For several years, I’ve poured over the pages of Vogue, fantasising about a foray into fashion. I’ve lusted for the fun of haute couture to adorn the catwalk in the creative chic of classy clothes. As an adolescent, like many in those impressionable, teenage years, I designed my own dream of being a model, dressing in the shadows of The Shrimp and Twiggy. Certainly, I was bone thin and tall, but my legs were something else; sticks with undeveloped calf muscles that just didn’t shape a sexy image. Indeed, from below my knees, my legs just went straight down like an awkward frog without as much as a curvy calf. Suffice to say I had a painful complex about my pins that played havoc with my aspiring ambition. (Who ever heard of implants of calf muscles? They were just part of our physiology that footballers tore in their test of strength on the field. Tits were the real issue!) Moreover, my nose had a bump across its bridge, courtesy of crashing into a brick wall during a game of continuous cricket at school while my body was like a skinny piece of spaghetti that just stood up like a naked skeleton.
Despite this discrepancy in my demeanour, I paraded along the passageway in our house pretending a pose of glamour as I garbed myself in my gladrags. But this grandiose illusion was transient. Once I left school bound for university, it was the beckoning of another era; bound up in black and starting to be serious in the quest for a more satisfying career than the frivolity of fashion would ever provide. For almost three decades, clothes never registered on my radar. I was a real life Georgy Girl, who liked to window shop but never stopped to buy. Jeans were my favourite apparel, with a black leather jacket and high black boots that strode the streets of life more interested in other styles of success than the superficiality of fashion. My mind always took precedence in the chase for career, as looks, I determined years before, were irrelevant and immaterial, choosing to measure my life in more meaningful ways. Clothes were just part of that greater insignificance.
But as I moved into the golden age of being 50-Plus! I started to reappraise my revolutionary zeal for more intellectual pursuits (I could never live up to that anyway as I loved fun too much!) and instead of wasting my hard earned dollars on profound magazines such as Time and Newsweek, (was I just a pseudo farce?) I lavished my attention on Vogue, (were these two currents of interest incompatible?) imagining myself bedecked in beauty of a more artistic kind. I realised fashion could be clever too; at least certainly fun, an indulgence of creative talent that carried clothes into a whole new domain for me. Trouble was, the design icons of imaginative chic that caressed the covers of fashion mags were out of my league; both for my bank balance and my body. I was not a Supermodel aka 20 plus! but a middle aged matron who didn’t want to look like mutton masquerading as lamb!
I was lucky I didn’t look like a frump from the neck down; I was a trouser-size 8 and slim, though with a rounded belly that needed disguising and a top half that was out of sync with my almost hipless torso. And that was a problem all of its own. My breasts were a size 12 and where would I find two halves of fashion that I could wear as one? Some of the clothes created for much younger women did actually fit me, at least my bottom bits. Not the dresses as my breasts bloomed forth and too many zippers got stuck half way up while buttons and studs just wouldn’t even come together. But did I appear too prissy and completely out of kilter in this youthful garb? Frills and flounces I knew looked ridiculous; I needed a straighter and sleeker shape to hide the bumps and bulges that bounced along my body. But was I fighting another battle with the barriers of the flesh on my face? It was difficult to reconcile the conflict between longing for a soft floral print that young girls pranced around in with the sagging features of an ageing visage and while I turned my back on these more feminine designs, where would I find the right fashion for me; a Femmosexual who wanted to look smart and stylish and at ease with herself?
