If I Can’t Dance…

Pic borrowed from Penny Dreadful Vintage here.

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution. —Emma Goldman


Though according to scholars, this is a paraphrase of a part of one of her speeches rather than a direct quote, I’ve always adored the sentiment. What good is any endeavor if there is no fun, no joy in the outcome?

I approach style the same way. Expression of one’s own style should be enjoyable. It’s taken many of us years or even decades to break away from the rules we were handed by our parents (never mix patterns, patent leather is for dressy occasions only) only to find them replaced by a different set of rules set by our contemporaries. We can be dressed “right” per current fashion dictates, a friend whose style we admire, a celebrity stylist or the latest greatest style book, and yet feel as though we’re wearing someone else’s clothing. No joy in that.

When we dress joyfully, from the inside out, we’re anything but invisible. We carry ourselves differently, project confidence and presence.

Do the words “joyful dressing” bring to mind an image of sartorial exuberance, or even eccentricity?  Duchesse posted last week about the NOWNESS: Advanced Style video, and many in comments agreed with her that the eccentric style of the women featured felt over-the-top, and less joyful than strained. Some disagreed, and applauded these women for their uniquely expressive styles and for refusing to recede into the background or accept invisibility. I find myself in the middle. These women seem themselves to be vibrant and edgy and artistic, and how they put themselves together reflects that, and yes, shouts it out to the world. While I may have been comfortable embracing that kind of in-your-face-ness in my twenties, to dress that way today would feel forced and uncomfortable. Vividly colored clothing, splashy high-contrast prints, or designs/combinations that border on (or cross over into) the theatrical, though I may love them on others, leave me feeling like a blinking neon sign.

Joyful dressing doesn’t necessarily mean vibrant dressing.  Simplicity and restraint can be joyful expressions too. One woman’s “drab” is another’s “serene.” Think of a simple Japanese brush painting, or an evocative black-and-white photograph. The kinds of images we’re drawn to might often give clues as to what visual stylistic expressions might feel most organic to us. I’ve always been drawn to simple, clean designs, visual equivalents of a cleansing breath. My admiration of French women’s style probably comes from the same place. Clean and uncluttered styles in neutral colors also provide a great canvas to add a bit of fun, edginess and wit with accessories as the mood strikes. But just a touch, un petit peu, oui?

Photo of les Parisiennes by Tish at A Femme d’un Certain Age

I also believe that joyful style must be comfortable. Who wants to dance (even metaphorically) in a waistband that’s too tight, or shoes that hurt?  And unselfconscious. If one is always checking to see whether the shirt is staying tucked or whether the bag clashes with the sweater, it’s lost.  You must be able to put it on and then forget about it!

What elements of style are joyful for you?  Do you find that your taste in art and visual design mirrors your sartorial style?
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35 Comments

  1. April 4, 2011 / 1:38 pm

    I suppose I like personal style, i.e. clothes, so much precisely because I can’t articulate what it IS that I like:).

  2. April 4, 2011 / 2:24 pm

    Fabulous post. I love the idea of dressing joyfully, of dressing in things that you love and make you happy to wear, which of course means you are comfortable in your skin and your clothes. For some this is very bright and even over the top, and I say bully for them, but suspect that most of us are not that brazen.

    like LPC I can’t precisely define what it IS that I like except for the “but I know it when I see it” part. If I smile when I see myself in the mirror it is like dancing. I can just be myself the rest of the day without worry.

  3. April 4, 2011 / 3:10 pm

    I have noticed that whenever I wear a short pumpkin colored trench coat, I get compliments–every time. It makes me think that I should wear more color.

    But, I do like neutrals and texture.

    I have to say that I LOVED the Advanced Style video. I especially liked the music at the beginning. I just don’t feel critical of those women. They are having fun and I think that is very important– more important than what they are wearing.

  4. April 4, 2011 / 3:53 pm

    Great post Deja!

    For me I dress to be comfortable and appropriately attired…I never want to appear too “out there” but add a few accessories to say that I am not “dead to the world of fashion yet”

    I was raised to blend in rather than stand out so it feels odd to me to embrace the wild or eccentric habits of these creative and colourful gals.

    Who knows I may branch out when I hit 60!

  5. April 4, 2011 / 4:09 pm

    I was surprised at the negative comments on the Advanced Style video. Those women obviously enjoy themselves, this is their hobby. Most of them have been collecting clothing and accessories for years, and they enjoy looking for new treasures in resale & thrift shops. And, they’re in NYC, after all. So what looks to us very eccentric, may be not as much there. (exception: the eyelashes). But, while I may not personally want to dress that way, I have to applaud these women, and they look so much better than the older women who go around looking like overgrown babies in sweatsuits & Crocs!

