Fashion After 40

skirtI’m one of those people who like to know the reason behind any action or rule. This is true in my profession as well as in fashion. That’s why when I ran across an article titled “How to Dress After 40 and Still Look Hip,” I mostly ignored the advice.

As a 40+ woman, I worry about dressing wrong for my age. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to relive my teenage years, but at the same time, I feel young, and frankly, after losing 125 pounds, I want to wear fashionable clothes and show off my new body–something I never got to do as a young, overweight woman. So, if I wear something a little “too young” for my age, I’m not going to apologize, and yet, my insecurity screams at me to learn the “rules.”

Today I had the gumption to wear a flowered skirt that sits just above my knees (when sitting). This skirt has been in my closet for more than a year, and it’s taken me this long to finally wear it. In addition to wearing skirts above my knees with prints and bright colors, I’m wearing more dresses and tight pants.

Part of me worries about what my colleagues or my students think of these outfits, but another part of me couldn’t care less. The hard part is balancing these two parts of my brain. This morning, before feeling comfortable, I did seek feedback from my office mates. Because of one person’s comments, I removed the purple flower from my hair–it didn’t really match. It was also a little bit uncomfortable because it kept hitting my ear…so, I was grateful to have another excuse to take it off.

Despite breaking some of the over 40 rules, I did get some useful information. For example, one suggestion was to “try not to be too matchy matchy or too polished.” I like that. I usually try to match my clothes well–sometimes overdoing it in terms of “matchy matchy,” so getting out of my comfort zone in this way is freeing. Like Sylvia says, “It’s nice to mix things up and be a bit more playful.” I definitely aim for this, especially with warmer weather.


I think that fashion rules can be helpful, but at times, it can go a bit too far. For example, Jane was telling me about a site that directed its readers to never wear blue eye shadow. She blinked her blue-shadowed eye lids and smiled. I actually think the blue eye shadow looks good on her. It’s not too blue and she certainly doesn’t look like the classic 1970’s blue eyeshadow. blue eyeshadowInstead, it looks classy and brings out the color of her shirt.

Once again, I find myself thinking that guidelines can be useful, especially if you’re new to fashion. But all-in-all, Sylvia is right: “ask yourself these questions: Does it look good on me? Is the skirt length too aging or unflattering? Does it make me look too young? Trust your own instinct!” And then get someone you trust to give you feedback. If you like it, and you feel confident, go with it!

~ K

Confession: I’m Fashion Obsessed

closet picI’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty about how much I love clothes. My mother tells me that I come by the trait honestly – she even apologizes to my husband when I get excited about another new pair of boots. “I made her this way,” she says. Still, I feel like I should learn to back away from the new Anthropologie catalog with a bit more grace. So I’ve made some drastic efforts to break free from my sartorial obsessions.

I’ve purged the closet – three or four times over, once with professional help from a stylist friend. I started shopping in second hand stores. I’ve learned to be systematic about these outings – I can work the racks quickly and spot the junk straight away. My friends and I swap clothes. We’ve held quiet fundraisers that are really just private garage sales. We buy clothes from each other for bargain prices and then donate the pot of money to charity. Voila: new outfits, guilt free.

But my most austere experiment taught me the most.

Two summers ago I lived out of my backpack for 30 days. Fashion was the last thing I expected to learn about in the backcountry, but in retrospect living with one t-shirt, one pair of shorts, and one sports bra was empowering. The obvious is true: there are no clothing decisions to make when you only have one thing to wear. Clothing is about utility in the backcountry – what works and what gets in the way. At a certain point, I forgot what I was wearing – there were too many other things to worry about. Like where to dig cat holes.cody and sj backpack

But something else happened too. There were ten women on my trip – we outnumbered the guys by one. Alliances formed quickly, and though they weren’t always along gender lines, the women bonded in a predictable sort of way. We scrubbed our faces with minty, biodegradable soap. We shared hairbrushes and moisturizer (worth every ounce of their extra weight). We washed our hair in the creek and compared hairy armpits. One of the toughest women tried to shave her legs with a knife. Even our instructor – a woman who has logged more backcountry time than I can even contemplate – admitted to mailing herself nail polish just so she could “do something girly in the mountains.”mountaintop fashion

Not all women bond over fashion and beauty, and there are many men who love clothes and makeup and fashion week. But I learned that there is something distinct about the space we carve out to take care of our physical selves. It is not just about how we look. On day 18 of a month-long expedition, everyone looks gross. It’s not about exercise or strength. Anyone willing to carry a heavy pack that long is strong and fit. It’s about identity and self-knowledge, about shared and intimate space, that for me is distinctly feminine. I don’t dress or wear make-up for anyone but myself. I like to feel good so I run and lift weights and wear high heels. I put on make-up because it is fun and it makes me feel good. When it’s not fun, I skip it. My obsession with fashion isn’t about how many clothes I have in my closet; it’s about reminding myself of who I am.

