When you write a post you’re meant to be upbeat and sunny, most of the time, to keep people happy and to attract new followers. But I have to stay true to myself and tell you what I think. For instance, the term ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ has come up several times with me saying I hate it. In this blog I thought I’d unpick those words and say why I feel this way.
The very act of saying or writing that phrase is a form of control over older women. It’s a slogan that puts women in their place and makes us feel uncertain, and unsure about the way we dress. It polices us and hey, people, it only applies to women, there’s no equivalent for men – now that, I think, is not right.
Read a blog the other day on fashion and style for the 50+ age group penned by a stylist – no, never heard of her – who in her first paragraph wrote, of course we don’t want to look like mutton dressed as…… Excuse me, middle age stylist telling us older women what to wear, what do you mean by that?? Are we meat? OK, if the phrase is about seeing us as old meat – this is ugly and we should have zero tolerance to anybody who says this. But, perhaps it’s a bit subtler than that.
The way we dress is very much governed by codes and society’s view of what is right and proper and appropriate. Uniforms in hospitals and prisons define the divisions between patient and nurse, guard and prisoner. One day I might give you a blow-by-blow account of how the first thing we were taught as nurses was to sew our frilly lace caps into place with a butterfly bow at the back! And there seems to be a continuing debate as to whether teachers gain authority by dressing in a (more) professional manner. As I’ve said before, office wear in my later years was always sensible skirts and tops that veered from woolly jumpers at the local charity (cold office) to silk shirts in London (overheated office).
But as we age, and there are no longer office norms to contend with, why are we still made to feel uneasy about meeting required standards? Twigg* (2013) has a good take on the almost oppressive rules that govern the way older women are observed and judged. Because we’re judged in a far more negative way than younger women.
For instance, the phrase mutton dressed as… is usually directed at women in late middle age. And the underlying message is don’t wear short skirts or show too much of your décolletage. And don’t, whatever you do, be inappropriately and overtly sexual at your age. My view is that it’s a judgment that we should seriously ignore.
But there’s another judgment that is equally negative. Look at the frayed jeans of the young. To wear these jeans needs a sense of confidence and style to carry it off and, you could wear them at any age, why not? But it could be that the fraying is just one step away from looking shabby and down at heel.
The argument continues that, while highly erotic in the young, any disorder in the clothes of older women (and, older men as well) signals a decline in one’s ability to cope with life. So, there is a pressure to be reasonably well groomed to remain acceptable. That’s the way I dress, you might say, but note that any tear, any fraying, any mark, any grubbiness, or, heaven forefend, a food stain, may not be/is not seen as that glorious déshabillé of the young but as a sign of decay and deterioration. Am I being negative and pessimistic? I don’t think so, just realistic about how professionals look at older people, I know, I’ve done it myself. But let me know if you think different.
In complete contrast to that view is another judgment on older people (of both sexes) on how we must be toned, slim and above all else, active as we age. Well, if we can, knee joints permitting, yes, do the yoga and the seniors’ gym but it sometimes verges on the – it’s not acceptable to look old – which I think needs to be stamped on hard.
I say, to look old is to be beautiful. Here are some great pics of older women with greying and white hair (Photos courtesy of greyfoxblog and any male readers out there, do follow this excellent blog).
My view is emphatically; we are the baby boomers so we don’t bow down to the pressure of social codes or meaningless, mindless phrases. We are old (or ageing!), we are bold and to hell with all other opinions on our dress, within reason of course!
That’s all for now
The frugal fashion shopper
* Twigg, Julia (2013) Fashion And Age. Dress, the Body and Later Life. Bloomsbury. Read pages 16-17 for a fuller discussion on social order and dress.
P.S. Earlier this month bought (and wore Saturday last) a lovely short silver pleated sparkly skirt that will feature in the next blog!