As sociolinguist Deborah Tannen writes, “There is no unmarked woman.” In her essay of the same name, she explains that there is no neutral, unremarkable choice for a woman’s attire and personal adornment. Whatever a woman chooses to wear, she’s making a declaration about who she is: serious academic, corporate striver, mall rat, soccer mom, hipster chick, Wal-Martian, what have you. Men have it a bit easier, according to Tannen; they can choose an unremarkable pair of khakis, leather shoes, a polo shirt, and we can’t tell at first glance what sort of fellow we’re dealing with. But women are always “marked” by their sartorial choices, so we must choose wisely.
Casual elegance is the look I’m aiming for in my fifties. This look is easy to achieve if you have pots of money, but it’s not a look that’s encouraged by the more affordable stores, which skew more toward cute, sexy, frivolous, flouncy, spangled, sparkly, and/or hoochie-mama.
I feel elegant when wearing slacks, dressy flats, classic cardigans, sleek pullovers, blouses (especially silky ones), slim skirts. Yes, these garments can look old-fashioned, even dowdy, but if the fit is right the look is ageless, classic, and classy.
OK, in actuality I wear jeans most of the time, but on the rare occasion when I leave my home office, I try to add elegant touches—a flowing scarf, an artistic jacket, a crisp blouse, pearl earrings. Elegance is a good choice for women my age. It’s not the only choice, of course, but too much “cute” at our age risks looking a bit pathetic. Some mature ladies pull off a marvelous bohemian look, or cool biker mama, or hippie artist.
Some of my current style icons:
Of course, there’s more to elegance than clothing. Good posture and graceful movement are elegant. Slouching is not. Courtesy is elegant. A carefully prepared lunch brought from home can be elegant. Gobbling fast food in your car is not. Strolling through the shops and galleries downtown is elegant. Slogging through the mall is easier, but not elegant.
Treating everyone you meet with kindness is elegant. Looking down your nose at others is not. When I encounter a tacky person, I straighten my spine and try hard not to sneer. High standards are elegant, but snootiness is not. It’s elegant to think before you speak. I’m still working on that one.
What about you? Do you aim for a particular look when you get dressed? Whose style would you like to emulate?