The first challenge I encountered was overcoming the sales pitch of desperate salesgirls, whose incessant chatter that garments looked good when clearly they didn’t had me edging out of the shop with my credit card still placed sharply in my wallet. They deserved 10 out of ten for glib praise; and had clearly made a successful career out of lying, however much I couldn’t affront them with that truth. So first and foremost, I decided I had to be my own judge and gamble on my own taste. I started researching for my new role on the pavements and boutiques in suburbia, criss-crossing the city combing all the clothes, hiding myself in dressing rooms as I tried on garment after garment. They were a motley collection of tops, jumpers, trousers and skirts in a variety of styles, shapes and colours, some costing hundreds of dollars as well as cheaper ones I could more easily afford. While I swung my body round in the mirror in all manners of direction to see which pose looked best, I couldn’t help but notice the dim glow of light in the private cubicle; a secret hideaway where it was almost impossible to notice my wrinkles and loose flab. Aah, the insidious nature of retail sales designed to deceive gullible consumers who just wouldn’t account for their ageing appearance. In some shops, I looked almost young again; falling for the guile and buying the clothes only to return home to try them on again in bright light and quickly realising how absurd I looked. A leg of lamb would have been better dressed! And I paid the price for it – literally! I sometimes wasted my money on a purchase that I relegated to the recycle shop without even wearing. Call me a fool, but I learned my lessons and needed a different approach to my shopping, browsing recycle and op shops as well as markets for a cheaper fashion fix. These were great fun, where the predictable banter of salesgirls was transcended by vendors who had once loved their clothes and seemed far more honest in their friendly chat.
I spent a lot of time observing females passing in the street and was too often disappointed in the way some of them, young and old, dressed themselves up. Or down, as was more often the case. No wonder fashion stylist was a burgeoning new career, many women simply had no sense of style and almost no idea of what suited them and their bodies. Would I make the same mistakes? Sure, I made a few as I experimented and explored new horizons and parted with my money to refresh my wardrobe with new apparel. Looking stylish didn’t take megabucks; just careful shopping with an acute eye for what made you look your best. And that demanded bright lights and sound judgement. Money didn’t always buy good taste!
I embarked on my voyage of discovery with a passionate pleasure for my new sense of style; ignoring the dictates of fashion and opting for what suited me and looked great. The real joy of 21st century fashion is that almost anything goes and at least I can now content myself with dressing to enhance my appearance rather than vying for a foothold in the fashion stakes. I don’t have to dread wearing mini-skirts (I’m now really grateful I can walk without the pain of crippling arthritis) and can cover my shapeless legs in a myriad of long pants such as leggings and harem pants. I abandoned the pretense of dresses (most of them) despite trying to squash my tits out of the way and chose longer, flowing jumpers and tops that hid my slightly bulging belly and mixed and matched a range of separates that complimented my shape and size. That’s the beauty of fashion now, as whatever body you have, there are couturiers who cater for us all, be it department stores or the local markets.
The most significant aspect of my mission, however, was dressing for comfort and to evolve my own style. To flirt with fashion has become a self-indulgent funtime activity, where I laugh at some of the clothes I play with (I still have to watch the light and my wrinkles) but maintain a sense of humour about looking inappropriate for some of the designs I’d love to wear. But it’s time to move on. I also wear black a lot (I’m probably still a beatnik deep down) and cruise the shops just to admire the sheer artistry of gorgeous clothes. The fabrics, textures and designs on display inspire a different kind of appreciation that I have only acknowledged as I’ve aged. But growing up doesn’t have to mean growing old so I can enjoy fashion and have fun at the same time. I don’t go ‘shopping’ as such either; I just enjoy looking at the genius of grand designs which is why I read Vogue to indulge my fashion fantasies.
But my great moment of recognition came just recently when I was sharing conversation and a latte with a girl-friend one Sunday afternoon in the city when a young man, aged twentysomething, asked if he could take my photo for a fashion blog he worked for. Initially, I laughed embarrassingly, until my friend said, “Go on, do it!” so I stood up and he took a few photos. I couldn’t believe it, but he said I looked terrific and very stylish, without any mention of my age! (It was probably a blog for older women!) It not only made my day, (he ranked highly on tact and diplomacy) but was proof (if I still needed it), that even at 50 Plus! I didn’t look like an old piece of mutton masquerading as lamb!