Les Moods, La Mode - une femme d'un certain âge

Les Moods, La Mode

When it comes to defining and refining a personal style, une femme is nothing if not ambivalent. A combination of the aging process and the loosening dress code at work have left me feeling a bit adrift at times, which was one of the reasons I started this blog soon after my 50th birthday (been at it almost two years now!). My pendulum of style experiments has swung a full arc. Results, as they say, have been mixed.

I come by this vacillation honestly. My mother, who came from humbler circumstances and married into an upper-middle-class and more-than-a-little-snobbish family used swing between a very conservative, Jackie Kennedy-inspired style and a more bohemian mode. I’ve inherited that conflict between wanting to fit in and be accepted among the swells (which rationally I fully recognize as an idiotic premise), and wanting to thumb my nose at stuffiness and convention. My pattern seems to be that when I’m feeling a bit unsure or insecure, I retreat into more serious, structured, classic styles (conceding my need for approval, if not so much from my paternal family anymore, then from the arbiters of style who decree the “classic items that every woman must have”). When I’m feeling more upbeat and confident, I lean toward a simple but more bohemian, eclectic melange with a bit of chien if I can manage it. The latter tends to get me nearer to my own Style Sweet Spot. This wardrobe Clash of the Titans has its fallout; one might be forgiven if they came to the conclusion that my closet was shared by the two stylistically opposite mothers-in-law from Dharma & Greg.

I’ve never been a natural girly-girl, and have long recognized that flounces and froufrou just don’t work for me, not only because of my shape, but also because the uber-feminine just doesn’t jibe with my temperament. I do like to play off certain style references, but usually with tongue in cheek. However, I’m now past the age where I can appropriate and wear certain items ironically; now some styles come across as just too literal, and the whimsy gets lost in the translation.

For example, I spent a few weeks recently studying the iconic Chanel style, in an attempt to translate it into something wearable, only to ultimately conclude that it felt contrived and forced. (In Simon Doonan’s parlance, I’m trying to do Socialite when I’m really more of a Gypsy/Existentialist at heart.) These days, a jeans/sweater/jacket/boots/scarf ensemble feels right, much more so than structured tweeds and ropes of chains and faux pearls, though I still admire that look on others.

I don’t know if my style will ever settle in one place, though. In the past, when I’ve purged one of my personalities from the closet, I’ve ended up replacing many of the castoff items after a few months. So it’s not time to throw the Chanel-esque out with the bathwater just yet, but rather to keep experimenting with the elements I like most and figure out how to wear in a way that’s aligned with my current sensibilities, and retains a sense of humor.
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38 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    January 5, 2009 / 1:59 pm

    Have you tried the Chanel jacket and pearls with jeans? That’s how I like to do it.
    Janet

  2. January 5, 2009 / 2:54 pm

    I am kind of all over the map too on style since I turned 50 last year. I like some of the feminine looks like a ruffled blouse or floral skirt suit, but then part of me wonders if it’s “too girly” for my age now? I do feel safe in classic styles and colors (black, brown, etc.) where I blend in, but then sometimes I long for lots of color and lately I’ve been bringing out my pretty scarves, silk and velvet ones, as well as buying some new ones on Ebay and at Macy’s, to wear with my suits to work. I used to wear scarves, then got out of the habit, now I am back in. Also I like big colorful bold necklaces lately too…looking at the Today show website where they do the ambush makeovers…many of the pictures show women over 50 when they are made over wearing a bold colorful necklace that draws attention to their faces and that looks really nice.
    I like the Chanel look too, and sometimes wear a rope of pearls with a black sweater and skirt and use my black vintage lambskin Chanel purse that day and feel very Chanel-like!

  3. Anonymous
    January 5, 2009 / 3:44 pm

    What a well written post!
    Me, I’m 52 and just went shopping yesterday, and my head is a-swirl of questions about my style. your description of not being able to wear items ironically any more is so true! I have to be careful when doing bohemian – I can veer into dumpy earth mother really well, and classic always looks as if I have dressed up in another’s clothes. Gamine is closest, but tricky after 50, dont you think?
    Anyhoo – some great writing here. love the blog. biscuitx

  4. January 5, 2009 / 4:15 pm

    Damn! Just wrote a comment and then lost it — let’s see if I can remember what I wrote!

    You’ve uncannily, perfectly captured my own ambivalence about my personal style and done it so articulately. While our backgrounds are different, I recognize very similar conflicts for related reasons. And age exerts a pressure, somehow, to choose, or at least exposes certain possibilities as wrong — perhaps our own more refined self-knowledge reveals the truth. But this same self-knowledge, together with enhanced confidence, if we’re lucky, and, quite frankly, a better budget than when we were younger (also, if we’re lucky) means we can choose pieces whose bohemian tendencies are tempered by their obvious quality. And if we’re really lucky, we have great, insightful, blogging friends, very stylish, to help guide us through this challenging territory — great post, Pseu!

