Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Aging, Style and Appropriateness - Beginning a Dialogue

This is a topic that I think will be ongoing for me, hence the subtitle "Beginning a Dialogue"

I have been thinking a LOT about aging, style and appropriateness this summer as I begin the overhaul my wardrobe.

What is appropriate when you are turning 50?

What are the rules?  Are there rules now? How do you know if you are crossing a line and about to become a creature of ridicule?  How do you know if you are becoming so staid and dull that people are relegating you to the category of "tasteful, but not interesting"?

Helen Gurley Brown died this week.  For many of us of a certain age, Helen was either a cheeky heroine, exhorting women to pursue career, family and sex with gusto, or a skinny woman who defined herself solely as to whether or not she was still sexy.

She favoured bright colours and mini skirts well into her 80s:





Was she appropriate for her age?  This is a trick question, I think, since Helen would NOT have wanted to be appropriate anyway, but was she, from a style perspective?  Or did she slide into Iris Apnel territory, so over-the-top that she became stylish in the end?



Folks, I admire Iris, but I do not want to be her.  I want to be more like Tabitha's mother when I get to my 80s, who always looks so lovely in the pictures that Tabitha posts over at the amazing blog Bourbon and Pearls.

Okay, I have started this discussion at the FAR end of the bell curve, those outlier years at the end of one's life.  However, I do so for a reason: I think the way you start to dress in your 50s likely sets the stage for the last 30 or 40 years of your life.  How you choose to present yourself as a maturing woman simply gets more and more magnified, until you end up as Iris or Helen or my gal, Lauren Hutton, who will be 70 next year:

You all know that I love a lot of "more".  But as I am about to move into my 50s, I am more and more covinced that I need to make everything simpler: my style, my life, my perspective.

Simple clothes, well constructed.  Beautiful fabrics, well draped.

I cannot do Forever 21.  My day of trendy clothing is coming to an end, I think. 

I was struck by this last night when I was reading the sneak peeks of tomorrow's J Crew rollouts over at Rynetta's wonderful blog jcrewismyfavstore.  The new J Crew french hen sweaters are very fun.  But I am sure they are too young for me.



But am I right?  How do you know for sure?  My gut tells me that the pink sweater to the right is lovely and fun and will make my style and skin pop.  But if I wear a french hen on my chest won't folks be thinking "why is that 49 year old woman wearing a french hen on her chest?"

Would Lauren Hutton wear a french hen on her chest?  I have googled and I can find no evidence of Lauren wearing critters on her chest in the last 20 years. 

I think in your 20s, 30s and early 40s you are able to get away with a lot, style-wise.  I think you can be cute and fun with your clothes.

But I think that as you age, you need to dial that back.  Your clothes need to step back and let "the you-ness" of you shine.  The you that has wrinkles and sagging body parts yes, but even better: the you that has experienced a lot and is a lot more confident and feels sexier than she did when she was 20.

When I was a kid, a 50 year old woman wore a polyester house dress, support hose and started her day in curlers whilst frying eggs and bacon for her family in the morning.  In my wedding pictures, my mother and mother-in-law both had short grey hair bordering on curly perms.  They were 51 and 48 years old respectively!  I think that woman is gone.

She is replaced by a woman who will wear jeans until the day she dies, who wants to remain in style.  She has read the articles that tell her to hang up the mini skirts and the bright makeup.  But she is unsure of some things related to style because the rules are changing so quickly and also because most of the rules are being thrown out.  Remember when there was only ONE skirt length in any given season?  No white before the May long weekend or after Labour Day?  Now we are expected to make our own rules, but we are judged harshly if we fail (hence the dawn of the "What not to Wear" type program).  My mother did not have to worry about such things - all women wore the "uniform", more or less, and some just wore more expensive versions of the uniform.  But now we make our own uniforms!

I know I need some help along the way - this blog is my dialogue about lots of things in my life that interest me - fashion and style is definitely one of those things. 

Aging gracefully and stylishly.  What do YOU think?

