Style/Travel Diaries

Fashion now my reunited friend, not foe

Unlike 13-year-olds with a wealth of fashion icons to look up to, society rarely celebrates older tastemakers

1. Liviana Conti Sartorial jacket - Yoox
2. Everlane v-neck t-shirts - everlane.com
3. Whiting & Davis snake necklace - @bravo.stella.vintage on Instagram
4. Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Shoreline Knit Slip sneakers - converse.com
5. Saint Laurent Loulou Puffer with black hardware
6. Must de Cartier watch
7. Gap girfriend chinos - gap.com

Imagine a triangle of black stretchy fabric, about a foot and a half on each side. Two corners of the triangle are joined with a single button.

Directly opposite the joined corners, about a quarter of a metal circlet of gold is threaded through the fabric’s edge. The circlet is a collar that can be clasped around a neck.

This, people, is a halter top.

You might be thinking damn, what kind of skanky ho would wear this in public? That would be me years ago, when I thought fabric triangles were perfectly good garments to wear if you’ve got the figure for them. Isn’t this why you go to the gym?

Then, as I was inching toward my 50s, I took a look at a picture of me drunk, singing along to Guns n’ Roses in my skanky ho triangle halter top, and had a realization: I seriously can’t wear this anymore.

My breakup with questionable halter tops started out as mutton-dressed-as-lamb concerns. I feel the same way when Madonna, fitter than a 20-year-old tri-athlete, goes cartwheeling across the stage during a concert, flashing her 60-year-old crotch at me. All I can do is wince and think, dear god put it away.

But it eventually extended beyond that. Long after I had purged all the pole dancer outfits, what was left still seemed—wrong.

At first I attributed it to where I was in my career. I had just left the most senior job I had ever held, one that had me traveling (and happily shopping) all over the world. I had acquired a great career wardrobe over the years. Maybe it was time to divest? So I sold most of it and kept what I determined would stand the test of time.

That helped somewhat, but not as much as I thought. What remained stayed unworn and was gathering dust. There never seemed to be anything to wear and no occasion to wear them to. I lost all interest in fashion and just wore yoga pants. My closet was now an alien zone. It looked like it belonged to a stranger.

It took me some time to grasp that your 50s are like a second puberty

The stranger’s closet is asymptomatic of a bigger shift taking place. It took me some time to grasp that your 50s are like a second puberty. Just like when you were a 13-year-old, physical changes occur that can be bewildering. Only instead of zits you get a thickening waist, more white hair than you’re prepared for, crepe-y skin on your hands, the list goes on.

Add to that life changes such as children growing up and moving away, the passing of parents, retirement looming, and—perhaps the most heartbreaking—being rendered invisible by a society that’s fixated on youth. It’s inevitable that the clothes for a life that doesn’t exist anymore need to be refreshed, just like one’s outlook.

But where to start? Unlike 13-year-olds who have a wealth of fashion icons to look up to and copy as they figure out their personal style, society rarely celebrates older tastemakers. I took on the challenge of finding women whose style I admired and wanted to adopt for my own, and the three below fit the bill:

You may remember 60-year-old English actress Kristin Scott Thomas for her roles in Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient, and Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible— an accomplished thespian who’s perfectly bilingual in French and English. Her personal style was described by Vogue UK in 2018 as “extremely fancy teenager, in jeans, trainers (sneakers) … and a gray T-shirt emblazoned with the legend ‘Paris Nothing Club’ that she bought at Colette.”

I liked the juxtaposition of fancy teenager with the quietly tailored outfits that Scott Thomas has worn with great ease. That was the word I coveted: ease. Nothing must look belabored.

Kristin Scott Thomas in Burberry’s Christmas 2018 ad. Photo from L’Officiel.

Fifty-six-year-old Veronica Webb made history by being the first African American to win an exclusive contract with a cosmetics giant, Revlon. An actress, columnist, and TV personality, Webb drops in on the runway from time to time, such as the Yeezy Fall 2016 show.

“Fashion is always exciting,” she told Vogue in 2016. “It’s like the circus, so it’s a fun world. At one point in my life I used to be part of this circus, traveling in the caravan with everyone. Now it’s really fun to sort of be the special guest star.”

What struck me—apart from her sequined baseball shirt that I must have—was Webb’s ability to enjoy a life she once actively participated in through another lens. There is space for everyone and anyone in fashion. Your vantage point and your role may shift occasionally, but there remains a special place for you, always.  This taught me not to hang on to what was, but to anticipate with positivity what could be.

Veronica Webb for Vogue, 2016. I need this baseball shirt in my life.

Annabelle Selldorf is the German 60-year-old principal of her New York-based architectural firm. The work she has done for galleries, museums and cultural institutions has rightfully earned plaudits but she should be equally recognized for her sartorial style. A 2014 profile of her by the gentlewoman described her “neatly androgynous navy blue trouser suit” as “sharp but somehow underplayed”.

“I had this idea that if I had five great suits I could wear them all the time,” Selldorf said during the interview. “So I got [Welsh tailor] Timothy Everest to make them. This was about 20 years ago. The funny thing is, I still have those suits, and I do still wear them.”

Annabelle Selldorf in a crisp white shirt, black pants and silver jewelry. Photo from the Wall Street Journal.

I think Selldorf hit at something that had niggled at me when I was staring at my stranger’s closet. What I had kept and not sold were trophies. I couldn’t wear them anymore yet I was loathe to give them up. Maybe because they were reminders of a thinner, younger, more successful me? It was time to Marie Kondo them and find my version of five great suits to last the next 20 years.

The uniform I’ve happily come to embrace is menswear with a helping of athleisure

It didn’t take too long, fortunately. The uniform I’ve happily come to embrace is menswear with a helping of athleisure. The equation: Everlane T-shirt + Gap girlfriend chinos or Athleta yoga pants + a one-button hip-length jacket. Shoes are either a throwback to college, Bass Weejun Wayfarers, or a sock-like white Converse slip knit sneaker in summer or, in winter, black zip-up boots in patent leather. I’ve also recently discovered Vans MTEs which are perfect for snow and slush.

I’ve all but given up large necklaces and earrings and now wear brooches. The one exception is a striking vintage serpent necklace by Whiting & Davis that looks so good with tees. Rings have been retired, replaced by a 27-year-old Must de Cartier gifted to me by my first husband. In this day and age of hyper-connectivity, it’s nice to wear a watch that does nothing but tell time.

Will I be wearing this for the next two decades? Who knows? All I know is that I’m comfortable in my (middle-aged) skin again. And that fashion is foe no longer, but a reunited friend.

About author

Articles

She started writing in 1988 for the Manila Chronicle. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1993, she was the lifestyle and travel editor for the Inquirer. She has lived in Hong Kong, Chicago and Dallas and conducted business all over the world. A marketer for many years, she now lives outside Seattle, Washington where she grows dahlias and feeds hummingbirds.
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