Closet Depression

Shopping for clothes has never been an easy thing for me.  Even when I was a teenager and thought that a trip to the mall with my friends was great fun, I still struggled when it came to actually buying the clothes.  Back then, I was frustrated by styles that didn’t match my figure and/or prices that didn’t match my budget.  The fifty cents an hour I earned from babysitting didn’t stretch very far, even in the Seventies. These days, my budget isn’t quite so tight, but I still rarely find something that’s comfortable, looks good, fits properly, and reasonably priced.  Which is why I still hate to shop.

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Unfortunately, my closet is small, so with each changing season, I find myself sorting through the clothes I keep stored in big plastic bins in the basement, and bringing them up to replace the clothes from the previous season. This process forces me to evaluate my wardrobe four times a year, and means I can’t ignore the stains on my summer blouses, the fact that half my sweaters have snags or pills,  and that another couple of pairs of pants have mysteriously shrunk.  So I fill a bag or two to take to the local donation center, make a list of what needs to be bought, and head off to the nearest mall.

Sometimes I’m silly enough to think my trip will be successful, at least until I enter the first store and am met with clothes that must have been designed by people who were either drunk, high, or have serious anger issues with women.  There are blouses with “peek-a-boo” shoulders, for what purpose I can’t begin to imagine.  Normal, button-down cardigans are conspicuous by their absence, and have been replaced with sweaters sporting tassels, ruffles and armholes halfway down the sleeves.  Pants are either wide enough to share with a baby elephant or so skinny that I would have had trouble fitting into them when I was ten.  And do you know what happens to a pair of chubby legs stuffed into tight jeans?  The fat puffs out, in places that you’d least expect and can’t possibly hide.

Fall and winter are the worst, because not only do I have to find pieces of clothing that I like and can afford, but I also have to match the layers.  This is not my strong point.  My closet tends to be full of jackets that don’t match any of my blouses, jeans in colors that clash with all my sweaters, and tops that are either too long are too bulky to wear underneath anything.  Traditionally, I tend to solve this problem by buying a lot of black or white items, which means that I have a lot of black pants and black and white tops, often striped.  Once I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized that if I added a pair of tennis shoes and a whistle to my ensemble, I’d look exactly like a matronly referee who got lost on her way to the big game.  So now I try to branch out a little, color-wise.

Still, I do have the occasional success.  Yesterday I went to the mall in search of a pair of shoes to wear to my son’s wedding, and while I didn’t find those, I did manage to find a nice green sweater and a matching top to wear underneath.  On sale.  And they didn’t even come from the same store.  Walking out of the mall, I was so excited that it was all I could do not to stop random strangers and proudly show off my purchases.  When it comes to fashion, I’ve learned to take my victories where I can.

Middle Age Fashion Rebel

IMG_0189A friend of mine recently showed me an article in the Wall Street Journal which declared that pantyhose are back in style for middle aged women, as long as they are sheer and a natural skin color.  She knew that I had found a dress I might wear for my daughter’s upcoming wedding, but that I was wavering about buying it because it was only knee length, and that meant that I had to either have the lower half of my legs bare for the wedding, or wear a pair of panty hose with the dress.  And I had been told by several people, repeatedly and empathetically, that “no one wears pantyhose anymore.”

Although I rarely, if ever, follow fashion trends, the question of whether or not to wear hose to the wedding did trouble me a little.  As the mother of the bride, I have to walk down the aisle at the start of the ceremony, and be in several of the professional portraits, and I didn’t want to wear anything that might embarrass my daughter.  Originally, I considered solving the problem by wearing a floor length dress with bare legs hidden underneath.  Then I found out that the bridesmaids would be wearing short dresses and so would the mother of the groom, and I thought it might be odd for me to be the only person besides the bride in a floor-length dress.  Also, I am a terrible klutz, so there was a very real chance that I would trip on a long dress, and falling down in the aisle of the church or pitching head-first into the wedding cake is not a risk I’m willing to take.

