Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fashion Victim for Life

When I became a teenager, this was still a nascent category. My mother held the term in contempt; her generation went from being children to becoming young ladies and gentlemen. There was no middle ground.

Teenage girls when I became one were either bobbysoxers in rolled-up jeans and saddle shoes, or in full skirts and ballet slippers. Beyond that was really dangerous territory--we all dressed like matrons.

Look at the suits that Jackie Kennedy used to wear--with jackets that ended at the waist and straight skirts. Her shoes were utilitarian and well-bred. Jimmy Choo was what hookers would have worn. Those suits looked fantastic on Jackie and Babe Paley and the other trim, elegant social icons. Of course they did; they were cut in a Paris haute couture salon for bodies that were broad in the shoulders, slim in the hips. When translated to mass-markets like J.C. Penney or Ohrbach's and worn by women whose build was more in the peasant mode, they looked horrible. And when they were covering the bodies of adolescent girls, they looked even worse. Slender girls looked as though they were dressing up in their mothers' clothing and chubby girls looked like boxes. It was an ugly time for fashion in America.

"Good" coats were made of heavy wool tweed and were cut to go over a "good" suit. The shoulders were droopy and the arms wide; they hit the mid-calf, if the wearer had height, and the ankle area if she was short. They weighed about ten pounds and would have made dandy survival tents if they hadn't been wool and easily saturated by a rainfall. I hated my coats when I was in my early teens.

Then along came the British invasion with miniskirts and Courreges with body-skimming A-lines and Calvin Klein with coats that fit close to the body with narrow shoulders. It was a wonderful time for young women and we all happily threw away our garter belts and little white gloves. For me, clothes were fun--until about ten years ago, when I turned 55.

No matter how thin a woman may be at that age, put her in certain kinds of clothing and she looks absurd. The offending garments are all patterned after Paris Hilton et al, and are the kind that I privately call Trailer Park Chic. Skinny jeans, midriff tops, halters, skirts that look as though they were stolen from a drum majorette, leggings--or even worse, jeggings.

These are things that a 20-something can carry off. A 60-something looks at them and sobs. And yet that old hag has few alternatives, if she's shopping on a budget. (Yes, I love Eileen Fisher too--but can I afford her?) She can dress like a cruel parody of Kim Kardashian or she can go to hell in a handbasket, a polyester smock, and elastic-waist pants.

Frankly I'd rather wear rolled-up jeans and bobbysox. I frequently wear a printed, almost circle, skirt and a variant on ballet slippers. And I inwardly rage, rage against the dying of the light and charming pleasure that I used to find in wearing clothes that made me feel happy to get dressed in the morning.

(Just a simple cotton tunic top with long and narrow sleeves that hits just below the knee and a pair of black, well-fitting tights that don't cost as much as my weekly food bill--is that too much to ask? And bear in mind, the one who's asking is part of the Baby Boom generation--I'm sure many in my age group feel much the same way.)

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