Random Sunday: Growing Up

This is a two-part post on clothing and style, with today’s thoughts leading into tomorrow’s perfume post.

I’m in the process of revamping my personal style.  The contributing factors:

  • For years I worked in businesses (e.g., commercial real estate, financial services) with defined, conservative dress codes.  At work I wore the “uniform” of tailored suits, none of which I wanted to wear at home.
  • I don´t lead a white-pants life – four kids underfoot and their friends, a dog, working out of the house, gardening.
  • I’ve always viewed clothing as costume.  Specifically, vintage or ethnic costume.  When we lived in Santa Fe I worked the whole concha-belt velvet-blouse thing.  Also, I’m petite, I’m sized and shaped for vintage clothing and accessories, and I collect and wear vintage stuff regularly.  I like its uniqueness.
  • I’m a magpie in terms of pattern.  If you look in my closet, there are a lot of patterned dresses and separates.  They’re sized proportionally for me, but there’s a lot going on.

I no longer have to “dress” for the office, and I’m doing the mom thing, but I have steadfastly resisted the I-give-up approach I see around me among women in similar circumstances.  I eschew looking like an ad from the LL Bean catalog, and I do not wish to live out the rest of my days in yoga togs.  I believe that adults, or at least this adult, should get dressed to face the world.  But in what?

The problem(s?) which I expressed to a couple of gals recently, while we were sitting around one afternoon over coffee talking about personal style, is that I am no longer the ingenue, my default setting for dress.  I always looked young for my age, getting carded well into my thirties.  My “youth,” real or imagined, was the basis for whatever style I had.  I am now in my late-ish forties, and in my considered opinion, I need a style upgrade.  (I am making these rules/statements about nobody other than myself, let me clarify that right off the bat.)    I need to be tidier.  And I need to ramp down the vintage and froufrou a little.  Too much vintage or boho on me doesn’t look charming or whimsical.  It starts to look a little nutty, frankly.  Like I’m one of those nice socialites living in mummy’s English basement rental property on my trust fund check, with three golden retrievers and a tenuous grip on reality.  This, my friends, is not the look I am striving for.  Also, with a few exceptions, I have decided that something that looks appropriate on my 15-year-old is too young for me, and I’m going to stop borrowing her clothes.

I was already thinking of all of this when I saw Coco Before Chanel at the Sniffa in New York.  As I left the theater in a predictable swoon over the costumes and the set locations, I had gained some clarity.  The thing is, I own a lot of clothes in that style.  I had some already because they’re appropriate for dressing up in my suburban DC life.  And courtesy of The Big Cheese’s mom, who was a sharp society dresser, I have several knit suits and dresses I couldn’t bear to part with, and lovely pearls, and some conservative accessories.  I have stylish flats that I don’t pull out and wear often enough.  I just need to make a little extra effort to dress like a grown-up.

So for the past week I’ve been experimenting.  Have no fear, I’m not turning into a mini-Gloria Vanderbilt.  But it was really fun meeting my father at the National Gallery of Art with my hair put up neatly for a change, in a navy-and-cream Adolfo knit jacket (okay, with dark wash jeans) and red lipstick and low-heeled pumps and a decent handbag.  Whether or not you’d have loved the particular outfit, I looked pulled together and fully adult.  I felt good about the way I looked.

I am sure there will be plenty of days when I’m lumping around in practical corduroys and clogs and a heavy sweater, if for no other reason than we keep our house chilly in the winter, and I’m not ready to pack my motorcycle boots and jacket away forever.  But I find I like looking like a grown-up, and it didn’t take all that much longer to put on than whatever I’d fish out of the laundry basket.  For the longest time I rebelled against that type of clothing as a restrictive uniform, but I am beginning to appreciate its value as a uniform as well.

Tomorrow: the perfumes that seem to go with this look, with one new-to-me discovery.

Have you had any style revelations?  How do you view clothing for your current self vis-a-vis your younger self?

  • Christine says:

    Interestingly, I’m in a similar position although I am actually 19, and therefore dressing like a 19 year old would seem fairly appropriate. I’m on a limited student budget with a bookish babysitter/retro rockabilly style, I’m looking to grow up a little and find some key mix and match pieces. Mature for my age, I’m the only 19 year old doula in training/future CNA/future RN that I know of… and for meeting with clients, and putting a self-confident and mature image out into the world, in spite of my age and height of 5’1″, and my cute rosy-cheeked appearance, I would like to begin to take myself seriously and therefore be taken seriously by others. Can’t afford vintage Dior by any means… but am interested in any suggestions anyone may have for a gal on a budget.



  • Theresa says:

    I really enjoyed this post! And way to cultivate some style in DC where stereotypically style seems to be pushed to the wayside and everyone walks around in suits or the dreaded khakis and NorthFace jackets (I live in the area too). I’m in my mid 20s so I suppose I can still get away with quite a bit, but I’m trying to not buy too many pieces that I know will be “too young” on me in a few years and rather steer myself toward items that I can see myself wearing into my 30s without sacrificing fun. I still will buy things that I know I’ll only wear for a few seasons like some pre ripped boyfriend jeans, but at least it’s balanced with a good selection of classics like cashmere and wool sweaters and ladylike knee length skirts.

  • cathleen56 says:

    Ah, as Louise says, the age-appropriate clothing issue! Personally, I never tire of it. On another site I visit, there was a thread about “why good presentation matters.” One poster lamented that caring about the public face you presented, making an effort not only for yourself but to raise the beauty quotient in the rest of the world, had disappeared. Just an aside, but an interesting one — I like the idea of feeling like I have some responsiblity to other people to look nice.

    So, brass tacks — I understand the idea of a uniform, and embrace it, but it’s something of an abstraction. For me, I’m trying to work black and white color combinations lately, and get color through lipstick and accessories. It’s easier, and more versatile.

    Here are some other things that occurred to me:

    1) a “hairdo.” Not the helmet-heads of yore, but a defined shape. It can be bed-head’y, but it can’t be shapeless. And for me, it has to be short, or on the short side. I was inspired when I was in NY last weekend and saw a shop that just did blowouts. It reminded me of the days when women went to the hairdresser once or twice a week. If we had quick in-and-out blowout salons here in DC, I’d use them.

    2. Good shoes. This is a must, I think. Shoes have to be good quality, and kept up. I love my Danskos, but there are a lot of great oxfords out there now that are much more stylish and grown-up, I think.

    3. Makeup. This is a tricky area for me. I came of age in the seventies and never really got into makeup, and went for decades without wearing it, but I think you really do need to wear a little if you want to look polished and grown up — even if it’s just making sure your lipstick is always fresh.

    4. As many great coats as your closet will hold, preferably some brightly colored ones. I think a stylish, well-made coat says “dressed-up” from fifty paces, and the nice thing is that it covers up those yoga pants completely! 🙂

    5. Passion and humor, or anything else that will bring a smile to your face and color to your cheeks. This is a cliche by now, but in looking at pictures of women my age, the ones who are smiling and laughing always look ten times better than the ones who aren’t.

    Carter, do you have a store? I’m drooling!!! And I’m in New York often!!


    • carter says:

      I sell vintage through a friend who has a shop downtown. She sells current designers, and features my things along with the new. I don’t have many pieces there at the moment because of the retail situation these days, so I’m sitting on quite a backlog, which is not fun but better than taking a total bath on the stuff. If things don’t improve soon, though, I may just have sell it at a loss and move on 🙁

  • Robin says:

    I am very late (had guests this past weekend) but just have to say that I love yoga pants…and at least they’re better than the clothing choices that used to exist for the “no longer care so much” crowd, which was what, muu muus and velour track suits, right? :d

    • sweetlife says:

      I am very late as well and reading with great interest. Totally agree with the emphasis on cut and editing, but must add that even with my friend the tailor a good cut is hard to find…

      Robin, I wear my share of yoga pants (hell, they’re flattering, and if someone would make that cut in tweed, silk, etc. I’d buy one of each) and sometimes fantasize about becoming a Crazy Mumu Lady! Cigarette holder, giant earrings, morning cocktail and all–why not go the whole nine yards?