48 comments:

  1. this topic is big on my mind right now too.

    also, this is a wonderfully written post!
    when i was younger i used to think i'd age gracefully but now that i'm in my mid 50's i'm starting to think differently. i'm posting on this subject tomorrow too:) i'm starting to feel like...if not now, when? i agree with you re iris and lots of ladies that dress like her. it's just not my style but thank god they do follow their hearts style-wise. wouldn't it be awful if we all dressed alike? i'm pretty sure i'm gonna be the kind of person that pushes the boundaries a bit. but too much and it just wouldn't be me. does this make sense. i guess what i'm saying is to each their own! xo janet

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    1. Janet - I SO agree with you! And considering that you are our real-life style queen of the 50s, I think you are doing something MORE than right!

      I love Iris and the others - those true eccentrics with their "heck with you - over the top" attitude. But I want to live the next 30 or 40 years looking glamoursly simple - like you do - I want my grandchildren (when I have them!) to think "Gramma rocks!" and I would kind of like to still look hot for my husband!

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    2. I think glamourously simple is wonderful, I think I'll make that my style mantra and they make perfect watchwords too.
      I'm feeling this too just now, 40 came and went without a blink for me but as 50 approaches I am seeing changes, I have jowls starting to form, my neck is getting very loose and it is these things that are making me step back and rethink my style. I ditched short skirts this year, no matter that I have good legs and they are my best asset, it just doesn't look good with an older face.
      I want to look urgh, I'm going to say it more, Parisiennne, they are so elegant and never wear loud colours or patterns, or over accessorise, I love looking at the older women there in winter, they look stunning.

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    3. Tabitha - do you have some sites you could recommend that demonstrate this winter style? I am not positive I know what you mean and would love to see!

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  2. I think that in the end it all comes down to how you feel in your clothes. Do you feel stylish and confident? Then people will perceive you as such. Would you feel self-conscious in a hen sweater? Then it's probably not for you.

    Every time I decide that I definitely dislike a particular style or trend, I am eventually proven wrong by someone who wears it incredibly well. For example, I decided that I definitely don't like critters on clothing, but then Wendy wore the Madewell meerkat sweater SO well (here: http://www.wendyslookbook.com/2012/08/little-cuties-meerkat-sweater-leopard-clutch/) that I totally changed my mind. Does this mean that I could pull off that sweater? Probably not, because I would feel self-conscious and project that outwards. But obviously Wendy wears it in such a way that I love it on her. I'm sure the same will be true of the hen sweater from J. Crew.

    I also think that age has less to do with all of this than you might think. I'm 28 and there are lots of things that are still mostly considered appropriate for my age that I don't feel comfortable in (shorter skirts, cutesy patterns, shoes with high platforms, just to name a few), but there are lots of people my age or older that look great in those things. I recently sold/donated a lot of my Anthropologie clothing because I realized that I just didn't feel confident or comfortable in dresses with bicycles on them or anything with ruffles. It's not that these things looked bad on me objectively, just that I didn't feel my best in them.

    I truly think it all comes back to your own style and attitude, and that's why we all think that the Iris Apnel's of the world are so fabulous--they are absolutely confident in and true to their own personal style.

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    1. Caitlin! That is brilliant and point on! Thank you so much! I think you are right - at this point, I am interested in raising chickens, not wearing them, but I can sure admire when others wear them so well!

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  3. Well, I just treated myself to a phone call and ordered the chicken sweater so I can see how it looks on me, with my outfits, in the lighting of my (top floor bright) apartment. I don't do age-appropriate, necessarily, I do ME-appropriate. One of the reasons I want to see what the sweater looks like is to decide if I will enjoy wearing it at family gatherings; I find that connecting to the very youngest, whom I don't get to see as often as I'd like, is quicker and easier if there's something to kick off the conversation. So, no ankle socks with high heel sandals, no postage stamp tinsel minis, no striped tights with sequin vests... I would have found this garbage, garbage when I was 16, when I was 26, when... you get the picture. But I am dying to see what the chickens do for me, if anything. And if nothing, then back they go. Oh, yeah, to give the chickens a fair chance, I ordered both colors.
    I do find that an advantage of getting older is that, with care, one doesn't look silly wearing certain things that would have looked tasteless, a la mail-order bride or paid companion, a few years ago. Loving my good scarves, loving my "upgraded" shoes. I never did logos, and I don't imagine I'll start. But we ought to consider the flip side of age-appropriate: a very young woman dressed in head-to-tail logos and status wear, as opposed to jeans, sweater and really good scarf, rarely looks like she came by it honorably.

