Clothing Statements: What Message are YOU Sending?

IMG_2649I love people-watching. The other night my husband and I went out for what was supposed to be a quick bite somewhere outside, but turned into a somewhat late night of watching the band that happened to be there………and dancing the night away. The outdoor venue we went to is a casual place that serves pretty good Italian food, pizza and bar food. We like it because it is not too expensive and has a nice big outdoor patio with umbrellas if you want shade. At the time we arrived it was pretty quiet. But as the band started setting up around 8 pm, people started trickling in. LOTS of people. We were planted in a good spot with a seat where we had a great view of everything. I had a fleeting thought that I should have worn something different had I known I was out for a night of dancing (especially because I was noticing that the newcomers were kind of dressed to the nines). I had thrown on a striped tee-shirt kind of dress I picked up at Marshall’s for about 12.99 which was super cool and comfortable, perfect for a muggy hot summer night. My shoes really didn’t match, as they were black Aerosole wedge sling-backs which feel like slippers. Anyway, I felt like I had my jammies on and I like that feeling. But somehow I initially felt a bit under-dressed as I saw (the women especially) strutting in with super high heels, low cut revealing slinky dresses, fancy short shorts and other glittery, attention-grabbing outfits. The men however did not seem to bother much as I can’t remember even one of their outfits grabbing my attention…..with the exception of one young man who had a really nice blazer and crisp shirt with nice slacks on and I wondered for a second if he might be a Trump…they always look nice like that. Or maybe he just came from work. He looked really hot (in a temperature sort of way) as it was about 90 degrees out, but anyway, he did stick out.

I ended up striking up a conversation with a very young woman who sat on a stool near us and seemed to be alone at first. She had a tatoo on her shoulder which appeared to be a poem or something, hard to read so of course I had to ask. She looked very different from most of the other young women there, as she was dressed in a hippie type fringed crop top with jeans, flip flops, straight black hair and looking kind of Moricia-ish (think Adam’s family). Anyway, she informed me that it was an excerpt from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Come to find out she was the lead singer’s girlfriend and she worked at a large law firm in Stamford. She was deceivingly intelligent (I admit to pre-judging her because of her appearance and her vapor pipe as probably a bit spacey. I was wrong). After a very cerebral discussion of politics and music, she left and I continued to look around and wonder what all the other stories were in this place. Clearly, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but some people send out strong messages by the way they present themselves which makes it kind of hard to avoid making assumptions.

That night got me to thinking about how what we choose to wear sends out a message. Our outfits say something about us that we may not realize. I also wonder how many people torture themselves because of clothes. When I worked as a dietitian in a practice of therapists who specialized in treating eating disorders, we always got ready for the predictable surge in relapse of our patients right before prom season and before the start of summer. Starving and restricting to fit into a certain dress or dieting to get ready to display your half naked body on the beach was the norm for many of our patients. I am guessing the average person engages in similar body struggles and extremes of behavior but for those lucky ones, the urge passes and goes away and they are able to deal with the body God gave them. For others, just because of the clothing of the season, they are sent into yet another downward spiral that is never easy to bounce out of.

I have already written about the aging thing and women and our struggles with clothing, but the message we are sending because of what we wear is also interesting, no matter what our age. My point is not to change anyone, because if what you wear makes you happy, who cares about the message you send to those who might happen to be people-watching? The people who love you, your friends and family, those who really count know who you are. But what troubles me is when people (myself included) dress according to what they think is expected, and NOT according to who they are or what is comfortable to them. I am not referring to dress codes at work, such as at the school where I work. We are allowed to wear shorts in the summer, but they need to pass the “fingertip rule”. In other words, when your arms are by your side, your shorts should not be shorter than were your fingertips end. Apparently, we got some girls with really really short arms. And this, I don’t get really. Why does someone need to wear short shorts to work? My only guess is either they are single and want to attract attention from one of their co-workers (who are wonderful young men who work with special needs kids, so definitely lots of great catches in that school!). Or maybe, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they honestly don’t own any other shorts, and it truly has been hot this summer. But my guess is the former, or something else altogether.

Anyway, I am not referring to dress codes, but to the habit of people dressing in a certain way because they want to portray an image that really is not them. For example, that night we were out dancing there were several young women I noticed wearing revealing shirts and dresses but fidgeting to fix things. Pulling up the bust, yanking down the bottom of the skin tight dress to cover things, fixing straps, lots of work going on. Balancing the spiky heels walking across the brick patio was also fun to watch. I wondered why, what message they were trying to send. Maybe it is just a human thing, like the way birds and peacocks and other wildlife do things with their feathers and such to attract the opposite sex. But if this is the case, wouldn’t you want to attract someone who likes you when you are wearing what is truly you?

