Every day, on my way to get coffee, I have to walk by Chico’s, which is around the corner from my art gallery. Inevitably, I always shake my head. I mean, the outfits featured in their window had to pass through a bunch of approvals on the way to being produced. Are we over-40’s relegated to wearing what amounts to Garanimals* for “women of a certain age”? I swear to Goddess the designers must be exactly the wrong kind of high. In the distant past, Chico’s carried simple impossible-to-wrinkle pieces in black and other basic colors, and maybe they still do. I’m not trying to insult women out there who dig what they’re serving up: which, from my perspective, is a mix of the worst version of Planet of the Apes chic, and also, if Queen Tassel and Bad Eighties Geometry spawned a litter of love-children.
Sorry, no. I’m not wearing that. I’m also not wearing Ann Taylor, or Talbots, or any other brands marketed to “older” women.
Where is the female version of John Varvatos? Men aren’t criticized for not-wearing “age appropriate” outfits. I’ve literally never heard that said to a man, ever.
“I contend that by the time we are over 40, hopefully we’ve lost a fair amount of our give-a-shit.”
If you do an online search of what brands are targeted to older women, the list is heinous. What makes anyone think that that invisible line between 39 and 40, or 49 and 50 means we’re all going to want to wear endless permutations of sleeveless sheath dresses in preppy pink? The message is loud and clear. Women of a certain age can’t be sexy. We absolutely shouldn’t be flamboyant. Down, girls, down. You’ve had your time, now THIS is how you’re expected to present yourself moving forward.
Thank Goddess I own my business, so I really can wear, within reason, whatever I want. Generally, I rock stretch pants, tunics, lots of jewelry, and flat, yet over-the-top boots. Sometimes I’ll have 6 or 8 different hues of purple on at once, and what sometimes seems like 51 shades of gray. My scarf collection rivals that of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. I have really big red hair, and about 6 pair of cat-eye glasses. I’ve started to morph into Flashdance meets Professor Trelawney. It’s the closest I can come to bending to what is considered socially acceptable attire for a woman over 40. I still have some truly crazy, some would say, entirely NON-Age-appropriate Betsy Johnson dresses, which I don’t wear them to work (there are rules for business attire, even in an art gallery, and I don’t want to scare away any sales). And who says I can’t wear those pieces—and all the other funky stuff I’ve collected over the years—somewhere else?
A close friend of mine, actually. I still remember her saying to me, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” That philosophy is echoed across most American society, and in many other parts of the world.
To me, it’s really all just another attempt to control women, particularly older women, or crones*. The fashion industry, as with all other aspects of society, want to control our “place.” Worse yet, other women, both younger and older, stand in judgment. There’s nothing wild, fun, and exciting to wear that’s new, AND targeted to women over 40.
By the way, that’s crazy. Given it is us women over 40 with discretionary income, we SHOP, and we all deserve to be adorned on the outside like whatever version of QUEEN we imagine ourselves as on the inside, they should be throwing all sorts of clothing styles our way. After all, we’ve made it this far.
I contend that by the time we are over 40, hopefully we’ve lost a fair amount of our give-a-shit. For many of my friends, the self-deprecation and self-loathing that ruled them in their younger years has been kicked well and truly to the curb. Gratefully, I never felt any of that, probably as a consequence of living as a child in Paris, where they don’t teach little girls to deny their individual beauty. In the last 10 years or so, though, I’ve met more older American women who have made peace with themselves and discovered their own awesomeness. It’s why I’ve made so many more female friends as I’ve aged.
Why, then, aren’t our older years dedicated to letting our individual freak flags fly, aided and supported by the women surrounding us? If you’re like me, you’ve lived long enough that you have clothing representing at least two or three decades. Maybe, like me, you were on the vintage clothing bandwagon early on, back when you could get beaded sweaters or little black dresses for $10. You might even have pieces stretching all the way back to the 1930s or 40s, some of which, even if you could find them at all now, they’d be in the hippest store in Brooklyn for $600. Whole companies have made a killing attempting, to greater or less success, to reproduce those pieces. Ahem, Anthropologie.
I say until the outside world gets a clue and starts targeting women our age with gorgeous, sassy, flamboyant, sexy, sophisticated clothes that cost less than $400 an item, we should rock every single thing we already own that we love, thereby showing our self-love, and celebrating our own individual sense of fashion.
I found some great blogs about fashion written by older women, and they are GIVING ME LIFE! I especially love Style Crone, written by a woman over 70, who looks more put together and joyful than most 20-somethings I know. Not Dressed as Lamb is an award-winning site run by Catherine, a 44 year old English gal, who knows how to put pieces together from the preppiest to the most rock and roll and make them her own. I love 40 Plus Stylewhich is where style guru Silvia offers a complete guide on how to dress any way you want and still look wonderful, regardless of your age. EXCEPT, her links page is full of the usual suspects. Bag and a Beret is written by 50-something Mel, who is a visual artist, and has been in Vogue and Marie Claire. Her fashion sense and fearlessness are spectacular. All these women look like they’re having an amazing time wearing what they want.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this wonderful blog that responded to the 24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After 30, called 24 Things Women Over 30 Should Wear. Hint: Numbers 24 through 1 are listed as, to paraphrase, “Whatever the hell they want.” The article shows a delicious collection of powerful, individual ladies with styles all over the fashion map, but none look like they worried about being “age appropriate.”
Meanwhile, someone out there really has to create a company with price-conscious clothes with flair, style, and funk, for those of us who want to celebrate our ageless awesomeness.
*Garanimals, for those of you who missed this, either as a kid or a parent, is a clothing line started in 1972 that branded themselves by having color coded tags that indicate which pieces of clothing can be matched. According to their wiki page, the hang tags have animal characters that allow kids to shop for and match their own clothing. Obviously babies Vivienne Westwood and Betsy Johnson eschewed this match-y match-y system.
**crone as a descriptor is not meant to be negative. It may have a negative derivation from the old French word charogne (which means a shrewish woman), but as many of you already know, in pre-monotheistic society, the crone, or archetypal wise woman, was an essential and very powerful part of every community. Check out this amazing, albeit a tad man-hating, book on the crone.
Leslie Combemale is an international art consultant, artist representative, and owner of the successful gallery ArtInsights (http://www.artinsights.com/) for over 25 years. She is an international expert in the fields of animation art and traditionally illustrated film art, and exclusively represents an increasing number of contemporary artists worldwide.
She has developed collections for film and illustration art aficionados and fine art connoisseurs around the world, notably placing the art of famed cinema artist John Alvin. She has also acted as art director partnering with artists in a variety of genres to create images for private commissions, gallery editions, and corporate art spaces. The projects she is working on with artist Tennessee Loveless, most recently The Art Outsiders and Vox Populi, are bringing her a new level of fulfillment professionally.
She also writes and conducts interviews on a webzine focused on the animation industry, Animation Scoop.com, the popular site LikeABossGirls.com, her own WomenRockingHollywood.com, and other outlets worldwide as film critic Cinema Siren (http://cinemasiren.com/.) She has been building and moderating panels at the world-famous Comic-Con International-San Diego for over 12 years. These panels serve to expand awareness of the importance of artists behind the scenes in animation and film. She also focuses on diversity and gender parity in Hollywood, and the first year of her “Women Rocking Hollywood” panel was the only one at the con to include official representatives from both DC and Marvel.
Most importantly, she thinks being a feminist is a badge of honor, not something to be ashamed of or apologetic about, celebrates her 51 years by telling her age to anyone who asks, stands up against ageism, and steadfastly holds to representing women over 40 as worthy, badass, and a force to be reckoned with. Because obviously.