Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea that defining one’s style can and should happen more than once in the course of a woman’s life. There are several key junctures when questions need to be asked and wardrobes must be reevaluated. And each juncture carries its own challenges, not to mention emotional baggage. In this essay, to illustrate what I mean, I will focus on just a few.
When it comes to style and fashion, we all know that young women get a lot of the attention. Pretty much, they get ALL of the attention! It’s no secret that fashion magazines and other media focus on style for the young. And that makes sense, at least to a point, because often times a young woman needs to be taught the basics of style before she can even begin to develop her own personal look. There’s a lot to teach her and a lot to say about the basic rules and tenets of style so the young woman is a perfect target audience.
This is Juncture #1 and here’s what happens: The young woman emerges from the cocoon of school/college and she realizes she has reached that significant crossroads between being a kid and being a young adult. She already knows how to look like a kid! That’s always been easy because she’s spent most of her years up until this point surrounded by other kids. And kids like to look and dress like each other. (Remember when you HAD to have Levi’s jeans? Or Jordache Jeans? Or Calvin Klein Jeans? Or Seven for All Mankind jeans?)
But then this young woman graduates from school/college and must go out into the world where life is no longer proscribed. There are choices to be made, decisions to be reached…and individual style to be defined. This young woman has plenty of resources to draw from. I can’t count how many “ONE MONTH OF OUTFITS” pages I have pulled out of magazines for inspiration and how many blogs I have bookmarked on my computer. And in most of the outfits portrayed, the skirts are way short and the looks are funky and colorful; generally pitched to the under-30 crowd. That’s great. When you’re under 30.
What happens next? Well…we are approaching Juncture #2. The young woman has worked for a decade or so, and now time has come to get married and have babies. Maternity-wear is a whole other article. So here, I will focus on what happens after pregnancy. Maybe the woman goes back to work after she has her baby or babies. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she goes back part-time. But in all three cases, there is now an adorable, precious and messy baby in the young woman’s arms. Also, the young woman is now 1) a little less young and 2) a MOM! The world’s perception of her has changed. More to the point, her perception of HERSELF has changed. Possibly, her shape has changed too. And she needs new clothes for this new phase of her life. She’s got plenty of power suits and slacks and button down blouses and pumps. But what should she wear when she’s with the baby? Whatever she wears, it needs to be comfortable, washable, and not have things that the baby will choke on or pull off of its mom. Like an earring for example. Or a scarf. Plus, she's lucky if she has time to shower, let alone put on make up. Not so easy to look put-together with all of these limitations!
When my kids were young, I used to say that just because I was a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t mean I had to LOOK like a stay-at-home mom. By this I meant that I didn’t want to live in elastic-waisted pants and sweatshirts. A little makeup goes a long way! So does pride in one’s appearance. And that is the emotional baggage at the heart of key juncture number 2. It’s a wonderful and deeply important point at which to take stock and figure out how you want to present yourself to the world. I would go so far as to say that how one navigates this juncture can be a significant indicator of how one will adjust to this new phase of life and possibly even to the ones that come after. It isn’t actually only about the clothes! It’s about one’s self-concept and one’s self-esteem.
At juncture #3, the kids have gotten their drivers’ licenses and/or left for college. There is FREEDOM! For mom, that is. The EMPTY NEST! This is a HUGE transition point for any woman. It’s a point at which many women feel a loss of purpose. All those years of child rearing (even if she stayed in the work force at the same time) are over and….now what?! It’s another moment for re-examining oneself, one’s goals and, yes, one’s wardrobe. I've had more than one client tell me that at this age, she feels invisible. She may be smart, educated, funny and interesting. But she is also 50-ish. And people pay less attention to her than she is used to. Or than they used to. And once again, she needs to figure out what her next chapter will be, as well as how to dress for it. Maybe now is the time to play with the accessories or makeup that she didn’t have time for when she was raising her kids. Maybe her reevaluation will involve getting back into the gym and getting into better physical shape. Whatever one’s individual circumstances, this is a point in life at which to take stock, count one’s blessings, and make sure that what one looks like on the outside truly reflects the person we have matured into on the inside. It’s an opportunity (and it should be viewed as one) to move forward and embrace the adventure.
I’m sure that there are probably juncture numbers 4, 5 and if one is lucky, 6. I haven’t gotten there yet myself, so I can’t speak to them in a personal or compelling way. That said, the one thing I feel certain of is this: What we wear and how we present ourselves to the world-- at every juncture and every day--reveal an awful lot about how we value ourselves.
Keep that in mind next time you reach for the elastic-waisted pants!