I am not innocent of wearing things that are definitely not me (and NOT wearing things that ARE me). I have a few pairs of tighter straight leg jeans that I wear when I go out and want to look like I am in style. I prefer my baggier loose jeans with the holes in them. I have a brown cowboy straw hat my husband bought for me at a fair the first year we dated, and I love it. But I never wear it in public places because I don’t want anyone looking at me thinking I am weird. I do wear in at the beach to cover my face from the sun when I am sitting on a blanket (but I am too embarrassed to walk around with it). It’s too bad because it is me.

I have also purchased flowing loose shirts that make me feel like I am back in the 70’s yet when I put them on and look in the mirror I look a little ridiculous. Those I wear anyway. I love the new styles of loose flowing shirts, even though I look lost in them, I wear those anyway too. And the ones with the cut-out shoulders. My older sister hates them, but to me they are genius. Hot flash heaven, air-conditioning.

Dress codes and human courting behavior aside, have you ever reflected on the reasons you wear what you wear? Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable a lot of the time because you are dressing to impress others at the expense of being yourself? Do you torture your body with starvation or dieting just to wear a certain article of clothing? Do you feel happy and comfortable when you walk out of the door? My advice is to be yourself. Be comfortable, wear what makes YOU feel good.

And, a quote from Jack Kerouac:

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
― Jack KerouacOn the Road

 

Missing My Bellbottom Days:Middle-Age Clothing Crisis

My New Dress…..

I lied. It is not my middle-age clothing crisis because my husband has informed me that after the age of 50 a person is officially OLD AGED. He’s a big help. I have trouble with remembering that I truly am no longer 28 because  in my head I still think the same. I feel the same. But when I put on certain clothes that have been hanging in my closet for decades that I just can’t seem to get rid of, I clearly see that I am no longer 28.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I actually would not go back to that age if you paid me. As most older, or should I say “mature” women have learned, the things we know now, the wisdom we have gained gives most of us such a greater appreciation and enjoyment of life. Yes, we have gone through it all. And we survived, and we will keep surviving, and enjoy every minute. We have transitioned through jobs until we have found our passions. We have gone through relationships, or worked through things in relationships until we have found true peace and love. We have supported friends and family through hard times, and celebrated the good times. We are thankful and authentic. We have it all. But when it is time to get dressed to go somewhere…..well, I can only speak for myself…I am lost.

Yes, I am lost somewhere between what is appropriate, what is comfortable and what is stylish. I wish I did not care at all about clothes, but I do. One of my greatest joys is shopping with my old college roommate and best friend Marion. We have lunch (accompanied by a bit of wine) and then we walk around a beautiful outdoor mall in Connecticut and stop in our favorite stores. We try on all kinds of things, we talk each other into buying things and sometimes out of buying things. Marion tends to grab cozy sweaters, the same earth colors…(“don’t you have that?” I might say, just to save her money…). And I tend to grab the same things, too. Black shirts. Because I thought I looked good in black back then in my 20’s. Why can’t I let go of that?  And I am always searching for the perfect jeans. I have one pair I love, they are so stretchy, you can slip them on without unzipping them. And no, they are not jeggings. Theoretically, jeggings sounds like a genius invention. But I tried them on, and no, they are not. They are weird (at least on me). Although I do like style, I am also rebellious against style and fashion making fools out of us women (no offense against my friends who love those expensive pocketbooks with the letter C on them, but spending more than 100 dollars on a pocket book makes me wonder….why???). Maybe I am a hypocrite because I might spend more than 100 dollars on boots that I love and that are so comfortable I might wear them for 3 years straight (and I have).

I have thought about the phases I have gone through with clothing. It goes way back to my first memory of what I was wearing at a significant event. I was probably 2 or 3, or whatever the age is when you get your first tricycle but are not yet completely potty trained. I was sitting on that little bike with black stretch pants and a red sweater that was itchy. It was sunny out, and I was sitting there thinking “I need to pee”. But I really did not feel like walking inside the house and up the stairs to where the bathroom was. So I decided to just sit there, on my little bike and pee. Not a good idea as those black stretch pants became very hot and uncomfortable when they were wet. And that was the end of my memory, but I do remember the outfit.

My next memory was elementary school and the smocked dresses we wore. I loved them. But I was obsessed with the elastic hair clips my best friend Terry Gnazzo wore in her long straight brown hair. I thought she was very cool because she could do a split and a back walkover, a cartwheel and handspring….. and her elastics were interesting.

Junior High was boring because I attended Our Lady of Mercy and wore the uniform: a plaid skirt, white blouse, and saddle shoes. The shoes were cool. High School was in the 70’s and most girls wore bell bottoms and mini skirts. I mostly wore dresses because my butt was bigger then, and did not fit well into those hip huggers… I also was chestier and very very modest and shy, so pretty much wore whatever covered my body. When I got to college, I wore the same thing almost every day. These Tee shirts with pockets were the cool thing to wear, with jeans. I had wranglers. Then Levis. I loved my levis. I tried to find them over the years but there were so many styles, different number connotations that I just did not have the patience to figure it out. 501’s?? 401’s??? ugh, too confusing.