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  4. Great response Fred! As I said above, I am well and truly interested in real chickens (to horror of husband) and think this sweater is cute, cute, cute. But I am also cute, which could be the problem! I am about the same size as all children I meet, so I need nothing but my joke de vivre and my preternatural ability to recall all episodes of bugs bunny and anamaniacs....

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  5. Whoops - joke de vivre! Or was that a Freudian slip?

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  6. You particularly pointed out great examples of women who wore clothing that others may deem inappropriate for a woman of that age group. Another one missing from the list is Betsy Johnson (she would even perform a cartwheel at the end of all her runway shows!)All these women are lauded for their fashion choices. Why? What makes them get a pass? Simple, they own it! Their style is a true reflection of who they are and what they want to communicate. The question is, what do you want to communicate? If you are uncomfortable with an clothing item, that will shine through and yes, people will point and say exactly what you stated in this blog. But if that french hen is you, communicates who you are, what you want the world to know about you, that "I may not look like I'm 20 but I feel like 20", or as the matriach in the novel, The Thorn Birds says, "There maybe snow on the roof, but there is still fire in the belly", then go for it! And if that's not how you feel, then that's okay too. You don't have to follow a fad to be hip, that is the one gift of getting older. Live your life without a filter, you earned it. :)

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    1. I like this Michelle! And I sure like Betsy!

      I think the hard thing is knowing when when you think something is cute or smart, but is not you. It might have been you even 5 or 10 years ago, but doesn't feel like you now. That is my conundrum right now. I feel like I am changing, but am struggling to identify into what. I probably didn't articulate that well enough in my post. I can feel the change and am struggling to articulate the 50s me. All I know is she is not like the 30s and 40s me. The opportunity of aging!

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    2. Ditto WMM, If you have access to the HBO network, try to catch or record a one hour documentary called "About Face: SuperModels Then and Now", it is superb. Such an eye opener, to hear that the most beautiful women in the world have the same hang-ups and misgivings as us everyday women. It includes a host of models from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Their advice on how they deal with aging is absolutely priceless!

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    3. You see I think they all look bloody awful!
      Yes, they are marching to their own drum, but it makes me want to wear earmuffs.

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    4. Apart from Lauren Hutton- who is perfection.

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    5. OMG - you made me laugh out loud about the earmuffs! For god's sake - look at my latest post on the fall rollout and advise as to what I should buy! I do not want you to have to wear earmuffs when you finally meet me!

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  7. I think that is is less an age issue than a confidence and awareness issue. As I have gotten older, I am more aware of my comfort. I don't wish to wear anything itchy, binding, sheer, or clingy, no matter how trendy. But this is because trial and error has proven that regardless of how stylish a piece is, if it is discomfiting to wear, I will not enjoy it, not because I am necessarily too old for it. I also think that an honest appraisal of how one looks in something is important, and true at any age. I have seen teenagers look ghastly in belly baring shirts, and 70 year olds look dynamite in mini skirts. I think it is important to try to look great, not to try to look young. I understand your qualms about the chicken shirt, but that may be more because you admire a more sophisticated look, and the sweater is decidedly saucy and not elegant. However, I don't think you are too old for it, by any stretch of the imagination. I think that old fashion rules have expired. We wonder if we should wear baby pink, but newborns are wearing black all the time- something unthinkable in my childhood. Nothing is more attractive than fit, healthy confident people, people at ease with who they are, and who wear what they enjoy. There is an older sales associate at one of the JCRew stores I frequent- I would never be able to guess her age, but I always look to see what she is wearing, because although she has grandchildren she is easily one of the most stunning stylish women I have ever seen. She is consistently flawlessly clad in pieces that I(much younger) would think twice about. You have a lovely sense of taste and style.

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    1. Thanks knit yarns! I think you may have summed this up much better than I (maybe you could ghostwriter this blog!)

      I think my challenge is that I may be mourning a little - 2 years ago, I would have rocked that hen sweater, now it makes me feel meh...

      You are right - as I age, and have changed jobs, my taste and style is changing!

      What i love is that there are no rules now. But it is also an interesting world, living without rules. So many more opportunities to shine (or not!). And I would love to see that SA!

