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.



Lessons Learned From Being a Pea Pod for a Day

Mrs. Arena 1.jpgI used to be known as “The Popcorn Lady” over 25 years ago. That was when my three children were in elementary school and I had received this authentic giant movie-popcorn making machine as a gift from their dad. It was wonderful! I would bring it to all of the “Fun Fairs” every year and got to know all of the kids. To this day, we still use the machine, although it is a bit worn, a few loose knobs and rust, but when you order the popcorn on line (it comes with a packet of yellow oil and seasoning) it is even better than the movie kind.

Anyway, there is a yearly “Marathon” event at the school I work at part time, a school with over 100 kids with special needs and over 100 staff. The marathon is not only a “run” where staff and children alike take turns running with the baton around a track to eventually make the 26 miles, but also a carnival, fun fair festival kind of day. There are clowns on stilts, a DJ playing music, kids dancing and playing with all types of lawn toys, crafts, sensory booths, healthy snacks, etc. and this year the popcorn booth. Well, besides being the popcorn lady, thanks to a co-worker who is as crazy as I am, I also got to be a pea pod. She got to be a carrot.

It was all fun and good until the popcorn ran out by late morning….luckily it was almost lunch break when the kids all go inside so I had time to run to the grocery store…but not much time. As I ran to my car across the campus, I had a decision to make: take off the pea pod outfit or not? Now mind you, the town where the school is tends to be an upscale kind of town with gorgeous restaurants and fancy shopping, and dressed up kind of people, and I am not talking pea pod clothes. Time was limited. I did what I needed to do. I drove to the store as I was, and as I got out of the car, it started. I realized at that moment how fun this was going to be! I just had no idea how people were going to react. The first reaction was a middle aged woman, nicely dressed in a fancy car next to me. She did not flinch. No smile. Nothing. Not sure I liked that, it felt weird. Maybe I don’t look that funny? But 5 seconds later, as I was walking toward the door, the elderly man who was retrieving the carriages, looked straight at me, smiled and yelled out, “I’m not even going to ask!!” Now that to me felt like a normal response. What would happen inside?

I couldn’t find the popcorn, that is what happened. So I had to walk around the entire store, it was a study in human psychology, and how people react to seeing a giant pea pod walking around the grocery store in the middle of the day. A young mom with a 3 year old in her carriage, looking for a loaf of bread, just looked up and gave a giant smile. Clearly, she didn’t know who the heck I was, but she thought is was funny (because it was!). Her reaction was pretty typical. What was not typical was the reaction from the middle aged woman who worked there, who I asked for help to find the popcorn. Again, she did not flinch. She did not smile. Maybe she was afraid? That was the feeling I got from her, and a few others. I could be crazy. Who knows what I would do? What do crazy giant pea pods do? They could be dangerous. That is how I felt.

By the time I got to the check out, got in line, with two women behind me by now, I felt a need to explain myself (the young cashier and bagger looked a little scared!). “I work at a school! We are having a fair today!” Finally, a few smiles. A sigh of relief from the well dressed women behind me. I got in my car, cranked the air (pea pod outfits are warm) and drove back to the school, thinking “wow”. That was interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was so much fun, I had help at my popcorn booth from a few of the awesome teens that go to the school. We chatted the entire time, they bagged the popcorn, and gave it out to their friends. I got to run one lap, and when the day ended, I felt so happy for so many reasons.

I then had to run to a doctor’s appointment for my dad. It was not good news. To make a long story short, that day made me reflect on so many things, and it took awhile to sort them out (not that I have yet), but I still wanted to share some lessons I learned that day.