But the best outfit of all was the overalls. In 1976 that was what we lived in. We still had the blue tee shirt, but we also had overalls. We wore them together and we never cared about wearing the same thing every day. I remember feeling comfortable.

Then, there was the disco era. I got me a pair of designer jeans (a cheap version, but I loved them). Crop tops became the style and spandex dresses were the big thing. When I look at pictures of myself back then, I think Jersey Shore. Oh, yes, I did have leopard print shirts. Now, I hate leopard print anything.

When I had my children, thank goodness leggings and oversize sweaters were in style because I lived in them….until I went back to work and transitioned to what I call the Anne Taylor’ed look. I bought from the sale rack at that store and created the perfect professional wardrobe much of which I still own (those Anne Taylor clothes really hold up!). I have actually removed some of the shoulder pads in the blazers and may still wear them….with jeans.

So then I blinked my eyes and I was 40. I blinked again and I was 50. Then I blinked and now I am 60. And I don’t know what to wear.

I have decided on a few things:

  1. Whatever I wear, I need to be comfortable.
  2. Whatever I wear, I need to be me.
  3. Whatever I wear, I do not want attention (unless it is a holiday and I need to entertain kids).
  4. Whatever I wear, it will not cost more than my mortgage.

I do love seeing the way some women dress and put things together that just look so pretty. Or maybe they look chill. Or classy. Or uniquely them. That is what I want. To look like me, which sometimes feels very confusing. I sometimes like to feel like I am wearing something pretty, like I felt when I tried on that muted purple flowing dress in the picture above. But that dress also felt like pajamas. And it was cheap. And when you spin your arms around the sleeves flow in the air an it is really cool. Simple pleasures. But sometimes, I just want my “happy clothes”. My friend Marion knows what that means. We both bought baggie comfy jean shorts that we wear almost daily in the warm months. We have a knit sweater with a hood that we also both bought and it was not on sale but we knew it was a happy sweater and so it is and probably will always be our favorite. But then sometimes, when my husband and I go out on a “date”, I want to look like a woman who is trying to impress her date. But still be comfortable and still be herself. So that is why I like to buy those cute shirts and jackets and jeans that are not jeggings but still look good. But then I need to remember my age. No, I am not 20 or 30 or 40 0r even 50. I am 60 and I don’t want to look like someone who is trying to be young again. But then again……should I really think about any of that? So what if I love to wear black shirts and my favorite boots, or Levi jeans or even leopard shirts?

So I ask you, how do you figure out what to wear? Is it a struggle like it is for me sometimes? Do you care about what others think, or do you pick what feels good to you? I think it is ok to want to look whatever way you want to look. If you want to look fancy, then dress fancy. If you want to look down to earth, because you are down to earth, then follow your heart. If you honestly have no time or interest at all in fashion or style or any of it, and just grab what is clean and comfortable, then all the power to you. I, personally, am stuck in the middle. I love learning about people through their self expression of what they wear. I had a good friend years ago named Eileen. She was a brilliant woman with three children the same age as my kids. When I first met her at the town pool club, I judged her by her appearance (I am embarrassed to admit). She had a leopard bathing suit on with matching earrings. She always wore lots of bangles and southwestern jewelry, turquoise stones hanging from silver chains. When I finally got to know her, she became my best friend because she had a heart of gold, and we were both the same kind of mothers. Our kids were everything to us. She told me she thought she was a native American Indian in her past life because they decorated themselves, and she loved to do that too. Since then, I always looked at jewelry in that way, as a way some people decorate themselves, and it does not mean they are vain, or shallow but only that jewelry connects them with something we may just not be able to relate to.

So where do I go from here? Well, I discovered some bell bottom leggings…..to me, the best of both worlds, comfort and style. I can wear them to work, yet they feel like pajamas. I also bought me some long Hippie shirts….they are totally me, but I think they are meant for younger women. But if I throw on that Happy Sweater, I don’t think that outfit will draw attention, and that is my only fear…..but should it be? Being an “older” woman, wearing a spandex leopard dress with saddle shoes and cool hair clips…and overalls, now that may draw attention. But comfy black leggings with a colorful long hippie shirt….now I say, that could be considered appropriate at any age.

I think it may take me awhile to figure it out. But for now, it will be a fusion of all of it. Maybe some black shirts, maybe some Levis if I ever find the right ones. Definitely legging bell bottoms and hippie shirts. For sure there will be happy sweaters and happy shorts. I can already picture me when I am 80 with my baggie jean shorts, cotton knit sweater with a hood and pockets and my white hair tied up in a cool elastic. Tomorrow I plan to get rid of some stuff. Gone will be the tight shirts, the crop tops, the short shorts, the professional blazers and suit pants I really never want to wear again. I need to make room for more happy clothes.

And if I figure out how to fuse happy clothes with style, I will definitely let you know.