Although I can now point to the article as proof positive that I am not committing a major fashion blunder by wearing hose at the wedding, I have to admit that I was planning to wear them anyway, even before I read the article.  I knew my daughter wouldn’t really care one way or the other, and I know that I’ll feel more comfortable in hose than I would without them.  It’s not just that I’m sure I’ll get blisters from shoving my bare feet into dress shoes for ten hours straight, it’s also that I have reached the age where I feel that the more of me that is covered up, the better I look.  Hose may be sheer, but they still go a long way towards hiding spider veins, small scars, the bruises I always have from encounters with rowdy shelter dogs and razor burn.

I’m even planning to up the ante by wearing control top panty hose.  My dress is a bit form-fitting, and although I have read that a good pair of Spanx can take five pounds off, I’d still rather wear the hose than a “slimming undergarment.”  (Our mothers didn’t beat around the bush; they just called them girdles.)   I would need the thigh-length one, and I don’t trust it not to show underneath my dress on a day when I might have to do a lot of bending over. I once went to a professional dog show where one of the handlers made an unfortunate choice in her combination of undergarment and skirt length.  The view each time she bent over her dog wasn’t pretty, and it’s definitely not the look I’m going for at my daughter’s wedding.

I think, even at a wedding, middle age is the time to toss fashion considerations aside and to wear what we feel comfortable in and what looks good on us.  And in this particular case, that means I’m wearing pantyhose, whether it’s fashionable or not.

But I May Wear That Someday…..

IMG_0150I admit to being one those people who still believes in giving her house a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning each year.  I wash windows, paint baseboards, clean out junk drawers, etc., and then turn my attention to my closet.  Cleaning my closet means packing away my winter clothes, and then hauling the bins filled with my spring and summer clothes out of the basement to place in my closet and dresser.   As I do, I try to look at each piece of clothing and make sure it’s something I actually still want, and the clothes that don’t make the cut get placed in the donation bag.  In theory, it’s a rather efficient system designed to keep only the clothes that fit, are flattering, and that I actually intend to wear.  And the key words in that sentence are “in theory.”

Because the reality is that I have lots of clothes in my closet that I don’t need or particularly want.  It’s completely against my character, as in all other areas of my life, I have no problems getting rid of things.  I can fill a donation bag, or even a trash bag, in record time and without a second thought.  But for some reason, I’m still hanging onto that pink t-shirt I bought at the outlet mall four years ago, which I’ve worn exactly once.  I also still have the tank top I wore to a neighborhood reunion in 2005, and the sweater that I am wearing in the photo of my husband’s 43rd birthday dinner is still in my dresser.  My husband will be 60 this year.

It’s not that I have these clothes stashed away, where they can be “out of sight and out of mind.” (That’s how we managed to keep my husband’s green leisure suit for the first ten years of our marriage.  It was in a bag of his old clothes which he moved from house to house, but never actually opened.)  My closet is a bit small, so I store out-of-season clothes in bins and I actually go through them each spring and fall, and I do designate several items each time for the Goodwill.  Yet I still manage to keep far too many tops, sweaters and dresses that I don’t wear, or at least that I haven’t worn in the past decade.

Maybe the problem is that I didn’t have very many clothes during my teenage years, when I was very self-conscious about such things.  Or maybe it’s that I believe in reusing and recycling things whenever possible, as I am all too aware of the growing problem of too much trash in our local landfills.  But I have to remember that clothes can’t be kept forever, even if I am still wearing them.  I should have figured that out after the time I wore a pair of jeans to the point where they were so frayed that they ripped right up the back seam.  I didn’t know the rip was there until my son pointed it out at dinner time, and I had worn those jeans all day.

I just have to let go of the idea that I may actually want to wear that black velvet jacket to a party someday, or that I am going to look at a blouse that I haven’t worn in six years and suddenly think, “That’s exactly what I want to wear today!” It seems that my wardrobe is my personal and final hurdle in my goal to living a simplified and clutter-free existence. And it’s way past time to clean out that closet, once and for all.IMG_0148

Shopping for the Middle-Aged Woman

My daughter is getting married this fall, which means I’ve got a lot of planning to do in the next few months.  These days, weddings are pretty complicated and the planning can get overwhelming, but until recently, we haven’t hit any major snags.  Things were actually going very smoothly (my daughter is making some very smart choices, thank goodness), right up until the minute I decided that it was time to start shopping for my mother-of-the-bride dress.  And then, at least for me, things came to a grinding halt.