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    2. My objection to the hen sweater is that when I glanced at the tag , I thought it was a blend. I am definitely too old for that, and I am no spring chicken.(Sorry about the awful pun!)

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    3. I think you are talking about my VPS, Nancy.

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  8. Great post, WMM! I think of this often as I too am almost 50. It wasn't until my late 40s that I gained the confidence to wear bright colors, high heels, big jewelry, etc. Now that I have the confidence, I plan to embrace it and enjoy it until the very end!

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    1. Beach chic girl! I love that! That's what I am talking about! You always look so sharp and own your style - I am still en route and I love the advice!

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  9. Thanks SO much for the link love!!! You're super sweet. Okay, I've been thinking a lot about the "hen" sweater, and whether or not it's too young for me. I think that the sweater is super cute, but I keep wondering if a 35 year old woman should be walking around with a chicken in the middle of her chest. I'm just not sure. I felt the same way about the heart sweater, but I loved it once I tried it on. I think that KnitYarns makes a great point about confidence and awareness. I'll try the sweater on with my retail VPS tomorrow, so we'll see!

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    1. Aw 35 is a baby! You always look so great!

      I think I am questioning it all! Maybe this is a middle life fashion crisis, heehee!

      I love all these comments - so helpful!

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    2. Yes Rynetta, 35 is young, no need for you to even think about such things.

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  10. This is an excellent post with excellent comments. WMM I have been having an internal dialogue about that hen sweater, I love it and two years ago would have bought it, and depending on what Fred thinks of it, still might, but if I am uncomfortable because I think of it as too young, then I won't wear it with the appropriate SAUCE. You know what I mean. And as we get older do we want our clothing to make a statement or should we look after that ourselves?
    I would like to echo KnitYarn's comments on comfort, I'm finding I am enjoying luxurious fabrics: great cashmere, a thick silk, and even excellent denim. True confession: I bought those luxe Goldsign jeans from J Crew when I was in Atlanta and they are awesome comfortable, I've been wearing them constantly.
    I find color is more important than ever. I do not want to show off my wrinkles by wearing black all the time, lighter and brighter colors are so much more flattering! Softer to the face and also mood-lifters.
    This is an excellent topic that deserves further discussion and I think we all find it interesting as we try to age with style and grace. We want to have some grace about it and to me that means acceptance of aging but also doing it well, not succumbing to old-lady clothes but not trying to look young either. Geez it's no easy task is it!
    xo!

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    1. Dani - you are so right!

      I did think this would be an ongoing dialogue as I move through this phase..I have been having some eureka moments all evening - this is about my style evolving, but not settled yet and it is both an interesting and discombobulating process as I work through it. A hen sweater might be apropos, but I am not sure, which makes me think it probably is not apropos for me right now. I really want to be more of me and I do not go gently into that good fashion night... :-)

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    2. Here, here, I think DaniBP hit on it, in that last paragraph, it's finding that gentle balance. I think these blogs are a great support in reaching "Fashion Nirvana", if there is such a place. Keep on sharing ladies.

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  11. Hello there WMM, this is such an interesting topic! I have to agree with those who talk about comfort - that's key for me - but I'd also like to have a bit of style too. For me (just turned 52), Lauren Hutton is one to watch - I can't believe she is turning 70 soon! I've loved her look ever since American Gigolo.
    Have a great trip to France - safe travels!

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    1. Hi Patricia - thanks for the good wishes!

      You are so right about comfort! I tore off a skirt after lunch that I was "iffy" about anyway because I felt neither comfortable nor pretty in it! I have to feel really good in what I wear now - I keep purging further (though no further tossing - I am placing some things aside for a sober second thought!). At this rate, I will be doing Slastena's 333 from reality, not choice!

      Of course, there is a new JC rollout in the am and France, so I will likely be okay... :-)

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    2. Comfort - oh yes, I think it's time for me to size up now.

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    3. Well Tabitha, I am almost ready for Mumus and stretchy pants....

