I first wrote this piece about three years ago. I extracted it from the vault (aka my aging desktop PC) and updated it a tad. Unlike some of my clothing, I think it’s still relevant. You be the judge.
In the late 1980s I knew a forty-ish woman I’ll call Marilyn—because that was her name—who still styled her hair into a bouffant bubble.
As a then twenty-something advertising demographic target, I was, if not hip, at least semi-fashion conscious, and I wondered about Marilyn. Didn’t she realize her hairstyle was two decades out of date?
Fast forward twenty years. From Los Angeles, my husband and I moved to rural northern Idaho, and after many years fighting the good fight, I opted for a simpler pace. I quit my full-time corporate job to write freelance from home, an occupation that required little stylish clothing. (Actually, for a freelance writer, clothing is optional most of the time). What I didn’t realize was that my lifestyle changes would propel me into suspended animation. As I reveled in my pantyhose-less state, flexed slippered feet no longer squeezed into business-appropriate pumps, and luxuriated in being able to work in my pajamas, the fashion world marched on without me.
When I awoke, I had nothing to wear, and in fact, didn’t know what to wear. I was on the downhill side of forty and women on television no longer looked like me, but like girls who could be my daughters. There were brands of jeans and designer names I’d never heard of. The first time I spotted a woman wearing a denim jacket with a dress, I felt a surge of sympathy, convinced she didn’t earn enough to afford a real coat.
The seeds sown by Madonna when she wore her underwear as outerwear had taken root and become the norm. Women now think nothing of revealing their unmentionables in public. Camisoles, formerly worn under a blouse, or demurely peeking out from under a jacket, are now worn instead of blouse or jacket. The camisole and pubic-skimming, thong-baring thrashed jeans have replaced the suit all together.
Thongs of a different sort have become the shoe du jour. These sandals, formerly relegated to slogging through the sand at the beach, are worn to the office, to restaurants, to weddings, even to the White House. I noted women’s footwear one summer and I estimated that probably ninety-five percent of sandals were flip-flops. I have email and a cell phone. Was I the only one who didn’t get the communiqué that we were all supposed to switch to flip-flops?
What the heck happened while I was blithely writing from home?
While waiting at the hairdresser’s recently I was perusing a magazine article on how to update one’s style as one matures through the decades of life. There were several mug shots of fashion offenders woefully out-of-sync with the times: the woman who tries too hard by dressing like a teenager, the one who dresses too formally and “matchy-matchy” (I thought she looked nice, but I now know I was wrong), and me. I was in the magazine!
In the picture, I had morphed into an African American woman, but I recognized myself immediately by the no-name jeans, the long-sleeved turtleneck sweater and the athletic shoes. I’d like to say in my defense that my physical therapist specifically recommended that I wear stability control walking shoes to help relieve the stress on my knees. Obviously my physical therapist missed the popular talk show where viewers were informed that athletic footwear should only be worn while exercising. Had he seen the episode, he might have been able to suggest an appropriately fashionable pair of stilettos that wouldn’t throw out my back or deform my toes when I wore them to vacuum, grocery shop, and take the cat to the vet.
The strange thing about having awakened from suspended animation is that time didn’t move forward, it went backwards. According to the fashions I see it’s 1967. The baby doll mini dresses patterned in big, bold geometric and floral prints are causing me to have not only headaches, but flashbacks of Goldie Hawn and Joanne Worley dancing on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. I suspect that there is a secret schedule that designers use to bring back clothing of yore. This very minute in an underground bunker a cabal is meeting to determine when to launch the latest line of polyester leisure suits upon an unsuspecting public.
There ought to be a law that says if you suffered through a style the first time around, you’re exempt the next time. I used to wear low-rise jeans. I was fourteen. We called them hip huggers and we paired them with body suits, not short tops that showed off our tattoos and belly button rings. We didn’t have tattoos or belly button rings. It was hard enough to get our mothers to agree to pierced ears. And we were only allowed one piercing per ear. Not an entire row.
I wore wedge-heeled shoes, too. I have the high school graduation photo to prove it. We even had capris, which we called pedal pushers.
But at least cropped pants work for many body types and look nice on most women. Tunics and the new mid-thigh length trench coats are two other examples that flatter most people. However, other designs are too extreme for women ages twenty-five to ninety-one who were raised on planet Earth. Let’s face it: most women carry a few more pounds than they want. To these women I offer this simple warning: low-rise pants are not your friend. Even if you wear them with a tunic.
The lack of function in women’s apparel baffles me. Remember the shirts with the finger-skimming long sleeves? Try washing dishes or changing a baby wearing that one. I think designers have realized that error of those styles, because now they’ve gone the other direction and hacked off sleeves to elbow length. That’s okay for a blouse, but it’s doesn’t make sense for a coat. Did it not occur to anyone that if you need a jacket, it’s because it’s cold, and you want sleeves?
So here I am, stuck in 2011/1967 and I don’t have a clue how to dress.
Marilyn, I understand the bouffant.