You say "old lady" like it’s a BAD thing…

Grand-mère Lucille in Ceylon, 1964

Last week, an anonymous commenter made a disparaging remark that a J.Crew scarf I’d recommended was “old lady.” While at first it didn’t bother me, as I appreciate that everyone has their own taste and their own associations with certain styles or prints, Duchesse replied that the comment was ageist, and she was right.

By the grace of God, and with no small amount of luck, we’ll all be “old ladies” someday. It sure beats the alternative. When someone uses the term “old lady” as an inherently negative descriptor, it disparages and devalues all of us.

If when describing an article of clothing or a style you mean frumpy, dowdy, matronly, outdated, or even eccentric, use those words instead. And when it comes to living a vibrant, engaged life, youth has no monopoly there either. Don’t assume that just because someone is old that they are closed off or feeble minded or uninterested in new ideas. Let’s rethink our assumptions about what being an older woman means, and let’s toss “old lady” on the linguistic trash heap!

I’m sure Mamy Rock would agree! Picture originally at Advanced Style.

And go read this wonderful post from hostess of the humble bungalow.

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  1. Sandra
    July 7, 2011 / 11:51 am

    Well said. I don’t like being called old lady despite the fact that I think I was twenty yesterday. Time has a way of spinning fast after 60.
    A picture of Catherine Deneuve says it all. What a beauty even today.
    Best always, Sandra

  2. Anonymous
    July 7, 2011 / 11:53 am

    I’m in my 20s, and I thought that scarf was -awesome-.

  3. July 7, 2011 / 12:15 pm

    Bravo! PS – I didn’t think that J.Crew has an “old lady” category (bag lady, sometimes…),unless this is something new that Jenna has come up with? The scarf rocks!

  4. July 7, 2011 / 12:42 pm

    Great post!

    I guess I don’t mind people slinging around phrases like “Old Lady” that much–as long as they’re also capable of employing phrases like “too young for me,” “jeune fille,” or “mutton dressed as lamb.” I believe in equal opportunity age-inappropriateness!

  5. July 7, 2011 / 12:44 pm

    Deja, I received my scarf yesterday and I really love it. Thank you for leading me to it. You also really have addressed that comment with such class and grace.

  6. July 7, 2011 / 1:33 pm

    Agreed! Also, the piece at Hostess of the Humble Bungalow was very touching, though I found the grey background made for some eyestrain. Her bungalow is lovely!

  7. July 7, 2011 / 1:59 pm

    Brava, une femme! I look forward to being an old lady, with luck, as you say. There’s still a young goddess lurking inside me though.

  8. July 7, 2011 / 2:05 pm

    Wonderful photo of your grandmother, just wonderful!
    And this post is great as well — thank you.

  9. July 7, 2011 / 2:29 pm

    I’ve said this before and I will say it again. One of the best compliments I ever got was from a homeless guy, commenting to his friend on the stoop, as I passed. “She’s sexy, for an old lady.” Damn straight. I LIKE being an old lady. And I will define the term and the being however I please. Let us not assume that all old ladies are dowdy, frumpy, undesirable creatures.

  10. July 7, 2011 / 3:17 pm

    Thank you Susan. I just had an idea. Let’s all get t-shirts that say, “Just because I can’t have babies any more doesn’t mean I can’t have fun.”

  11. July 7, 2011 / 3:59 pm

    That scarf doesn’t look old lady at all! It’s leopard print and very fashionable for all ages!

  12. July 7, 2011 / 4:01 pm

    I look up to my 84 year old mother who dresses herself in very up to date fashions…I do consider her to be an older woman but she has the heart and mind of a 30 year old!

    Oh and thank you so very much for the mention.
    I have had a flock of visitors this morning!

  13. July 7, 2011 / 5:08 pm

    If you want to see photos of a truly gorgeous older woman, google this name: Carmen Dell’Orefice. She is 78.

    Somewhere in my bookshelves I have a book about makeup and hair (given to me by a friend who thinks I need help) that shows MS. Dell’Orefice BEFORE she has applied makeup. She looks like a very elderly woman. AFTER the makeup, she looks like you see her in many of her modeling photos. The difference was night and day–and shows what well applied makeup can do.

