I remember clearly the first time I chose function over fashion. I was in my 50s, ready to go for a walk on a cold day, and I had a choice between a hat that was fashionable and less warm, and one that was warmer but made me look like an old lady. I went for warmth.
I never cared that much how I looked, although for most of my life I followed the current fashion trends. In high school and college, I dressed in mini-skirts and platform heels, and when the hippie era came along, I wore bell-bottom pants and peasant blouses. In my working years, my attire was pant suits and dress shoes.
But once I stopped working in an office and could stay home, I was only too happy to slip into comfortable slacks and loose shirts. From there it was down the slippery slope to pants with elastic waist bands—ideal for an aging body beginning to sag. I haven’t yet gone as far as my onetime elderly neighbor, who in warm weather wore muumuus—those loose dresses that hide a multitude of body issues—but I can see the attraction.
The nadir for me came on a day, a few years ago, when the weather was somewhere in between warm and cool, and, in my indecision about what was most comfortable, I left the house wearing a T-shirt, tan shorts and black athletic shoes with white socks pulled up to my knees. Halfway up the trail, I took a clear look at myself and realized I looked just like those middle-aged men who my childhood girlfriends and I ridiculed: the ones who wore Bermuda shorts and socks up to their calves, with a pair of dress shoes. I had crossed a line, and I knew it.
I can’t blame my lack of fashion sense on my mother, who, even into her 90s, dressed up every time she left her apartment at her senior living place. When I visited her, she always sought my advice about whether this pair of slacks went with this blouse, or whether the dress jacket was the right color. Was it OK to wear tan shoes this time of the year, she would ask me—her daughter who wore suit jackets with shoulder pads 10 years after they had gone out of fashion.
Although my mother, in her increasing dementia, couldn’t remember what she had for lunch or the name of her grandchildren, she always remembered to put on lipstick and eyeliner. Even in her 90s, she refused to wear white stockings to support her varicose veins, because they made her look too matronly.
I failed to inherit that gene for wanting to look good, although I’ve tried in my own way. But now it’s even harder, and I partly blame the clothing industry for my lack of a fashionable wardrobe. Most clothing, especially athletic, caters to young people with better bodies—and metabolisms—than mine. A few years ago, when I realized that my jeans and long underwear combination no longer kept me warm enough for cross-country skiing, I sought advice from a young clerk at the local sporting-goods store, who told me that everyone wears insulated tights now.
I didn’t want to tell her that, as a 65—year old woman, I preferred not to show all my bulges nor could I ski fast enough to stay warm in just tights. With my aging heart, knees and legs, I can’t move that fast anymore. I needed layers of clothing—preferably lightweight—when I was out on cold days.
I’m too embarrassed to tell you what I wear when I ski now, but it’s not fashionable. I resemble more a toddler, bundled up so much I can hardly move, than a fast and sleek athlete. But I’m warm, and I’m still out there moving. And that’s all I care about now.
— Kathy Kaiser