Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash
I recently went shopping to replace some of my “smaller” clothes with a few more “comfortable” things. I grabbed a bunch of tops at one store and squeezed into the changing room. The first blouse I tried on was a favourite: cute and summery. I liked the pattern and thought the style might hide a few personal flaws. I put it on and gasped! The puffed sleeves instantly turned me into an overweight teenager but with wrinkles and a slump.
Note to self: this ain’t no time for puffed sleeves.
This got me thinking about fashion and style for women over 70.
As recently as last fall, I have managed, every year, to buy two or three new-this-season, pretty trendy items which actually fit and in which I did not look ridiculous. I’m excited about this summer because I’ve seen lots of loose, “drippy” linen dresses and shirts under which you could be a bean-pole or quite over-weight… and no one would know the difference. This is my kind of clothing.
On the surface, nothing has really changed: fashions come and go. I pick and choose as I have always done. Some seasons there’s more to like, other seasons the pickings are slimmer.
Then again, it’s been quite some time since anyone my age has walked around in those high-heeled boots during winter. When I was in my 20s, I loved the look and feel of high boots and tight jeans. But now that I’m concerned about pensions and stairs, I would only put my feet in them at gunpoint.
Likewise, there are probably only a handful of women of a certain age who would show off an aging midriff, get a nose ring or wear a bikini in public. While I know these fashion no-no’s keep me separated from the young, I have a complex relationship with other fashion choices.
In my mind, wearing white sneakers and anklets is a dead old-age giveaway. My Aunt Alice wore the same Walmart running shoes (with a thin pink stripe on the side) and white anklets (sometimes with a matching pink border) every day for years and died in them at 75.
Now, I am surprised at how often I trudge around in running shoes. In my defence they are very dirty, but they are, hands down, my favourite, most comfortable shoes.
I also have some spectacular sweat suits that I bought during the pandemic and might go a week being comfortable in them at home. However, as the pandemic wears on, I reprimand myself for not taking more care about how I look. But my sweats and my running shoes are sooooo comfortable.
I can see where this is headed: I gradually trade “style” for “comfortable” and ended up spending all my time in sweats and sneakers. It’s not very far from there to a clear plastic rain hat.
Then I soothe myself that trends are always changing and boomers being such a large group (have you heard?), we will probably have the whole fashion industry screaming that we can keep our youth if we push style boundaries.
Consider the cleavage situation: standards and styles now allow us all to show cleavage in public regardless of age. Lots of cleavage. I am sometimes amazed at how little has to be covered to be acceptable. At the Academy Awards this year, I wondered if actors had hired architects to construct bodices that stayed miraculously on the border of the nipple. With that trend and the number of boomers around, there may soon be more “older cleavage” on display – requiring architects to add an “uplift platform to their current cleavage construction.
If someone had told me when I was much younger that 30 years from now it would be completely acceptable and stylish to show cleavage in your 70s, I would have scoffed and said it would look as ridiculous as dobbing bright red rouge on your cheeks or putting a blue rinse on your white hair.
It feels like a fashion tightrope sometimes. Clothes for the older woman are either very plain and conservative or very expensive (hey, sleek and fashionable is not cheap). I certainly wouldn’t want to give anyone my own advice.
I’m stuck between puffed sleeves and sweatsuits. Not a pretty place to be.
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I recall trying on a strapless cocktail dress in one of my favourite shops about ten years ago. The salesperson — someone who knew me well — came in a gasped, “Too much skin,” she said. That was a watershed moment. And after two years, I am sure you can also relate. I had to wear real shoes twice this week. Thanks Janet, and to all of you for being here for another week.
You must be inside my head, as the narrative in your column I could have written…. but not as cleverly😁. I too had to wear real shoes this week to give some style to a suit - that could not be accomplished with white trainers. 🤷♂️
I can certainly understand the dilemma. As you say, it is difficult to find clothes that fit for a 70 or 80 year old woman.