There are some mornings when I awake with a bounce usually reserved for eight year olds. My energy level is high as the clouds and the mirror is my friend, throwing back to me a reflection of bright eyes and happy outlook. Then there are mornings when I crawl from my sheets with all the rapidity of an aged sloth. I stare into the bathroom mirror and see a vision of myself that is less than all I would wish for. My minds tries to name the person gazing prophetically back at me. Margaret Rutherford? Hermione Gingold? Quentin Crisp? I splash cold water on my face. I bend over and touch my toes. But when I look back in the glass, there she still is, the foreshadowing of my future self. How much longer do I have before Edward and I more accurately resemble the painting above instead of the photograph in the right corner?
What me? Getting older?
Whilst I certainly do not consider myself old, one has to face facts. I am no longer, shall we say, young. It’s an odd place to be. Rather like that time of transition from girl to woman when we weren’t quite sure how our appearances would shake out. Our legs were too long for the rest of our bodies. Our eyes were too big for our faces. And then, like magic, the butterfly broke free of the chrysalis and everything coalesced into our own individual version of womanhood, a version we have retained, and relied upon, for years. Not perfect perhaps, but pleasantly steady, for barring any poison ivy rash or bee sting, we pretty much knew what to expect when we looked in the mirror.
But now, just as we did in our early teen years, we are beginning to change. Anyone over forty must feel it, surely. A wee bit of ... um, slippage, here. A few laugh lines there. And just like those early years, we still don’t know what this new version of ourselves will look like when this old age puberty is finally complete. We spread out old photographs of grandmothers and aunts like tarot cards in a feeble attempt to divine the inevitable. We become inordinately fond of older actresses who’ve managed the transition with grace, cherishing that now famous photo of a sixty-three year old Helen Mirren in her red bikini on an Italian beach. We have been heard recently to remark how “amazing” Queen Elizabeth looks these days. For myself, I can only hope there doesn’t come a morning when Dame Edna takes up permanent residence in my bathroom mirror. But who knows? I’m not quite there yet, so the jury’s still out.
When viewed as a whole, the picture of old age style available to us when we were little girls was fairly bleak. Times were different then. Still considered a bit suspect, individuality was rarely celebrated. The sartorial style of our schoolteachers was fairly uniform and succeeded chiefly in making them seem older than they actually were. They fell pretty neatly into two or three categories. There were the matronly ones, formidable women poured into brooch-pinned shirtwaist dresses severely indented in the middle by thin leather belts. The girdles these women wore were so effective they rendered their poor bodies as firm as car seats. You could bounce quarters off their tummies, though I hasten to add I never tried. On the other end of the spectrum sat the teachers who always reminded me of birds. Tiny and timid, with pale pinched faces devoid of any type of make-up save a bit of red lipstick that was faded and smeared before noon, they seemed to always be waiting for a disaster of some sort or other and we were generally all too happy to oblige them. Needless to say, if and when we girls gave any thought at all to what we might look like as older women, we looked around, we swallowed hard.
Thankfully, mercifully, things have changed, and if you don’t believe me you have only to crack open the new book by Ari Seth Cohen, Advanced Style. Mr. Cohen apparently got the idea for this book, and his delightful blog of the same name, from observing the enviable style of his own grandmother and within these glossy pages, he has captured the beauty, wit and individuality that can come with old age. The women were all captured on the streets of New York City and they stroll through these pages with style in abundance. It’s obvious each of them embraced her uniqueness a long time ago. Advanced Style is fun to flip through and choose which of these ladies to hold up as a favourite example for your own future. Fun, and difficult, for there is not a Dame Edna amongst them, I’m happy to say.
And personally speaking, I’m pretty envious of that outfit on page 84.....