Fashion after 50

Blog_hats“I really want to get to the ‘leggings every day’ way of life. I just can’t find those flowing tops,” says Donna, my best friend of over 50 years.

She is the one person in the world who understands me best, and we are having a conversation, via texting, about the ongoing struggle over what to wear.

We’re not talking about how to select an outfit for any given day, but about how to build a wardrobe that reflects who we are, while still being presentable enough to prevent us from being picked up as vagrants when we leave the house.

We are 57 years old and fashion took a backseat to comfort a long time ago. Our mental list of clothing items that Blog_leggingscomplete the sentence “Life is too short for…” has grown to include:

▪  Tight shoes, shoes with slippery soles, and any kind of heels. We are thankful that sneakers and sport sandals are considered appropriate footwear in so many situations these days, but if they weren’t, it’s entirely possible that we’d be wearing the same chunky orthopedic shoes we used to mock behind the backs of our elementary-school lunch ladies.

▪  Pants that are too high-waisted, too low-waisted, or have constricting waistbands. The midsection has always been an area of particular concern. In our younger days it was because we were constantly trying tricks to minimize it, some of which even involved Spandex; now it’s because if we leave the house in the morning in a pair of pants with a poorly-fitting waistband, we know that by noon we’re either going to be unbuttoning the fly or experiencing abdominal discomfort.

▪  Uncomfortable underwear, including but not limited to bad bras, bikini underpants (let’s not go any further thanBlog_underwear that in the underpants department; in my childhood, “strings” were what you tied your sweatshirt hood with, and “thongs” was a synonym for flip-flops, and I prefer not to think about any other use those words may have in today’s fashion world), underwear with elastic that is past its prime, and anything called a “foundation garment” that makes you feel as if some body part or other is encased in a garden hose.

▪  Any garment that itches, pinches, chafes, rubs, or otherwise doesn’t “feel right.” I used to wear turtlenecks all winter without a second thought, until several years ago (it may have coincided with the arrival of hot flashes), when they started making me feel like I was being strangled, so they went into the donation box. (I’m a big thrift store donor, as well as shopper. Sometimes I even donate something I’ve just bought that doesn’t turn out to be as wonderful as I’d hoped; Donna and I call this “catch and release thrifting.”)

When I’m at home, I confess, my usual uniform is flannel pajama pants (always with pockets) and soft, well-worn t-shirts (long-sleeved or short-, depending on the season). Donna favors leggings and something from her impressive collection of cozy fleece tops. These clothing choices are ultra-comfortable, and our cats seem to appreciate the soft laps they provide.

But, as much as we’d both like to, we can’t stay home with the cats all the time, and neither one of us has ever really been able put together a “going-out look” that is both comfortable and uniquely ours.

Blog_makeupFor my part, I’ve settled on a default wardrobe that includes three pairs of jeans (tan and black for my three-day-a-week, anything-but-blue-jeans job, blue for everything else), an assortment of about a dozen thrift store tops, sneaker-type walking shoes, and that’s about it. In the summer I’ll switch to three pairs of capris, a dozen or so summer tops, and sturdy sandals.

I’ve never given much thought to fashion (my daughters are nodding vigorously as they read this), but now that I’ve begun—finally, in late middle-age—to develop a sense of Who I Am, it would be kind of nice to put together a look that reflects that.

I’m very drawn, for instance, to highly textured hand-knit scarves and cowls in either jewel tones or earth tones…at least when I see them on other people. I know how to knit; I could just sit down and make myself a few. But I’ve never really been able to pull off any sort of scarf-like thing—they make me look like I’m either being treated for whiplash or have become hopelessly entangled in something.

Blog_LizPI have a friend, a writer and dramatist, whose look—usually all black, with just a hint of bright color in a layered t-shirt or tank top—I greatly admire. And it’s a fantastic look on red-winged blackbirds, one of my favorite birds, too. But when I tried it out, I only resembled a rather plump and ungainly crow.

I agree with Donna that leggings and “those flowing tops” seem like a wonderful idea (especially, for some reason, if the tops are in water color-inspired shades of blue, green, and teal), but I absolutely need big enough pockets to carry a tube of lip balm, my Swiss Army knife, an 8-foot tape measure, and my phone. I just do. Besides, I’m sure I’d be constantly slamming my sleeves and hems in the car door, or catching them on something.

So I guess for now I’m sticking with jeans and thrift store tops when I have to leave the house, and flannel pants (with pockets) and t-shirts when I don’t.

At least the cats will be happy.

14 thoughts on “Fashion after 50

  1. Right on! I find I’ve established a “uniform” for work. During the academic year it is black slacks 2X/wk, grey, brown, and scrounge for something else 1X/wk each, topped with a turtleneck (I favor the pima cotton LL Bean ones), and a cardigan sweater (sometimes a pullover). In summer the dress code is relaxed and we get to wear shorts – khaki shorts, and I love the linen tops from LLBean best. I think sometimes about how I’ll empty out much of my closet when I retire and wear jeans every day – can’t wait.

    I, too, would love to do the leggings/flowing top look, but I get cold easily, so it will be turtlenecks and sweaters for me forever. I’m wishing I could afford clothes from here: (check out the “Basic” section under the “Clothes” link at the top.

    OK, friends, where else do you dream of shopping?

  2. I totally hear you. You know what is worse? After you retire and breathe a sigh of relief that you no longer have to wear work clothes, you realize that now your wardrobe is geared to looking like you haven’t started a dementia when you see your doctor!

  3. Oh my God, Amy…I turn fifty this year, and I am starting to think about style for the first time in my life. When I was a teen I always dressed differently from everyone else, and it was always about how it felt (not comfort, but more “is this dress my personality today”). I dressed in a lot of flowy things – flowing tops with jeans, or flowing, India-cotton dresses in earth-tones. I am not at all a visual person, so I can’t judge how things will look on me…I can usually tell if they’re awful, but not why or how to fix it. With my more rounded figure, it’s getting hard for me to feel like I look presentable in anything other than jeans or pants…but I love dresses! But all my extra weight is in my stomach, so they look weird, lol. Still, when I leave the house (or stay in it), I want to feel like my clothing fits my “spiritual mood.”

    • I’ve hated dresses and skirts my whole life. It’s been about 40 years since the last time my mother made me wear one, and I haven’t put one on any more often than I could help it since then. It may have been being made to attend my first-ever Red Sox game in a jumper and a white blouse with ruffles on the sleeves when I was 8 that put me over the edge…

  4. Another winning piece, Amy. In addition to the content, I love that you stuck in appropriate bits of e-messages! How do you do that??

    • I took screen shots (you know how to do that, right?) and posted them as photos. (And I did get permission–sort of–from my texting partner before posting).

  5. Amy – thank you for the belly laugh. Hopefully Ruthie reads this and orders a few more long flowing sweaters and shirts to keep the over 50 crowd in style. And I think you just came up with an excellent topic for the senior college: “How to dress as Who You Are.” Sign me up!

    • Maybe we could all bring our not-quite-right clothing items to the class and trade. I’m positive MY perfect look is lurking in someone else’s closet.

  6. Amy, Love this, especially because I just got back from visiting a Florida friend who gamely tried to help me find the flowing top look..

  7. Enjoyed this. I like to think of Goodwill as a lending library. Recently I’ve been wondering if it might be a good idea to add knee pads to my pajamas, so I wouldn’t have to change my clothes to work in the garden…

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