I sometimes worry that I won’t be taken seriously if look like I care about my appearance. But I think I’ve learned that the opposite is true. I have never felt more comfortable in my skin than I did in the mountains two years ago. I didn’t have fashionable clothing or makeup with me. I didn’t even look in a mirror for thirty days. But I did make time for myself in the daily rituals of personal care, and I shared that space with strong, diverse women. Dressing for the day helps me know what I need to accomplish – whether it’s climbing a peak or teaching contemporary poetry.

I try not to feel guilty anymore. The fact is I love clothes and makeup and shoes. I love fashion magazines and nail polish. I also know that I can live without all of the trappings of the industry. Like most people, I am full of contradictions and every day I get up and try to do my best – with every part of myself. Getting dressed is just the first step.  ~ Sarahjules and sj dressed up

What do I know about fashion? Not much!


Not long ago, I came into the Writing Center on the way to my office, and suggested forcefully that I thought an English Department uniform would be a great idea. I was, I announced, totally tired of having to decide on what the wear every morning, and if we could just decide on a uniform, I wouldn’t have to make that decision. ( An aside, I confess, I can’t make decisions when I am looking at a menu either and have to see what other people are having before I can make a choice. I think it’s some kind of character flaw, since I can make big decisions with relative ease.)

I was thinking along the lines of jeans and white shirts or black pants and blue shirts, something like that. My colleagues, thank goodness, laughed at me. When I ran this by my graduate -student son, he said we should all wear our academic robes every day. This would definitely have been noticeable in our small community college.

However, not long after this announcement, I was showing one of my classes video clips of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, and realized in that moment what uniforms can do. The young people in those pictures had no individuality, and moved with a uniformity that made them seem robotic. We are all familiar with Communist Chinese dress. But look at pictures of any military unit and the same thing happens. There is, purposefully, no sense of individuality, no sense of individual personhood. This is a necessary part of the indoctrination process.

As I was thinking about uniforms, and realizing that they can serve a frightening purpose, I also realized two things: 1) I did not want a department uniform. (The idea of all of us, very different individuals dressing identically actually became hilarious and material for some kind of bad skit sometime.) and 2) I already had a uniform, my uniform, that I had been wearing for most of the school year.

My uniform consists of blue jeans and a plain t-shirt of some kind, long-sleeved in the winter, short- sleeved as it gets warmer, plus some “accessory”, a scarf, or a necklace. I have worn the same pair of earrings for about the last two years, so I didn’t have to make a decision there and the scarf/necklace decision is usually easy. I choose from several favorites.

The day I made that announcement in the department was probably a day when my two pairs of jeans were both in the laundry and I had to choose the black pants, or heaven forbid, a skirt. It’s easy to tell from this that “fashion” is not really part of my life, convenience and comfort are.

But I realize that what I want is not a department uniform, or a school uniform, but a way to make clothing decisions easy and I realize that I have found that.. jeans, t-shirt and scarf/necklace. It works for me. Sometimes I will break out of it. Today I wore a skirt and dangly earrings. My colleagues noticed (or at least the fashion-conscious ones did, and I like the way it felt, but tomorrow, I will probably go back to the “uniform.”

It’s my uniform. I am not part of a larger “uniformed” collective, I am using clothes as I wish, not as some authority dictates. What could be more fashionable?







Are You Going to Wear THAT!?

My mother on Memorial Day 2008

My mother on Memorial Day 2008

Like most people, my mother influenced my fashion sense. She raised me with rules like don’t wear white after Labor Day; match your shoes with your belt, bag, and jacket; never wear white before Easter; and don’t mix blue and black. To this day, those rules still govern what I wear, and yet, those rules are challenged as I discover my own style and my new-found joy of fashion.

The other day, I mentioned to Sarah that I was always the weird kid in school who wore red and purple together…remembering my classmates’ sneers in childhood at my horrendous color choices.

She looked confused, “but that’s OK!” she said.

That one statement shook my world. What!? It’s OK?

A few weeks earlier, she informed me that it’s OK to wear black and blue together. I was just getting used to mixing the color of my shoes, belt, and jacket! What’s next?? Wearing white before Easter!? I would never do that!

Keri in Easter Dress at 4 Years Old

My Easter Dress at 4 Years Old

For my mom, Easter not only marked the beginning of spring, but it marked the addition of pastels and other bright colors to my wardrobe. Although the rule technically was “No White Before Memorial Day,” my mother broke that rule for Easter. She would dress me in flowery, pastel dresses, and take my picture. Before then, we dressed in black, brown, or other dark, muted colors. I would whine about the dark clothes I was forced to wear, arguing for light colors. When she worked, I would convince the babysitter that I could dress myself, and I’d run to school in my favorite purple pants and red shirt.