  6. Anonymous
    April 4, 2011 / 4:46 pm

    Amen, sister–bread and roses!

    Personal style as an extension of one’s esthetics, yes: I can admire big, violently colored abstract paintings in a museum or gallery, but I bring home watercolors and old hand-tinted prints to live with. And that delicacy of line and translucency of color feel right in clothes, too–or at least they used to. For me, the joy in dressing has diminished a bit as I deal with a changing body. It’s simply harder to achieve that sweet spot you’ve described so well. Recently, though, I bought a few things from J. Crew for a trip to southern Florida. When I tried on a fine cream lawn shell with a cutwork lace panel down the front, and paired it with loose cream cotton trousers, and a long skinny bleached green cardigan, I felt a moment of pure joy: “Oh hello, haven’t seen YOU in a while!” Somehow that combo of the non-binding pants, the delicate fabric and colors, and the narrow, slouchy cardigan made me feel totally at ease. When these moments happen, I take them as tutorials and try to find other things with a similar fit and look. So yes, I agree that we can learn as much about how to dress from our own feelings as from the advice of fashion authorities. Joy–it is important.

    C.

  7. April 4, 2011 / 5:44 pm

    I love the idea of Joyful Style. When I am dressed in something comfortable that makes me smile, I am so much more confident and ready to tackle the world.
    The hard part is to hit the Joyful-Comfort zone and not just the comfort zone. Dressing for just comfort can sometimes actually detract from my confidence.

  8. Pam @ over50feeling40
    April 4, 2011 / 11:52 am

    I love this post! Joyful dressing is what I have practiced for a long time and you are right…it doesn’t necessarily mean that your look should go over the top. I want to look in the mirror and smile before I walk out the door… If I don’t, then it is back in the closet! Love the picture of Audrey dancing!

  9. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion
    April 4, 2011 / 11:54 am

    Interesting premise. My favorite art is that of Gustav Klimt and the bold colors of the German Expressionists. That is rarely reflected in my fashion choices, although I do have a wonderful bright paisley coat that I always get compliments on. Hmmmmmm. I need to think on this.

  10. April 4, 2011 / 7:31 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. April 4, 2011 / 7:38 pm

    (Too many typos last comment.)

    When a woman protests not wanting to “dress like a dreary old lady” (as in the video) she is tapping into a deeper fear, the loss of vitality, relevance, sexual allure. Much of that is the ego speaking, the ego that works so hard to maintain a secure, unchanging sense of self, and our place in the world.

    But we *do* change at every level, or life changes us. Part of aging is to invite the ego from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s. To calm that insistence.

    I call my aesthetic “contentedly dressed”, which, like you, feels joyful in a quieter way than these women.

  12. kathy peck
    April 4, 2011 / 1:54 pm

    Great post. I do know what I like to wear and what makes me “dance”. But, I presume like most of us, I often pressure myself to go “outside” my comfort zone and try something different, new, more vibrant.
    Always ends up a mistake. I’m not myself in the clothing, and it was money wasted as it’s never worn again.

  13. Jill Ann
    April 4, 2011 / 9:30 pm

    I like Susan’s friend’s comment, “don’t forget that other people have to look at you!”

    Not that I am a style icon by any means, but I’ve always felt that we owe it to the rest of the world to look as good as we reasonably can…as sort of a public beautification project. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to dress better than 95% of the people you see around you…I’m continually appalled at the way people dress out in public, even to special events. Really, people, make an effort. And by “people”, I don’t mean readers here, of course! If you weren’t already making an effort, you wouldn’t be reading this!

  14. Marguerite
    April 4, 2011 / 2:46 pm

    I prefer quiet colors and soft neutrals. My joy in dressing comes with accessories, especially jewelry. I realized some time ago, my home is very similarly furnished. Works for me! Great post Pseu. Always love the vintage pictures.

  15. Jane W.
    April 4, 2011 / 2:52 pm

    High-quality neutral pieces with interesting textural details. Like Mardel, I prefer clothes that just let me “be myself” for the rest of the day. I also have a pretty small closet.

    I discovered this preference at age 9 when my parents re-did my room (hello, Laura Ashley cabbage roses!). I loved the emptiness of the “in-between” stage with only a few treasured toys. It’s only in my 40s that I’m having the confidence to act on my self-knowledge.

