.m.

I've tried to break the habit; exceptions end up under-worn. Forget pale pants unless you have a dry-cleaner in the family. (Probably the most obvious money-is-no-object look I've seen here was a woman negotiating February's slush in oyster grey pants and coat with pale pink suede boots.)

In April, brights burst out of their garment bags, welcome as forsythia and tulips.

In my neighbourhood, two groups of women favour black. One are Hasidic Jews in modest skirts or dresses. They neither change their palette in spring nor punctuate it with a colourful  top.

The other are locals in black jeans, dark dresses worn with long scarves, perhaps leavened by a  dash of patterned tights or flying citron scarf. (This photo is from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but could easily be Montreal's Mile End.)
The convergence of the groups puts more black on display than a Goth festival.

Boden velvet skirt
If tempted to do something wild, say, buy a yellow skirt, I have a nice restorative Manhattan and rethink. Plenty of admiration for this luscious colour— on someone else. Boden call this shade Antique Brass, but on me, more like Antique Ass.

I wore a black skirt, ink sweater and chartreuse jacket to meet a friend for lunch. Waiting for her, I watched women bustle by in blacks and browns, punctuated by the flash of rebel red pants. Oh wait, that's a man in ruby cords!

Lynn arrived in head-to-toe black, leavened by her swath of platinum hair and rose lipstick.

So where are you with black? Embracing, resisting or hopping about on the colour wheel?

Pondering What I Wore (WIW) posts

This is a post inspired by the wonderful Deja Pseu's post about her year-end wardrobe review. I left a comment which I've thought about since:

"I think posting WIWs or WIBs elicits positive comments from women who *adore* the thing, but it still is not right for the poster. It is extremely rare that a commenter will say, "Uh, I don't think so". They don't want to hurt someone's feelings or make us feel worse, because the thing's been bought.

I tried it once (not on your blog) and the poster got so defensive, I thought, Never again. So I now just say something like, "Enjoy!" (Do people want an opinion or just praise?)"

Wait a little minute, I said to myself, after writing that. The enjoyment of praise is only one motive for the WIW post.   

WIWs offer lessons. Women have always studied what other women are wearing for edification. "Oh, look how she ties a scarf; I could try that."  The writer might show how she pairs a years-old sweater with new jeans; this imparts confidence that we can do that, too. WIWs provide vicarious enjoyment: mother-of-bride ensembles, party dresses, what to take on safari–what fun!

Sometimes the writer seeks validation for buying (I couldn't resist this; isn't it cute?) Perhaps she's excited about a bargain and wants to show us her good luck.

Or she has found something she likes and wants to offer you that information, too. (Therefore, here is the Wolff & Descourtis fine wool shawl, which "E.A." asked to see after I named it as one of my five best buys of last year.)

The thin ice is when a writer seeks feedback (Which shoes look better with this dress? Should I keep this jacket?) I've noticed that responses  are sometimes more about the commenter's tastes than the writer's question.

It is here that I find myself challenged, on occasion. If think something's a mistake on her, I struggle with what to say. The real-life girlfriend can cry "No! Not that shade of red!", but should a commenter? I'm most likely to be candid when a writer receives all comments (short of nastiness) with even-handed consideration.

And how useful is my assessment, anyway, when so much is missing from the photo: the woman's animation of the clothes, her gestures, her personality? Haven't you ever passed several hours in rapt conversation and had no idea what your friend wore, once you parted?

Women's insecurities are ratcheted up to bizarre levels by the beauty and fashion industries– do we need more judgment? Or have we become accultured to constant assessment and competition?

When we face ourselves, as well as the camera, strive to please ourselves, rather than others, and feel beautiful in our own skins, regardless of the perfection of any outfit, then What I Wore is simply a record of us, on a given day, showing ourselves to the world. 

Getting and spending: Year-end clothes budget review

Even as sale offers populate like Monster Dough in a fridge, it's time to assess how I did on the clothes and accessories budget in 2011.