  5. January 5, 2009 / 5:05 pm

    I don’t think that I’ll ever find my style sweet spot because I like to change my look according to my moods. Sometimes it’s Audrey Hepburnesque and sometimes it’s Jan Birkinish.
    Why get locked into any one look?

  6. greying pixie
    January 5, 2009 / 5:43 pm

    You articulate my own dilemma so well. I have always felt there were two women building my wardrobe and upon reflection they take their turns at dominating my look in much the same way as yours, ie. when I’m feeling insecure I go for the classic European bourgeois style; when I’m in a creative surge I go for the intellectual Japanese heavyweight designer look.

    But my aim is to merge the two as that is when the style truly can be called my own. So I wear my pearls with my black Yohji dress and my Hermes scarf with a Japanese inspired black boiled wool overdress. It’s when I’m confident enough to merge my two egos that I feel most confident and consequently receive most compliments.

  7. January 5, 2009 / 7:24 pm

    Miss J was just comparing Chanel and Armani over the weekend in SF w/ Mr. J. (No doubt he was thrilled!) Both stores had lovely window displays so Miss J could get up close & gape. Like Deja Pseu, Miss J finds the Chanel very pretty, but knows the clean lines of Armani suit her own personal style and body type better.

  8. January 6, 2009 / 1:09 am

    I have just two words: Forever. Cool. When in doubt I riffle through Sherry’s book to remind me, and I know you know her. BTW did she ever do your closet?

    Chanel is a look I admire on others but don’t wear myself- except for the pearls!

  9. January 6, 2009 / 2:23 am

    Janet – actually yes I did try that. I think I need to do either the jacket or the pearls, but not both together. For some reason, that just felt like overkill on me.

    Kelly – I think the only way to determine if something is “too girly” is how do you feel when you wear it? I can’t do girly but I know some women who can and absolutely rock it. And yes, I’ve been eyeing some bold bright necklaces lately….

  10. January 6, 2009 / 2:28 am

    biscuitx – thank you, you’re too kind! I know what you mean, sometimes choosing what to wear feels like walking through a minefield. Every style has its traps.

    mater – wow, I have to admit when I posted this I thought it would get more of a universal “huh?” response. It’s good to know I’m not alone here! And your ensemble today is a masterpiece of balance and hitting just the right note.

  11. January 6, 2009 / 2:37 am

    Belle – I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge moods and dress accordingly. It would be boring to wear the same styles all the time.

    greying pixie – I’m dying to know what the “intellectual Japanese heavyweight designer look” is! But you’ve made a great point about developing and individual mix rather than sticking to a formula. I love wearing an Hermès scarf or a rope of pearls with a more laid-back ensemble; it’s that touch of something unexpected that keeps it all from being too serious.

  12. January 6, 2009 / 2:41 am

    Darla – I think we can still enjoy some trends (even if they’re recycled from our youth), but for me the trick is to mix the trendy with the classic. I’ve decided to pass the leggings by, however, as I’m not much of a skirt wearer anyway. Go for the fringe!

    Sal – variety is the spice of life, n’est-ce pas? I’ve had too many times that I’ve really regretted letting something go that I thought I’d never wear again. Lesson learned!

  13. January 6, 2009 / 2:45 am

    Miss Janey – yes, my head loves Chanel but my body says Armani…I remember a poll (was it at the The Thoughtful Dresser?) last year about which nationality had the best dressed women. The Italians won. They know how to dress the curves.

    Duchesse – yes, I know, and I’ve been meaning to pick up that book again and peruse. Unfortunately we had a scheduling conflict and weren’t able to do the session the last time she was in LA. Another time…

  14. January 6, 2009 / 2:50 am

    Karen – while I haven’t packed away the pearls, I am also feeling the minimalist vibe these days.

    LBR – Oh, I’d love to see your Chanel jacket! I’ll bet you look fabulous in it. And you sure rock the statement bracelets! I can’t do “hippie boho” either…it has to be minimalist, more beatnik than love child.

  15. January 6, 2009 / 2:52 am

    Tessa-Scoffs – thanks, and yes, I keep reading about these people who developed a “signature style” when they were like fifteen and have stuck to it throughout their whole lives. I keep thinking I want to be one of those people, but I’ll bet it takes some of the thrill out of shopping… 😉

  16. see you there!
    January 5, 2009 / 6:59 pm

    Since I’ve got (ahem) years on you I’ve been dealing with this issue for some time. In my heart of hearts I love trailing, fringy, scarfish clothes but at this point in life I must use a little moderation or I look like a bag lady.

