Dressing Our Age

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I’ve often said that my standard for age-appropriate dressing is: If one of my daughters would wear it, it’s not for me. Given that there are more than 40 years between myself and my younger daughter, however, this doesn’t seem like a very useful guideline.

Every so often I see a woman – or, less often, a man – who looks faintly ridiculous in an outfit that seems too young for them. A super short dress, for instance, or “anatomically correct” leggings with a crop top are just not looks that the 50-plus woman should be wearing. Yet I myself sometimes wonder whether I am dressed appropriately for my age. Who is there to be my fashion police? I’m not personally acquainted with Melissa Rivers, after all.

We’ve come a long way from middle-aged women in their house dresses. Women of a certain age still want to look stylish, and there’s a certain obsession with youth in our culture that makes the latest fashion trends tempting at any age. A good example of this is the “cold shoulder” top that came into fashion a couple of years ago. While not only favored by the very young, the style gave me pause. Is it too trendy? Are my shoulders attractive enough to peek out of my sweater? In the end, I thought I’d just be cold wearing it and need another sweater to go over it.

Still, the style dilemmas continue. I guess a good guideline for women of any age is how you look in a given style. If you have fabulous legs, go for that short skirt. If your skin is soft and supple, a low-cut blouse or strapless dress would be lovely. Since I no longer have the figure of a 20-something, I’ve tended to err on the side of coverage and forgiving drape.

Of course, sometimes the situation is reversed. My daughter and her friends used to wonder aloud if they were old enough to rock Skechers Go Walks. They look (and are!) so comfortable that it was tempting for these young beauties to throw fashion sense to the wind and flirt with the “morning mall walking” look.

In the end, how we feel about ourselves is more important than any arbitrary guidelines from fashion critics (or our own children). Wearing what makes me feel comfortable and happy is the goal at this point of my life. If a style doesn’t meet those criteria, I’m giving it the cold shoulder.

 

Fashion Backward

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Every morning my 16-year-old comes down the stairs wearing short shorts and an oversized sweatshirt or fleece pullover that makes it appear she is wearing no pants. This attire is worn irrespective of the weather and seems to be the new school “uniform.” At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old scold, I find this and many other teenage fashions mystifying, unattractive, and even a bit silly.

This morning while dropping my daughter off at the high school, I saw a girl wearing jeans with a large hole in each knee and a gigantic flannel shirt that would fit Paul Bunyan. In another context, I might have mistaken her for a panhandler. And just when I was getting used to girls wearing form-fitting leggings and tiny tops!

The new trend seems to be “working man chic.” Lumberjack shirts, chunky work boots, and ripped jeans are all very well on someone out chopping wood, pounding nails into the frame of a new home, or doing other forms of tough manual labor. But I can assure you that despite the over-sized blue work shirt my daughter wears, she is not performing any heavy duty physical tasks.

The style harks back to the Nineties grunge era, when bands like Nirvana reigned and people loved TV shows set in the rugged Pacific Northwest. I used to tease my older daughter about the ugliness of her “Kurt Cobain shirts,” as I referred to the shapeless, dull plaid flannel shirts that were a mainstay of her wardrobe. Isn’t life depressing enough, I would think to myself, without dressing like an extra in Deliverance?

Of all the styles that are popular now, though, the worst is the faded, ripped-up jeans that young women are wearing. In my day, a tear here and there in a pair of jeans was the result of many months or even years of loving wear and washing. Those rips were earned, by golly. Nowadays, girls spend beaucoup bucks on brand new jeans with dozens of meticulously made rips. The only way those rips would occur naturally would be if Freddy Krueger came through and made several swipes at them.

I must admit, though, the new styles are reminding me of my own fashion faux pas from years gone by. I too loved sporting oversized shirts and had a penchant for men’s white Calvin Klein undershirts tucked into my stone-washed, waist-high jeans. Come to think of it, I wore even more embarrassing styles – like gaucho pants! I had a pair of yellow ones that I paired with a brightly-colored, striped t-shirt. I’m pretty sure I looked liked a toucan.

I guess every generation despises the styles of the ones younger than theirs. Still, ladies, if you want your jeans ripped up, come on over and I’ll do it for free.

Disturbing Reality Behind School Dress Codes

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“That dress is too short,” my husband remarked when he saw my 16-year-old daughter modeling her selection for Homecoming. After marathon dress shopping to find something my daughter liked, I was not in the mood to put up with his remark. But I took his point.

There is a growing awareness in schools that dress codes unfairly stigmatize girls and go easy on boys. Across the country, girls and their parents have fought for the right to allow girls to wear tight leggings, spaghetti straps, and other clothes that have in the past been considered a distraction.

While I agree that it’s unfair to single out girls at school for their attire, the fact that there are so many styles for girls that could be labeled as too sexy or distracting points to an upsetting reality: In our society, females continue to be objectified and judged for their physical appearance in a way that males rarely are.

