Betty Duffy

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fashion Watch

My mom and I went to see the Joffrey Ballet Saturday night. Took my daughter like my grandmother used to take me to the ballet when I was girl. Some of my favorite childhood memories, getting dressed up for a special night, my grandmother's leather gloves grasping the steering wheel of the Buick as she made those deliberate turns on her favorite route to the theater. When I was little the dancers seemed so much older to me; they were an aspiration. Twenty-five years later, that ship has sailed. I'm still an armchair ballerina, but the dancers currently onstage probably began their practice around the time I was having my first baby. Time flies.

I always look to my elders for inspiration, however, so instead of imagining how I might look in one of those tutus, my eyes were on the well-heeled ladies in the lobby, the cultural matrons with silvering hair. Many fine ladies with coin don't color their gray, as if to say they don't need to fake anything--some of them cut their hair right down to spiky little pixie cuts, and on the right woman, I think it's a very becoming look.

Which made me wonder, as a larger question of fashion, "What's working for people?" As the ballet draws generations of women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, it was an excellent venue in which to create some new rubrics for dressing myself. My age, it seems, will do nothing but advance.

Perhaps because it was the first really warm day of the year, the young were in short skirts. Skirts that ballooned from a thick waist down to the middle of the thigh like an inverted tulip. Whoever came up with this look (and I think it might be the current Target special) should consider a new career. Somehow it makes a lot of really beautiful young women look like dumplings.

Short skirts on short women require really skinny legs. Short skirts on tall women also require really skinny legs. Women in possession of really skinny legs in America, and especially the Midwest, are a very small minority, hence, the odds of looking good in a short skirt for a night out on the town in Indiana are not in your favor at any age.

But surpassing a certain age, women were getting away with all kinds of fun things. Like this woman:

(sorry, didn't have a camera)

Small woman, short hair, understated clothes, gigantic glasses. She didn't give a rip about how she looked, but she was taking everyone else in with her diametrically enlarged eyes. Overall, she was a force, a presence, a formidable matron, inhabiting herself and her space, as well as the daughter and granddaughter who walked alongside her.

Another unexpected success: the woman with longish gray hair, wire rim glasses, no make-up, denim overalls, and Keen sandals. You might think, come on, it's the ballet, live a little, Granola Woman, and dress the part. But she was another example of how important it is, not just to put on your clothes, but to BE your look. If this woman had not been living on organic steamed vegetables from her garden for the past ten years--she would have been too curvaceous for the overalls. If she'd not been weeding said garden that very afternoon, she would not have had the sun-kissed glow on her cheeks and forearms. If she wore make-up with this outfit, she would have looked ridiculous. But seeing her, somehow knowing her at a glance, she would have looked ridiculous making an appearance in anything else.

But what of the woman who doesn't wear her personality on her sleeve? What of the un-notable woman, without distinguishing features, without a dynamite figure? She was there too, en masse.

In some cases, her dress did nothing for her. For instance, the woman escorting a group of fourteen-year-olds to the ballet, and from behind she looked no different than her companions. She wore denim pants turned up at the hem, a polka-dotted cropped cardi, flats. She looked like a youthful Gap ad, until she turned around. Then she looked...too mature for her outfit. Note: If from behind there is no difference between you and a fourteen-year-old, from the front you can only disappoint.

In other cases, this woman looked too "Done." Hair too crunchy, clothes too vamp-y or ritzy, too much make-up or cleavage. Note: one cannot make up in hair-spray or make-up what one lacks. Beauty products are to enhance, not to re-make.

In a majority of cases, this woman seemed just to give up. There's nothing to be done, so why try? Put on the black. Put on the ordinary shoes. Put on the minimal make-up the same way she's been doing it for so many years. And the result is something like this:

Oh, what she might have accomplished with less comfort-wear in her closet, less lycra in her slacks, or more spandex in the straps of her brassiere. What if she had gone out of her way just a little?

Well, that woman was there too. And my mom and I both took note, "Did you see the cute lady in the peplum jacket and tailored silk slacks?"

"She looked good, didn't she? Subtle make-up in neutral tones, a little bit of shine."

"And the scarf."

"Yes, the scarf."

She made it look ok to be mature. She made it look good to be her. She used the tools at her access (excellent tailoring, expert cosmetic application, a color palate that matched her complexion) to enhance her subtle beauties and the result was a standout. I'd draw her, but I couldn't do her justice.

One thing missing from our night at the ballet was a classic and classy dress. Two women in the entire place rose above and beyond the crowd. One was totally Audrey, in a teal shift with a bit of sequin and her hair in a chignon. Another wore the V-neck bodice with an A-line skirt in navy silk, with hair in loose curls. Both looks have been winning for generations, but only two women in the entire venue opted to make use of them.

And what did I wear? Mmm...not important (One of the chief pleasures of blogging being the ability to scrutinize others, while omitting, if one chooses, a lens on oneself). But Granny's jewels were involved, and some very impractical heels.

p.s. I did watch the ballet, as well as the lobby. It was good too.


Betty Beguiles said...

Never think I don't love you, Betty Duffy. ;)

Betty Beguiles said...

(The wink emoticon representing lightheartedness, not a lack of sincerity, of course.)

Owen said...

Woo hoo, another drawing blog

bearing said...

I had to look up "peplum."

Calah said...

Ditto bearing, except I haven't looked it up yet. Anyone care to post an explanation? That OED bookmark seems a little too far for my index finger to move the mouse at the moment.

But this typing is nothing.

BettyDuffy said...

It's kind of a fit and flare thing. Cinches at the waistline, then curves out at the hip.

JMB said...

Great post. Best thing about being close to NYC is going in and people watching. Actually, wherever I am, the best thing about being there is checking out the outfits.

For an older woman, no St. John knits? That's my mom and MIL go to outfit of choice.

What works for me is good shoes, good bag and a nice belt.

Eric said...

This article confirms my suspicion that woman dress to impress other women, not their husbands. Of course, I would never let my wife out of the house wearing most of the things that would impress me. Loved your take, as usual!

Trish Bailey de Arceo said...

Ha! I love how differently the men and women comment on this post. LOVED IT, Betty!!!

Fashion watching in Xalapa, Mexico is also endlessly interesting. I don't think this typical of all of Mexico, but in my neighborhood, the women wear tight t-shirt, tight skinny jeans (with curvy legs squeezed in like hotdogs), and platform heels that match their t-shirt (ie, purple with purple, red with red). Nothing subtle about it.

Emily J. said...

I suppose the only men there worth checking out were all in tights?

BettyDuffy said...

Emily, yes.

karyn said...

While I'm only 35 and so, hopefully, not of the matronly age yet, I must fall under your nondescript group - because I didn't understand most of the fashion things you were talking about. And I have a real sense that my five year old daughter will be hounding me for it in another ten years because she seems very aware of such things. But that's part of why I moved away from the city and into the country. Denim skirts are apropos for all events down here.

MrsDarwin said...

Betty, it's hard to find the classic dress nowadays. I've been looking for a while, believe me. I'm so happy that the knee-length skirt is back in style, because any shorter than that and I'm looking a bit too chunky.

I love dressing up, and I don't have much opportunity to do so, though my seven-year-old would die to go to the ballet. In Texas we had a group of friends who would throw a formal ball every New Year's Eve, and we would all hit the thrift stores and check the clearance racks at the formalwear boutiques for fabulous dresses. I have more ball gowns in my closet than regular dresses, but where will I ever wear them?

You need to publish more illustrated posts.

lauren said...

I love you. You have a way of taking a snapshot with your words.