Mar 28, 2017

Fighting words for those free, free, free at last to wear whatever they like. In public

On 13 March, in the online Sydney Morning Herald, I came across an article that cannot be allowed to pass without comment. It was written to amuse, and originally featured in the UK’s Telegraph. It was headlined “It’s time to repeal Obamawear,” and described how 55-year-old Obama, previously seen “as a paragon of understated cool in his dress sense as in his style of government, [had] blotted his sartorial copybook on a visit to Washington’s National Gallery.”

Essentially, according to journalist Nick Curtis, he had done so by dressing as lamb when he’d reached the mutton stage. Specifically, Curtis considered that he had overdone “the out-of-Oval-Office look in a leather (or was it pleather?) jacket paired with dark wash jeans, brown lace-ups, a grey shirt unbuttoned to expose a white T-shirt, shades and a natty little floral tote. ‘I’M FINE,’ the outfit screamed. ‘I’M ON HOLIDAY FOREVER NOW. I DON’T HAVE A CARE WHILE THE WORLD GOES UP IN FLAMES. Or I want to bring back Starsky and Hutch.

“Where to start? The shoes are a too-calculated attempt to add gravitas to an ensemble he’s too old for. The rather camp bag is a blunt signifier of nonchalance while the chunky belt buckle, contradictorily, is the sort of thing middle-aged men wear to big up their virility. The T-shirt (or was it, gulp, a vest?) strikes a further, false, old-mannish note: if it’s cold, man, do up your buttons! The shades, at least, are good. And, as always, the salt-and-pepper hair works. But with this outfit we have to acknowledge that Obama has fallen from his style pedestal.”

Actually, in my not-very-humble-feeling opinion, Nick Curtis just needs to get out more. Then he’d see that we oldsters, baby boomers, seniors, call us what you like, have thrown away the rule book on age-appropriate wear, and more than a few other golden oldie rule books too.

As 62-year-old author Hilary Boyd said in 2012, “I’m finally beginning to understand the benefits of age. It’s all about freedom. I now feel I’m free to make choices based on my own desires, not necessarily on what I ought to do. My friend calls it ‘the f— factor.’”

So, as Curtis is starting to shade into our vintage (I see from somewhere else that he’s breached 50), maybe he should be looking and learning, and then taking a leaf from our books (written by the new go-to demographic), rather than us from his.

As active demonstrators of our clothing freedom, let’s not be shamed by the likes of him. Instead, let’s be a public statement of continuing to do our own thing, by wearing a range of clothes that we like, without assessing their age-appropriateness, which – for women of my age – includes the cardinal rule of always wearing sleeves to cover up those saggy arms, however hot the weather. Craazzy!

But, while we can all take individual steps like that, maybe we also need to cast our nets further, such as getting into the forms of social media that can go viral. And, in the area of dress, for example, we could look at what Ari Seth Cohen did for great old New York fashionistas with his blog site and later documentary on Advanced Style.

Why don’t we do local offshoots, and even have filmed street fashion parades, maybe? And perhaps we could co-opt the powers that be at Yours magazine, which is providing real life positive messages for women over 50, and which includes a great regular feature “Street style: what you’re wearing in…..”, in which they show some of the smart and eye-catching gear worn by women (and a scattering of men) of a wide range of older ages in various locations around Australia.

In the matter of dress, as in so many other areas, let’s work on ways and means of visibly discarding the negative stereotypes of ageing.

PS – The way that I saw the photo of Obama in said gear, that accompanied Curtis’s article, was that he actually looked pretty terrific. And very cool. It is, after all then, all about the eye of the beholder. And how we can change that.

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