    A couple of things came to mind. Someone (can’t recall who) decreed that if you wore the style the first time it was popular it is probably not going to be age appropriate for you the second time around. I don’t do much “vintage” clothing unless it is classic in style. I love the look on youger women tho.

    Also, current looks can often be modified. For instance, I don’t wear leggings but do wear colored tights. Like the first poster said, Chanel style with jeans is good too.

    If there is a particular color that is the latest fav. then just a sweater or t-shirt that color can perk up a more staid wardrobe.

    With maybe just ONE piece of something fringed? Hahahaha.

    Darla

  17. January 6, 2009 / 3:10 am

    I’m relying more on classics, albeit with a twist. Too classic can become stody, even dowdy, otherwise.

    Interesting that Duchesse mentioned “Forever Cool.” I have that one and was thinking of taking another look at it just yesterday.

  18. Sal
    January 5, 2009 / 7:16 pm

    As someone who veers wildly from fishnets and pencil skirts to hoodies and baggy cargos when not completely focused, I can totally relate. It sounds, though, like you have awareness and a plan: You know not to ditch the Chanel-esque jackets yet, and you know that you’re still experimenting. That’s hard-won wisdom that will serve you well, I’d wager.

  19. January 6, 2009 / 3:24 am

    What a great post. I have spent the better part of two days shopping. I fee exactly as you do. I am drawn towards romantic, classic, and boho clothing. I think though that classic is what looks best on me. The extra 40 pounds don’t make it easy.

    I have spent hours trying to put document my wardrobe with pictures on my computer. I am beginnging to feel obsessed. I really am not that great at putting clothes together. I love jeans and tees, but jeans don’t love my hiney and thights. Staying at home, I don’t need many dressy things. I don’t like to wear heel a lot and I think flats make me look dumpy. I am only 5’5″ tall. I am getting very frustrated. When you figure it out, please let me know. I mean it, really, fabulous post. In common to all!

  20. January 6, 2009 / 4:15 am

    Nancy – so true. Classics need an edgy or contemporary accent to keep the dowdies at bay.

    Julianne – thanks! I don’t know that I’ll ever get this figured out once and for all. Regarding your shoe issue, have you tried a 2-inch heel? I find it’s a height that gives my legs the appearance of a little more length, but won’t cripple.

  21. greying pixie
    January 6, 2009 / 6:27 am

    Deja – The ‘Japanese heavyweights’ are Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons) and Yohji Yamamoto. I call them the heavyweights not only because of their price tags, which are regrettably heavy, but because they are more than just designers, they have something to say through their work. I think their work is intellectual because they tend to challenge Western presumptions around the whole concept of clothing and its relationship with the body. They take risks – sometimes the risks work and sometimes they don’t and sometimes it depends on the wearer. As with abstract painting, it’s not just a question of designing a pretty dress, but more of an intellectual exercise where the final interpretation is left to the wearer/viewer.

    I had a tutor at art college who wore only Comme des Garcons and looked fantastic. There are many women in the arts who would never consider wearing anything but these designers. But I’m too bourgeois to let go of the classic European look completely. If I wear Yohji from head to toe I look like a nun – and not a very attractive one!

    I was first made aware of the possibility of the bourgeoisification (?) of these Japanese designers on the TGV going from Montpelier to Paris. I saw a French woman in Issey Miyake Pleats Please looking every inch the European. She looked great and I was hooked.

  22. Karen
    January 6, 2009 / 1:24 am

    I hear ya. I just packed away the chains and pearls and put them in storage. That girl doesn’t live here right now; she’s minimal and can’t be burdened or bogged down by excesses.

  23. January 6, 2009 / 9:32 am

    I don’t know anyone (and I’ve seen hundreds of clients) who only fits one personality style – such as classic. Most people are a combination of different styles and feel happier taking bits and pieces from different styles to create their own signature style.

    You may like a little classic, but need it to be mixed with your creative side. Feminine is not necessarily floaty or frilly, sometimes it’s about soft colours, or handbags and shoes.

    Your mood of the day will also affect how you feel like dressing – some days we want to be more classic, and other times more relaxed and approachable. Some days we want to express our dynamic or dramatic side, the list goes on.

    There is nothing wrong with having multiple dressing personalities! Life would be boring without them.

    Happy New Year!

  24. La Belette Rouge
    January 6, 2009 / 2:39 am

    Like Janet, I wear my Chanel jacket with jeans and pearls. On a rare occasion I wear it with the skirt and lady like heels. Mostly I don’t.

