Archive for the ‘ageing’ Category

Fashion at 50

I wrote this one for The Age in 2007, but nothing much has changed, so I think it’s still relevant. How do you solve the dilemma of what to wear as you age?

If, like me, you are struggling to decide if and when you will allow yourself to go grey, you might like to see the site:

Going grey, looking great

Fashionable at 50? Don’t count on it

ALL I wanted was a pretty cotton nightie. But I was standing in a sea of shiny fake satin with shoestring straps and prickly nylon lace, or brushed cotton neck-to-knees with prudish Peter Pan collars and elasticised cuffs.

“Can I help you?” the high-school student posing as a shop-assistant-who-cared asked.

“Have you got something somewhere between Nana and slut?” I asked.

Such is the problem of finding fashion at 50.

We are neither young nor old any more. The trouble is, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, we don’t feel young or old either.

We feel just right. So why can’t we find anything that looks just right?

This is especially so this year, when the fashion is for maternity-like tops made from Nana’s old curtains. Even my fashion-conscious teenage daughter spurns these. “They look like something you’d wear while you decided whether to keep the baby or not,” she says contemptuously.

In Thailand, where I lived for two-and-a-half years, I was the oldest and fattest person there.

Nothing fitted me, but everything fitted my daughter, who at 14 was the size of a Thai adult. I spent my weekends, the fat chaperone, waiting outside change rooms, wearing my ubiquitous black pants and size XL T-shirt. “We have big size, Madam,” the child-like shop assistants would chant when I went past, offering me tiny T-shirts labelled “L”, which I finally concluded stood for “little”.

Part of the joy of coming home was that I would look normal, perhaps even slim – if I stood next to the right people. So, to celebrate, I decided on a makeover.

Trinny and Susanna from What not to wear had convinced me that long-line jackets were the answer to expanding waistlines and sagging bottoms. So, before we returned home, I visited a sympathetic Thai dressmaker, who made me a range of long-line jackets to wear with pants and matching scarves. I was delighted until I returned home and tried them all on. “I look like the mother-of-the bride,” I wailed.

Not only that, Khun Tim had decided my long-line jackets would be even more slimming if they were tight – so tight that I can’t wear them while driving as I can’t move my arms.

So, in desperation, I type “Fashion at 50” into Google and wait to be rescued. Help comes in the form of bloomerful.com – the online magazine for baby boomers “who are no rush to grow old gracefully”. I guess that’s why they included a story on “How to dress like your teenage daughter and get away with it”.

However, its blog – wellpast50.blogs.com – offers some reassurance.

“It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” it says. True. That’s probably why when Audrey Hepburn was young and poor she owned one nice suit – but 17 different scarves.

“What she did with those scarves was amazing,” her biographer raved.

I own seven scarves, but no matter what I do with them I still look like my mother.

The best advice comes from Sherri Mathieson, author of Forever Cool, writing for Bloomerful, who advises well-past-50s to wear classic styles with quality accessories.

“Aspire to a certain classy refinement – it’s become too rare,” Sherri says.

But her next piece of advice is where it all comes unstuck for me: “Don’t forget that your husband, significant other or date is bound to be part of your image. One of you can detract from the other. You are a ‘set’ as you walk through the door.”

If we are a set, then I need to model myself on Golde, the wife of the Jewish Russian peasant Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, as my husband’s favourite accessory is a Greek fisherman’s hat worn with a black woollen Indian vest.

As he refuses to part with his hat, my fashion choice is now clear.

Unlike Audrey, I only need one scarf, worn over the head and tied firmly under the chin. After all, this is one of the Queen’s favourite looks and she was recently named by Vogue as one of the 50 most glamorous women in the world.

Of course, nobody said whether she was No.1 or No. 50.