    • March says:

      Robin, I don’t see as many of those $500 velour tracksuits around here as I used to. You’re right, yoga wear is an improvement. :d

  • Ahhh, the days of my youth–when I was 5’9″ and weighed 112 pounds. Then I fell out of a hang glider, in love with writing–not a calorie-losing sport–and spent a lot of time in political frenzy. Sit-ins also do not cause you to lose weight. I slowly became a shape shifter, taking up tae-kwon-do, developing dangerous muscles that somehow, while I was not paying attention, turned to an extra ass-cheek and jiggle under the rock-hard biceps. So clothing now must cover a multitude of sins. I also shrank to 5’7″, courtesy of the compression of trying to fly my car off an icy road into a river. Lucky I could swim. In any case, I find dark slacks do a lot for hiding a limp and cankles, and a good jacket is a mature ladies best friend. Still

    • MJ says:

      OK, you are cool. Wear whatever you want, you are the female Indiana Jones!

      • More like Indiana Jones’ duffle bag! The other day I saw a pair of pants that promised to make you look 5 pounds thinner. I ordered 6 of them, hoping I could look 30 pounds thinner, but it didn’t work.

  • ula says:

    this is a good one. I, too, have been recently pondering with my friends that it’s time to maybe ditch sneakers and start wearing something more sophisticated, with style on more occasions than once a month. I look much younger than I am (am 32), and maybe that’s why it’s not that apparent that I should dress more elegantly. Some people still confuse me with a high-school girl, oh well.
    Nevertheless, judging from what I saw of you in the pics you posted on FB, some ‘smart’ elegance a la gabrielle chanel, would do you just right. You have a beautiful face that’d just go perfectly with that sort of clean-cut style.
    Still, I hope you won’t completely ditch the hat with ears 😉 I wish I had one like that :d

    • March says:

      No no no, don’t worry, not ditching the hat with ears! I’m not undergoing some radical transformation … just trying to think it through and do some tweaking, and judging by the results of this post a lot of people are right there with me, holy moley. Thanks for the blog compliments… I have small features and classic elegant things do work on me.

      I don’t think you need to “ditch sneakers” etc if it doesn’t bother you. But if you’d enjoy dressing up, why not?!?

  • Shelley says:

    Well, now that I’ve replied to Carmencanada, I’ve been outed. Have been following all of this with interest since you posted yesterday. I’m witchu. Have been trying to figure this out since I finally moved to the other side of kanga-pooch and nursing fuzzy brain. (As in, both are gone, to the extent they ever will be.)

    I’m the type who seems to not follow trends, but will agonize over what shoe/boot to wear with an outfit when the rest of the outfit does not change, but time of day/context does. Yup, maybe a simple flat, maybe the boot with a bit of a heel…but then, I hope that at least a few folk who carefully select their scent of the day based on the same issues will understand. [-o< One more thing for this discussion: cut. Yes to all the things already said... the finding of your style...the mixing of fab and simple elements...accessorizing to both augment and signify something about yourself. But my bugaboo right now is...cut. I spend time trying to shape my soul's frame at least somewhat well, and certainly so that it is healthy. Nonetheless, a preteen fit is not for me. Nor is shortwaisted-ness, or something that assumes my bosom is perpetually heaving. For example, when it comes to that staple of my wardrobe, Jeans...low riders!! OUT!! As Kathleen observed, even without a muffin top, the view is not necessarily attractive. And no matter what the stage of my life, I have never looked good in straight leg, or especially peg legged, pants. Ditto capris. However, I have learned to embrace the cleavage while it is still smooth. It's a variation on an old Mary Schmidt column--when she interviewed Gwendolyn Brooks, she asked what, if anything, Brooks would have done differently. Worn fewer scarves, she said. She would have shown off her neck when she could. 😉 As for me, the v-neck or the boat neck, but never a crew.

    • Shelley says:

      Well, it took me forever to actually hit “reply,” and now I see that Carter mentioned fit in a response to Angela, which is in the same vein, so there. To emphasize that, both my mother and my grandmother were talented seamstresses, and both would emphatically say that the right fit/cut made a visual difference of 10 pounds.

      I personally know that the right cut and fit from my waist to my neck makes all the difference in terms of whether I even seem to have a waist and a neck. ;))

  • Tara C says:

    Hmm, I’m 43 and currently wearing mostly jeans, nice tops and heels or boots. My workplace is casual, and I’m usually one of the most dressed-up people here. But in previous jobs were I had to dress up, I wore mostly dresses or pant suits, and enjoyed that too. I buy mostly classic clothes from Talbots, and accessorize with jewelry, good shoes and designer bags. I usually rotate my wardrobe about every 5-7 years. I’m sure when I turn 50 I’ll have to restyle again, but for now, the outfits I’m wearing are still working for me.

    • March says:

      Classic clothes from Talbots actually work really well for me, their petites are scaled right. It’s neither wildly in style or out of style. 🙂

  • DinaC says:

    You are singing my song. Like you, I used to work in the conservative business world (hospital), and am now doing the mom thing (2 kids, no pets). I’m even in the same suburbs, so I know what you’re talking about. I’ve always been into clothes, and I love costumes because of my theater background, but I also recognize that daily wear should not be costumey.

    My problem is not dressing too comfortable or too sloppy. I am the rare American woman who goes too far the other way: I tend to overdress for things. I love to dress up. Often I come to the kids’ bus stop in the morning, and the other moms will ask me if I’m going somewhere special that day because of how I’m dressed. Ugh. I usually mumble something about having some appointments. I like to wear outfits with accessories, jewelry, perfume, makeup, the whole nine yards. But I don’t want to seem like a show-off either. It’s a very fine line to tread in my neighborhood.

    Good luck with your journey. I’m on the same one! 😡

    • carter says:

      Eh, they’re just jealous and want to make you feel uncomfortable rather than admit to feeling like schlubs themselves. Rock on.

    • March says:

      Yup, I am all for the overdressing. Support it 100%. In terms of parties and social occasions, I go all out. Where else am I going to wear that stuff? If I’m the most dressed up person in the room I figure, who cares! I don’t get it together early enough to be the best dressed at the bus stop though. 🙂

  • Angela says:

    Such a great topic! Too bad we can’t all be lounging at your place, March, with a few bottles of wine and time to mull it over.

    I think Carter’s trick of mixing high and low, old and new is key. I wear mostly vintage clothing, but to keep from being costumey I wear new, modern boots (with winter clothing); stay way far away from ruffle, puffy sleeves, or anything “girlish”; and I keep my makeup and hair simple. That way, I can wear a black wool 1950s pencil skirt with a pale green cashmere sweater and good boots, and I feel chic but appropriate. Add a scarf in a great vintage pattern and I’m set. Or I’ll put a beautifully cut 1940s suit jacket over a plain black dress, add the aforementioned boots, and I’m good to go. I’m always on the search for vintage cashmere and pencil skirts or skirts with a slight A-line. The keys are simplicity, great fit, and top quality. (Although sometimes I’ll go the opposite direction and mix prints, but still in simple shapes.)

    I gave up pants two years ago, and I love it! It started by accident–one summer I realized I hadn’t worn pants in a few months, and I decided to try for a year. Next thing I knew I had gravitated entirely to dresses and skirts (I do have a Marc Jacobs jeans skirt that gets a lot of wear on weekends). Jeans bind and pinch. I have a classic 1950s figure with good legs, and it turns out that I just plain look better in skirts. I don’t think I look particularly “fancy” though. You won’t catch me dead in sweats or yoga wear if I’m not actually doing yoga.

    The French Essence blog has a great series of posts on dressing well for your age with great photos of French women of a “certain age”.

    • carter says:

      You have hit on a couple of things that I didn’t, the most important being FIT. If it doesn’t fit you must a-QUIT, already :d Don’t buy the dern thing, or if you already have, let it go and move on! And don’t buy crap unless it’s purely a momentary pleasure that you know you will have fun with then LET IT GO. Even then, don’t do it unless you absolutely must. Better to spend your hard-earned dinero on the best thing you can afford given your budget.

