Aging Fashionista



I realize this is an extremely self-absorbed piece at a time when the world is in tangled horrors that require so much focus, love, forgiveness, and strength. Forgive my shallow inflection but the timing of things I’d recently experienced brought it all to the surface. There are surely MUCH, MUCH more important things than my self-identity. Forgiveness appreciated.

It’s been a series of events and observations that have led to my current identity crisis. I love fashion. I’ve loved fashion for a very long time and loved it so much that I chose to get my degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York many moons ago.


In my twenties I chose stylish clothing and accessories while staying within a tight budget within my means. Ohrbachs, Macys, Alexanders, a splash of Bloomingdales sale racks were my main go-tos. My skirts were very short, hot pants brief, and my antique silver fox jacket with thigh high grey suede boots made a statement along with my handcrafted bullet belt and western fringe handbag. But mostly I wore my navy blue wool Fox Run jacket with suede patch elbows, wedge shoes, and well coordinated dresses and boots. I would say I looked “good” but not “outrageous” on most days. After all I was traveling on the subway daily and back then this was not the place to flaunt anything at all since they were dangerous pre-Guiliani days in New York.


I worked in fashion both wholesale and retail. I served my wholesale and design time in children’s wear, junior sportswear, accessories (likely my favorite), and bridal. My retail stints in both buying and managing were in men’s and women’s boutiques and lingerie, as well as sterling silver, fine china, lamps, kitchenware, wall art, and giftware. I loved all of it.


Along the way and through years of pregnancies, post-baby bodies, breastfeeding and lots of mom-jeans, I still never lost my fascination with fashion. I could stroll a good store for hours, never needing to buy a thing, but rather to touch, to look, imagine, observe displays, merchandising techniques and more. It was total distraction for me and better than an art museum or gallery.


I’m not sure when I lost my style, but I did. Part of it came with aging, with lack of money, and with peanut butter and jelly crusted pearls. On most kid rearing days (and mind you I’ve raised SIX sons!) it seemed pointless to even try as it was more important to keep my kids well fed, healthy and loved than to put myself together. I could still probably count the days I actually went out without mascara but there was little more than that.


Kids grew, some left home and my interests resurfaced. My professional career as a lactation consultant certainly requires little or no fashion acumen and since my office was in my home for 12 years, that also led to my daily jeans uniform most of the time. Aging also factored in as I browsed Nordstrom’s Rack and TJ Maxx and fount that I had trouble discerning what was too young or too inappropriate for a “woman of my age.” This was uncharted territory for sure. Whenever I found myself at an airport magazine stand I would buy “More” magazine, thinking this might guide the way. Well hell, those women just barely over 40 and airbrushed to death did nothing for my swelling identity crisis.

Hair. Need I say a word that evokes more angst in women of all ages, than hair? It seems easier now for young girls since they all have ONE singular, identical style of long straight hair. It’s boring but no one’s stepping out or taking any chances. I took a big risk by letting my gray hair be gray and not colored brown, which I’d done for awhile. That’s been a bit traumatic to say the least, but I do feel emancipated and victorious over the cost and the sorcery of dyed hair. It is healthier and natural now and is a better match for an aging and fading complexion. My good friend has let me know more than once that she dislikes it. But hey, tomorrow is haircut day and don’t think for a minute that I am not shaking with fear because I am. I have at least 40 styles on Pinterest at this moment and this will be a new hairdresser. He is a young male so God save him when I hand him the 40 shots and say, “Help me.” It is likely he will not have a clue.


But, here’s the order of how I came to my current crumbled state. First, I watched the movie, “Iris.” Wow. So Iris is this 80-something-year-old total fashion icon. Her fashion is art and she struts around in New York in the most outrageous outfits, jewelry and hats for which she has become infamous. She has collected fashions as one might collect Picasso’s and as she says, “Who cares about the party or the event? For me, it’s all about choosing the what-to-wear that matters and is the fun.” Wow again.


Then, I visited an old friend in Nashville, TN. With a bottomless budget she has collected a wardrobe of clothing and boots that would rival Carrie Underwood’s array on any given day. She is on a first name basis with the top Nashville boutiques who cater to the Country/Western superstars and even changes her rings, wallet and handbag on a daily basis. Standing in her closet had me numb. And yet, the purpose of my trip to Nashville was to visit Thistle Farms a movement to house and rehabilitate women who are survivors of addiction, trafficking, violence, and extreme poverty. So my gratitude and grace were fully charged which made me struggle with this over abundance and remind myself over and over of my own gratitude and gifts.


FashionistaDebraRapoport-12optThen, last night I watched ADVANCED STYLE, a documentary on aging with fashion and brilliance.

I stared at these older women who are outrageous looking fashion icons up to and including their mid-90’s! I watched in awe and wonder as to what it would have taken to be one of those women and how absolutely cool it is that they have the chutzpah to do so. It could only be in New York that one could strut around looking fabulous like that and not be carted away as one might be in North Carolina.


The field I am calls for “business casual attire.” The church I attend is the ultimate in expensive Republican clothing with pearls or diamonds as accessories. About the most outrageous accessory are the red soles on their Louboutin heels, which get their best show kneeling at the altar rail (is that their purpose?). I am drawn to my black dress or black turtleneck with black slacks or tights on most Sundays. If I am particularly confident, I might add my red boots (which are likely my only prized fashion item at the moment!)


It all leaves me wondering… Did I never really find this girl of mine? Did I find her and lose her? Is my geographical location limiting of how artistic one might be as a form of fashion? And is letting my grey hair grow now all wrong? Where should I shop? Should I vow to never buy anything again unless it is absolutely fabulous and adored? I’m just not sure where to go next.


I do know though that I changed my entire closet yesterday from summer to winter by moving clothes around and donating those I have not worn. I realized with angst when I looked around my closet, that there was not one single thing I was looking forward to wearing! Nothing. Blah. Lots of black. Blecch. No art. Little color. No crazy hats. No crazy jackets or shoes.


It is Thanksgiving week. I am grateful. Oh, you have no idea how grateful I am but possibly up at the top of the scale. I am grateful every single day for every single moment of good health and stability experienced by my children, my husband and me. I know, I know, I know – that is what matters. Do not doubt my perspective. It is full of grace. But, there is this missing fashion piece that nags and really I don’t know what to wear today. Is there a support group for this? A circle of aging fashion icons? Can I join?