Old broads in sequins and rouge

I’ve heard it said that if you want to talk to your kids, give them a ride somewhere. I’d like to offer a modification to this advice — if you want to talk to your daughter, take her shopping and haunt the dressing room.

Lydia needed shorts for an upcoming trip with her chorus. Having recently been at Old Navy with Grace and seen mountains of them, we headed there. Lydia filled her arms with what I think of as disposable clothes. (If anyone wants to view the dysfunctional relationship between the U.S. and the developing world, walk into your local ON, head to the clearance section, and see tables piled with t-shirts made in Bangladesh marked down to $3.)

I browsed, too, and met Lydia in the dressing room. “What do you think of this?” I asked her. She may not need my style sanctions, but I need hers.

“Mom, no,” she replied. I love her eyeroll.

“Why not? I love this gray color.”

“Mom. Sequins.”

“But, Lydia,” I implored her, “It’s a peace sign. I’m for peace.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to wear it on a t-shirt. In sequins. Plus, you’re old.”

“I might buy it.”


I didn’t.

And yet I’m still tempted. Something draws me to this t-shirt, and it takes willpower to keep Lydia’s advice in mind.

Not all women resist the call of the sequin, however. This morning Lydia and I stopped in the bagel shop on the way downtown, where I was dropping her off to meet the bus that will take her chorus on the trip that necessitated the purchase of shorts. Most of the people getting bagels at 9:30am in the morning are old-timers. As I waited in line, my eyes were drawn to a woman whose back faced me: curly yellow-blond hair askew, wedgie flip-flops, cropped stretch pants, lumpy purse, and a droopy Pepto-pink sweatshirt decorated with an oversized sequined and plastic-jeweled heart.

It was the sequined heart, in fact, that drew my attention to her and made my real heart suddenly sorry for her, I must admit. I saw everything that needed sprucing up. If she were my mother, I would start by brushing her hair, in the same way I groom Grace’s curly hair every night. I would outlaw the wedgie flip-flops. I would give her a good talking-to about the sweatshirt.

And then I scolded myself. I was looking at her as a set of mistakes, and perhaps her view of herself was more like: “Pat, the fun-loving gal.” Why Pat? I don’t know. But my imagination impulsively named her Patricia, and pictured her line-dancing.

* * *

My Aunt Mae, who was born in 1902 and died in 1998, was one of those fit and grand old dames who was always dressed as nicely as possible within her means. We rarely saw her in slacks; every day she seemed to put on a dress and stockings. She had her iron gray hair done regularly at the beauty parlor. Her eyebrows were drawn on, like Marlene Dietrich’s, and Mae too had a handsome figure, although in her old age she stooped.

Every day, too, Aunt Mae wore makeup. Later in her life the makeup, especially the cheek rouge, became more and more exaggerated and defined. Pink circles on the face are not subtle. One day after we visited Aunt Mae in her little house at the bottom of the hill near the Worcester Airport, my mother and I discussed the rouge.

“She looks clownish!” my mother worried.

“She does,” I agreed.

“I think I should tell her.” My mother said this in a tentative way, as though not sure how she would do this.

I thought about it too. Would it be a kindness to tell her? And what would we be protecting her from? One of us said something like this to the other: “Maybe Mae looks beautiful to herself. Perhaps her vision has faded enough that when she looks in the mirror the pink on her cheeks is just the right amount.”

That settled it. We let Mae be.

* * *

Ah, right here I should bring this post full circle, and conclude it by defying my daughter’s (good) advice and declaring my intention to buy the sequined peace shirt and wear it.

No, I say.

There is a line, still shimmering ahead, that I have not yet crossed.

11 thoughts on “Old broads in sequins and rouge

  1. This reminds me of an interview I saw years ago with Tyne Daly (remember her – Cagney and Lacey? Not sure if I’m spelling her name right.) She said she had heard people muttering that she had “let herself go.” She said that yes, she had, that’s exactly what she had done. She had “let herself go.” Let herself go from worrying about what others think, from primping and plastic surgery, and everything else. And, boy, did it feel freeing to let yourself go.