      Another key point you made is knowing what flatters you most. It’s not only about disguising whatever you might think is your least-lovable feature, but emphasizing the tasty bits.

      The French are mind-blowing when it comes to fashion and style. I swear it’s either innate or in the water. Either way, your advice to watch and learn from the masters, and then to apply it to your own life and personal style, is right on :)>-

      • March says:

        I need to find a good tailor again. I went through a period when I had almost everything I bought altered a little, just tweaked. I love that perfect fit.

        • Disteza says:

          I end up getting a lot of things tailored, and the most reilable tailor I’ve found so far is Sun Tailoring in Tyson’s Galleria. They can handle intricate, more complex jobs, and while they’re not cheap, they will make sure that you are completely happy with the work they’ve done. And, it’s just down the way from AWF, so you’ve got an extra excuse to do some ‘fume shopping.

    • March says:

      There it is! I was looking for the blog reference. I’m going to go check it out.

      I really appreciate your weighing in with more grist for the mill, you and Carter make quite a team! I think you’re right about the footwear, that’s definitely key… now that my foot is better I really need to dig some better shoes and boots out of the closet. I am fascinated by your no-pants decision. That’s actually me all summer — I gave up shorts as ridiculous several years ago and now live in summer skirts. But I’m so cold in the winter I can’t imagine life without pants … brrr.

  • Disteza says:

    I’m coming late to the party too, but I’ve gone the opposite direction: I spent my childhood in all manner of schlubby outfits. Now that I have enough money to wear what I please I own exatly two pairs of jeans (the sexy pair and the driving cross-country pair), and more than 10 couture cocktail dresses. My shoe collection is a work of art unto itself, and I love to accent my wardrobe with vintage accessories (scarves, costume jewelry, or the occasional long leather glove). I tend to lean towards the vintage end of styling, mostly because I’m short with a noticeably athletic (allright, cordy and muscular) build. Items that are vintage-inspired tend to have the sort of construction that creates curves other than those on my biceps and triceps, so it’s much harder to be mistaken for a guy. 😉 I cannot, however, wear actual vintage clothing–they invariably are too small in shoulders and waist, or are laughably too big everywhere else. I agree that anything too frou-frou is just not me, nor are floral patterns ( which does not explain my unnatural love for ruffles). I love saturated colors (which work most agreeably with my too-pale skin). I regularly am accused of dressing too well for most occasions, but I don’t care. I’d rather look like I cared that what I was wearing not only fit, but looked fabulous too.

    I’d say the best advice that I ever heard regarding one’s personal style is to have a baseline of well constructed, basic pieces in high quality materials, a couple of nice going out pieces per season, a few ‘personality pieces’, and accesories to brighten and add texture and interest. Keep in mind that you should strive to keep your wardobe updated at least every 10 years. You know, as a service to the rest of us non-blind human beings. 😮

    • March says:

      Ooooh, I want to come root around in your closet! And I too am a paleface who loves saturated colors. I am old enough to remember “Color Me Beautiful,” are you? I was/am a winter.

      • carter says:

        OMG. That little wallet with the swatches. March, if you are winter you can definitely wear white.

      • Disteza says:

        I am in fact a winter, and even though I’m not old enough to have experienced ‘Color Me’ when it first came out, I am familiar with it, and I do think there’s something to it. Being pale, with some freckles, and with dark brown hair, I made the mistake of dying my hair auburn through high school and college, and a few years after. Of course, that red reflected off of my face, making me look ruddy, which made me look positively horrible in colors that I should have been wearing with abandon (dark greens, reds, hot pinks, white, etc). I eventually realized that it just didn’t suit me (or my budget) and changed my hair color to something that was, ahem, more natural. I found that I was rather suddenly shopping for a completely different person. My SO was not so thrilled however; he thought he married a redhead. :-\”

  • barbara says:

    thanks Carter-ditto, but for one thing at a certain age over 50…black basics of natural materials, hair up and back, not too much make-up. I search for artisanal jewelry and things that express myself-sometimes loudly and large to add- the ring, necklace or bracelet that speaks to me, and add the one piece.Perhaps it is only the red lips, OR the eyes, the very grand scarf or ring to the pallette of a solitary color. By day at home, I might look like a mish mash of whatever I can get my hands on because I could care less-as long as I am comfy-but not to leave the house in, lest I am considered mad(LOL)

    • carter says:

      What is interesting is that when you edit your “stuff” the special things that you decide to keep and wear — whether it’s a single wonderful piece of jewelry or a beautifully cut jacket — become the focus of your look, and you can take so much genuine pleasure in wearing one standout thing. It takes great confidence to pare down your look and let your own features shine, and the quality and simplicity of the things you have chosen become the statement.

      So many women hide in plain sight behind their clothes, and at some point “artistic expression” just becomes so much distracting noise.

    • March says:

      Not too much makeup definitely. I think it starts to look aging.

      • carter says:

        Carla Bruni, who is not exactly elderly, doesn’t wear it at all most of the time because she thinks it is so aging. She is beyond gorgeous, so that’s easy for her to say, and if you’re blonde like me that’s just crazy talk, but think she’s pretty spot on. My best feature is my eyes, so it kills me to have to tone it down, but less is definitely more when you reach a certain age.

        • March says:

          Yeah, easy for Carla! I def. look better with SOME makeup but now it’s more about camoflage 🙂 and refining than trend. I try to to the eyes OR the lips, but not big on both.

        • cathleen56 says:

          Yep, I think if you’re blonde you have to wear some makeup or risk looking like, as my mother would’ve said, “death warmed over”. I once went to a wig store here in DC just to see what I’d look like as a blonde and quickly realized it was a high-maintenance look, at least for me. No rush for me — at 53, I have just a few grays. Another nice legacy from Mom.

  • Jared says:

    This is a really timely post. I was just thinking recently, as I was looking at my perfume collection: what style goes with each scent? What do I have the majority of, and does my wardrobe match the way I’m smelling???
    First of all, I work in a hospital, and let me tell you that Jicky extrait does not really go with scrubs. But, I’m taking a serious look at what I already have, what I’m gravitating towards scent-wise, and deciding if I really need to buy that fragrance, because honestly, what am I going to wear it with??

    I’m noticing I have a lot of the fragrances that tend more toward the “conservative”- those classic Guerlains like Jicky, Habit Rouge, Mitsouko, and some other Carons and an Equipage that I am way too young to be wearing. Then there’s all the funky stuff like Black, Kouros, some CdG’s, some L’Artisans.

    Long story short, I’m with you on revamping style…I wonder if there’s something in the stars right now? The clothes need to come up to par with the perfumes! And so they shall. Sigh. Why must I have such expensive taste?

    • March says:

      It’s not expensive taste, it’s good taste. Seriously, though, I think if folks buy less volume of the cheap goods and invest in a smaller quantity of the nicer stuff, it’s got to work out pretty evenly. I love your fragrance list.

  • kathleen says:

    As I am a bit older than you, I had this same revelation a little while ago. I’ve workout pretty hard & regularly, since the ’80s, and can wear low rise jeans without “muffin top”, and, as my abs are pretty well developed, I can support a little tummy revealing. One day I saw a woman, in very good shape, wearing a mini. I saw her from behind. She looked good. Then, she turned around. This is when I had my “Oh sh*t” moment. I thought to myself, is that how it looks?

    Then there is the dreadful Betsy Johnson look. Need I say more?

    • carter says:

      I told my husband to smother me in my sleep |-) if I ever became that woman. Fortunately I’m in terrible shape, so there’s little danger.

    • March says:

      This really resonated with me…. my general feeling is that, if I look at the clothes and get one impression, and then look at the face and it freaks me out …. yeah, those are the wrong clothes!

      • MJ says:

        Just had to comment on the horrid sight I’m still trying to forget of a thin, fit but 65ish female executive at an evening event in thigh-high boots, fishnets and a leather mini. Really. I knew her at the time and she was quite proud of her Neiman Marcus personal shopper. It was just….dang, is that how you wanted to look? Was the hoochie-mama vibe really “it?”

