Dressing for the Chronologically Challenged

When my grandmas were my age they dressed appropriately. Ethel was a tiny, timid little thing who bore 9 kids, and wore pastel house dresses. She had that permed blue hair thing going, and lots of dowdy shirtwaists, and they suited her just fine. Charlotte generally wore nice slacks, and sharp printed blouses, and they were comfortable when she sat in her chair, crossed her legs, and sipped her 5 o’clock martini and smoked cigarettes.

My mom wore lots of tailored things to her job – dresses and suits and power jackets, accentuated with matching costume jewelry. After she retired, she wore jeans and sweatshirts and clogs, with nicer stuff to wear to club meetings and the symphony. As she was dying at age 82, she fell in love with my green Naot leather Maryjanes with the embossed floral pattern on the sole, and talked about ordering herself a pair. We ended up getting her new nightgowns, slippers, and fleece robes instead, since she wasn’t ever gonna leave the house again. Maybe we should have ordered the shoes, just to sit on the bureau, so she could look at them and hope.

Well, most rules for dressing well these days are contingent on personal taste and what is available in your size. Which makes you hostage to the buyers at chain stores, unless you have the bucks and body to shop at high end boutiques. Um, that wouldn’t be me. You’d think they would make some kind of “tween” style thing for us women who don’t want to go around in sweats with “JUICY” plastered across our butts (false advertising as well as dubious taste), but still want to look contemporary and stylish.

It is hard to get excited about wearing clothing that is boring. But it is an awful lot of work to find things that fit and don’t suck. My personal guru on this whole subject is Brenda Kinsel, a fashion consultant who writes books, and I recommend reading “40 over 40”. She tells you how to dress to suit yourself, in clothes that make you feet attractive and comfortable and genuine. You don’t start by going to the store. You start by thinking and evaluating. She says to think of some stuff in your home or your closet that you just love – and figure out why you love them. Is it the color? The texture, the drape, the lacy touches or the sleek lines? The first time I did this, the things I came up with were my red cowboy boots, a huge art deco pin with square cut glass stones in primary colors, my green art nouveau plates, and my collection of crackerjack charms. Also, I loved the feel of velvet and cashmere. I wanted to find a way to express the feelings those things evoked in me, in the way I dressed. Is this too cerebral for you? It actually works, if you give it enough time and consideration. Brenda wants you to get up every day and put on something you love from your carefully edited closet.

She is all about the “does it make you feel good, happy, authentic” end of things, rather than the “if you are Pear shape, wear A-line skirts” rules. She can tell you how to be appropriate for the occasion, and true to yourself. And we all know that the initial 10 seconds of meeting someone lets them size us up, and make snap decisions about who and what we are. So if you care about how you present yourself, it behooves you to give this clothing thing some thought. It is not shallow, or superficial or trivial to want to appear well. It is just another facet of who you are, and you might as well have fun with it, if you are so inclined.

Of course, I fully support your right to wear sweats or leggings in public if you must, but it isn’t gonna make me want to talk to you. But if you have a cool piece of jewelry on, or a coat in a great color, I’m more likely to slow down and give you the time of day. Let’s show a little spunk, ladies. Even if you prefer to fade into the woodwork, you can choose baroque molding, Frank Lloyd Wright modern, painted and chippy shabby chic, or earth friendly, sustainable teak.

And I don’t always practice what I preach, but it feels like spring today, with that renewal, fresh start feeling, and I just may go and purge some stuff from my closet.

Go on and Google Brenda Kinsel. See what you think. And FYI, I’m the one in the bright red coat. It makes me happy.

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2 Responses to “Dressing for the Chronologically Challenged”

  1. Brenda Says:

    How fun to read this! You really took the best message out of my book (okay, it is THE message I hope people take) and made it so real. Thanks for saying the things I can’t always say like how if you’re in leggings, I’m really not having the urge to get to know you in the same way as if you’re beckoning me with your great necklace or that wonderful velvet green jacket with interesting buttons. And I also appreciate how at least in my estimation, style trumps everything. Your personal style trumps pears, apples and other fruit-shaped bodies out there. Thanks so much for your well-written, personal thoughts. You inspire me!
    Brenda Kinsel

  2. graniagrace Says:

    Brenda, wow, you read my blog! I have declared myself a groupie (don’t worry, not the panty throwing kind – I’ve taken your advice and I have lots of expensive and sexy Natori and Felina stuff, and I’m not giving those babies up for anything!). You made my month. I celebrated by buying some new jeans (I needed to replace a pair) and I made sure I got some that fit great. You’ve been one of my unsung heroines for years, so it really touched me that you took the time to write. Thanks!

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