What Not to Wear–Fashion for the Over-60’s

A new wardrobe – one of the pleasures of losing weight. As I adjust to the changes and work (and walk) to maintain the new look, shopping for clothes – lady professor clothes Suzanne Lebsock called them when I was starting graduate school – has had me pondering what (not) to wear and what a retirement wardrobe might contain. At the moment I’m particularly fond of turtleneck sweaters, because they cover the chicken folds that have joined my flabby arms and gray hair, but chiefly because it is a very cold, windy winter this year. In the search for new clothes, however, I have not purchased any shirt embroidered with chipmunks or sweet, plump sparrows (and now I regret immensely giving those gifts to my mother!). All this puzzling about wardrobe (which surely is part of my personal effort at a social construction of old age) does make the historian wonder when “senior” became a special fashion category that did not refer to high school.

And then, on FB this morning was a link to “What Not to Wear After 50: The Final Say,” a Huffington Post piece by Michelle Combs (self-described as “blogger, mother, wife, drinker of tequila”). Combs dismisses current fashion guidance and urges us to adopt instead six basic rules. DO NOT wear: 1) the weight of the world; 2) shame and regret; 3) rose-colored glasses; 4) a stiff upper lip; and 5) too many hats. But (and if it weren’t in such an esteemed publication she’d probably add a smiley emoticon) wear as often as you like: 6) a “resting bitch face.” Oh yes, I heartily approve and intend to adopt – particularly #5, since with all my hats, I’m wearing none with pizzazz. It’s time to pack up a few and send them to the thrift shop (or donate them to younger colleagues!).

Combs also suggests googling the topic, where advice seekers will find much to gnaw on and reject. With curiosity now piqued, I put the words into Google…using 60 as a more appropriate age. Google tells me I have my choice of “about 295,000,000” results! From a “budgetfashionista” website (don’t shun your past and embrace pant suits and color) to an article from AARP that tells me to rid my closet of tight jeans and mini skirts (as if!), and one that advises no Uggs, make-up, or showing skin, and that’s just the first page. I’m thinking there must be someone, some place, wearing a caftan and tuque this morning in an effort to be fashionable over 60.

Of all the links (at least those in the first 10) the one I most appreciated was the Huffington Post page of columns on the subject of “Fashion for Women Over Sixty.” In one, Margaret Mann advises learning to “love your tailor,” as she writes, “Women over 60 are special. Each of us has earned the right to be ourselves and express our individuality.” Another column publicized a a BBC documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas, described as a show “Exploring the art of ageing in the company of six extraordinary women with an average age of eighty.” There’s a clip from the program on YouTube; it’s worth a look at how these women chose to outfit their aging bodies.

And so, as I weed from my closet ill-fitting pants and shirts, I plan to fill the hangers with happy, colorful, feel-good, pieces that show no shame and regret and definitely don’t call for a stiff upper lip. I’m also going to cultivate my “resting bitch face” and choose hats wisely, wearing only the ones that reward me for being “over 60.”

Will be interested to hear if, and how, others have constructed an “over 60” closet.