How to be a fashionista after 50
By Cindy La Ferle, Special to The Oakland Press
By the time we reach midlife, most of us have discovered that fashion history repeats itself. What goes around comes around – even if we can’t always button it across the middle. This occurred to me during a visit to the local mall, where I was haunted by the ghosts of my high school wardrobe. Everywhere I looked, there were racks of ruffled gypsy skirts and gossamer peasant blouses; rows of strappy "gladiator" sandals; and stacks of jeans stitched with beads and sequins.
My inner teenage girl desperately wanted to buy everything in sight, including a totally cool military jacket that must have been inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders. But the voice of common sense – the voice belonging to my inner middle-aged mom – told me it was time to shop for something more mature. Something “age-appropriate.” Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been grappling with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. I mean, with Goldie Hawn posing for magazine covers in miniscule tank tops, and Mick Jagger prancing around in the same hip huggers he wore back in 1968, what do fashion editors mean when they tell us to dress our age? In "Steal This Style," a new and invaluable guide for middle-aged women, author Sherrie Mathieson insists that we can borrow from the closets of our daughters and nieces. But we must do so with restraint -- and a finely tuned sense of personal style. "Unfortunately, reinterpreting what the younger generation is wearing leaves the margin for error wide open -- and that may be the reason we are reluctant to change," warns Mathieson. "On the other hand, we can easily age ourselves by resigning ourselves to wearing the same old, same old." Using real women as models, Mathieson illustrates her point with "before and after" photos. I'm ashamed to admit that I recognized myself in a few of the "before" shots. But as Mathieson reminds us, even the best of us can fall into fashion ruts. Sometimes we need to be rescued. After becoming a mother in my early thirties, for instance, I went through the obligatory matron phase. Totally focused on my parenting duties, I schlepped around grocery stores and school parking lots in oversized T-shirts, baggy tunics, and ankle-grazing denim jumpers – outfits that made my Grandma Ruby’s housedresses look seductive. It took years to correct those fashion mistakes -- and I have a family album of photos to prove it. Thankfully, a stylish friend in her eighties reminded me that reaching maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with looking foolish or frumpy. Echoing the late Coco Chanel, my friend believes that achieving a style of one’s own can take a lifetime, and that a woman should never stop trying. Or, as Sherrie Mathieson reminds us: "AARP's invitation to join when you hit fifty doesn't mean you automatically become a charter member of a crazy hat club or a purple boa society." Today I have no desire to revisit my youth. I don’t miss the insecurities or the acne or the go-go boots. But I do miss the fun I had with fashion when I was 16. And since I don't have daughters, I have no other closets from which to borrow shoes or inspiration. Most of the time, I rely on experts like Mathieson for fashion advice. Recently, though, my twentysomething son asked if he could tag along on a visit to the local mall. Stopping at one of his favorite clothing stores, I pointed out that some of the merchandise bore an eerie resemblance to outfits his dad and I had worn at his age. (I didn’t even flinch when my son called the style “retro.”) He wandered off to look for a new track jacket while I admired a gorgeous display of hippie jewelry. “That was neat stuff,” I told him as we left the store and headed for the mall exit. “But it’s probably way too young for me, and I’d look silly in most of it.” My son rarely has an opinion about women’s clothing – mine or his girlfriend's. But this time he repeated verbatim what I always told him whenever he asked for my opinion on his clothes. “Hey, if you like it, that’s what matters,” he said, shrugging And that was all the encouragement I needed. Next week, I’m going back for that cool military jacket.