There is a point we reach in our lives when what others think about how we dress, what we say, how we act and what we do, are no longer the priority. It’s more important what we think and know to be true. Listening to different opinions may give us new perspectives but ultimately the final decision and responsibility is ours. Unfortunately this point comes far too late for most of us. So much time is wrapped up in what Hollywood or ads or social media tell us is important. We rush our childhood away wishing we were all grown up. And spend all too much of the rest wishing we were young again. Forgetting what it was like – the insecurities, self consciousness, lack of time. They may never recede all together, but time usually wears them down.
Age does that. Helping us to feel good in our own skin, and make better choices, less dependent on what others think. I remember reading about a red hat club. While visiting Tucson, Arizona in 1997, Ellen Cooper bought a red fedora hat in a thrift store for $7.50. It was meant as a gift for a friend who was turning 55 years old. Inspired by a well-known Jenny Joseph poem, “Warning”, which begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” The birthday gift was meant to encourage her friend to grow older playfully, throwing off the shackles society imposes on aging women and to live on her own terms. This idea caught on as a symbol of pursuing your own path regardless of societal designs and swelled into the red hat, purple clothed phenomenon it is today.
When I was a kid, women over 40 dressed dowdy and plain, receding into the background as though they no longer existed or deserved to be noticed, let alone seen or heard. Or they were caricatured as the opposite extreme- a brassy, hard, “broad.” Neither appropriate or real. Neither a true reflection of anyone. My mother was the exact opposite- a vibrant, stunning, sexy woman who had no qualms dressing as she saw fit. It was a radical idea- you can still be all those things and older! You can dress elegantly with style at any age. Which she did beautifully into her late seventies. Had she lived longer, I have no doubt she would have changed the face of fashions for octogenarians. She, and all the women who came before, gave us the power and belief we can be ourselves, at any age.
20 years later, I don’t need a red hat and purple clothing to make that statement. Which is why that wonderful association has now morphed into a support group for women of all ages and from all walks of life who are committed to joyful living, exploring new interests, having fun and creating new friendships.
Today the designer industry can no longer force everyone to wear the exact same fashions. My mother was given no recourse but to wear ridiculously short “mini skirts”- all the rage of the day but terribly inappropriate in a mother/ daughter combination, or the frumpy “ moo moo dress” alternative. Even if it meant learning sewing skills to alter, redesign, or even make from scratch far more realistic and gorgeous options, the goal was to feel good in our own clothes. Now a days, men and women can pick and choose from a whole host of clothing fashions that make sense to each individual. Our taste is all that matters, not a cookie cutter corporate vision.
Age does that. It provides a freedom that youth cannot. When our children are young we wrap them up in our arms and reassure them that growing up is part of life. The ensuing years are spent guiding, nurturing and supporting less and less their falls and challenges until they can stand on their own two feet. Encouraging them to find out who they are, what makes them happy and seek a future that works for them. Learning to feel secure and confident in their own skin. Man or woman, we all need to age gracefully. Understanding that with time, for most, comes a little more comfort in who we are, a little less concern for what the world thinks and hopefully, more wisdom in appreciating our unique attributes. No one else in this world thinks as we do. No one else can leave the same legacy when we are gone. The future is never straight. What we envision our lives becoming at 20 will change by 30, 40. . .Each decade brings new perspective, changes in desires, and growth. But that’s what makes it so fulfilling and challenging. As my daughter is learning today at 29, the best is yet to come.