One might argue that the ubiquitous legging, which girls wear in a manner that reveals every curve of thigh and buttocks, is simply what’s in style for young women. Ditto for short skirts and other revealing clothing. But that fact begs the question: why? Why are styles for women so relentlessly geared toward sexualizing their bodies?

Men dress for comfort or success. Aside from the trend of wearing baggy pants that reveal a guy’s boxers, there are few styles for men that could be construed as too sexy or distracting. The boys at my daughter’s school wear baggy shorts and t-shirts or preppy polos and khaki shorts or “joggers.” As long as there is not an overtly violent message or a logo for a beer label on their person, boys are pretty safe from scrutiny at school.

Not so for girls, who want to look stylish and cute. They are not necessarily trying to come on to boys, but they also don’t want to dress like their mothers or grandmothers. So my daughter turns up at Homecoming in a tiny, short dress that reveals her incredibly long, muscular legs. Even I’m intimidated looking at her sometimes.

This is the dilemma girls and women face in our culture. Until we change our social norms and start to prize females more for who they are inside, we will continue to objectify their outer selves. And schools will continue to fight battles over what is appropriate dress in schools.

Fashion Emergency

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source: HuffPost)

Little kids have a quirky sense of style. My own four have certainly made some interesting fashion choices over the years.

My daughter, for instance, dressed completely for comfort when she was little. Bike shorts or leggings and a t-shirt – that was her uniform. If the t-shirt had a Disney character on it, so much the better.

One particular outfit that stands out in my mind was a Christmas one – a pair of red and white striped leggings topped by a bright red sweatshirt with a huge picture of a reindeer on the front of it. It was so loud and gaudy that even a kid at her preschool made fun of it.

My son was enamored with his brand new Batman underwear – so enamored that he wore it over his sweatpants. I felt a little conspicuous taking him with me to the school to pick up the little Rudolph groupie, but the teachers just chuckled. They assured me they’d seen it all.

My other daughter insisted that she had to wear “swirly skirts” because Ava, the fashion diva of the three-year-old set, wore them. Never mind that in Chicago there are about two days in the entire school year when a swirly skirt makes a sensible choice.

Early on, I gave up on trying to dress my kids to the nines. Concepts such as matching colors were just lost on them. Pink shoes with pictures of Nala on them go with everything, don’t they? And I just didn’t have the patience to finagle jeans with buttons and zippers or shoes with laces on my pint-sized wigglers.

Unfortunately, my kids outgrew these fashion quirks and have developed better (read: more expensive) tastes in clothes. Now we battle over brand names and pricey shoes, and I grow a bit nostalgic for those innocent days when they simply wore what they liked and liked what they wore.

Shoe Fetish

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(source: therubyslippersproject.wordpress.com)

 

Yesterday I went shoe shopping with my younger daughter. For me, shoe shopping is always fraught with anxiety and inevitable disappointment. Whether it’s the problem with my own or my child’s wide feet, the impracticality of the selection, or the price tag, I am seldom thrilled with the results of an outing to buy shoes.

I just don’t understand the fuss. When I shop for shoes, I go in with the following expectations. The shoes will fit, be comfortable, look reasonably attractive, and go with as many wardrobe items as possible. Hence, my shoe collection is almost entirely made up of sensible black, white or neutral-colored shoes. Once or twice I’ve gone insane and purchased a gold or red pair, but I lived to regret my folly. These shoes sit in their boxes, pristine as the day I bought them.

My daughters, on the other hand, are downright covetous when it comes to shoes. Although my oldest has gotten more practical since she became an adult, she still pines for the perfect boot, flat, or high heel for every outfit. My youngest lobbies for yet another pair of Converse All-Stars or a different color Ugg boot. I realize this is normal female behavior, but I have to wonder where it comes from.

Since before Cinderella slid her perfect tiny foot into the glass slipper, women seem to have been obsessed with shoes. In ancient China, little girls’ feet were painfully bound so that their miniature tootsies inside tiny silk slippers would make the women prized as brides. Nowadays, women totter around on 6-inch stilettos that cost more than their monthly rent. I guess sexy feet are a turn-on to men. This would explain why women have been willing to deform theirs for the sake of beauty.

Yet men often seem bemused by women’s obsession with footwear. I once had a female friend who told me you could tell a lot about a person by his or her shoes. So maybe shoes are a form of self-expression, and women just have more choices, and therefore more interest, in what they wear on their feet. 

I’m not sure my husband realizes how lucky he is to have a wife who is unimpressed with the latest Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks. Does he realize how easy I am on our budget with my tendency to buy shoes only when strictly necessary? The same goes for handbags, another female obsession I don’t get. A black one for winter and a white or beige one for summer – what else do you need? 

Next week I get to visit the massive Mall of America in Minneapolis with my sisters. We always have a blast, but we spend way too much time in DSW, Famous Footwear, and the Clarks store. Three of us love to tease our oldest sister about her shoe fetish. Sometimes we don’t allow her even to set foot in a shoe store. We’re saving her from herself! Maybe if I can get the girls out of the shoe stores, I will have more time to explore my shopping obsession – books.