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Friday, May 16, 2014

Dress for Success

"What’s this focus on French chic?” The husband asked the other day. I was embarrassed he’d noticed. Although, really, how could he not have? Instead of reading our book club book for our upcoming meeting, I’d read three books on fashion and style. Plus, I'd been spending a lot of time reading style blogs by women over forty. 

How to articulate? The vision of a simple, elegant low-heeled shoe, the capstone (foundation stone?) of a simple, elegant outfit came to mind. Something dressier than, say, yoga pants and sneakers. I’ve had this vision since we were in the Rome airport. An older woman walked by, dressed a standard deviation or two above the norm for travel. We were surrounded by a large group of American college athletes, so you know what the dress code was. Sweats and jeans, leggings and sweats. This older woman was obviously not American. So maybe it’s not fair to compare. But I thought, I’m halfway between that – the schlumpy students – and that – the elegant older lady, and I want to be more like her when I grow up, than like the older version of these college kids.

But my interest predated that. Packing for the trip triggered a lot of thoughts about clothes and style. Some of it is certainly related to the ongoing trauma of turning fifty. It’s not like I want to start wearing couture. That’s boring and stuffy. But there is certainly an aspect of this interest that has to do with last ditch efforts before my face falls into my neck. As I told my sister the psychoanalyst, I’m not giving up without a fight.

And then a couple of women I know, about my age, returned to work, part time or full time, and that triggered thoughts, about my connection with the outside world of commerce and responsibility, about financial freedom, and about - for lack of a better word - “lifestyle.” I felt envious of these women. Their need to dress up a bit. Their need to exercise different parts of their brains and to have colleagues and eat at lunch trucks and wear shoes that click-clack when they walk. I found myself actually kind of yearning for that.

And I thought, well, am I sick of my book? Am I giving up on my book? Am I doing what I’ve usually done when I get sick of and despairing about my writing: focusing on something that seems easier, like getting a “real” job and earning some actual money?

Maybe the solution is to do both. The kids don’t need me in the same way. I can work while they are around. But I need to earn money. I want to. Not just for more, but to save for retirement and so on. I feel afraid of the future, for sure, and I want to do something about it. Also, I want the mental and social engagement with the world.  Sure, in my dreams, I’m traveling around giving readings and appearing on talk shows and so on, but let’s be real. The book has come along discouragingly slowly, and I’ve been playing the whole, I’ll wait until I get the proposal done and out before looking for work thing for a couple of years now. That's getting old.

Another thing this dressing and style thing-o reminds me of is that old saying to “dress for the job you want.” This worked for me right out of college, when I was a receptionist at a law firm. Quickly, the boss promoted me to paralegal. It turned out that neither of those jobs were jobs I wanted, but that’s another drumbeat. After that it was thrift-store finds, jeans, t-shirts, and pretty soon I was doing data entry, writing novels, and eventually, unemployed. In short, it worked.  Anyhoo, now I’m feeling like being more part of the world, and so I’m dressing for that and hoping to create opportunities.

While I felt called out by the husband, it was only because I felt some shame. All this focus on appearance felt important, but also really, really shallow. Really, it's both symbolic and literal. Part of the interest is about upgrading my wardrobe; however, part of my style obsession definitely has to do with shoring myself up from the outside, since I’ve been feeling discouraged inside. One of the themes of these books is that building a good façade helps us feel good inside. Taking time to care for self, health, diet, skin, and wardrobe cultivates feeling “bien dans votre peau” or something – happy in your own skin, roughly translated. If I can build confidence in one area, it bleeds into other areas, too. So.

That’s what’s with the focus on French chic.

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