        • AnnieA says:

          Years ago I heard an Italian (I think) expression: High school from the back, museum from the front”…

    • carter says:

      The thing is that you don’t have to give up the really hot bag or shoes. Wear them (within reason — the thigh-highs, uh, no — but make it the one thing that isn’t classic. Wear textured tights, or a scarf that isn’t classic, but more modern in nature, or a neutral coat or jacket that has a bit of a twist to it, but is still tailored. Chunky bangle bracelets will take you a very long way, too. The latest eyeglass frames or kick-ass sunglasses. Just make one item the to-die-for thing, and it won’t matter if you’re Methuselah’s grandmother, you will look utterly chic.

      • March says:

        That was my mother-in-law. She was in her late 70s when she died and could a pretty hip accessorizer for someone with such classic style! And every now and again she’d buy something WILD, she came home with a black leather jacket. But it was, you know, from Neiman Marcus and impeccable.

  • ScentRed says:

    Sorry I missed this yesterday – I can so relate. I’m sitting here, at work (shhh, don’t tell)in red knee-high boots and cropped grey flannel pants wondering if I’m too conspicuous.

    I often find a disconnect between the age I feel and the age I am – and it sometimes shows in my clothing. It give me pause when I discover that my teen nieces occasionally shop at the same stores I do. Does that make me the “cool aunt” or someone looks desperate? I just want to wear what I like, what makes me feel good. Now that I’m on the other side of forty I sometimes feel like I’m in conflict with the rules of what is expected. But nothing makes me feel old like dressing like my Mom (who’s very stylish – but in her 70s!). Fortunately most days I ignore the expectations and just wear what I want 😉

    • March says:

      I still think that things that are more tailored have a better chance of working, even if they’re pretty radical (like your outfit). The stuff that fails I think is the messy stuff.

  • Musette says:

    Wow! I leave town (blog) for ONE DAY and y’all go batshit crazy! In a good way.

    What a great post and so apropos to my current situation. You all know my descent from couture/bespoke into jeans and steel toe but now it’s even weirder with the challenges I’m now facing – with my nearly 90yrold Pop living with us (very suddenly) in a house that could barely contain the two of us and our 3 dogs, I find I have NO TIME FOR ME!:o

    Imagine that.

    But! Interestingly, it’s spurred me to rethink the slovenly way I’ve been dressing the past week – yes, I was cleaning the garage yesterday (and washing sheets – again – old age can be challenging for everybody) but I was in an old Max Stravinsky t-shirt and a pair of sweats that I think I’ve had for nearly 20 years, if the paint shades adorning the sides are any indication.

    So! I went in the bathroom last night and took a good long look at myself and realized that I could do one of two things: fall into the dreaded Rural Fat Slob Look or pull myself together. Since my pop living here is causing me to lose weight at a rapid pace (stress will do that to a gal) I am nearly back to my old-clothes weight so I’ve decided to at least aim for some sense of polish. Carter’s advice is excellent, especially for my ‘certain age’ and it can be applied, even when you’re walking your aged Rottweiler to the vet in a rural cowtown.

    So I’mo pull out my good scarves and hunt up at least one other pair of decent earrings and embrace the Loose French Knot for my unruly hair. I mean, it’s a challenge, right? I love rising to challenges!


    See you on the other side!

    xo >-)

    • Musette says:

      I think Whistling Guy is gone for good. Let us [-o< for his eternal code as he embarks on his journey into the ether. March and his many other admirers will miss his jaunty presence. xo The Reverend>-)

    • Melanie says:

      Musette, my admiration to you for taking care of your 90 year old father in your home-I’ve been there with a great-aunt.

      My theory is, when you know you’re appropriately dressed and “finished”, it gives you a sense of control over at least one aspect your life, that can perhaps leech over into other areas. Confidence.

      It reminds me of the character in an F Scott Fitzgerald story called “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”, who is explaining to her rich but unbecomingly dressed cousin that once a woman can look in her mirror and know that all the loose ends are neatly tied up, and she is polished and finished, she can then put her appearance behind her and focus on other things with assurance. Of course, the cousin then goes on to use her new-found polish to unwittingly steal the cousin’s beau, LOL.

    • carter says:

      Caring for ones parents is so hard on so many levels. I did it after my mother had a stroke and it was the most challenging thing I have ever taken on — emotionally and physically exhausting. With all the things you already have on your plate, I am in awe ^:)^ You must remember to do things for yourself, and if dressing in a way that makes you feel go is one of them, then go for it. But cut yourself a lot of slack and don’t add to the pressure you’re already undoubtedly under. 20-year-old sweats are perfect attire if it frees you up for something important that you want or need to accomplish, right? It’s just clothes.

      • Melanie says:

        Great post Carter, that certainly puts it all into proper perspective.

      • Musette says:

        well………thanks! I’m feeling pretty humble right now. Especially when I consider all the folks who have it way harder – but that’s sort of stupid as the only reality I can possibly really know is mine own – but you know what I mean..I hope?

        Anyway, on the ‘it’s just clothes’: yes and no. Those for whom clothing isn’t an issue may see it thus but I know that for me, the wrong outfit (and that is anything that feels ooky) really puts me off my game. A well-cut jacket can make my day and I have, on more than one occasion, dashed into the nearest store to get something that wasn’t quite so __________(fill in the blank(s) – lately the word ‘tight’ has been getting used a lot 😕

        I think taking care of what you wear and how you look is especially important in stressful times. It does give you a sense of having at least a little control over your situation, illusory as it may be.

        So, yes and no. I always feel better when I feel I look better.

        xoxox >-)

        • carter says:

          I think that it is different for every person. When I was caring for my mother, I need to focus everything on helping her, and I could have been wearing panties and a bra at the grocery store and not cared one way or the other unless the cops showed up. How I was feeling about myself was just about the last thing on my mind, and I did not have a moment to spare to tell you the truth.

          But if I’m feeling under the weather myself, well, that’s different. I will take special care to dress and put on at least a token amount of make-up, because it makes me feel better to do that. I don’t think that clothes matter all that much to me in terms of confidence, though — they may add to my enjoyment of something, but they rarely detract. March’s experience with her father is a good example, I think. She felt good about herself and the pleasure she derived from having dressed up was contagious, but I’m guessing that she would have had a perfectly lovely time even if her jacket wasn’t quite so cool or her hair wasn’t quite as good, and that’s what I would wish for everyone. When I say “it’s just clothes” I mean that they only have the power that you decide to bestow upon them.

    • March says:

      Oh sweetie! Well I’m happy for the weight loss … is that wrong of me to say! I know you’re going out of your mind right now. Hopefully you’ll find the small things that make you feel better. Yes? Yes?

      • Totally yes! and the weight loss is a big plus in an otherwise ‘adjustment required’ situation. I feel like that chick in Devil who said “I’m one stomach flu away from my ideal weight “=))

        Dumb as hell to consider it so but hey, I’ll take it! I figure, if I’m under this much stress I might as well get something positive out of it. Two dress sizes up from my ideal weight hasn’t helped matters here. Almost backing into a pair of chinos that I wouldn’t have gotten past my knees 3 mos ago? Priceless! ;))

        xo >-)

        ps. a note to anyone who finds themselves in a similar stressful situation – exercise and do find a hot minute to breathe! You absolutely must, even if it’s only a quiet walk for 5-10 minutes. I’m fortunate in that my father is somewhat independent – he can’t walk well or cook AT ALL – but he can be left for several hours, happily watching the ball game with our middle Rottweiler. It only took me a few days to realize that his comfort and safety depends upon my being able to care for him so……the only way I can do that is if I am healthy myself.

        So. In moderation, Put Your Own Mask On First!

        • March says:

          Heh. I remember getting the stomach flu THREE TIMES in maybe three months, the winter I’d gone back to work after I’d had Kid #2. And at the end of it, I fit back into my pre-baby clothes! I remember thinking there had to be a reward for the hell. I know you’ve been bummed about your weight, as long as you don’t get sick I’m all for it.