  1. It is not always easy to TRULY be yourself. Even when you think you don’t care what people think, you probably do. It kind of bothered me when people were looking at me as if I might be crazy. I felt uncomfortable that someone might actually be afraid of me. I had to explain myself so they wouldn’t be. For me, walking into that store with that outfit on was not hard at all. I love costumes and I really don’t care what people think, but I guess I do care about how people feel.
  2. It feels to me that some people need to portray a certain “image”. Perfectly matched clothes, certain kind of car, whatever. It applies to bodies and body image also. In my life I have seen women especially keep talking about the same body part over and over, that they have been unhappy with for decades. Is this about portraying a certain “image” that we think is acceptable to society, or what? Arms are going to get saggy, necks are going to get wrinkly, tummies are going to protrude a bit, hair will turn gray or fall out, yet, we waste years focusing on these things. When you feel good, can eat and drink, can walk and talk, why do these things matter?
  3. When it comes to letting loose and experiencing joy, and all life has to offer, everyone is different. Not everyone feels comfortable tossing caution to the wind, having fun, getting messy, looking wrinkled, walking barefoot, dancing like a lunatic. Being one who prefers to do all of the above, I feel sad for people who can’t, but then again, we are all different. What brings you joy and contentment is what matters. For some that means sitting in a chair under the shade and watching all those crazy people toss off their shoes, dance to the music, wear funky costumes and be themselves. There is no wrong or right. Pea pod outfits aren’t for everyone.
  4. Working on a team is a gift. Wherever you work, whatever you do, if it is with others, you learn so much. Watching people of all ages get up before school opens to set up tents, water coolers, lawn toys, booths, paint their faces, dress up, cook, start running dozens of laps to be sure the kids complete a marathon, well, it was great. Making sure to capture every moment by running around the entire event with your camera assured that we would have memories forever (Thank you Laurel K!!).Every single person was selfless, it was all about the kids. It was a hot day, people were sweating, hair styles were limp, it was not easy. But you could see the absolute joy on the faces of everyone when that final lap was done. It struck me that what these disheveled sweaty people had given themselves (the gift you get when you give to others) was such a contrast from the people I saw that day in the grocery store…..who may have thought they had it all, but have no idea what they are missing. But maybe they do, they just dress nicer……which brings me to….
  5. You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. I realized I was kind of judging people by their reaction to me and my pea pod outfit. Maybe they didn’t find it as funny as I did. Maybe they dress like that all the time, and it was nothing new. Maybe matching your shoes to your pocketbook makes you really happy. I admit, I am happy when all my nails are the same length…it doesn’t happen often. Meaningless for sure.The reality is people struggle with all kinds of things, some silly (or that you or I find silly, but they may not), and some serious. More times than you can imagine, I am in the middle of a visit with a parent and child, and eventually find out there are gigantic stressful situations the family is living through. Not one, but two autistic siblings at home, a brother incarcerated, a father with agoraphobia, and on and on. At first, it seems like just another family who needs some nutrition counseling, but then it turns out eating healthy is kind of last on the list. Yes, someone might be going through something and nothing can make them smile. You just never know.

I learned one more thing that day that is pretty funny. After all these years of ordering that popcorn, I apparently never looked at the label(what kind of dietitian am I! you might ask….one that hates reading labels). So when one of the teachers asked if it was healthy, I decided to look. Well, what a surprise! No trans fat, lots of fiber and actually pretty healthy if you ask me : )

Happy Memorial Day, thank you to my father, a former Marine, and all who served us. I hope you get to go barefoot, laugh, dance, or just sit and watch. But please remember to wear whatever makes you happy. If I had green shoes to match the pea pod you know I would have worn them.

Cleaning Your Closet: Why is it so hard to let go?

IMG_6662I have a lovely beaded shawl that my mom gave me that will go perfectly with the cranberry colored dress I am wearing to a wedding this afternoon. I can’t find it. It is driving me crazy because I know it is here…….somewhere. I vaguely remember hanging it upstairs in a spare closet (where several other things we don’t use often are kind of shoved). Things like holiday wrapping paper, a few boxes of old pictures and files, wrought iron candle holders that I got at a tag sale that are just too nice to throw away. The shawl is not in there, I don’t think. It could have fallen on the floor and although I need to clean that closet out, I am not in the mood on this gorgeous Saturday morning to do that.

As I was rummaging through another closet, I kept coming across all these clothes I just never wear. I swear I just cleaned this closet and got rid of so much, yet here I am again, frustrated. Why is it that I keep these things? My friends and I have had so many discussions around clothing. Over the years, working with patients with weight issues, the subject of clothing comes up often too. It has been my experience at least in my life that it is mostly women who struggle with clothing issues (I am sure some men do too, but so far, I have not encountered one who talks about it the way we women do). Just this week, I went shopping with my husband who needed to buy a gray suit for his daughter’s wedding next month. It was so easy! As he was trying on his first gray suit, I glanced around the floor of the large store we were in. To me, all the racks of suits looked the same, just different groupings of colors. On the other side of the store where the women’s clothes were on display it was a different story. So many colors and patterns and styles to chose from! No wonder it is confusing (and we won’t discuss shoes).