  16. Veuve
    April 4, 2011 / 5:22 pm

    I loved the video– these women are wonderful to watch. That being said, my wardrobe consists of shades of grey, with black and white thrown in for variety. However, the cuts and shapes tend to be just a little unusual. The only bright color is on my lips (carefully applied and blotted, always). This is just the way I like it, and for me, it’s fun.

    The subject of aesthetics should be taken seriously but we have to have a certain lightness about our style. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  17. metscan
    April 4, 2011 / 6:52 pm

    I buy clothes and things when they ” speak ” to me. Naturally the design and the material do play a main role.These days I must be on a more sensitive mood, as I buy ( fall in love ) and return ( fall out of love ) more often than earlier. Life is interesting..

  18. April 5, 2011 / 3:17 am

    I love to explore and experiment with all parts of myself from flamboyant to demure. From outrageous color to neutrals. I appreciate the diverse style of others as well! We express ourselves in different ways and that is what is inspirational and joyful to me.

  19. Susan Tiner
    April 4, 2011 / 9:06 pm

    It is fun to think about this!

    I’m 100% in agreement with you regarding the importance of comfort.

    I didn’t expect to experience pleasure working out a personal style. It’s hard to explain what makes it joyful, the act of looking well, but as you say, I think it’s got to do with confidence and presence.

    Last night we had dinner with special friends, one an opera singer the other a designer, both passionate about style. They noticed the change in my look immediately and were very pleased. The style quest interested them, especially the funny way I went about it. At one point, one of them commented that his favorite style book ends with the admonition “don’t forget that other people have to look at you!”

    So there is the pleasure you feel, and the pleasure others feel.

    It’s complicated but I’m getting the hang of it!

  20. coffeeaddict
    April 4, 2011 / 9:29 pm

    I am very passionate about clothing in general and some items such as skirts and jackets in particular. I’ve been working on my personal style for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to have a seamstress all of my life and quickly found great joy in wearing unique outfits that were sewn after my specifications.
    Mind you, nothing close to what the ladies in the video were sporting, just one unusual piece at a time, be it a cloak instead of a coat or a petticoat under my skirt. The goal is not to stand out or be unique at all cost, but rather to avoid the dreary ‘uniforms’ and clothing rules society tries to impose on me.

  21. April 5, 2011 / 7:32 am

    Excellent post – Ines says fashion should be fun! And I agree with you, you have to feel comfortable, bien dans sa peau.

  22. April 5, 2011 / 7:57 am

    I like the sound of this.. ‘joyful dressing’. And totally agree that it must feel ‘right’ and comfortable for you and your own personal sense of style. French women do seem to get it right so often this way. x

  23. Terri
    April 5, 2011 / 3:32 am

    I tend to gravitate towards neutral colors, which is why I am making myself play with color this year. It is important to me that an ensemble MOVE, without any part of it threatening to come undone. Frankly, a few of the AdvancedStyle looks have that quality about them–although I admire the chutzpah of these women. I try to bring my personality into the mix with at least one quirky note in every look. Sometimes, a person has to search it out though–it tells me how observant others are being.

  24. Katriona
    April 5, 2011 / 7:13 pm

    I can’t describe my version of Joyful Dressing, because I like a lot of different styles and colours on me…(I like what LPC wrote!) I was thinking that the late, lovely Elizabeth Taylor practiced joyful dressing…for someone so beautiful and well off she made some decidedly unchic, eccentric,even vulgar fashion choices, but they were always worn with gusto and panache, and they never overshadowed her vitality and glamour…I can’t imagine any other woman whose femininity so transcended the idea of chic, even in her later years. She dressed to please herself and no one else,and never stopped looking beautiful.

  25. April 5, 2011 / 8:31 pm

    Pam – you always look joyful in your pictures!

    Couture Allure – well, my theory is just a theory. 😉 But I’ve noticed this consistency in myself.

    LPC – I know what you mean; sometimes I can’t articulate why I like something either. It just speaks to me, in whatever tongue that part of my brain is hearing.

    kathy peck – thanks! I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop experimenting, but am trusting my own tastes more and not wearing something that feels totally foreign just because someone else tells me it looks good.

    Mardel – yes, that’s it! It’s knowing that our insides and outsides are in sync.

    Marguerite – thank you! Home decor is the next target….

  26. April 5, 2011 / 8:35 pm

    Jane W – very interesting about your room decor and how you preferred empty. That’s a valuable insight!

    Susan – I do think the women in the video are dressing joyfully for themselves. As someone mentioned in comments at Duchesse’s blog, this is most likely a hobby, collecting and displaying their vintage clothing. They are conaisseurs.