  • Melanie says:

    Actually, I like the fact that over the years I’ve made so many rules for myself when it comes to dressing-no horizontal lines, nothing double-breasted, nothing with a full silhouette, no batwing or dolman sleeves, on and on and on–it actually makes choosing clothes very easy (Once I find pants that fit my short-waisted but long-legged petite height. Oh, and nothing high-waisted. I’m giving my age away here, but when I was in junior high, very high-waisted pants were all the rage, so I got a pair and put them on for school. My mother told I looked like a frog in them, LOL, and that’s the first time I saw the light that what’s trendy doesn’t necessarily flatter me)

    • Flora says:

      I forgot that part! I have some unbreakable rules, even at my “worst”, that have served me well: 1. No yellow or olive drab, including “butterscotch” and related shades, unless in mall doses well hidden in a print. I look literally dead in it. 2. NO horizontal stripes. EVER. 3. No “real” plaid except for small accessories; glen and shadow plaid does not count. I may have Scottish ancestry but that’s no excuse for wearing it. Tartan is bad enough but buffalo/lumberjack plaid is the worst, and yet even high end designers keep dragging it onto the runway in everything from leggings to ball gowns. 4.Ornate print=simple design/plain fabric=okay to have more detailed design. Complicated print + complicated garment design =never. 5. The big one” Never wear anything just because it’s trendy, only if it works on me. This one rule has saved me both money and humiliation over the years. 🙂

      • Melanie says:

        Amen to the above, especially on saving money and humiliation. I’d rather not be noticed at all, than be noticed for the wrong reasons, at either extreme (too frumpy or fashion victim). I have to admit that I’m better at disguising the bad things than at playing up the good, so I’ll never meet the French standard of chic. I know I have no hips and no “assitol” as my husband says. I have a good bust, unfortunately comes with a short waist, and I don’t like to “highlight” my bosom anyway. I have small hips, but not a small waist in proportion to hips. Good legs, but no way am I wearing miniskirts at my age, and to my eyes they look weird anyway with a short waist and big bust on my short self. Like a top-heavy stick. Knee length with high heels is as close to playing that up as it gets (fortunately, I can hike miles in heels, I earned that badge in the Seventies wearing heels with jeans to school all the time, while hauling armloads of books. Youthful fashion victim.)
        This figure doesn’t leave me with many options. I’m terrible at accessorising, it always looks like I tried too hard when I try that. Most things don’t suit my height. So I play it safe and KISS, with both line and color. I don’t know if it’s good or bad that almost everything in my closet, bar a few dresses, can be worn with almost everything else (brown, black, or ivory. I’m a sucker for winter white).

  • Melanie says:

    This sounds very white-bread suburban, but it’s what I do anyway-I order a few more pieces from J Jill every season, they always go with the pieces I ordered the seasons before, and that’s the end of it. I love shoes, and have pairs that could stand alone as works of art, but that’s just what they’ve wound up being–something to look at, I never wear them.

    I also love vintage clothing, but I’m talking opera cloaks and robes de style from the early Twenties, even late Edwardian things (when the silhouette became slim)-I can’t think of anywhere I can go wearing a panniered frock 🙂 Maybe one of the opera cloaks, but I’m very short and would look like I’m dressed for a costume party–I just can’t carry off drama with my lack of height and freckles across my nose.

    So I’ll never stand out for my wardrobe-but that’s not necessarily a bad thing either, if I did turn heads because of what I’m wearing, I’m afraid it would be the wrong kind of attention, LOL.

    • March says:

      Hey, you’ve got a system that sounds like it works great for you, and you must look very pulled together. And hey, you can wear an opera cloak! You just have to go to the opera! (Or the theater for something else.) Yes, I wear one. :”> Life’s too short not to play, although you’re right a panniered frock would be hard. I’m short too, so it’s hard.

  • carmencanada says:

    I’m on that side of 40 as well and I can only agree with Carter. I have a huge vintage collection and my designer pieces, which I keep for years (decades) because I usually don’t buy the trendy stuff is well on the way to being qualified as vintage as well.
    I’m too tall and curvy to do frou-frou so unless Dries is doing the frills, I don’t: nothing girlish. I never did girlish, not even as a girl (I was a punk rocker cross between Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux). But I always did vintage ever since I could pay for my own clothes.

    For my work I need to be chic but not to wear a suit. No kids, but I do change at home (there *is* a Siamese cat) to avoid being smothered in cat hairs.

    Vintage stuff goes on in the evening. Daytime is all-black, for the obvious reasons (easy to put together in the morning, thinning, chic, Parisian): very simple, well-cut, almost always skirts (never higher than knee-length) or a dress. Jeans are against my sartorial religion. Few accessories: usually just the one, either earrings, necklace, belt or scarf (except for those pashminas I wear à la Parisienne to keep warm).

    And a self-imposed rule: never wear vintage, or a revival version, of something that came into style after I lost my cherry. That leaves neo-80s out.

    • Shelley says:

      =)) OMG, now I’ll never be able to answer with a straight face when someone asks why I steer clear of certain re-tread trends. (~~) (Gonna let pumpkin be the cherry of the season.)

    • carter says:

      Pre-Madonna-Cherry ;)) I call that excellent timing :d

    • March says:

      Yep, the 80s are out for me too! 😉 I spent hours and hours looking online for a blog or something with a bunch of images of “French” or Parisian fashion but couldn’t find one, although I think in one of these posts someone mentions one? The women in Paris by and large are just chic.

      • carter says:

        This one: http://frenchessence.blogspot.com/. She does a 4-part post on “The French Woman” — look for it to the right of the screen. So interesting because she is an Australian who has lived in France for many years, so she is looking in from the outside, more or less.

  • Flora says:

    I have a similar issue to deal with but from another angle – I used to dress like a schlub, hiding in oversized and shapeless clothing, even though I had read Vogue and other fashion magazines all my life, and then a couple of years ago I got really tired of it and decided to start dressing better. This happened to coincide with starting to watch the U.S. version of “What Not To Wear” and I cringed at seeing people who looked like me, or worse, finally seeing the light and dressing for their age, weight, profession, etc. I have had to face the age thing big time – falling in love with pretty, girly clothes at my age means that I have to be very careful that I don’t end up looking as though I am trying too hard to look younger, yet I refuse to ever look matronly. (My family has been instructed to shoot me on sight, no questions asked, if I am ever seen in a lilac polyester pantsuit, no matter how old I get.)

    I like vintage stuff too but I can only get away with it in small doses, and I am not the right size for most of it anyway. For me the most important thing was to figure out what really suited me in both cut and color and stick with it, building a backbone of go-to items that I can always count on, but I love color too so everything is not black, gray and camel, there are lots of colors and modern prints in the mix. (I only own one white tailored shirt and I never wear it since I look terrible in white.) I also love shopping, which helps a lot, and I have found great stuff everywhere from Goodwill and Target to Macy’s and other “regular” stores. My motto to live by is never pay retail, so it’s always an adventure. :d

    • March says:

      Wow, that must have been a revelation, watching What Not To Wear and thinking, that could be me! 😕 I don’t always agree with Clinton and Kelly but it’s a fun show.

      That’s funny… I think I look terrible in white too. They’re always talking about how crisp it is, but I feel washed out.

  • Cheryl says:

    I hear you, sister. I too am perplexed how to not have my bent for quirky clothing appear costume-y or batty. In the past I could throw business clothes onto the mix, but currently I have noplace business-y I need to be. And don’t want to not EVOLVE a great style as I head through the decades. I suspect there are some weird standards for women out there, in that clothes are supposed to be part of sexual arsenal and women past a certain age aren’t supposed to be invited to the games. Therefore:Nothing is appropriate except the most dull and most conservative and most casual stuff. And I want WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY better than that.

    • March says:

      We could make a whole separate post out of this, but yes — if you eliminate everything in fashion that is hyper-trendy, too casual, and too slutty/suggestive, you haven’t given me a lot to work with. Elegant/pretty would be nice.

  • Liza says:

    I’m staring 30 in the face and your musings gave me pause for thought. I am Asian of the curvy variety and have always been proud of my bra size because everyone in my family is flat and in my small home town none of the shops stocked bras in my size. Therefore I was unusual = special, right?