  2. That’s a great anecdote, Susan.

    I don’t know if I’ll let myself go, but I have sometimes said that, when I turn 50, I’m going to cut my hair short and wear (plain) t-shirts and carpenter pants all the time, and go for the androgynous look.

    Here’s a story, conversely related:
    Last year my friend Betsy and I were at a vineyard in Sonoma. We had sidled up to the tasting bar, and then were promptly ignored by the *female* wine pourer, who served first all the young girls in their strapless sundresses who had arrived after us. We were invisible. Really. I just stood there, waiting. Finally, my wonderful friend raised her voice and said something! She had to demand that our wine be poured; we didn’t simply attract wine.

    Hmm, point? Well, I guess there can be something freeing in a position like Tyne Daly’s. But perhaps also marginalizing at the same time.

  3. Hmm. I don’t know if this is a guy thing or not, but as I get older, I feel more obliged(?)/motivated to dress reasonably well, because I have a feeling of “I personally don’t look that great and there’s nothing I can do about it, but at least I can dress well enough.”
    Not that I am exactly the paragon of style or anything, but I definitely do not want to be one of the many American men who dress like overgrown 11-year-olds.

    • I must say, there is something especially winning about the well-dressed over-50 man. Much preferable to a man at any age in the ubiquitous jeans, track shoes, and hoodie.

  4. Wow. You love Lydia’s eyeroll. That is, in a word, eye-opening, to me. I’m going to try to learn to love Sophie’s now.

  5. First, I want to thank Lowry for the comment about “American men who dress like overgrown 11-year-olds.” Brilliant observation! It reminds me of a line from a David Sedaris essay, in which he described American tourists in France looking like “they’d come to mow the country’s lawns” (or something like that).

    Here’s what I find intriguing about Lydia’s comment (or more crucially, her eye roll): every women’s magazine I’ve read recently seems to suggest that sequins are *the* thing to wear at the moment…and that, in fact, we should be wearing a sequined tank top with jeans, or something casual, for that “day to evening look.” And yet, Lydia says no. Maybe fashion editors would do well to have teens vet their recommendations before they go to print?

    (BTW, upon reading that “day to evening” description, it finally occurred to me–after countless *years* of accepting that tired phrase as a realistic label–that I’ve never had ANY need, EVER, for an outfit that would take me from “day to evening.” And I wondered, does *anyone* have such a need? If there are such people, they live in a far more interesting–and exhausting–world than I do.)

    • I had no idea sequins were de rigeuer right now. Although if they’re showing up in Old Navy… of course.

      I don’t know if fashion editors should have all teens vet their recommendations, but it could only improve things if they had Lydia’s. She has also saved me from leggings. (She eschews them herself. “Leggings are for the gym.”)

      Yeah, what’s up with that day-to-evening? I’ve never pulled that off either. But, honestly, I wear the same thing all the time anyway, and may choose what I’ll do in the evening based on what I’m already wearing: some version of a gray skirt and a sweater. Can’t imagine wearing the satin cami, black cigarette pants, and gold sandals to the classroom, even with a subdued jacket thrown over. 😉

  6. As much as I love to critique fashion choices (and especially missteps), I live to see blanket prohibitions such as “you’re too old to wear that” and “no white after Labor Day” rendered useless by people with the guts to challenge or ignore them.

    Regarding the t-shirt in question, those look like pretty peaceful sequins to me, Jane. They’re more like metallic dots of ink. Quite tasteful, at least in the photo. After all, what would Old Navy know about sequins? I’ve seen hardcore sequins, most recently at (this may surprise you) my workplace *during the day!!!* and I guarantee they would have made Liza Minnelli feel underdressed if she’d dropped by for a writing tutorial. I admit, though, I’d love to see you in *that* outfit singing “New York, New York.” Just for fun, ya know?

  7. I’m liking Lydia’s fashion sense more all the time, if she’s eschewing leggings. A friend of mine who works in the library on campus told me that at some point last semester, a patron wrote on a dry-erase board in the lobby “Leggings are not pants. Pass it on.” If only the undergrads who wore them all winter, with Uggs no less, would have listened! But they probably never went to the library…

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