Ageing Gracefully: Doing It Your Way
There was once a time when women in their 60s looked like nice grey-haired grannies and that was okay. Now, 63 year-old Christie Brinkley is featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and a feisty woman in a TV ad keeps exulting, "I'm only in my sixties and there are a lot of things I want to do!" Each time that ad appears, I'm curled up on my couch with no Things I Want to Do except to make her shut up.
In many ways, older women used to be invisible. The ones who received public attention and respect were politicians and businesswomen who maintained their bodies and hairstyles in a way that was never threatening or provocative. The rules were simple. Don't be "too" anything. Too fat, too masculine, too feminine, too girlish, too eye-catching.
Now that 60 is the new 40, there are way more options, but far too few role models to help navigate this territory. The older women making a splash in fashion circles are flamboyant to a fault, so defiantly quirky that their whole personae seem like performance art. What if you're not looking for fame as an Advanced Style icon, and you're not rich enough for a facelift and personal trainer? What if you don't want to look like a desperate ageing Barbie or a white-haired sea-hag? Who can you look to for guidance, or do you have to invent your own way to break the mould?
First, there's the concept of age-appropriateness. Who should be the arbiter of these standards? Bazaar has a monthly feature offering looks for each decade of life, from 20's to 70's. It's nice of them to go past 70, but their choices are stodgy and unaffordable. These decade categories are too artificial to take seriously. Men's magazines don't divide their readers into age groups. Men have two modes of style: Casual and businesslike. The two options work equally well across the age spectrum.
Ladies, we're going to get old, and it isn't always pretty. It's easy to look at an ancient face and insist that it's beautiful, as long as it isn't your own. I've always admired how Georgia O'Keeffe looked in old age, but seeing a photo of her in her prime, with luxuriant armpit hair, I couldn't help but feel the loss of her ripe femaleness. And my own.
Once you reach a certain age, you can't rely on your sex appeal. You have to change your definition of attractive. The things you wear project your personality and aesthetics. You're making a choice with more calculation than when you were 19 and you could wear anything. My best advice to women in their 20's is: Wear shorts more often! Now is the time!
Personally, I don't favour the kooky looks celebrated by Advanced Style. I always feel these ladies are being ridiculed somehow. I don't want people to do a double-take when I walk by, or to marvel at my nerve. I'm afraid of being perceived as an old bag in a nutty costume. I want to look nice, and if at all possible, I still want to look fuckable. I said this to a younger friend, who was disgusted by my deference to the Male Gaze. At least, I think that's what raised her feminist ire.
At 80 years old, Gloria Steinem is a perfect role model. I think she looks fuckable, meaning she still radiates sexuality. Her style leans toward tomboyish, but she dresses up when the occasion calls for it. She has left her face alone instead of letting a surgeon mess it up. The wrinkles don't dim her beautiful smile, and her whole look is inviting rather than intimidating. Can I just be her?
Vera Wang always looks classic and elegant, still going strong at 67. Director Kathryn Bigelow is 65, and her style is ageless. She's still a babe and looks at ease in a leather jacket with jeans. I'd like to know what her secret is. Her style is understated but hip, tailored but soft.
Here are a couple of poets, Anne Waldman and Alice Notey, who are both over 70 but look totally cool. They don't look like they've compromised one bit. They seem aware of what they want to project, without looking like they're trying too hard.
What about you? Do you worry about age appropriate skirt lengths or are you eager to be old enough to not give a shit? The more role models we can find, the less we'll worry about ageing gracefully, and the less "ageing gracefully" will seem like an oxymoron.