    So when I started to earn my own money about a decade ago, I was dressing to flaunt it. Especially as I am now living in a Western society which doesn’t seem to find a little cleavage so much.

    But now, I am sort of feeling I should keep my darlings to myself. I have started to even feel uncomfortable when men give me appraising looks and end up staring at my chest. I want them to go away. So to deal with that, I have stopped wearing low cut tops.

    Funny isn’t it? I have had the freedom to wear pretty much whatever I want since moving to Australia but I have done a 180-degree and now want to dress conservatively! Hopefully when I am staring at 40, I won’t feel like wearing a nun’s habit.


    • March says:

      Wait, you’re in your 20s? Doll! Let your darlings hang out! 😉 Okay, I can only speak for myself here … I wish I’d lived a little larger style wise in my 30s instead of wanting to be taken seriously.

  • Mindy says:

    I think I need to fly to New York and hire Carter as my style consultant.

  • Amy K says:

    I’m in my early thirties and a Seattle-ite, plus I have a seven-month-old baby, so for now I’m content with my simple outfit of jeans, a nice fitted sweater or shirt and a funky piece of jewelry. My makeup routine consists of blush, eye shadow and lipstick (and one or two sprays of perfume, of course). I rarely dry my wavy hair and I refuse to wear heels for any reason. So I guess you could say I look like all the other women in Seattle. I threaten daily to get a buzz cut if my daughter keeps yanking on my hair, but that definitely wouldn’t raise eyebrows around here. I’ll probably add some skirts back into my fashion rotation once I’m not spending all my time crawling around on the floor :d

    • March says:

      I dunno, you’re wearing three kinds of makeup PLUS perfume, seems pretty radical for Seattle! 😉 😮 And I’m laughing, the two times I cut my hair really short were when the girls were tugging on it.

  • Divalano says:

    Fabulously appropriate post, March. Well, for moi anyway.
    For the past 8 yrs I’ve worked p/t as an arty photog in black levi’s & boots mostly & p/t as a techie in whatever the hell jeans I wanted under a big blue lab coat. I’m still a photog but I now also work 5 days a week as IT management & while my immediate boss wears jeans & polarfleece half the time I now have permission to dress.

    I’ve added some basic black skirts to my repertoire and added killer little kitten heel ankle boots, some flattering blouses & started wearing my hair back in a clip instead of pony tails or loose. I’m thinking of more basics that I can wear with boots that fit my personality … think business-almost-casual with a funky/fashion edge. This summer I was wearing mid-calf swishy skirts with funky flats & perky blouses. Also, wearing a bit more jewelry as it helps with giving the look more personality, would like more rings & earrings.

    And of course … perfume IS the ultimate accessory 😉

    • March says:

      It seems to me you’ve added in a reasonable quantity and type of new items into your repertoire. I bet it looks great on you, and age appropriate, and transitions to wherever you want to go.

  • Louise says:

    Ah, the grown-up clothing issue. While it doesn’t plague me, I do wonder whether I’m doing “young” too much, too often.

    I worked for many years as an “Association Executive” and wore suits and really proper outfits, though casual days began to creep in toward the end of my tenure there. It felt really constricting to worry about how others might have seen me, for sure.

    Now I am with teens all day, and am up and moving, in a very low-key, no dress-code school. I usually wear a fun but neat dress or skirt outfit once or twice a week (usually for meetings) and spread the rest of the week out in neat slacks with slightly funky or casual sweater, or youngish jeans (I do like a pair of narrow-leg or colored jeans). I think at times I look too young, especially when I run into my students at Forever 21 😕 However, I think my best accomodation is hi-low, as said by dear Carter

    However, at this point in my life, comfort has to rule. I am very pleased with myself when I get up at 5, and still manage to pull together roughly appropriate and somewhat cute clothes, makeup and styled hair. For off-work moments, I’m with Patty-yoga pants, sweats and hoodies rule. If I can get myself to the gym, then I’d much rather spend my time meeting a (tolerant!) girlfriend for coffee than finding “appropriate” clothes :d/

    And I will not give up my funky nail polish, not evah!

    • March says:

      Louise, you have a very defined, strong style that looks fabulous on you. I think part of the reason your look works is that you’re thin and angular and very tidy looking — neat nails, short hair. You never look messy to me, and your stuff isn’t beat up, even if it’s low-end. You’re also the master of the hi-lo, you have some very nice things!

  • Mindy says:

    It’s so nice to know I’m not alone in this “growing up” phase. My daughter has started to benefit from the gleaning of my closets but I’m having difficulty with finding age appropriate replacements. I’m not giving up my jeans and I’ll dress like an old lady when I’m dead.

    • March says:

      That’s the rub, isn’t it? I don’t feel “old.” As far as I’m concerned 50 is the new 30. But girls in their teens and 20s can have a certain level of sloppiness that looks whimsical on them and dowdy on an older woman. My daughter is enjoying my castoffs as well!

  • carter says:

    Great topic, March! I think that most women struggle with this as they, uh, mature. As a person who sells vintage clothing and accessories for a living, I know well the misery of loving a certain style and not being able to pull it off any longer. So here’s what I do: hi-lo, new-old. Exactly like what you did with your Adolfo and jeans. That’s the trick, and once you’ve figured out the perfect balance, it’s not only easy, it’s fun.

    The clothing I sell is for the most part extremely high-end stuff: Dior, Chanel, YSL, Beene, Gucci. I pick and choose pieces to accent or mix with modern clothing in a way that spotlights them but doesn’t make me look like I’m desperately clinging to my youth — well, at least that’s the goal. My newer clothes consist of well-made pieces that will never go out of style, along with a small selection of more trendy things from the current season. This can be stuff from Target or Top Shop — I rarely spend much on a fun fad — and I donate it as soon as I’m tired of it. This season one of the biggest trends happens to be the trench, which is great because anyone can wear it. I have a vintage Burberry (one of the all-cotton ones from before they started mixing it with poly) and the trick is to wear it in a modern way, but there are so many options for such a versatile article of clothing. Cool scarves, bags, shoes, pants; even how you tie the belt. It goes without saying that bags, shoes and scarves are great ways to take a classic piece and jazz it up, but I always try to be sure to strike a balance between high and low quality when I do this — if the main piece is inexpensive, the others can be less so, and vice-versa.

    My make-up and nails are always quiet and classic, and my hair is almost always up or back. I don’t wear cheap jewelry anymore, or not often, anyway, but good-quality costume jewelry works. Larger pieces now, and nothing “cute”. Silk scaves — almost all of them vintage Patou, Saint Laurent and other French designers, who were masters at that particular art — but these don’t have to be expensive if you spend a little time on eBay looking for a deal. Hermes is nice, but I don’t think I own even one.

    So, anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. Modifications ongoing, of course

    • carter says:

      Oh, and on the “uniform* question, it’s a good thing! The reason you see so many fashion editors (and New Yorkers in general) wearing black is because it’s easy and cool. The older I get, the few clothes I have, simply because I love the idea of a uniform. Fashion for me has apparently come full circle (%) but what I aspire to, always, is style.

      • carter says:

        I just found this excerpt from a fashion industry publication on the subject of adult “uniforms”:

        “Uniforms have been very much on my mind as of late and I think they’re highly underrated. The concept makes so much sense and jives so well with the busy, multiple lives we all lead, and it’s particularly relevant when applied to one’s work life. Sure there are those special times that demand a pull no stops, all out primping but, let’s face it, most women don’t have the time or inclination to fuss on a daily basis and need reliable pieces that they can depend upon and that will work for them day and night. Affecting some sort of uniform ‘works’ because it’s quick, easy, surefire, and a no brainer. It enables one to get dressed and get out the door in no time flat. Best of all, you feel confident, comfortable, prepared for whatever the day has in store, and ready to tackle more theserious issues of life.

