Just Because It Fits Doesn’t Mean You Should Wear It.
by Alice Henry Whitmore
It’s our moment of Spring (finally), so the other day I was participating in a seasonal ritual particular to New Yorkers (at least New Yorkers in apartments with small closets)—The Switching of The Clothes. This is when you dig your Spring/Summer stuff out of storage and switch it with the Fall/Winter stuff. In my case, “storage” is the second closet in my daughter’s room. She has never realized that she has two closets; she grew up thinking it perfectly normal that Mommy’s out-of-season clothes lived in her room.
Incidentally, switching the clothes absolutely guarantees a cold snap. It could be the middle of May, and the second I’m finished—boom—it’s thirty degrees out. And where are my sweaters? Stowed away in my daughter’s second closet. Sigh.
But back to the topic at hand, which, I suppose, could be called Age Comes Out of The Closet. See, in years gone by, The Switching was a pretty easy chore. I’d just grab everything—and switch. I wouldn’t even try things on to make sure they still fit; I’ve been basically the same size my entire adult life. Not because of anything I’ve done; I follow no annoyingly virtuous regimen or routine. It’s because I’m (mostly) a Swede. And it’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t get fat. We shrivel. As we age, we sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky.
And, yes, in the past few years beef jerkiness has been quietly sneaking up on me. But, except for the odd arthritic twinge now and then, I don’t feel all that different. And like most people, I don’t realize I look any different. Except when, say, I see my reflection in a store window and wonder “who is that old woman who looks just like me?” Then I realize—good grief—that it is me. Oh, my husband once thoughtfully got me contact lenses (he’s an ophthalmologist), which I gave up wearing after I scared myself silly glimpsing myself bare-faced in the bathroom mirror. Blue glasses cover a multitude of sins. And eye bags.
And lately people have been offering me the Senior Discount. (Attention, those of you in the service professions: if someone wants the Senior Discount, trust me, she will ask for the Senior Discount.) Even worse, people have started offering me their seats on the bus. Sometimes, if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll look down, pat my stomach, and say “Oh! Am I showing already?”Then I smile. And remain standing.
Anyway, I think you get the idea. I’ve come to notice, if not embrace, my Older Self. So this time when I Switched, I actually looked at my clothes. Some, like a certain basic black party dress, I’ve had—and worn—for decades. These days I can definitely identify with one of my former advertising bosses, who once said to an uppity Whippersnapper Account Executive, “I’ve got belts older than you.”
But a belt—or even a black party dress—is one thing. A pair of hot pink paisley pants (which I actually owned, until last week) is another. Before, the only risk in wearing a favorite item year after year was that people would recognize it instead of me. I was once introduced to a woman at a party who said, “Oh, I think I met you last year—I remember that dress.”
These days, the risk is that I might, as my Gramma used to say, “scare the horses”. True, I live in New York, where pretty much anything goes. (Witness Betsy Johnson.) But, alas, I’m no Betsy. I’m much more like Much-Missed Role Model Nora Ephron in I Feel Bad About My Neck. I just don’t feel comfortable wearing hot pink paisley any more. At least not out of the house.
I suppose I should have a thicker skin. But recently, on a trip to England, I wore a skirt, a cardigan, and lace-up oxfords to tour a stately home. I suppose the skirt may have been a tad on the short side, since The Lady of the Manor, on greeting us, looked me up and down and asked, “Aren’t your legs cold, dear?” Ouch.
So, this latest Clothes Switching Time, to avoid gathering unsolicited comments from Englishwomen—or appearing, as another of my Gramma’s sayings would have it, like “mutton dressed as lamb,” I edited out the short skirts, the tight pants, the bare backs. Put them all aside for my daughter and her friends, who always get first dibs.
Interestingly, it’s the stuff that I thought was really cool that my daughter and her pals rejected. And the stuff that I think is dowdy that they wanted. The sober Joan and David nineties-era pantsuit? Grabbed. That short silver cocktail dress I bought on a shoot in Australia? Into the donation pile, and off to a new life as “vintage.”
Speaking of “vintage”, it used to be fun to scout thrift shops for choice vintage pieces. But not for me, not anymore. No one gets that I’m being ironic. They just think that I’ve owned that sixties jeans jacket or seventies wrap dress for a long time and haven’t gotten around to donating it yet. And they’d probably be right.
Alice Henry Whitmore is a writer and a keen observer of human nature, skills she honed while working on Madison Avenue for many years. Now that she is retired from the advertising business, she focuses her attention on her weekly humor blog, lutheranliar.com. Her pieces comment on situations and experiences that Lustre readers share.