2011 report card

Spending: A- 

I track every cent spent on clothing and accessories, and evaluate it yearly. For 2011, I came in at budget, including a spree in Paris. My self-set budget is kind of like Weight Watchers points: I always want more, but if I were super-disciplined I'd manage with less.
Wide-leg trouser jeans
Finally, I slew the Sale Dragon, but I did follow Frugal Scholar's advice (for groceries, but you can apply it to clothes, too). I stockpiled sale-priced black jeans (worn almost every day from Oct. through April) from Talbots and department stores. 

Did I buy "fewer, yet finer" as I vowed at the end of '11? Yes, and at the same time realized, not without a pang, that I no longer need a power suit, an evening dress or even a dressy coat.

Busted myself down to a minus because I didn't save a penny. 

Value: B+

 Pink cardi blitzes winter blues
I ruthlessly assess the ROI for every purchase. But, you've got to relax, sometimes, unless you want a wardrobe exclusively populated by sedate neutrals. Eric Bompard's Oleander pink cashmere cardi is worth every penny when days turn dark by 4:30 p.m., as is a less-costly black turtleneck from Lands' End.

Clinkers: Mauve mod-print summer skirt, bought on sale, goes with little. Sandals that turned out to rub after awhile. Marimekko summer dress that might step up to the plate next spring.

For 2012, I want that A! After three years of tracking and analysis, I hope I've learned something. I'd live with one mistake; perfection is a grim taskmaster.

Advice to myself:

Motion pants; Catherine Andri cardi
1. Buy a dressy item that's perfect and a good buy when you see it, so you don't panic when an occasion arises and then spend way too much.

2. There's always a sale on jeans somewhere. Like cameras, you don't need this month's new  model, and manufacturers discount last season's stock.

3. Drycleaning: evil hidden expense! These pricey pants, left, (from the boutique Motion, in Toronto) redeemed themselves: washable, no-iron, three-season. They alone saved at least $75 in cleaning bills.

4. To max value, the "'uniform'" approach (described in my "Simple Isn't Easy" post) cuts costs by at least 50%, once you get the uniform in hand. Not to mention doubles your closet space.

I haven't yet achieved that dream, simple, edited wardrobe. But I have disarmed the "I Like It, I'll Make It Work Somehow" trap.   

Onward, to a new year! 

"God bless the lonely people"

Over the holiday season, I read a list of contributors to a local charity. Some gave in memory of others, but one donor touched me, a man who gave a modest amount along with his wish, "God bless the lonely people".

I thought of the refrain from "Eleanor Rigby",
"All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?"

Assuaging loneliness of those who wish relief is a mitzvah. But some bear their loneliness without the wish of ready rescue.
Because our culture gulps stimulation, loneliness elicits pity. The culture doesn't think much of solitude, either. We like the extroverts, joiners, mixers. Are we elevating those qualities, and imbuing loneliness, a universal human condition, with shame?

The art is in thoughtful response to loneliness, within ourselves or others.

Loneliness is like a vast desert; if you focus only on the hardship and barrenness, you do not see the beauty. And like the desert, if an oasis does not appear eventually, most of us languish.

If loneliness is not shameful, neither is it noble; like pain, loneliness doesn't make one stronger.  It simply makes one more aware of the nooks and crannies of existence, of the boredom born from self-absorption, of the longing for intimacy paradoxically co-existing with the freedom of solitude.

An old friend wrote at Christmas of his ability to shift from  anxious loneliness to peaceful stillness through his meditation practice. Others find respite in the visitor, the congregation, the invitation to mingle. Salespersons know people often shop because they are lonely, even if the shoppers themselves are unaware.

That anonymous donor saw that, when loneliness is coupled with deprivation, every drop of vitality drains from the spirit, and I am grateful to him.

And for a heartfelt endorsement of restorative solitude, I recommend Pico Iyer's essay, "The Joy of Quiet" in The New York Times.

Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”
― Janet Fitch, White Oleander

Pearls: Going to great lengths

Emilie sat across from me, slurping the whipped cream off her hot chocolate like a pink-nosed cat. She asked, "Are those pearls real?" Then she said, "Oh, I really like pearls, but I'm not the dressed-up type."

