What I’m about to tell you is a true story, a real-life conversation between friends.
Good friends. Friends-for-life friends.
Friends who have known each other at our thinnest, our absolute worst and every dress size in between, and never said a word, because — like most friends — we look past the obvious and see one another’s light shining from within.
Even when it’s only a hot flash that sets us glowing.
Or hot weather.
Which is where this story begins.
Last summer, I was on an overnight outing with a friend who has known me for so long, my hair was brown when we first met. On more than one occasion, she’s thrown me a lifeline that’s brought me back to shore. It’s important to keep that in mind because of what comes next; what is said.
When the two of us get together, you never know where the conversation will lead. One minute, it’s politics and other current events at home and in the world. The next, what books we’re reading. And always, eventually: fashion.
“Susan,” my friend said.
I’m withholding her name to protect the innocent, the unintended subject of a column.
“Yes,” I answered.
We were changing out of our traveling clothes into something for dinner. We’d taken quick showers, fluffed our hair, put on makeup. But what to wear? I looked in my suitcase and grabbed the first outfit that rose to the top.
I didn’t ask for advice, the usual: What are you wearing? Does this look OK? Do you like this? I went for it. I just got dressed.
“Susan,” my friend said again, sizing me up from her side of the hotel room. “We’ve got to do something about your clothes. You’re dressing like a middle-aged woman.”
My first thought was: Well, yeah. I’m 62 years old.
I am middle-aged.
More than middle-aged, unless I live to be 124.
Oh, have I mentioned that it was a balmy 102 degrees outside at the time? And humid?
I had on the lightest-weight cotton shirt that I own and a pair of khakis: boring, practical, easy-to-wash in case I spilled. I looked at myself in the mirror. Apologies to every other middle-aged woman out there who is a fashion plate, but I was a woman of my age, dressed for the heat and potential disaster, not style.
On the other hand, my friend pulled on the cutest summer top, something in vogue; a pair of slim cropped pants and red sandals that were darling but (in my mind) impractical for walking.
I looked at my tennis shoes and socks, good for walking a long way on hot city streets; not so good on the fashion scale.
In all honesty, I looked like the “before” picture.
She looked like the “after.”
But it was too late to change. We were meeting friends for dinner, and so, off we went — the practical and the cute. Neither of us spilled, so dry-cleaning wasn’t an issue, after all. And as it turned out, one of our friends had a car, so we didn’t have to walk.
My feet were so hot in shoes and socks.
Her beautifully manicured toes managed to look cool, despite the heat.
The next day over breakfast, my friend said: “You know, I’ve been thinking about what I said. What I meant was you need to wear a little more color.”
The shirt I’d worn was pale blue and white plaid; and the khakis were, well, khaki; a non-color. I blended perfectly into the background. I sort of disappeared.
Now that I think about it, that was my goal.
The last couple years, I haven’t known what to wear; what to buy. I don’t know what my style is anymore now that I’m retired and don’t wear suits or clothes suitable for an office and dress down on the weekends. I do know I don’t want to be a 62-year-old who dresses like her teenage granddaughter, trying to find the fashion fountain of youth.
On the other hand, I saw myself in that mirror last summer.
I was just this side of frumpy. My clothes were nondescript. They said nothing. And I don’t want that, either.
So, it’s time to go into my closet now that summer is here again, to shed some past fashion lives, to cull out who I am not and who I do not want to be. It’s time to find myself again; to feel good about the clothes I wear. I want to look at my wardrobe and say: Looking good.
And when my friend compliments what I’m wearing?
Just think how fun it’s going to be to tell her I could afford a couple extra outfits, because at 62, I’m not only middle-aged; I qualify for a senior citizen’s discount.