Between Menarche And Matriarch: Fashionís Death Zone
By Kelley Cunningham
This happens to me every so often. Sometimes I want to try a new look. Something a little youngish and sexy. I feel the need to show up at the town pool in something other than my husbandís pit-stained tee shirt. And my closet yields nothing but shattered hope and broken dreams.
Maybe itís my mid-life crisis. Iím milking it for all itís worth. Iím panicked because this is my last chance to look passably hot, as long as Iím not seen in direct sunlight. I think it might be time to, gulp, go shopping again.
This means I head to the mall, if memory serves. But where to go? With my limited means and my lack of a need for couture, I figured the Gap would have something for me. I mean, Iím not completely geriatric yet. But when I walked through the hallowed doors I realized immediately that I am what trend watchers call ďa Late AdapterĒ.
I donít think there was a top in the entire place that covered the midriff. Wasnít hiding oneís stomach the whole point of clothes? How long is this ďlowrider-jeans-with-exposed-inner-tube-of-fatĒ look going to stick around, anyway?
I was seeing way more teenage butt crack and thong than I ever wanted to see. Criminy, I remember the days when ďI see London I see France I see someoneís underpants!Ē sung at you meant agonizing social death.
Then I noticed the tube tops. The Edsel of the fashion world. I thought they mercifully died off back around the time that guy from Saturday Night Fever jumped off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Good Lord, me in a tube top! Do they have any with underwire and hydraulics built in?
I found some employees who graciously took time off from their grueling ďOMIGAWDĒ practice to help me out. I managed to find some jeans and when I paid for them they threw in a promotional Madonna/Missy Elliot CD. As if either of them actually shop in the Gap.
Women who are around my age remember all these funky fashions from the first time around. We could pull it off when we were seventeen and had stomachs so flat you could balance a bottle of Michelob on them.
The things I could get away with! I could go braless without the National Guard being called in and mothers covering the eyes of their children. I could wear cut-off shorts, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat to an Outlaws concert and no one even pointed and laughed.
Feeling depressed and decrepit, and not wanting to admit I could not name even one Missy Elliot song, I shuffled over to Ann Taylor. It was a little better there but not much. And three times the price for the same boring tee shirts.
It doesnít help that us stay-at-home moms tend to let ourselves go. We think "Oh, whoís going to see me, anyway? Another Cinnabon? Why the hell not?"
It starts with the baseball cap over dirty hair. The next thing you know youíre dropping off your kid at school with stubbly legs poking out of safety-pinned shorts (the button popped), wearing a tee-shirt decorated with toothpaste dribbles. Itís makeover time.
But TV makeovers are completely impractical. The outfits they put on these agreeable souls are great if your work involves holding up the number cards between fight rounds, but Iím not putting on anything that requires whale-bone foundation garments just to volunteer in the school library.
I keep holding on to the fantasy that Iím going to collect a really chic, modular wardrobe I can wear everyday. Iíll bring home the nifty blouse and the funky bag, but by the next week Iím back to looking like a panhandler because I tend to buy things that go with nothing I already have.
Every time I flip through my closet I wonder what could possibly have been going through my mind that would make my buy sequined purple suede stilettos. When it comes to making fashion decisions, Iím as flummoxed as Keanu Reeves taking his GMATs.
Hereís what would truly simplify my life: Gar-animals for grownups. Do you remember that childrenís clothes concept from the seventies? Colorblind mothers would match a ďLionĒ bottom with a ďLionĒ top et voila! Instant Little Lord Fauntleroy! I need that now. But the matching tag symbols would have to change for adult clothes, I guess. Fírinstance, donít match a Dirty Martini to a Cosmopolitan or a Diaphragm to a Depo-Provera or youíll be featured in the Fashion Police section of Us magazine.
I suppose Iím just too lazy to spend that much time thinking about my clothes. Iím not willing to put in the research. When I pick up a fashion mag to see what the New Black will be I suddenly develop adult ADD. Thereís just too much to focus on and I wind up skipping around from page to page like an Evelyn Wood graduate on crank. Not to mention that the prices are completely out of reach for almost everybody. I donít know anyone who can afford to drop three hundred dollars on a pair of shoes.
I donít have much of an eye for the cheap knockoff either. Iím not one of those people who can grab the raspberry beret and the vintage jacket and pull off A Look. I would appear about as spontaneous and natural as a circus elephant in a tutu.
Still searching, I passed by the shops catering to Juniors featuring naughty tee-shirts. I can just see me at a little league game with SLUT spelled out in rhinestones across my boobs. (In my day everybody knew who the sluts were; they didnít have to advertise). (Oh my God, Iíve started saying Ďin my dayí).
Am I to be confined to the LL Bean catalog and Sears for the rest of my life? Or dare I say it, Chadwickís? Are capris as daring as I can get now? Woooo.
So what is everyone else wearing? At school pick-up time we all check each other out, but in a very non-incriminating way. Weíre just desperate for ideas. Complimenting shoes always works.
ďThanks. Only $14.99 at Target.Ē
ďReally? I have to get over there.Ē
At first glance we all wear the jeans/t-shirt uniform or some version thereof, but you have to look closer to pick up some subtleties. Sometimes these tiny differences are very revealing. For example:
Professionally done highlights: Husband is in banking
Home dye-job: Husband is in the arts
Tight tee-shirt: Showing off new boob job
Baggy tee-shirt: Scarfed too many munchkins at the class party
Ponytail: Dirty hair
Smelly gym clothes: Has two hours to herself in the mornings now that the babyís in preschool
New, shiny gym clothes: Either just joined the gym because she found out husband is cheating or itís January 2nd.
Leggings: New mother
Easy-Fit jeans: Four months pregnant
Lipstick: Has a parent-teacher conference
Perfect makeup: Has full-time help
Jeans in August: Spider veins
Toe Ring: Aging hippie chick
Headband: Aging Kappa
Big smile: 1st day of sleepaway camp
New earrings: Husbandís office holiday party
Manicure: Bunco player
Pedicure: Has a podiatrist appointment
Waxed legs and bikini area: Is going to be induced that evening
That was fun. But I still donít have anything to wear. Oh, the hell with it. Iíll throw on my new rhinestone SLUT tee-shirt and low-rider jeans and let it all hang out. Seeing as thatís the look, Iíll probably be less conspicuous that way. Anything is better than L.L.Bean duck boots.
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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