  27. April 5, 2011 / 8:50 pm

    hostess – I understand what you mean about being raised to fit in rather than stand out. I think you’ve developed a great style.

    Rita – I agree that these women do seem to be enjoying themselves, have evolved their aethetic as a part of the NY art scene, and I do admire their unique expressions of style. Their style is not my style, but more power to them!

    C. – yes!! It’s good to recognize those “aha” mirror moments, and use them to learn and help evolve our style.

    Veuve – yes, I agree about having a certain lightness!

    Ann – interesting point about comfort. When I say “comfort” I’m also talking about emotional comfort, and for me that means trying to look presentable and not sloppy or drab. What we wear should pick up our spirits too!

    metscan – I’m wondering if maybe you just like the hunt more than the capture?

  28. April 5, 2011 / 9:09 pm

    Duchesse – great point and great post today. I know my style has changed over the years. When I try to dress in a reactionary way (“don’t want to look like x”) that’s when I get it wrong. When I trust my own tastes, I tend to get it right, at least for me.

    Susan Tiner – it IS complicated! But you’re right in that it’s also fun too, sussing this out. One thing I’ve learned about the “other people have to look at you” aspect, is that there’s no pleasing everyone. There will always be someone out there who will pick apart what you’re wearing, so as the song goes, “you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

    coffeeaddict – yes, sewing is such a great way to really personalize your wardrobe!

    Jill Ann – I agree. As much as someone is able, making oneself presentable is a sign of respect not only for those around, but for oneself.

    Style Crone – your style is so beautifully developed. It’s also obvious that you know yourself, you wear what you love and have so much fun putting your ensembles together. And yes, diversity of stylistic expression is indeed inspiring.

  29. April 5, 2011 / 9:29 pm

    Terri – you’ve been doing an amazing job working with color. Have you found that you’re more comfortable wearing color or that your preferences have changed as a result of trying new things?

    That’s Not My Age – thanks! One of the reasons I love Ines’ style is that she *does* seem to be having fun with it.

    Semi Expat – thanks! it seems like such a simple concept; I wonder whether it’s something in the water in France…
    😉

    Katriona – interesting, I hadn’t thought about Elizabeth Taylor in this context but you have a point. She always seemed to exude confidence and a strong sense of herself.

  30. Susan Tiner
    April 5, 2011 / 10:09 pm

    I love Jill Ann’s idea of dressing well as a “public beautification project” — very interesting!

  31. RoseAG
    April 5, 2011 / 11:28 pm

    I think that eccentric style will not be for me as I get older.

    I’ve had several relatives/friends succumb to dementia, and it’s always accompanied by a decline in their appearance.

    I know all the ladies in that video have their marbles and are making choices to get the look they’re projecting, but I’d be afraid that looking so “out there” would have other people calling my children asking them if I was OK.

  32. Tiffany
    April 6, 2011 / 2:17 am

    I think the ‘joy’ will come when I understand what works for me. It’s funny, because I have no hesitation when it comes to my home – white walls, dark wooden floors, simple furniture, colour from books, art, flowers and open shelves in kitchen. For clothes I gravitate towards neutrals or deeper, muted colours, but sometimes I decide to ‘break free’ and it’s generally NOT a success. I think I should perhaps keep my forays into excitement limited to shoes and accessories (and lippy!).

  33. April 7, 2011 / 2:34 pm

    In talking to older (50-80) year old friends about aging, a lot do note how depressing it is to have people dying so much more frequently AND how annoying it is to feel “invisible” to others.

    I have a feeling I could get *more* colorful and out there as I age — the HELLO LIFE I AIN’T DEAD YET philosophy *or* more ninja-esque, the better to observe.

    I’m a pretty streamlined shapes/not OOT sort of dresser, but in the past few years my experiments with color-color have getting bolder. I have to say I do get more attention (whether positive or negative who knows, ha) than when in somber shades.

    So I can appreciate where some of the Advanced Style women have ended up, even if the look does seem waaaay too theatrical for my current taste!

  34. Priscilla
    April 7, 2011 / 9:23 pm

    I love this post! It seems to me that a lot of women fall into the trap of “dressing joyfully” in a really generic way: bright colors! loud prints! lots of jewelry! (Looking at you, Chico’s.) That’s great if it actually suits one’s personality, but it can seem difficult otherwise to find choices outside that heavily-marketed style that are not too young or too matronly. I appreciate blogs like yours because they remind me to focus on how I feel rather than on “the noise.”

  35. Kayla
    April 10, 2011 / 10:49 pm

    This is so great. A much needed reminder. Thank you!!

    Kayla
    Freckles in April

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