IMG_0047Honestly, I expected this.  My body has always managed to be different sizes in different places, so dresses that fit well are never an easy thing for me to find, and I’m used to a long search whenever I need to buy one.  For me, buying a dress is almost as difficult as buying a swimming suit, and my system is the same:  head into the dressing room with as many as I can carry, and keep trying on until I find one that doesn’t look completely awful.  That goes into the “maybe” pile, and when I get enough dresses (or swimming suits) in the “maybe” pile, I go through them and pick the best of the bunch.  I’ve been doing this for years, and it works for me.

But now that I’m middle aged, it’s become hard even to find a store that caters to someone my age and with my tastes.  The malls are full of small stores that target teens and twenty-somethings, with maybe a Chico’s or a Talbots thrown in almost as an afterthought. There’s usually a department store or two with a small section of clothes for “women”, as opposed to “juniors,” but I’ve never had much luck finding something I actually want to buy.  And when I do find a store for “mature” women, I can’t help but notice that most of the other customers are past retirement age by at least a decade.  Call me vain, but I still don’t always want to wear the same clothes as my mother. (No offense intended, Mom!)

Just once, I wish the people running the stores would realize that there are lots of middle-aged women out there who are still shopping for clothes, regularly heading into the mall with our credit cards and our high hopes.  And that some of us (like me, for instance) have short, somewhat rounded figures that do not look good in the long, flowing fashions that are usually offered to women of a “certain age,” and that still others of us do not like lots of fringe, leopard stripes or sequins.  We want comfortable, nice-looking clothes that flatter our middle-aged bodies and are appropriate for wearing in our normal, everyday lives, as well as the occasional dressy event we may attend.  It doesn’t seem so much to ask.

Meanwhile, the search for my mother-of-the-bride dress continues.  And if anyone has any leads on where I can find a fancy dress that looks good on a middle-aged woman with a small bust line, short legs and ample hips, let me know!  And please, no sequins.  I look better without sparkles.

If It Ain’t Broke….

I was reading an article in a travel magazine recently in which the author described some of his fellow cruise passengers as “women who had found their look thirty years ago and were sticking with it.”  I read the sentence twice, and then thought, “Is that me?”  And I had to admit:  yes, it is.

When I was in my twenties, I did try to keep up with the latest fashions and experimented with different clothing styles in an effort to find a look that worked for me.  Even then, I was blessed with a “pear body shape,” which is a quaint way of saying my hips and thighs are two sizes larger than my waist. That meant not all fashion styles suited me (leggings are not a good look for women with short, chubby legs, no matter what their age), but I still managed to come up with reasonably fashionable outfits that didn’t emphasize the wrong body parts.  My look mostly consisted of dark-colored pants and skirts, topped with bright-colored (often blue) shirts and blouses, usually tucked in to draw attention to my waist rather than my hips.

Now I’m middle-aged, and not nearly so inclined to tuck in my shirts.  But otherwise, I dress pretty much the same way I always have.  Every now and then I take a stab at dressing a bit more fashionably, but it rarely works out.  Leggings and long, flowing tops are, sadly, once again in style, and I see many women my age wearing them well.  I can’t wear leggings (see reference to chubby legs in the paragraph above), and have always thought that long, flowing tops make me look like a fireplug.  Recently, I did decide to be brave and try the new styles, so I found a long, flowing top on the clearance rack, bought it, and wore it out sightseeing during our October trip to Charleston.  And I felt just like a fireplug the whole time I had it on.  I added the top to the Goodwill donation bag as soon as we got home.

I’ve decided that there’s really nothing wrong with sticking with a look that I like and feel comfortable wearing.  One of the advantages of middle age is not feeling the need to follow every fashion trend in an effort to keep up with everyone else.  I like darks jeans and slacks, and blue is still my favorite color, so there’s a lot of it in my closet.  And probably always will be.  My look may not be trendy, but who cares?  It works for me.