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  12. Hi Ladies! What a wonderful topic being discussed. I too have been experiencing a closet conundrum lately. I have loads of gorgeous clothes, but I'm starting to wonder who bought them? Years ago (at least 7 or 8), I was doing a closet readjustment after the birth of my middle child, and I realized that all the items that were "keepers" because of durability (and I hope style, haha) were J. Crew. So at that time, I determined to only add to my wardrobe items that would last more than 1 or 2 seasons. Of course I didn't keep to this entirely. Unfortunately, I'm like a child in a candy store, overwhelmed and IN LOVE WITH every bit of texture, color and pattern that catches my eye. Oh, the number of things I have purchased knowing that the silhouette wasn't great on my figure, but so in love with the fabric I couldn't care less!
    I've gained a few pounds over the past year or two, and what used to be OK with fit must now be put aside, because my figure isn't as forgiving with clothing. Sigh.
    I'm 35 and I too have been wondering about the cute little hen sweater. And the heart skirt. And the apple skirt. I've enjoyed the casual fun of these items, but unsure if they would work for me. . . .
    On one hand, I admire the women who wear casually elegant looks all the time. I've noticed that they always wear solids, and always in neutral tones (black, white, cream, beige, denim). I have a few acquaintances who pull it off superbly, and I have even more acquaintances who just look plain dull. I can't put my finger on the differences between them.
    Comfort is very important to me as well. I think my feet have changed lately, too? They've become so finicky.
    Tabitha, I recall reading that you were purging your closet of higher end shoes because of discomfort . . . . do you recommend any shoe brands that are wearable (see? I don't ask for too much! I just need 2 to 3 hours in them :) But they have to be pretty or I won't wear them either. . . .
    I was at a NYC benefit a few months ago and had to leave earlier than I would have liked because my supposedly comfortable Cole Haans had torn up my toes!
    All right, I'm off to check out the new Fall rollout at J. Crew now.
    And thank you for this post, and of course to DaniBP and FFM, who have helped shaped my thoughts for my fall purchases.
    JW

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    1. JW - really thoughtful comments! One of the things I remember about my wedding day was how much my feet hurt! and that was 27 years ago!

      I absolutely hear you about those women with the certain je ne sais quoi - they own their looks and so if blacks and creams and greys are their looks, it looks fabulous! I have some women I work with who wear nothing but blacks and browns and they look dull, dull, dull. We do have to be true to ourselves, but is hard as our self evolves at certain times - having children was one such event, and now for me, so is turning 50 and also becoming the boss. Is so complicated and I surely admire those women who seem to do it so effortlessly! That sure isn't me!

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  13. One of the things that is so true about the women you featured is that they dress to please themselves. While I applaud your acknowledgement of your age, I wonder if there is something in us all that wants approval from others. I spent the first 60 of my 67 years wanting to please. Now I dress for me. If I put it on and I don't like it, it's gone. And there is a lot more room in my closet now. I don't believe there is an age limit on fashion. If you don't feel good with a hen on your chest, don't wear it. I used to believe in the rules of fashion, (no white after labor day, etc) but I think the fashion rules are no longer in play. I don't work outside the home and wear what I want. I still want to look nice. But nice is my judgement and not that of someone else.

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    1. Judy - you are so right! Some of it is for sure wanting to project a certain image. Some of it is changing taste. And some of it is just not giving a damn as we get older! I love that you are really owning it now! thanks for such a thoughtful response - I love all of the different perspectives and I am definitely seeing a theme!

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  14. What a great post, WMM! I've also been thinking about this for quite awhile now. I don't have time to comment properly right now (I'm having another incredibly busy day), but will be back to chime in later. :)

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    1. Thanks FFM - have a great (busy day) - I am still lazily vacationing at home before I leave town!

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    3. You must be enjoying yourself immensely with all that vacationing! :)

      As for the topic of the post: I think that style is very personal, and what might work for one woman of a certain age, won't necessarily work for another one. Like others have said, a lot of it depends on your personality and even your confidence level. My grandmother was a seamstress and quite the fashionista. She always dressed stylishly, even well into her 80s. My mother is 65 and has always dressed with tremendous style and 'pizazz', receiving compliments on a daily basis on what she is wearing, or how her hair is styled. I cannot imagine her ever giving up her sense of style, even as she gets older.