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For the second time in her life, my friend Carolyn is lying about her age. But she tries to be honest about it. “I’m 53 but tell Facebook I’m 23 so I don’t get anti-wrinkle ads,” her profile states.
She now gets ads for lip-gloss. “It’s much more pleasant,” she says.
The last time she lied about her age was at the age of 17 “to get into pubs”. Then, she wanted to be older and look older. Now that she is older, she prefers not to be reminded of it.
But there’s another reason, she admits. All those ads for anti-wrinkle cream do wear you down after a while.
Carolyn is a consumer advocate and like me has read the Choice brochure on wrinkle creams and how simple sorbolene, a vat of which can be bought at the supermarket for under $10, does the same job.
Like me, she eschews all that manipulative pseudo-scientific bunk spruiked by the cosmetic industry and instead opts for sunscreen, a hat and a healthy diet as the best anti-ageing defence.
But we admit that those ads where Penelope Cruz, who looks young enough to be our daughter, says, “because you’re worth it,” do sometimes leave a lingering doubt.
Are we undervaluing ourselves by not buying a better quality cream, we wonder? Will we wake up one day and find our faces in a state of sudden collapse – leathery and brown like the women in National Geographic?
It reminds me of how I felt as a teenager, faced with ads for pimple cream.
Adolescents and middle-aged women have a lot in common, Carolyn says. We are both at a turning point in our lives, where insecurities abound. Advertisers know it, so are able to sniff us out as mercilessly and accurately as Beagles searching for drugs at Melbourne Airport.
Our bodies are changing and so are our identities. One day we are wearing tight jeans, heels and bikini briefs and the next we are wearing the middle-aged ladies’ uniform: long-line patterned shifts (to hide big tummies and bums) oversized t-shirts, gigantic black pants with elasticised waists and moon boots – those soft squishy shoes with the Velcro tabs that can accommodate bunions as well as orthotics.
Men also suffer insecurities in middle age, but mostly related to what they haven’t done, rather than what they look like. To ease his trauma, a man may buy a motorbike and grow a ponytail to distract from a bald spot, whereas a woman may buy a new dress and grow a moustache.
Either way no one is fooled. As they say, if you don’t want to grow old, die young. For those of us who are still here, it’s easy to feel invisible as well as insecure.
In Western culture, the only photos of older women that are published in magazines are usually accompanied by ads for how to make them look younger.
To prove this theory, I recently bought a copy of Vogue, which advertised on its front page “Looking great as you age: What fillers can do for your body.”
The story, titled “Blow up” was finally found on page 314, 337 and 338 of its 340-page publication, and its only illustration was a pencil-thin model wearing a body stocking stuffed with strategically placed balloons.
The only other older person featured in the magazine was Vanessa Redgrave, in a story about her role in the musical Driving Miss Daisy. The rest of the magazine was replete with pictures of youth, because youth sells – perfume, bags, shoes, clothes and hair products.
There were six ads for anti-ageing products. Three of them used celebrities – Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett and Andie McDowell – but they were so air-brushed and photo-shopped that they were barely recognisable. One used no model while the other used a model that didn’t look a day over 30. The only other photo of an older woman was in a National Breast Cancer Foundation feature, where a woman wearing a silver bob was labelled: “Age 50+. Have yearly mammograms.”
No wonder I got such a shock when I took a toilet break and looked in the mirror. This is the only place I see myself reflected these days.
Meanwhile, as I reach for the sorbolene I think of Andie McDowell, looking like she always has for these past 20 years, urging me to buy Loreal’s Revitalift because it’s proven to repair even the deepest wrinkles. “Do I see a difference? Every day.” she says, oozing air-brushed confidence.
If I buy it, I suspect the only difference I see will be in my bank balance.
If I don’t buy it, will I wake up one day and find that I’m a fully fledged card-carrying member of the Sultana Club, as my father-in-law used to call my mother-in-law?
Wouldn’t it be great if we really could just buy some youth in a jar, slap it on our faces and wake up looking like our 18-year old selves again, shaking off the past but retaining all the wisdom of the present?
That’s why anti-wrinkle cream works – for advertisers.

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Now that my 16-year-old daughter, Greta, is entering her last year of high school, people keep asking her, “So what are you going to do?” Like most people her age, she keeps changing her mind, so she can never quite give a definitive answer.

I know how she feels. Now that she is preparing to spread her wings, people keep asking me the same question. For the past 14 years I have been self-employed as a journalist, editor, cartoonist and journalism tutor. But my main job has been CEO of Greta Inc. Since the age of four, she has been involved in the performing arts and I have been her driver, caterer and manager.

Next year is her final year of school and my final year as her chief support person, simply because she can now do many of these things herself.

I am both relieved and terrified. For years, I have secretly suspected that my gruelling home and work schedule was clearly the reason I hadn’t written the GAN (Great Australian Novel) or the GAP (Great Australian Play).

But lately, there has been less driving and organising, as the school year has wound down and now up again, but strangely no increase in writing. The time I have had has been spent getting ready for Christmas, and getting over Christmas, or cleaning the house or having lunch.

In fact, I have spent years having lunch. As a freelancer, this is the way I avoid isolation and create deadlines for myself. I’m even thinking of getting a business card that says, “Jane Cafarella – lunch”.

But lunch is no longer helping. I feel like I am full already – full of stories and ideas that need to be purged. Perhaps writing a blog might be one way of letting go and connecting with others of like mind?

However, in this age of narcissism, I admit to thinking twice about adding my voice to the multitudes. I want to be part of the conversation, but with everyone talking, will there be anyone listening?

I am spurred on, however, by the realisation that most bloggers are talking about different things from those that I want to talk about. In short, most bloggers seem to be young, or talking about issues that affect the young (politics aside).

So, this blog is for the rest of us – those who have children still at home and parents who should be in a home. And those who are regretting what they didn’t do, rather than what they did, and who are now trying to make up for it without embarrassing themselves or their families. I’ll be writing about the issues that affect my generation, and I hope that you’ll write back.

For my first posting, I had hoped to write something profound – particularly for those who may be facing the big 50. However, I’ve wracked my brains for several weeks and been driven to eat at least five packets of Tim Tams in the process, but this is all I could come up with:


Turning 50 can be fun,

but if you’re feeling sad

be grateful you’re not 51

that’s almost twice as bad!

Fifty-one’s a rotten age,

there’s no cause to defend it

your body starts to fall apart

and it costs a mint to mend it.

No one gives a party

No one gives a stuff

and no one wants to join you

when you’re swimming in the buff!

And looking in the mirror

is no longer any fun

Coz the person staring back at you

looks just like your Mum.

So stop wishing you were 30

And live your life instead

Do all you’ve ever wanted

Because tomorrow you’ll be dead!

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