Emilie is in for a shock: there are many pearls that are casual, wearable and lustrous.

And in for a deal: I have a special offer to share! The esteemed pearl expert Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Company is offering 12% off on any pearls on Kojima's site through January 12, 2012. Use the discount code HAPPYHAPPYPEARLS at checkout and tell us what you chose!

(I receive no financial incentive for my posts mentioning any vendor but could probably be bought, someday, for a rope of South Sea gumballs.)

Opera: the shortest longer length

Sometimes more is less. A longer length accompanies casual clothes better than short.

Opera-length at the espresso bar
Though the name reeks of la-di-da, the opera strand is temptress-may-care with a shirt and pants, as shown in this shot of Tilda Swinton in multicoloured Tahitians in "I Am Love".

Many women mentioned this strand to me; seeing them worn so offhandedly opened their eyes and they wanted them, as well as those Jil Sander orange pants and the young Italian chef. Girls, I can only do so much.

The longest opera-length (which spans from 26 to 36 inches) can double to make a two-strand princess or choker-length necklace; any opera-length piece winds around the wrist for a bracelet.

You also won't be wearing as much weight, which you will notice in 60-inch and up lengths.

Kojima Company mixed opera-length 

These natural colour freshwater and South Sea baroques (mostly 9mm), accented with big "wing" pearls are a less pricey version of Swinton's clonks.
The 36-inch rope is $621 from Kojima Company. If you must have big Tahitians of the finest quality, my deah, add a zero to that pricetag.

Rope tricks

Lady Mary's rope
Ropes (50 to 100, even 120 inches) are enjoying their moment thanks to "Downton Abbey", where heaps of what we know are historic, incandescent Scottish pearls (now nearly extinct) swing to the waist. But those who don't dress for dinner will find a rope delights in the garden as well as the salon.

You have many options for wearing yours. A page on Kari Pearls' site shows 21 ways; use your imagination and substitute a simple v-neck for the rather bright dress.

Pearl Paradise peaches
I chose a 50-inch rope of big pink-peach freshwaters  (9.5mm-10mm) for Tash, son Etienne's sweetie, for Christmas. The colour shimmers with her blonde hair, the size is significant enough for her age (late 20's). Perfect with jeans and tall boots or the vintage dresses she collects.

Beth Orduna at Twist

Another take: the 56-inch rope of mixed size (7mm-10mm) freshwater pearls spiked with agate beads and finished with a mod toggle by Beth Orduna at Twist; price, $968. Take this photo to your jeweler if you have a pearl reno project in mind; it's easy to make a variation.

Pearl and leather 55-inch rope

The ultimate in casual: a pearl rope with leather. Take yours on vacation to wear with a sarong. American Pearl's St. Bart's rope comes in 55-inch (7 pearls) or 100-inch (14 pearl) sizes. I've shown the freshwaters ($225) but it's made with Tahitian and South Sea pearls, too. 
Tahitian 108-inch rope

Want more pearl to twirl? Invest in American Pearl's multicolour Tahitian version, over 100 inches of golden South Seas and grey Tahitians to wind and wear, here and there. Price, $2,500.

For an assortment of casual pearl and leather pieces, visit Calypso Sea; Florida-based jeweler Tanya G. Burnett works exclusively with pearls and leather, in many lengths and styles. (To remodel your necklace in a similar style, the pearls must be re-drilled with extra-large holes, a task for a jeweler experienced with pearls.)

Multicoloured keshi rope

Ropes of keshis, the freeform, all-nacre pearl loaded with luster, dress down as far as you want, but, unlike a leather piece, will also float up to your party wear.

Shown, a multicoloured 64-inch keshi rope; price, $388 from HinsonGayle.

Feels good to start the new year with a pearl post!

2012 will be pearly, as more jewelers play with intriguing ways to wear the most graceful of organic gems. I'll keep you pearl-posted.