I don’t know when it happened, but fashion decided that we women of a certain age should dress like clowns. Floating, technicolor, tousled things that seem designed for everyone to look at when we walk into a room. And then look away awkwardly because no one wants to see Nana wearing what appears to be a psychedelic wedding cake. With leggings.
At our age, maybe all attention is positive. As the middle-aged character of Kathy Bates lamented in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” postmenopausal women and beyond become invisible. That’s why so many of my friends leave restaurants with wine glasses in their oversized Scout bags. No one ever sees them. It’s a game they play. A particularly daring bride sister emerged with a full table and a few candle holders. Allegedly.
I have been thinking about the over 50 circus clothes phenomenon and the only thing I can understand is that we have said once too often that we are tired of being invisible, ignored. The designers had to listen… while eating some very questionable mushrooms scraped from the bark of the trees. And now here we are, sitting in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room, surrounded by a dazzling assortment of animal prints embellished with crystals and, God help us, plumage.
We want to be noticed and listened to, that’s for sure. This does not mean that we want to dress like we have lost our minds. I get over a dozen unwanted clothing catalogs in my mailbox every month and several times that number in my social media feed and here is what they seem to be saying about me: “You’re disturbed so let’s tell the world whole! I would describe fashion catalogs as “Escaped Mental Patient Monthly”, but some of you would say that I was shedding light on mental health issues, which are indeed very serious, and you would be right. Humor-thirsty but fair.
That’s not to say we should dress like the Marthas in The Handmaid’s Tale. Gray on gray with a naughty side of… no, more gray. Animal prints? Sure, in moderation I’m a huge fan, but what’s it like the proliferation of zebra striped tops with giant fluorescent hibiscus dancing up and down that are less “I’m having fun!” And more “I was completely hammered when I ordered them from QVC.”
Yes, yes, I can hear you. You should wear what makes you feel good about yourself, happy, carefree, young. Why is it anyone’s business? What am I saying, have we met? And after? Neon elf shoes with bells on their toes? Only venerable style icon Iris Apfel can get away with such silliness and, sacrilegious alert, I’m not sure she does it more than half the time. Yeah, I said it. Most of the time, she looks weird.
Ironically, I’m curiously proud of the tanned granny who wears a tiny bikini at the beach. It’s a kind of confidence that has nothing to do with a catalog or a website that makes you look like you’re wearing a Dollar General pinata.
Tanned granny does not care. And it shows. She laughs too loudly, still applies baby oil and iodine as “sunscreen” and smokes on the beach. IN FRONT OF CHILDREN. She’s a crazy woman who’s comfortable in her own tortured dried cowhide and doesn’t waste a moment worrying about what you think of her exposed arms or her tattoos soiled by the. time. I love it.
The late Nora Ephron’s best-selling bestseller, “I Feel Funny About My Neck” dealt with themes of the aging American woman with her signature humor. If Ephron were alive today, I would ask a sequel: “This Olay serum is helping my neck, but what are we going to do about those horrible arms?”
Oh, wait. I understand now. Plumage!!!
Celia Rivenbark is a bestselling NYT writer and columnist. Write to him at [email protected]