      As for myself, I have decided that as I grow older I want to take a 'less is more' approach, with classic and feminine silhouettes, clean lines, beautiful fabric and prints, understated elegance, along with a 'nod' to the trends every now and then. It is my hope and wish to be elegant, classy, graceful, and if at all possible, a bit glamorous, too. :)

      Like you WMM, I want to develop a simplified wardrobe that consists of quality pieces that will endure the test of time, not 'disposable' clothing that I can only wear one or two times before it is ready for the trash bin. I do find myself at times looking at or considering items that I would personally consider too young for me to wear, but I think that comes from feeling much younger on the inside (a lot of the time), then my actual age and how old I really look on the outside. Like Tabitha mentioned about herself and the short skirts, some items I find myself liking just don't look good with an older face, so I am becoming much more conscious when it comes to the types of clothing I am choosing.

      As Garance DorĂ© wrote on her blog regarding Constanza Pascolato. "I have a huge admiration for women who have enough perspective of themselves to let their wardrobe evolve throughout each period of their lives. It’s not so much about imposing skirt length, but just keeping a ever curious and loving eye on themselves. The kind that makes life a long and fantastic adventure." As for myself...I truly hope to be one of those women. :)

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    4. That is fabulous FFM - your mum and grandmother sound awesome!

      You are right about attitude and aging. I am also finding that as I turn that loving gaze on myself, I am finding that it is harder to grab onto trends anymore. I was excited initially by some of the things I saw at j crew this am, but when it came to pulling the trigger, I was not sure the quality was there on some of things I liked and so have bought nothing. I guess it is time to branch out and am glad to see other companies are now shipping to Canada so I have more choices as I live in such a small place!

      I am quite admiring Tory burch these days. I also like Kate spade, but a lot of it seems too cute for me. I will take all advice on good designers!

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    5. I meant conscientious, not conscious, although that also helps when choosing clothes. ;)

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  15. This is a great post WMM and we must all be on the same wavelength because I have a post on that half written that I cannot get to finish and post for last two weeks.
    Anyway, I was thinking about it too and I agree with the ones that are saying it is about confidence. Funny thing about the chicken sweater and bright colors, usually it is ONLY the 70+ crowd that wears animals on their sweaters. My 24yo daughter would not be caught dead in it! I was wearing my bright pink Lexington my husband said it looks too Granma-ish.
    In my post, I was trying to deconstruct why are we even saying that something is age inappropriate? I love eccentric older women, even if I don't have this kind of personality to pull off the style. Although I would actually be more likely to wear it now than in my 20s when I was more self conscious, not less.
    Sometimes I regret I did not wear certain styles when I was in my 20s and 30s. I don;t want to regret not wearing something in my 40s or 50s when I am 70. But I do gravitate towards minimal and elegant with a bit of trendy and r&r thrown into the mix. This is because I think this is my style and it suits my personality, not because it suits my age.
    I aspire to thinking that if somebody does not like my wrinkly neck (or knees), then please look in other direction, I am not fading into the background for you.

    Wow, this was long! I think I will try to post about it on Saturday.

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    1. AJC - can't wait for your post. You are right - it is about confidence. But I think it is how we want to portray ourselves too and what we want people to remember about us. I am with Judy - I do not want to please others, I want to please me. But I seem harder to please now! Don't know why...

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    2. p.s. need floral review. ASAP! :-)

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    3. You got it! I will post it tomorrow.

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    4. God Bless you! I have placed no order! It is appealing to my inner Zsa Zsa, but you know that isn't a good thing...

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  16. Wonderful post and comments. The older I get-- one more year as of the other day-- the more I feel the freedom to dress as I like. I have to dress to respect other people in my day job as I spend some days one on one with people at their most distressed. Fortunately, I have absorbed this look as my own and feel comfortable in my work clothes. Two decades agao when we were young professionals, we really downplayed our youth, wore giant baggy Laura Ashley dresses and jumpers-- remember her?--but no more. I wear more sleeveless things than I wore 20 years ago ( always work the biceps people).

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    1. Lane - that is so funny! I have HORRIBLE pictures of me in oversized April Cornell dresses at work and at my brother's wedding! I agree with you - I am leaning more and more into who I am at this stage of my life. I am finding the list in so helpful in keeping me on the straight and narrow! I saw all kinds of pretty or neat things yesterday in the JC rollout, but almost none of it was "on the list" and many turned out to be of lesser quality than what I would want. In the old days, I would have purchased things I did not really need or did not fit in with where I want to go. I am almost ready to place an order and it is such a different order than what it would have been even a month ago!

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Kindness is a virtue...