Why I no longer shop or live by labels!
Some labels from 1994 at University of Vermont in my grad school dorm: L.L.Bean, steel-toe Doc Martens, leather Coach backpack, Gucci leather planner, L.L.Bean bear and co sitting on Byer of Maine loungers, antique wooden crates still in use in my home office today and that L.L.Bean sleeping bag between the closet and fridge is always in the trunk of my car in case my car ever breaks down during the winter.
Let's talk about clothing and personal style!
My high school wardrobe consisted of hand-me-downs from my color blind hippie mother (although rare, women CAN be color-blind) who is also inches shorter than me, androgynous duds from the long-gone 59th Street Army/Navy store in NYC and a one-time prized purchase of a glittered King Tut t-shirt from Jumping Jack Flash, another 59th Street gem from the 70s.
Sometimes my mother would drive us over the GW Bridge to the working class Alexander's department store in NJ where clothing was tax-free. I loved this mural but hated entering the store. Inside, instead of Bloomingdales' fashionable women in white lab coats spraying perfume on stylish people (which is where I walked through every day on the way home from school) things were chintzy and the smells cheap and chemical-like from the finishes on fake leather shoes and polyester. "Put that back!" an angry mother said as she grabbed a couple of clacking hangers adorned with tops away from her daughter my age. "You ain't gettin' alla that!" I learned in that moment that there were people who had less than me, and that my feeling bad about wearing discount clothing was relative. It didn't take away the sting, though.
My personal self-esteem challenge arose when I started attending a very expensive Upper East Side private school via scholarship, The Lenox School, now named Birch Wathen Lenox. Many of my classmates were chauffeured to school in limousines wearing a new outfit daily. Calvin Klein's daughter is an alumni as are some famous actors and models like Brooke Shields. It was a painful time because I could never measure up in my high-waters and dressed down look. Many times I'd be excited to wear a new t-shirt or sweatshirt but would come home feeling ashamed after receiving those disapproving looks and overheard hallway whispering.
In college I channeled my rage into punk rock and have smirk-worthy memories of shopping at Trash and Vaudeville at Saint Mark's Place and buying my shoes/boots on 8th Street. What made it extra special was that I was attending college up in Orono, Maine where during those conservative 1980s pearls and preppy were the campus uniform. Once again my wardrobe was the subject of hushed voices, in particular my combat boots that were decorated with a silver Sharpie by a Lower East Side graffiti artist. I recall feeling a bit self-righteous about my edgy style but something really weird happened. I awkwardly realized I also liked the coiffed June Cleaver in pearls look.
My confusion branched out. I made a lot of friends back then including my ultra-preppy dorm neighbors and the off-campus crunchies. Multiple aspects from each style stereotype resonated with me. I loved prairie skirts, peasant shirts and tie-dying my jeans but I also rocked a Joan Jett haircut and loved my L.L.Bean. I'm not sure if all that means I developed a personal sense of style or if I was still the girl from Lenox who walked around clashing.
As I've written about here, I had some significant issues I was dealing with but I was in denial about the origins of my anxiety and depression. I decided to see a counselor on campus to discuss my confusion about not fitting into one way of dressing and being because that seemed like the root of my problems. If I could maybe learn to pick just one I naively hoped that perhaps my life would become simple and linear: "Preppy people love pink..." "Hippies always...." "Conservative girls would never..." It was as if style defined the spirit of the wearer instead of the converse.
I was vulnerable and in need of real help that day in 1986 when I presented the alleged mental health professional with my style dilemma. Because I went on to become a trained counselor I know that often the presenting issue isn't the real problem but in retrospect she wasn't very perceptive or inquisitive during that intake interview. She simply told me that it was not, in fact, normal to wear all black one day, flower-power the next while secretly wishing I could be June Cleaver. Part of adulthood, she said, is consistency of character. After some forgettable commentary delivered with judgey concern I left convinced and feeling condemned.
Throughout the 1990s I wore a lot of preppy things but never let go of my love of black. From the early 2000s until recently my style was conservative plain Jane with lots of black and denim. When I lost weight I had to buy new everything. To keep it within budget I continued buying basics in the off-trend irrelevant old lady label section of Macy's and J.C.Penney. I don't mean sweatshirts with quilted cats or matronly bingo-hall chic; just comfy boring stuff!
As with many people, getting a divorce in midlife and starting anew meant I took a fresh look at everything. One of the things I revisited was the pronouncement to which I had unconsciously clinged since 1986. The other thing I have spent time challenging is the notion that turning fifty means shopping at Chico's et al.
Nope nope nope nope nope.
I don't do animal prints, don't wear foundation on my face and I don't color my hair. There are trends and rules for women in my age group but I'm not even sure what they are because I don't take the time to find out. I honestly don't care.
Earlier this year I took an earnest look at what was in my closet. I'm returning to some of my preppy ways but I don't drink G&Ts (obviously) which, by the way, is one of many idiotic dictates that comes like an affectation when style is used as a guide instead of a reflection of who we are. I'm going to start wearing my vintage pieces I picked up at estate sales over the years. The hippie in me loves 70s denim, and the high waist jeans really flatter my tall frame unlike any contemporary cuts.
What is personal style? What qualifies someone to run a style blog? Do they have to have an extensive wardrobe with on-trend designers or miraculous thrifted finds like an Hermes scarf they bought for a dollar, or is consistency more important to attract a clearly defined demographic?
I'm turning 49 next week which adds to my passion and relief with being who I want and wearing what I want without checking in with any set of rules. So why not apply that to sometimes blogging about personal style, what I'm wearing and what Wayne, age 61, is wearing, too? I've been his "style consultant" for the past couple of years. When I first met him he was wearing old man white sneakers, Hawaiian prints and please, I can't even. Look at him now!
I don't think the Internet is saturated with style blogs from people in their 50s and 60s. Would you agree?