“Do you wear this outside the house, or is it ‘exercise-wear’?” my sister asked, holding up a stretchy T-shirt festooned with a picture of the Eiffel Tower and other French landmarks, all accented with gold sequins at intermittent intervals. I didn’t have the guts to confess that the shirt was not one I wore to the gym. In its heydey, I wore it to fancy restaurants and parties.
We were cleaning out my closet– something I hadn’t done in years. It’s an activity best conducted with a special person. She needs to be tactful enough to convince you that a five year old pair of pants is hideous, not fashionable, without pissing you off. At the same time, she should be stylish enough that you believe her when she says she’d never let a certain piece of clothing touch her body.
I needed her help. I tend to reason that most clothes are worth holding on to. If ponchos and gauchos are back, I can’t think of any trend that’s too ugly to make a comeback. Consequently, my closet is full of clothes dating back to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” days. I am drawn to colors and patterns. Also, it’s been well-documented that I walk the line between trashy and trendy, and often I need someone to tell me when I’ve gone too far.
My sister is always well-dressed, and has a knack for organization combined with enough OCD to allow her to be ruthless in discarding the unwearable, after which she hangs everything on matching hangers facing in the same direction in a complicated closet classification system.
She pulled a striped miniskirt from the closet and looked at it apprehensively.
“You know, Anne,” she said, “There’s just an age where you have to draw the line at skirts of a certain length.”
“Are you saying I’ve reached that age?” I asked meekly.
“I’m afraid so,” she said.
“Well, I’ll try it on and you tell me if it is too short,” I proposed.
I stripped off my jeans, put on the miniskirt, and posed. She laughed in disbelief.
“Have you worn that out of the house lately?” she asked.
I knew good and well that this was code for “Who’s been dressing you– Lil Kim?”
“Have you seen my legs?” I retorted. “I’m the queen of the baseball field when I wear this,” I said as I wiggled out of the skirt.
She took it from me delicately and tossed it in the “Donate” pile.
“Wait!” I shrieked. “That’s much more than a skirt that is too short. Bill picked it out for my birthday several years ago. All by himself. He gets all hot and bothered when I wear it.”
“Okay,” she relented. “It can go in the ‘For Romance Only’ pile,” she conceded, “but you have to swear you won’t wear it out of the bedroom.”
“I promise,” I agreed.
After she had left, and all my clothes (or what remained of them) were hanging neatly, categorized and subdivided by sleeve length and color, I thought about our conversation. I know the general rules of fashion here– white only between Easter and Labor Day (although the temperature may hover in the 80’s until November), no velvet after Valentine’s Day, and so forth.
But the rules about changing your look as you age are far murkier. When do you admit to yourself that you’re not getting any younger, and that perhaps you should be shopping at Banana Republic instead of Express? Until now, I’ve stayed away from Banana Republic. I could always find a fabulous top (preferably with beading or sequins) at Express that suited me just fine.
A couple of days ago, I went into Banana Republic, just to see what would happen. Most of the clothes were solids, but I didn’t let that scare me. And when I walked out, I had created an outfit, one that my sister would be proud of. I paired a solid cranberry blouse with a pair of solid gray pants. I put them on with my new shoes, threw on a bunch of necklaces, and wore the whole thing two days in a row. I didn’t look all soccer-momish, or matronly. I looked chic.
I’m sure my sister would have done it differently– she would have worn flats, not shiny dancing shoes, and her jewelry would have been subdued, and of course her hair would have been all one color, rather than the three I have going right now.
But I’m going to attribute those differences to personal style, not inappropriate fashion choices on my part. Am I finally growing up?