Living in Southern California is tough–and not for the reasons you might suspect I’d rant about, like the wacky economic climate, immigration, gas prices, traffic, et al.
No, what I am talking about is living in sunny, midriff clad So Cal and approaching a milestone birthday – that of the ilk, if I am lucky to live to 100 years of age, referred to as “middle.”
Forget that it feels like I suddenly went from my mid-twenties to my mid-forties overnight. Forget that it feels like yesterday when I walked across a stage on national TV in a bathing suit during the Miss CA pageant, or the days when I scoffed at night crème, under-eye makeup or being in bed before 10 p.m. Forget that at a recent charity fashion show I realized that I was old enough to be the mother of the bevy of beautiful male models.
Oh no my friends, these are the new days of sporting Spanks, the miraculous Miraclesuit, super-support bras, “sensible shoes,” and actually liking my Mom’s “sassy” outfits that used to make me cringe.
I never thought dressing appropriately for my age was going to be so challenging or that I could live with wearing the clothes deemed age appropriate. My head says one thing, my body another and the mirror says it all.
But as I found out at a recent Working Wardrobes luncheon which filled the dining room of the Pacific Club to capacity, it turns out women have been dealing with this exact issue for hundreds of years. It was a relief to know that despite the fashion trends that come and go, one thing has remained constant: that of the changing human body as we age.
Enter UCI Professor Emeritus Dr. Lynn Mally, our keynote speaker for the lunch, who has embarked on a new research project called “American Age Fashion” centered on women 50 years and older and the impact ever-changing expectations around how we dress as our bodies change manipulate clothing trends.
Dr. Mally took us on a fascinating fashion journey from the 1900’s until today, and explained how maturing female bodies have had to cope with the fashion trends of the day, be it corsets, sheath dresses or shoulder pads.
The part I loved was Dr. Mally telling how, in the late 1940s, Vogue Pattern Company got in on influencing “women of a certain age” when they created the fictional character called Mrs. Exeter, 50-odd years old, who doled out tips in Vogue magazine targeted to address the fashions best suited for “the body contour changes that come with maturity.”
As Dr. Mally puts it in her blog AmericanAgeFashion.com, “Mrs. Exeter cautioned older women to disguise their weak points. She wore gloves on her hands and pearls around her neck to camouflage these common indicators of age. And one basic rule, never broken, was to cover her upper arms. ‘I myself would sooner appear in my underwear as with my upper arms exposed.’ These are still words to live by for some of us.”
“Hormonal changes make it easier for women to gain weight in their abdomen (the ‘menopot’), as well as other changes such as loss of height, slopping or widening shoulders and sagging rear ends,” Dr. Mally explained. “This means most women need to reconsider what they wear and how their clothes fit.”
Considering some of the fashion faux-pas’ I’ve tried on only to realize that I’m “mature” enough to know better, at this point I wanted to call out “Amen, sister!” but held back in deference to the fact that I was actually wearing a modest but nevertheless, sleeveless dress. If Mrs. Exeter had been there, no doubt she would have given me a steely glare of disapproval.
Oh well, as Mrs. Exeter also opined, “The very first thing to learn….is to forgive oneself. I, for example, forgive myself my thirty-three inch waist.”
Now there’s a rule I can live with!
Working Wardrobes’ mission is to empower men, women, young adults and Veterans who are overcoming difficult challenges to confidently enter the workforce and achieve self-sufficiency. They provide career training, job placement assistance and wardrobe services in an environment of dignity and respect. Working Wardrobes’ The Hangar consignment shops are located in Tustin and Laguna Niguel, and $.90 of each dollar spent in them goes directly to benefiting their programs and services. For more information, visit workingwardrobes.org.
Columnist and Mrs. Exeter novice Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Reach her at [email protected]