        The late great Geoffrey Beene, who defined ‘modern’, was always an advocate of the ‘uniform’, and even called his spring 2003 collection, ‘Uniforms’. But he was not proposing the uniform of a man’s stiff suit, a garage mechanic, or a flight attendant, but rather a chic wearable modern uniform that flatters a woman (one of the proponents could easily be the versatile jersey jumpsuit that he loved so much and that so often served as the foundation of a day to evening uniform look).

        Donna Karan’s breakthrough ‘7 Easy Piece Collection’ in 1985 (which many felt the designer wisely and successfully tapped into this season) began with a bodysuit as foundation, and was fundamentally a uniform way of dressing. And style iconoclast Iris Barrel Apfel, may be celebrated for her rather eccentric and colorful style, but on a daily basis, she relies on distinctive basics. In the course of my interview with her for ‘The Masters of Fashion’ Series, she admitted that even though the Met’s Costume Institute curators were more interested in displaying her more visual, over-the-top outfits for the ‘Rara Avis’ exhibit, the wardrobe staples she tends to ‘live’ in are of the more simplified black and gray variety, which provide her with a perfect backdrop and foil for her amazing accessories. When I asked how she dresses for summer in the city, she proclaimed her uniform is a white shirt and jeans (men’s jeans, which she said fit her best).

        Of course, what constitutes the components of a uniform will vary from woman to woman and one must take into consideration one’s age, occupation, geographical location, and personal style. For example, for a lawyer or corporate executive, it would most likely be some sort of matched suit (probably a skirt suit), or a dress with jacket or coat. For a stay at home mom, the perfect uniform could consist of those perfect, well-cut jeans and ankle boots (or skinny pants tucked into tall boots) teamed with a shirt and/or a hand knit or cashmere sweater, with that all-important coat thrown over it.

        For a magazine editor or someone in a more creative field- there is far more flexibility and a uniform could mean anything and everything (all the above, some of the above, a mix of the above). And one can’t overlook the always chic and timeless white shirt worn with a black skirt or black pant that works across the board, and has been touched on by almost every designer (or so it seems) for the past few seasons with no end in sight. It’s impossible to go wrong with this combo.

        Coincidentally, this subject was broached in the special March 13-20th double issue of New York Magazine, ‘Best of New York’. Within the section on ‘Buying’, they focused their attention on urban essentials and asked four New York editors (Harriet Mays Powell, fashion director, Aja Mangum, market research editor, Amy Larocca, style writer, and Janet Ozzard, Strategist Editor) to “offer their dream versions of this spring’s uniform”.

        Unsurprisingly, while the choices may have been somewhat different, they were all similar in that they were to the point, non frilly, and built around a fabulously chic knee length coat, in a neutral shade (white or tan), thrown over either a black dress or perfectly tailored black pants and a crisp white shirt, and worn with distinctive, timeless accessories (chunky chain necklaces, expensive bags and shoes).

        What elements have to be present in an item in order to qualify it for uniform status? Well, it has to be simple, versatile, comfortable, flattering, effortless, timeless, classic, AND distinctive (in fabric, shape, or silhouette) because, quite frankly, if it’s not distinctive what’s the point? But it also must be ambiguous and non-descript enough so that the woman won’t easily tire of it, can easily ‘disguise’ it and wear frequently (without appearing to have done so), and can easily mix it with other items in her closet. (So it probably won’t be something in lacquer red or in a memorable eye-popping print or pattern). Tall order? Not necessarily.

        A look at recent runways which were filled with tons of perfect crisp white shirts, great knitwear, beautifully constructed coats, deftly crafted and constructed jackets, a procession of trousers and skirts, simple yet artfully draped jersey dresses, updated classics like pea jackets and trench coats translated into a neutral, dark color palette that relied heavily on black, ink blue, and gray, suggests that designers have provided a variety of women with enough choices that can work as dependable wardrobe staples.”

      • March says:

        Well, I love black and dark colors in NY because they don’t show dirt. 🙂

      • Melanie says:

        Carter, that reminds me of the scene in the movie “Funny Face” when the fashion magazine has decided that women must “Think Pink” for the new season. At the end of the huge campaign, she’s still wearing her little beige suit. When asked why she isn’t wearing pink, the fashion editor (who started all the hoo-ha) says “I wouldn’t be caught dead in pink”. LOL! That scene fits right in with my suspicions about new trends.

    • March says:

      oh my god. Well, I don’t know what else to say about your lengthy, thoughtful posts here, except I wish your pesky spawn had been out of town the weekend I’d been in NY 😉 and I’ll have to buttonhole you another time I’m up there. I’d love to talk. I’m going to reread your uniform comment a couple more times.

  • Patty says:

    I’m totally living in yoga togs right now. 🙂 BUT I have been thinking it’s time for a change. I did the dress for success for years, and for a period in that, I had a very cool style, before kids when I had a kick-ass figure that supported cinched in red dresses and teeny black and white dresses.

    But those were ingenue clothes, too. I’m pretty much ready for a change, but haven’t quite figured out what it should be. So the yoga togs are my transition clothes while I figure it out. I’ll likely never really give them up, but I do need some style beyond that.

    • March says:

      Yeah but you are actually DOING the yoga. Last time I checked. There are wimmin here who never get out of their lululemons who haven’t done a downward dog in 20 years.

  • MJ says:

    I hear you too. I’m 40 and a lawyer who wears navy and black pantsuits. I spent years in a school uniform and have very little interest in clothes (I do NOT understand accessorizing, and I’m finding that I’m taking my style and color cues from men’s preppy lines) so I live in 1) suits (and I never wanted to be a lawyer or suit wearer! I wanted to be a professor and murder mystery writer! I’m in the WRONG LIFE!!!) and 2) jeans/sweats at home. Weekends and evenings are a mystery to me. Frankly, I probably look pretty plain or mannish in my uniform of jeans or black pants, black or white shirts,tees, turtlenecks and sweaters. Looking like a LL Bean ad would be an improvement for me, as it would indicate 1) coordination, 2) accessorizing, and 3) taking more than 3 minutes to get dressed.

    On the other hand – I don’t care. I only feel like “me” in jeans, polarfleece and running/hiking shoes, and I feel more comfortable in the men’s preppy stuff than “girly” clothes which I have never understood.

    I’m happy, though I suspect my parents (in their 70s and very conventional) are pretty mortified that I don’t love jewelry, loud makeup and big hair like mom, don’t aspire to join their social club where I could wear evening gowns (I went to one party, once, in pants) and don’t understand why they think pantyhose and pumps are an attractive look (eew, so 1960s). Whatever….

    I miss my school uniform. I never had to think about what to wear at all, only about what was clean on a given day.

    • March says:

      Omigod, you went in pants?!?! Falls over dead. 😉
      I think your lawyer uniform sounds like your school uniform — practical and simple. And you aren’t running around in anything that sounds wildly inappropriate and it’s not a priority, so … it’s all good, right?

      • MJ says:

        Flared black pants and an LOUD psychedelic evening jacket. I think it was so loud that no on noticed the pants (and other women wore them too, some even in the club’s pseudo-military “uniform” which is really rather appealingly androgynous, but my love of that look is a whole other subject.)

        • March says:

          Well, that outfit sounds just fine! I totally get the military look thing too. But I feel like you either need height or shoulders for that, and I lack both.

          • MJ says:

            Whoa – unrelated but I just had a breakthrough. The crew sweater today is BLAH, the sweater set I tried last night polished and more elegant. I’m going to return this and start wearing that – I CAN look better! I CAN!

            Though I’ll still have cat fur issues.

            I am 5’6″ and not the thinnest (and fat aside am muscular) so the uniforms really don’t work on me either. I look like an odd little man.

          • March says:

            I think crew sweaters tend to look kind of lumpy, just my opinion. They’re never fitted enough, it’s like a man-sweater cut. Definitely go for the sweater set!

  • tmp00 says:

    I came the other way around; I went back to wearing what my parents put me in back in the day. Chinos, buttondowns, polo shirts and the occasional sport coat. It’s just easier than trying to tell myself that I can wear (or for that matter afford) the latest $200 pair of jeans or skintight $150 t-shirt. I need nothing Christian Audigier in my life..