  14. Jane and Lance Hattatt
    July 7, 2011 / 12:24 pm

    Bravo! Very well said indeed!

    We have many octogenarian friends all of whom enjoy extremely full and interesting lives, much of which leaves those half their ages well behind. And, as for style, well whether it works or not has no age barrier, either people have it or, sadly, they do not!

  15. California Girl
    July 7, 2011 / 12:48 pm

    hahahaha! I like your title.

  16. Pam @ over50feeling40
    July 7, 2011 / 1:37 pm

    Here! Here! The comment showed immaturity in so many ways…immaturity of the wisdom and joys of seasoned women…and of fashion!

  17. July 7, 2011 / 8:59 pm

    I am 61, and I care not what people call me. That I am an old lady is obvious. One of the benefits of age- I know who I am!

  18. Gretchen
    July 7, 2011 / 2:18 pm

    Erm, I sure didn’t think that scarf qualified as “old lady” but I’m just a middle-aged clothes horse, so what do I know? Tee hee…I do find, nonetheless, that a certain type of female (I hesitate to call them women) uses OL as a derogatory term for anything not endorsed by Us Weekly or that Hollywood stylist crew. Fragrances, ESP, are deemed OL when they don’t smell like the Fruit Bomb or Dish Soap of the Week. Until, gasp, Posh Spice, or some sitcom dip endorses it. Then it no longer qualifies as OL but becomes the hot new thing. Boring. Here’s to individuality and knowing oneself well enough to be as OL or Boho or Mod as you wanna be!

  19. RoseAG
    July 7, 2011 / 2:25 pm

    Look! Granny has nude sandals!

    Every “old lady” is her own person. My Grandmothers, who I always thought of as old ladies, would not have ever worn a leopard scarf. One did have a pair of cat-eyed reading glasses with sequins at the temples that I thought were pretty cool.

    I agree with you that to act like they’re all the same, necks encased in leopard scarves, is to devalue them, and to miss the value they can add to your own life.

  20. July 7, 2011 / 9:39 pm

    I don’t mind being my age, 63 next week, but I do mind being called “old lady” because it disparages women who have achieved a mature age. It is not a term of respect or civility. I ‘get’ the whole “reclaim the label” concept, as when women say they do not mind being called a “bitch”. But by giving someone permission to call yo by a term that is disparaging, we collude in that disparagement.

    If I encounter several instances where “old lady” is used in an positive way (outside of the “turn it around” idea) I might change my mind. And notice that the term was used from behind the smokescreen of an anonymous pot. Those kind of shots usually are.

  21. Susan Tiner
    July 7, 2011 / 3:06 pm

    I can’t top Lisa’s comment 🙂

    Thank you for following up on that anonymous comment with this wonderful post.

    I am starting to really like being an old lady myself. It’s nice, still being here. It’s a privilege.

  22. Veuve
    July 7, 2011 / 4:43 pm

    What Lisa said. 🙂

  23. July 7, 2011 / 11:54 pm

    Grandmere is simply GORGEOUS in that photo! The pink sheath! The black band! The posture! Now I’m off to see that scarf.

  24. July 8, 2011 / 12:11 am

    Age is in the eyes of the beholder. I’ve always hated the term “old lady” – it is demeaning, like one is useless. I think it is worse to be narrow-minded. I’ll bet if Angelina Jolie, Lady GaGa or Kim Kardashian wore the scarf it would be all the rage in no time!

  25. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion
    July 7, 2011 / 5:22 pm

    Brava! Your grandmother looks very cool perched on that elephant!

  26. July 8, 2011 / 1:16 am

    Well put. You are changing the culture’s perception of older women! One blog post at a time!

  27. Tiffany
    July 7, 2011 / 11:37 pm

    Hear, hear. And Lisa, I’ll have one of those t-shirts too, thanks!

  28. July 8, 2011 / 4:20 pm

    GrammyRubi, 98 next Monday, is most definitely a lady. And chronologically, let’s be honest, she’s old.

    But Old Lady? Not one bit of it! You should have seen her up on the dance floor at last Saturday’s wedding. I hope I can shake it like that in 40 years.

