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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard

Clothes and the Aging Body

I was never much of a clothes person at any point in my life. As a kid, I wore Carter's matchable clothes. They were very basic knit clothes: long pants and shorts in several different colors with coordinating striped shirts in long and short sleeves. Pick a color, pick a sleeve/leg length. Done. Then I had a variety of dresses that my mother had picked out. This was my school wardrobe. I owned sneakers, a pair of Oxford school shoes, and a pair of Mary Janes. I have just described every garment I owned until age 10. I wish Carter’s would make the exact same line for adults right now.

When I was in fifth grade in 1971, girls mostly wore dresses or skirts to school. But jeans for girls were becoming a thing. My mother disapproved. It was only after extensive begging that she agreed to buy me a pair of jeans and allow me to wear them to school once a week on Friday. I wore those jeans like a peacock wears its feathers. I coordinated with a red and navy floral button-down shirt and pulled on a navy tee shirt on top. Sheldon Cooper, eat your heart out. I wore it first!

That was the zenith of my fashion life. For plus-size women, the closet can be a conglomeration of what’s in the store that fits. This about sums up everything I have to say about fashion. In the 80s I embraced leggings and big shirts. In the 90s I gravitated towards A-line dresses with padded shoulders. For the duration of the 00s and 10s, I recycled all the garments I never threw out after the 80s and 90s with the exception of cardigans with shirts built in. Those nifties took all the guesswork out of outfit coordination when paired with a pair of black pants.

I remember the day I was cleaning out my closet and my daughters, one married, the other in her early 20s, came up to hang out/watch/torment me. “Mom, I feel like I remember you wearing that dress when I was little. Wait, it’s got shoulder pads. I was really little!”

“Yeah, look at that jacket. That’s from the 80s.”

I gave them my sourest look, but I knew they were right. Then again, I really loved that dress. After they left I solved the problem by cutting out the shoulder pads. Then I wore it to work the next day.

My closet pays homage to all the styles worn within my adult lifespan. When I say “styles” I don’t mean the trendy stuff — just the basics. Throughout my life, I have replaced worn-out or stained garments with something similar. If I can’t get the black long-sleeve tee shirt clean, I replace it with another black long-sleeve tee. I keep clothes that are too big and too small. I might gain/lose weight again. Or the style might come back in twenty years. One never knows.

I am now in my 60s and retired. For someone with such a lackluster clothing selection, I spend an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest looking at outfits I never seem to put together.

Here’s the latest bee in my bonnet: I have resolved, but not started, to make an outfit album for myself. The plan is to take everything out of my closet and dresser and take pictures of myself in hundreds of different combinations. The number of shirts, cardigans, jackets, and so far unused scarves I can combine with a black pair of pants must be staggering. And I have so many variations of black pants — leggings, jeggings, capris, shorts, jeans, dress pants, yoga pants, and even yoga pants that look like dress pants. After all these years I have a capsule wardrobe the size of the Smithsonian. I know that’s not the idea, but it’s true.

I admire women who look put together. So far, I’ve never been more than a put-together-wannabe. I’ve read that the difference between the put-together woman and, well, me, is accessories. Put together women wear an array of jewelry, scarves, different styles and textures of sweaters, and shoes that aren’t suitable for hiking and climbing ladders. Their hair may require a little bit of fussing and they own at least some makeup. Put- together women own more than one purse and they realize that satchels, backpacks, and fanny packs aren’t appropriate for every occasion.

For each of these points, I have several counterpoints that are deeply embedded in my soul. Earrings give me a headache, necklaces are irritating, and bracelets make great fidget toys. Scarves get in my way, sweaters are hot and restrictive, and shoes other than sneakers and hiking boots make my knees and ankles hurt. I do my hair every morning, in under a minute, and I tend not to look at it again until the next morning. Makeup? Men go out looking exactly like themselves, but women seem to need a little improvement. Nope. It’s a political statement. As for bags, my deep red satchel holds everything I need and works well in all four seasons. It’s big enough to hold my wallet, my contact stuff, a nail file, Tylenol, and a notebook. You never know when a good idea will strike.

At this point in my life, I have to be true to myself. I was a happy basic clothing kid and I can be happy as a basic clothing aging, retired, opposite of kid. I know what I like, and there is absolutely no one out there fretting about what I’m wearing. I am old enough to declare that my only judge is me. So if I decide someday to sport the latest trends, so be it. If I decide to bend my no-makeup rule, fine. Whether I go fancy or stay plain, the important thing is that I’m playing by my own rules, making my own exceptions and that I’m always very, very comfortable.

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