When my mother dressed me, I wore olive green pants with yellow or orange—her favorite colors. Of course, this was in the 1970’s—a fashion style that I laugh at now. (It seems to me that wearing red and purple together should not have been considered a fashion “sin.” In fact, I even found a 1974 image of a woman wearing red & purple together! I must have been a Maverick, and that’s why the kids laughed! They just didn’t know any better themselves!)

So, my fashion sense was built on shame: what could I dare to wear and not get laughed at? Unfortunately, it was all trial and error. So, at this early, impressionable age, I learned about fashion: t-shirts and jeans are always in style.

My fashion sense as a teenager: t-shirts & jeans

My fashion sense as a teenager: t-shirts & jeans

As I continue to wade through fashion pros and cons, I’m thankful for technology and fashion-forward friends who will tell me what looks good and what doesn’t. dress2dress1

The other day as I dressed, I pulled on a V-neck shirt with swirls of colors. There was red and purple in the shirt—along with green, blue, and yellow. I hesitated—should I wear this? Does it look silly on me? Does it match my pants? What shoes should I wear? But then I asked the important question: Do I enjoy wearing it?

It occurs to me that fashion is a sign of our times: we have fewer rules in fashion just like we have fewer rules in social norms. It’s acceptable to wear red and purple…just like it’s acceptable for same-sex couples to legally marry (well…we’re getting there). The more we’re encouraged to follow our own identity, then the blurrier fashion lines become.

And I’m OK with that.

~ Keri

Sorry. I can’t really write anything worth a damn – I’m still recovering from my vacation.

Its official name is desynchronosis. According to the Mayo Clinic it can cause muscle pain, insomnia, excessive sleepiness, dehydration, malaise, fatigue, headache, irritability, concentration problems, and indigestion. Some doctors treat it with Provigil, Ambien, or light therapy. It can take days, even a week to get over and yet, every day tens of thousands of us lineup happily for the experience. jet lag

And I’m here to tell you: jet leg is no joke.

I hate flying. I hate it for all of the usual reasons: crowds, delays, little dirty airplane seats. I also turn into a giant ball of anxiety – I’d be better off stuffed in an overhead bin than sitting next to some perfectly nice grandfather from Georgia. But I think the worst part of flying is jet lag. It’s not so bad on the way to the beach or a city hotel, but coming home to work and dirty laundry and two a.m. wakeups is torture.

Scientists from NASA have calculated that it takes days to recover from an overseas flight – specifically a day for every time zone the plane crosses. Because they fly around the globe for training with international space programs, astronauts are good test cases for jetlag remedies. NASA astronauts recover from jetlag two to three times faster than us mere mortals. Researchers have learned that our circadian rhythms go haywire when we fly through time zones mostly because of light. And like rock stars, astronauts wear dark glasses on airplanes – to control their exposure to light. Whether it’s natural sunlight or the ubiquitous glow of our smart phones, light at the wrong time can send our body clocks into a death spiral. Cavers, who sometimes spend weeks underground in the dark, report significant jetlag symptoms when they come up for air. They don’t cross over any time zones, but they do go weeks without any source of natural light. According to NASA, if we can control the light around us, we can minimize our jetlag symptoms. There’s no chance we will totally escape the time zone crunch, but we can learn to bounce back more quickly.

I was up at sunrise the day after we returned to Wyoming from Hawaii. Not because I was seeking light therapy – my alarm went off for the third time just as the sun hit the horizon. At my house we’ve largely ignored NASA’s advice but it’s true that the warm sun peeking over the just greening spring grass helped me peel myself out of bed for work. I’ll admit we aren’t readjusting very quickly from our four hour time leap. I’ve had to haul myself out of bed, but all three of my boys have enjoyed a slower, more relaxed reentry. We haven’t readjusted our internal clocks much at all. We’ve all a little woozy. Still, despite experiencing every jet lag symptom, our trip was worth every squeamish side effect.

Beach sunsetDiamond head hikeAs for now, I’m more interested in maintaining the illusion that we’re still on vacation. We sleep in and stay up late. We eat special treats. We lay like vegetables. Eventually our home will find its way back to homeostasis. And just as so many of us are willing to swallow the other discomforts of modern air travel for the chance to change perspectives; I’m willing to deal with 2 a.m. wake-ups and grumpy tweens in exchange for a few days of sand and sunshine. Next time maybe I will keep my sunglasses on for the flight home.