    I cannot do artsy, boho, or feminine. All those styles look horrible on me. I don’t think I will ever be able to manage them. Just not my style.

  25. ~Tessa~Scoffs
    January 6, 2009 / 2:41 am

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think it captures what many of us are going through, at all ages and stages of our lives. I keep having the feeling that I want to be “done” with the style journey. I want it all wrapped up and decided. I want to enjoy life instead of combing malls looking for the perfect pair of jeans or handbag. But somehow my brain has been tricked into believing that I can’t (truly) enjoy life until I find those jeans and that bag! Oh, the exquisite dilemma!

  26. January 6, 2009 / 1:43 pm

    Your writing is amazing. Just had to say that. Oh, and I also bounce between hippy-type outfits and more structured ones.

    And I never know which I prefer more. So I don’t worry about it anymore; I just enjoy mixing a bit.

  27. January 6, 2009 / 2:42 pm

    greying pixie – wow, thanks so much for the info! I’m going to make a point to look for those designers next time I’m shopping in the swanky stores. (Not that I can afford, but to educate and inspire myself.)

    Imogen – yes, I’m starting to realize that personal style has to embrace our contradictions. Having seen the ensembles you’ve put together for La Belette Rouge, I may be e-mailing you soon…

  28. January 6, 2009 / 2:44 pm

    Rooi Skoene – thank you so much! Yes, we need to dress to express the different aspects of ourselves. It sounds like you’ve achieved a great level of comfort with that.

  29. January 6, 2009 / 3:15 pm

    I’m curious now about “Sherry’s book” that Duchesse mentioned in her post above…I am forever reading style and wardrobe books…is it one that can be purchased through Amazon?

  30. January 6, 2009 / 3:22 pm

    Kelly – yes, it’s called “Forever Cool” and it is available on amazon.com. I started looking at it again last night, and though I’ve posted on it once, am going to do another post on the book soon.

  31. Anonymous
    January 6, 2009 / 4:00 pm

    Here is a perfect example of what happens to me and my clothes.Wearing black cotton pants and a black and white striped shirt, boat neck – short hair with bangs over forehead today (sometimes to side) was going for Edie Sedgwick but just caught a glimpse of self in mirror and realized I look more like a MIME. I can’t win. Added graphic black and white with some color scarf/shawl to keep warm but it doesn’t look tidy on me. rats.
    more later, biscuitx

  32. January 6, 2009 / 5:57 pm

    Peut-on vous écrire en français? Let me know… Being almost 50 I understand that sometimes it is difficult to stay true to our style or styles… But we just have to listen to our heart, our heart of style! If I buy a cardi (for winter time) I buy it with a (faux) fur collar because I like “chic”! If I buy a necklace I buy it to fit exactly at the right spot because this is where it’ll frame my neck and face the best way. If I buy a skirt(I’m a skirt person) I buy it that it fits perfectly at my tiny waist. If I buy boots, I’ll get a “cavalier” or “cossack” style as they are of a more “romantic” style (my style, with (faux) fur humm humm). After blowdrying my short hair I add some “pomade” to get a nice “dépeigné”. If I wear my Chanel jacket I wear a satin blouse with a low bow neck or my grey-black striped turtleneck.. The last post mentioned getting a ES style — then just ask yourself what Edie would have done, fab eyeliner, long dangling earings; you say it was a cold day so maybe she would have added a red and sliver glittery scarf or a pink cropped wool marinière! I think we all know what is looking boring on us – so let’s get the colours, accessories, fabrics and cuts that can highlight our live.

  33. January 6, 2009 / 11:43 pm

    I used to feel like I had one “style” (simply cut practical basics!) — but then I got into vintage clothes and threw all old rules to the wind. I’m wearing a very gypsy-looking dress right now that I would never have dreamed of ten years ago.

  34. January 7, 2009 / 1:39 pm

    It’s only a pleasure. I’ve never commented on your blog before; I have been lurking and observing. 😉

    And yes, it takes a while to reach that level of comfort with yourself. Never mind knowing what works, and what doesn’t.

  35. January 7, 2009 / 2:52 pm

    biscuitx – LOL! Oh, I’ve had those moments too, trust me!

    JJP – je peux comprendre un peu de Français, mais je ne suis pas fluent. You sound like you know exactly what works for you are a very discriminating shopper. C’est très bon!

  36. January 7, 2009 / 2:54 pm

    Imogen – I will, very soon!

    Wendyb – and I think of you as someone with a very distinctive style: that chick who rocks the Ossie!!!

  37. January 9, 2009 / 4:15 am

    Here’s to ambivalence!

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