    • March says:

      See, though, Tom, I love that. Hopefully nobody else will read my snark … when I was in NY, in Brooklyn. I’m surrounded by men my age wearing clothing their 8-year-olds are wearing — ratty jeans, hipster tee shirts, dumb jackets, trendy shoes. I thought, you are a grown man, why are you dressing like that?! I love men in suits, but what you’re describing is easy and appropriate and looks attractive.

      • carter says:

        I am going to take a wild guess and say that you were in fatally hip-hip-hip Williamsburg b-). I even know where you were headed, you dawg /:)

        • March says:

          You know it! Seriously, though, in tomorrow’s post I’m going to tell everyone to read your comment. I need to hire you for a consultation.

          I am doing an EXTREMELY half-assed job of putting the twins to bed, can you tell?

  • Melissa says:

    Interesting post, to which I would like to add a twist. I’m also attempting to update my wardrobe and my look. I have plenty of freedom to wear what I want to work, from casual/nice to more tailored business-wear on important meeting days. I tend toward the former. As you know, I’m very petite (5′), so anything too boho or frou-frou overwhelms me.

    Problem is, the way vanity sizing has taken over, I practically have to shop in the girl’s department to find clothing that fits me. Not exactly age-appropriate for my late forties. Most everything, (including crap in the dreaded petite department), seems to be made for people who are a lot taller/bigger than me.

    So, I drool over lines from Europe that I might be able to wear, but I certainly can’t afford. I don’t even bother to try them on because of the prices. I’m now considering a Brazilian Keratin treatment to straighten my crazy curly hair. That would be a start to a more polished and mature look.

    • Louise says:

      Ach! the upsizing is killing me too-especially when stores have to special order my size-and I pay the shipping :((

    • March says:

      I’m at the lower end of the size scale, but I know you and Louise are falling off the bottom. :d And yes, I could see that would be a total drag. It’s funny when I compare it esp. to some of my vintage sizes, in which I may be something like a 10 or even a 12. It seems to me that some designers have smaller sizes than others, but the girls’ dept is just depressing.

  • Nava says:

    I’ve been in the “jeans for every occasion” stage of life for about a decade now, and I can honestly say that I have no intention of giving it up any time soon.

    Anyone else remember the time when it was de rigeur to get dressed up to fly? I can remember getting on a plane with my mom as a child in the most constricting get-ups, only to be strapped into a seat for an hour and a half (but thoroughly enjoying Air Canada’s idea of a snack in those days: a Coke, a bag of really salty peanuts and two Peek Freans shortbread cookies – MADE WITH LARD!).

    Maybe one day I’ll re-think my wardrobe of choice; maybe I’ll get tackled on the street by a roving gang of makeover harpies. But for now, it works.

    • carter says:

      I make cookies with lard, too. Nothing better! Long live Peak Freans ^:)^

      • March says:

        I’m pretty sure they still make Peek Freans, and my guess is they’re no better for you, which is why they taste so good!

        I don’t remember dressing up to fly, but I do remember when everyone could still smoke on airplanes. Yuck. :-& Like it wasn’t gross enough already.

        • carter says:

          They used to have them at Rodman’s.

        • Nava says:

          Peek Freans is now owned by Kraft. Their cookie factory is here in Toronto not far from where friends of mine live. Sometimes when you drive by it, you can smell the baking. Yum! But I doubt the shortbread they’re making now has lard in it. They were soooo good!

          • carter says:

            I think you’re probably right about the lard. There’s an apple pie baked in a paper bag available online from The Elegant Farmer that has a lard crust, but it is just about the only commercially available product I’ve come across that contains gen-u-ine leaf lard. Pity :((

  • Aparatchick says:

    Interesting topic, March. This subject comes up frequently on another forum I frequent. It’s usually phrased as: ” I’m 42 (or 47 or 53 or 60) and I can’t figure out what to wear or where to buy it.” You’re definitely not alone. I was happy to leave the suit environment (good phrase, Fiordiligi!) several years ago, but then didn’t really know what to wear to my job at a very laid-back office in a beachy, surfer-dude community. It took a number of tries – some quite unsuccesful – to find out what worked for me. It turned out to be “no frills.” That actually includes many styles, but similar silhouettes, if that makes any sense.

    Good luck; it can be fun experimenting!

    • carter says:

      Amen to all that =d>

    • Aparatchick says:

      Oh, and when you say “living in mummy’s English basement rental property on my trust fund check, with three golden retrievers and a tenuous grip on reality”, it reminds me of one of my experiments at a new style gone very wrong. It was described by my brother as “a cross between Auntie Mame and Grey Gardens.” 😮 Fortunately, there are no pictures. :d

  • Fiordiligi says:

    Very interesting post. I’m older than you are, too, and don’t have children/pets, but a few years ago I left the city/suits environment to do the same work but as a consultant working from home. Gradually, I’ve changed how I dress, but, with my lifestyle and living in the city still, I just have to be sure I’m always well-groomed with hair and makeup “done” (none of this “working in pyjamas” for me) even if my clothes are more casual. I’m comfortable with the way this is evolving, but I do have some fabulous clothes and I have to remind myself that there is no law saying there’s no reason I can’t work from home clad in hand-painted velvet if I feel like it!

    I would be interested to hear what others have to say too, and look forward to part deux about perfumes (of course). Pre-empting you somewhat, I might also add that I still sit at my desk swathed in vintage Guerlain, as it is so much a part of who I am.

    • March says:

      Eeee, I feel like I oversold the perfume part … :”> well, you’ll see, but I’ll be talking about what seems to be working for me right now. For what it’s worth, everyone probably knows this already, I mostly feel perfume-wise everyone should wear anything they want. Although I’d prefer something other than Angel. 😉

  • Tiara says:

    Not only am I having to look at a style change, but more of a whole lifestyle change. Youngest child off to college, we’re now empty nesters. I lived in jeans by choice and necessity. With husband out of town most weekdays, everything was up to me. Jeans meant I could walk the kids to school, come home and scrub the kitchen floor, then pop into the yard to cut the grass — all without having to change clothes. A phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to walk was simple. Change of shoes and off I went.

    Evenings and weekends were usually spent on or around often muddy soccer fields. Those jeans just transitioned me perfectly from home to field and back again.

    Now, however, I’m not on the pitch, no one needs my help walking to school, my husband retired early and enjoys yard work. (Well, some yard work.) I realized over the summer that I needed to look at dumping the jeans, finding new clothes along with new opportunities for volunteering, and overall getting a life.

    My journey is just beginning so it will be with great interest that I follow you on yours.

    • March says:

      I think I’m going to put a note in tomorrow’s post that everyone should read Carter’s comments below! 🙂 I do think jeans are in many ways ideal clothing for me, or some other casual pants (like cords which are just as washable.) But it’s finding ones that don’t look to juvenile or sloppy, paired with a shoe that’s neither dull nor ugly. A tall order.

      • Gretchen says:

        Hearing you again on the casual pants issue, March. Thanks to Carter for a neat, succinct essay.

  • Gretchen says:

    March, I hear you completely. Working in high-tech I never really had to “dress for success”, and I don’t have to dress for mom-duty, but I have always preferred to mix up boho, vintage, and even costumey looks. And yes, I’ve come to realize that I’d always seen myself as the ingenue– and I’m older than you. I don’t want to seen as “mutton dressed as lamb” (the woman who doesn’t recognize her own age) but I don’t want to be a boring old frump either. So I’m very interested to see how you now develop your wardrobe choices. (That museum-going ensemble sounds just right!) The fact that I hate to hand-wash anything or to pay for dry-cleaning is a restriction on my everyday clothing choices, of course, as is the fact that I live in a suburb and don’t want to overdress for activities like taking the dog to the vet or making half-hearted attempts at yardwork. Let me close this overlong comment by repeating that I’ll be following your thoughts on this subject and its perfume corollary with GREAT interest.

    • March says:

      It sounds like there is some overlap in the way we’ve been choosing to dress. And I understand about the overdressing concept as well. But there’s got to be better than some of the stuff I’ve been running around in. There’s interesting and then there’s … disconnected to reality.