E is for Elegance

E

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:

Katharine Hepburn Katharine Hepburn

Jacqueline Onassis Jacqueline Onassis

Catherine Deneuve Catherine Deneuve

Ines de la Fressange Ines de La Fressange

Michelle Obama Michelle Obama

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?

5 thoughts on “E is for Elegance

  1. Sue (from A to Z)

    I’m so glad I found your site through A-Z. We seem to have much in common. I’m afraid the style I want and the style I have are not the same. It is harder to find clothes that are stylish but age-appropriate (not that we have to dress a certain way, but I too want to be elegant instead of cute). Can’t wait to read more of what you share.

    Reply
  2. Corina

    I really agree with Deborah Tannen about our attire saying a lot about us. I’m a jeans and barefoot kind of person but when I go out to meet someone or I will be seen by people, I try to wear something that is not jeans and not stained with little grandson prints! I usually wear loafer type of shoes, sometimes less casual ones but lately my feet hurt so I’ve been putting on my walking shoes. I think I need to find some comfy loafers or pumps that go better with trying to look less casual!

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  3. jazzfeathers

    Elegance is such an elusive thing. As you said, it isn’t just baout your dress. I think it may even be a state of mine, the way you react to things, the way your relate to the external world. It’s very subtle.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    Reply

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