I just read an ad for a “beauty” product posing the vital question, “Does your neck make you look old?” Sure… I have a turtle neck. And I don’t mean a style of sweater, I mean a pleated neck like a turtle. The rest of me looks about twenty-five and holding (inserted sarcasm).
Seriously, though, if I were to buy a product for every part of my lovely person-suit, the repairs and preservation efforts would never end. I am like a Gothic cathedral – once the roof is fixed, it’s time to touch up the ceiling frescoes, reinforce the flying buttresses, and put the crypt in order. By the time all of that renovation is accomplished, it’s time to work on the roof again.
Doing a brief inventory, I see that my thigh skin has started its slow decline and begun to drape down over my knees. Legs were Nature’s gift to me – shaped like a sprinter without ever having to do any of that inconvenient sprinting – and they have turned spotty like two mottled bananas. I have a band of something euphemistically called a “menopausal apron”… a floppy band of fat that folds over where my waist used to be.
This course of events is natural to most humans, even those who make their living with their looks and who, with enough money and surgery can forestall the inevitable. Sure, there is the occasional woman who passed through menopause with an unaltered metabolism. She bounces around in size 6 ath-leisure wear, drinks a lot of water, and talks about doing “inversions”. But she’s an outlier, and I assume that without any of the protective padding of a fat apron, she will eventually just snap in a high wind (bless her heart). The rest of us wither and try to make peace with our decline.
Although I can’t help noticing that my upholstery is getting a bit worn, there’s a lot of mileage left on my Senior Odometer. I haven’t even turned over yet. Also, no longer feeling the need to impress anyone about anything – take your pick from looks, intelligence, ability, education, lifestyle, status – I am just wallowing in my true self. Everything I do and have are just reflections of me. I love dogs and harps and Sweet Peas and swimming and blueberries and travel and my hammock swing and … sigh… clothes.
To my sadness, as much as Silver Living opens new worlds of self-expression, it also means leaving old passions behind. I have become aware that it is ill-advised for anyone who pees a little every time she sneezes to wear a short skirt, a jersey dress or silk pants. Much of my wardrobe is balancing on that edge that may not only be age-unflattering, but more accurately, is just not age-functional.
For example, I own six (maybe ten, but not 12…that would be ridiculous) pairs of cowboy boots. I collected them because they were (and are) beautiful and I loved that solid, ringing heel strike when I wore them. Wearing western boots makes you feel like stomping something – they are impowering footwear. They are also hard and unforgiving on my aging arches and aggravate my heel spurs. These days, my vintage footsies require a gentle swaddle of spongey, springy, shock-absorbing foam or they refuse to bipedal me anywhere.
I know that bedazzled, bright printed tunics (so easy) and elastic waist knit pants (so comfortable and compatible with stress incontinence) may soon dangle from my hangers that once held a strapless leather club dress and tops with necklines so low, they flirted with immodesty. Once we give up knee-length boots with 4” inch heels and a pencil skirt, we don’t go back. I put a whole dresser drawer on notice just the other day…“Vaya con Dios, shorts. You are being replaced by capris.”
Men, of course, have the advantage in this quadrant of aging. Beyond that brief 70’s fashion insanity when many men fell victim to a polyester leisure suit and a platform shoe, menswear has stayed remarkably consistent. Men’s clothing transitioned from knee breeches and ruffled shirts in the early 1800s and hasn’t changed that much in the intervening centuries. Swim shorts are swim shorts. Dress shirts are dress shirts. If a man has developed a “beer apron” then adjustments may have to be made, but it is a matter of size and not style. In general, men don’t look in their closets and puzzle, “Are my polo shirts just too revealing for a guy my age?”
As an aside, though, I have noted that senior guys, at least around here, seem to surrender to the Fungi Palette… clothes the color of moss, mushroom and shale. They look like they plan to vanish into the forest one day and discretely decompose on a bed of fallen leaves. I don’t know why men eligible for a senior discount become averse to sky blue or plum or crimson. Maybe it’s an evolutionary thing…you wear colors when you want to find a mate. You wear fungi when you want to find a safe place to nap, undisturbed.
In any case, senior gentlemen are just advised to wear a shirt with sleeves and keep that shirt on their bodies. If you can likewise avoid Speedo swim briefs (we aren’t in Germany, after all) and cutoffs (unless you are at a *Black Sabbath concert and think to yourself “I still have it!”), you will be allowed to continue to dress yourself.
Providentially, neither Boomer women nor men will be forced into clothing reserved only for an after-60 demographic. Unlike any previous generation, we have many style options and are not limited to wearing a light blue sweatshirt covered with appliqued kittens unless that’s our jam. Gents may wear Sans-a-belt double-knit pants (still available at sansabelt.com), but it’s not de rigeur.
For myself, before I surrender and buy my first geometric print tunic, I want to try something entirely new. I was recently inspired when I was standing in the post office one morning behind one of our local and brilliant costumers. The Sister Senior was wearing a full-length velvet burgundy gown with a small train best suited for a madrigal dinner. When I admired her outfit, she said, “Oh, it’s just a little thing I like to throw on after swimming!”
A light flickered on above my silver head.
I am not designer Betsey Johnson or Madonna (the pop-star, not the Holy Mother, who always looks put-together) and am not inclined to wear clothes that aren’t in harmony with my years. I embrace more of an Edge-of-the-Forest-Kindly-Crone sort of vibe, where I sit in my thatched hut, distill healing potions for the villagers and weave plant dyed fabric for my loose gowns. I wear a colorful apron (good for hiding the menopausal apron underneath) with huge pockets from which I dispense acorns to visiting squirrels and marmots. To realize this vision, I resurrected my sewing machine (last used to make curtains in 1996) and ordered tailor’s chalk and a pattern. I also started following a young woman on YouTube who is teaching me the easiest way to make a medieval kirtle.
My going forward seems to include going far backward, and my brain is awash with middle age designs for my new age of old age. Odd? Quirky? Weird to be wandering around in homemade outfits last seen in a stage production of The Lion in Winter? Possibly, but here’s the joy … you can do so much as a senior that in another time of life would have been judged negatively. Now, if you are in full splendor at the post office early in the morning, wearing a wimple and offering an oat cake and a flagon of mead to the good gentlelady behind the counter, you are delightfully eccentric…a municipal treasure that everyone recognizes.
To this, I offer a very senior toast to our burgeoning eccentricities…”Let us drink and live among the good.” Also, does anyone need shorts?
*Black Sabbath is still touring. I checked.
Ingrid arrived from Texas 20 years ago with her 6-year-old daughter. In addition to writing, she has many non-marketable skills and degrees. She was also voted "Most Likely to Choose a Book Everyone Else Hates" by her book club. Ingrid's tramp stamp tattoo is a quote from Jimmy Buffet: If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.
Ingrid can be contacted at email@example.com
Copyright Ingrid R. Gabriel, July 2023