  29. laurieann
    July 8, 2011 / 6:38 pm

    Terrific post Pseu! I am thankful every day that I’m am here on this earth and aging. Yes, there are downsides to me managed, not the lease of which is an ageist society, but having lost several friends in my 20’s and 30’s I know that my ongoing presence here, and that of my loved ones, is a gift.

  30. July 8, 2011 / 9:21 pm

    I actually look forward to being an old lady, whatever that means. There are some things you simply cannot pull of when you are not an “old lady” yet. So I have planned what to wear when I get older already. Each age has it’s charm, I think!

  31. Maravonda
    July 8, 2011 / 10:35 pm

    I see what you are saying, but I don’t know if I agree….I ask my daughter “Does this look old lady-ish to you?”. I think that to me, the term hasn’t much to do with being a lady of a certain age….it has to do with image of being bent over, with orthopedic shoes and badly applied lipstick….not an older woman, but a stereotype. Is that bad? Maybe it is. Food for thought….One thing is certain, there is no “typical” Old Lady in our world these days. Aging is whatever we chose it to be.

  32. Kate
    July 8, 2011 / 3:36 pm

    I tried to comment on this yesterday, but my internet was acting wonky.

    First, can I just say that I just turned 27 and when I saw that scarf I had instant desire and have it saved on a tab while I decide whether I want to spent the money? Who on earth thinks a leopard print scarf screams old lady?!?

    Second, who cares if it does? I love all the pieces (from scarves to hats to jewelry and handbags/clutches) I got from my grandmama. There is a reason things are classics. And the idea that there is something shameful about being older makes me want to scream! I hope I reach my “old” age with pearls dripping off me and a fabulous leopard print scarf to boot!

  33. Zuzu's Petals
    July 8, 2011 / 4:19 pm

    Poor rude Anonymous probably has her own age issues. I see a lot of “old lady” comments on MUA, particularly related to perfume, as in “old-lady smell.” I also occasionally bump into references to women of a certain age as “spotted geckos.” That one really frosts my pumpkin. Yes, we all are getting older one day at a time, and it sure does beat the alternative. I’d rather be an old happy, vibrant lady with decades of happiness, memories, and wisdom than die young. And Grand-mère Lucille looks spectacular on the elephant. She looks like someone I would love to know.

  34. July 9, 2011 / 6:41 pm

    Great photo!

    Having known many an older woman — and realizing some I think of as middle-aged have slid into “older” as we’ve aged together! — I certainly agree there’s no one size fits all when it comes to attitudes, lifestyle, or dress.

    I also agree older folks in general, but especially older women, tend to be “invisible-ized” in the US, and dismissive comments contribute to that.

    However, if we are being asked to give up “old lady” as a shorthand style description, are people prepared to give up other labels?

    I’d argue that “trashy/trampy” etc must go — because it’s classist, and based on values that the elite have set. And “thuggish/hood” has to disappear as it’s racist.

    [Result: So long to Snooki snark!]

    If I’m being honest, I have known some 70+ women who dress in ways I consider flattering, trendy, nice enough, stylish, eccentric and/or highly personal.

    And others who dress/ed in ways quite stereotypical for their age and income.

    The women in both loosely-defined groups all have something to offer me in terms of wisdom and so on…but I don’t really aspire to dress like the ones who fall more squarely into the stereotypical range when I’m older, let alone now.

    [Sure, I could call the Queen of England’s style for the last several decades “dowdy,” “mature,” “un-modern” but IMO those are just euphemisms for “not youthful” aka “old lady”!]

  35. July 10, 2011 / 2:00 am

    Isnt it funny how the snarky comments are always anonymous? And I know how you felt; sometimes you dont even want to qualify it with an answer but I’m glad you did. Its tough being an old lady.

  36. July 10, 2011 / 6:29 am

    I’m back again to thank you for the scarf post; mine arrived yesterday and it’s wonderful.Old lady? Psssssh. I’m no old lady; I’m an SOB:Sexy Old Broad.

  37. July 18, 2011 / 12:16 am

    I believe that an item of clothing says nothing about age. It is wether you wear it with confidence or wear is apologetically that makes the difference.

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