So why is it that me and many other women I know can’t just go to their closet and find what they need, get rid of stuff they never wear and live a simple clothing life? Here is what I have realized:

  1. Some women (me) find it hard to resist a sale. That cute little sweater jacket from Ann Taylor that is normally $89.99 and now marked down to $9.99? How could I resist! Well, after hanging there for almost 2 years and maybe being worn once (it is just so thick and warm, who could stand it for more than an hour or so? No wonder it was on sale!) probably needs to go. But then it would have been a waste of money. This winter I will wear it, right?
  2. Some of us, as we age, get a bit confused as to what is appropriate to wear. We may have a few items that we absolutely love. For example, I have these very comfortable khaki green cargo shorts I bought years ago from Sports Authority that are perfect for kayaking. They were on sale, they are sturdy and I wouldn’t care if they got a bit of slimy lake water on them. Unfortunately, they are short. Back then I wouldn’t care, but now, at my age, I feel uncomfortable in shorts that are too short (and unfortunately, I own some more expensive and nice shorts that I splurged on back in the day that I also have not worn for many years….and also have not parted with). It is hard to get rid of stuff you know you spent good money on. It was easy, however to get rid of a short leather and suede skirt a friend had given me. I never wore it (well once for Halloween when I dressed as Dolly Parton!). When I turned 40 it was easy to let it go. The nice expensive shorts are another story.
  3. Some clothing holds special memories. I still have my first robe tucked up in a drawer (somewhere) that I wore after I came home from the hospital when my first daughter Jennifer was born in May. My mother bought it for me, it is white with tiny roses on it and button down so it was easy to nurse in. I just can’t part with it. I also still have the straight leg, high waisted faded Levis I got after my third child Kara was born. I remember it was our first house and for some reason, I loved those jeans and they hold memories of back then when I was a young mother.
  4. The size thing. There are so many stories I could share about so many women who have a range of sizes depending on where they are in their dieting lives at the moment.  We all know people who are able to lose a lot of weight and go down several sizes, yet they keep their larger sized clothes just in case. And then when they gain back the weight, they keep their smaller clothes just in case. There are people who slowly gain a bit of weight over the years and it is perfectly normal, however they refuse to go up a size because of the number thing. Some people think it means something to be this size or that size. Why does this matter? Do you judge someone who is not a certain size? Why do you judge yourself? Those have always been my questions to some of my patients. What about comfort? I have always said, one way to feel bad about your body is to wear tight clothes. Squeezing into a size you used to fit in just to be able to say you wear a size whatever does not make sense, especially if you do not hold your friends to that standard, why do it to yourself? Think about how wonderful you feel in the clothes you throw on when you are ready to lounge around at the very end of the day (I am talking jammies here, PJ’s, leggings, sweats, happy clothes). How does your body feel then? Much better I bet. Why can’t we wear clothes that make us feel like that all day? Maybe not sloppy sweats but just putting on clothes that truly fit comfortably can feel the same as those jammies. Personally, I look at several sizes when I go shopping. I start at the sale rack (of course) and if it is cheap and I love it, I don’t care what size it is (as long as it is big enough). I have been know to buy clothing twice my size but if the armholes fit, it is usually fine! You can look nice but also be comfortable. And happy.
  5. Style. We all care about it even when we think we don’t. A year or two ago, jeans took a turn from boot cut or bell bottoms to suddenly straight leg. I did not own any. I started to feel like I was not stylish at all and the only one wearing bell bottoms. I rarely buy the crazy fashions because I just don’t care (although I would if I loved it, for instance when the hippie shirts came back, I did buy one or two because that is what I wore back in the day, loved it then and love it now). Anyway, when the straight legs went on sale at my favorite store, I tried a few on. They were stretchy and comfy! And usually most pants are too long on me so I have to wear some type of heel or pay big bucks to have them hemmed. With these straight legs I could wear flip flops! I got some. And I am going to keep them until they fall apart because I love them. I also have to face the fact that all those padded shoulder gorgeous jackets I purchased back in the day when I had to dress professionally will never come back and even if they do, I don’t like them now. Why am I keeping them?

We have all read the advice about how to know what to keep and what to let go. Advice such as “if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it” and “for every new item you buy you need to get rid of something” and “if you don’t absolutely love the way you feel in it, get rid of it”. This all sounds good, but not too easy to do for the above reasons. But maybe we can start.

For me, I have decided:

1. If I have not worn it in five years (believe it or not) I probably won’t wear it tomorrow.

2. If it is itchy or makes me too hot I won’t wear it.

3. If it has padded shoulders or if it is short or high waisted it will continue to sit there.

4. I will never get rid of the clothing that holds important memories.

For this morning I am going to go empty that upstairs closet and start filling large trash bags to take to Goodwill. I am going to set aside my special memory clothing and find a plastic bin to store them in (maybe I will even label it). I am going to try to be honest with myself about the fact that I really am too old to wear some of these things, they make me uncomfortable both physically and psychologically, and they are wasting space in my closet. Space where a lovely black beaded shawl might be hiding.

Good luck in letting go of your useless clothing!