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Archive for the ‘Fashion’ Category

Since leaving full-time work in the early 2000s, dealing with childlessness, and becoming a self-employed consultant, a Board Chair, a volunteer from home, and a blogger, my budget changed, my body ballooned, and in some ways confidence in my style dwindled. “Calm. Sophisticated. Professional. And a little bit daring and fun.” That’s what I said in my previous post about my clothes, and how I wanted to present myself to the world. But when I didn’t feel quite so calm, or professional, I didn’t really replace these words with anything else.

Up until about 2010, I went through a few good years – I grew my hair for the first time, and for the first time in my life didn’t mind having photos taken of myself. (One of the reasons I’ve decided to embrace my natural colour is to try growing it again.) I used Penny’s lessons to be able to buy some cool, more casual clothes at less expensive shops. (Penny did supply the infamous inside-out dress of 2009, though.) My trip to Spain in 2007 was the first overseas trip where I truly dressed the way I wanted to dress, and was happy to pose for photos. (No, you’re not going to see them!)

But in the last ten years, the truth has been that I just don’t need a lot of clothes. Apart from Board meetings, and the occasional client meeting, I have been living and working from home since 2002. Work dried up in the last seven years too, which means my clothes budget has shrunk, even if I haven’t. I have managed to find that things that look okay, but few items that make me feel good. For the last ten years or so, I’ve had a winter uniform of jeans (blue and black), black thermal tops or the occasional merino top go under a cardigan or interesting knitted jacket. I dress it up or down with fun costume jewellery or brightly coloured scarves. I feel okay in winter. I still look kinda like myself, though more boring than I want.

Summer, though, is a different matter. Summer clothes and colours don’t always hide my body or flatter it in the way my winter clothes might. I cut my hair short again too (before we went to Europe and the Middle East in the height of summer – it was a good decision, as I can’t stand hair on the nape of my neck in the heat), so photographs once again emphasise my lack of symmetry and are again frequently a source of embarrassment. Never comfortable with heat, as a larger woman of a certain age I particularly dislike it now. Summer makes me want to hide. The best part of last summer, which was quite miserably cool, was that I could wear a coloured denim jacket over T-shirts almost all the time!

I think I feel more boring as a result. Or perhaps my clothes actually reflect how I feel. A lot of it is related to the elephant in the room, which is me, the elephantine woman. I’ve lost some weight over the last couple of years, but have a long way to go, and it seems to be an endless battle. I’m working hard on it – but clearly not hard enough. I was always slim and athletic when I was younger, and I still think of myself (ridiculously now) as tall(ish) and slim. It’s the very false image of myself that I hold in my head. So it’s not just a case of my outside (my clothes) not matching my inside (my personality), my outside body doesn’t match my inside body either.

As a result, I’ve lost much of the style that made me feel good. Even though, in these last 15 years, I’ve learned so much more about myself, have found myself in many ways, and feel much more comfortable with myself. So the outside does not really match the inside, which is still figuring itself out anyway as life continues to change. My clothes don’t reflect my personality. Or maybe I’m scared that they do? My body doesn’t match my brain. My clothes don’t reflect my idea of who I am or want to be. My style is stuck in a bog of disappointment.

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I’m getting my hair cut again tomorrow, after which I suspect almost all of my dyed hair will be gone. I’m hoping I can handle the change, but I’m quite lucky to have an inch or so of quite white hair at the front, with the back of my hair still dark, mostly pepper not salt, so it looks a little like a designer stripe. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. I’ve joined a very supportive Fbk group (called Silver Revolution, if anyone else is interested) with a huge range of ages from people (largely women) in their 30s to their 80s. There are a large number of COVID-19 transitioners. So many of us went weeks or months without colour and hair stylists in lockdown, and decided to make the most of the isolation. I have only seen a few people say that they are not sure about their decision, and very few who say they regret it.

My Asian-Australian sister-in-law is doing the same. She’s about a month or so ahead of me, and I saw a photo of her yesterday. She has a similar streak at the front, and it looks good. She said to her husband, “I look like a middle-aged Asian woman!” He laughed. “You are a middle-aged Asian woman.”

She has probably never seen herself as a middle-aged woman before. But she is. As am I. I think that’s why it has surprised me how easy it has been. Because I already knew that I was a middle-aged woman who should be grey, even though I dreaded going grey. I knew my hair was fake. So I now just look like the woman I am, rather than another woman I was trying to be. The thing is, no-one was fooled by my coloured hair that I was ten years younger. It made me brown-haired, not younger. I wasn’t fooled either. Sure, it is a mental shift to stop colouring. But it’s not a hard one to make, if we’ve already come to terms with who we are. I’m not alone in this. Women in the Fbk group post their before and after photos of coloured hair, and almost always look better with their grey, silver or white hair. Some have coloured for so long that their colour looked disturbingly fake, and not in a fun way.

It’s interesting to me to see the different ideas about cuts too, depending on where you live. As a New Zealander, women’s (almost) uniformly long hair in the US has always been puzzling to me. Whilst many girls, including my straight-haired little sister, had long hair at school (I didn’t – my hair is too thick and wavy), as adults, Kiwi women have a huge variety of hair styles – long, short, and everything in-between. As an adult, I’ve had longer hair (thanks to hair straighteners) below my shoulders (which is long for me), shorter bobs, and a variety of curly or straight cuts, including pixie cuts. It’s fun to change. Hair grows, so it is never permanent! But a lot of the US women in the group are adamantly against the very idea of cutting their hair, keeping the same style they’ve had since they were 16. But they don’t look 16 anymore. And if they’ve never tried something new, they don’t know that short hair won’t suit them. I don’t really understand it. (Note: I have nothing against long hair. It looks fabulous on some people. But not on everyone.)

But those of us with short hair finish our transitions to grey in about six months. And a sharp cut, with grey or silver hair, looks fantastic. So many of the women seem amazed when, hoping for a quicker transition or in an effort to get rid of the demarcation line between dyed and undyed hair, they took the plunge to cut their hair length. Suddenly, the length is not dragging them down, the cuts flatter their faces and their eyes just pop. With a good, crisp, (not old-fashioned or ageing) cut, they look more fun, alive, vibrant, feminine, and younger than with their previous tired styles. Regardless of the colour, I’m sure many of them think they should have tried it years ago.

What about you? Do you have fun with your hair?

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#20 of Blogging with Friends

When I moved to Thailand to work in the NZ Embassy for three years, I discovered a nation where the women were impeccably dressed. When I’d been there as a student, I’d lived in my school uniform (it helped to identify me as “local,” someone who was not a rich tourist, someone who could not be ripped off when bargaining for goods!) or jeans and t-shirts. So when I returned as an adult, it was a little shock to the system to see the high standards the Thai women kept. They’d even dress up going out on the weekends, whether meeting for lunch, shopping in a nice mall, having afternoon tea in a 5-star hotel, or going to the beauty salon for a massage. So I felt I needed to maintain similar standards, to represent the Embassy and my country well.

Despite the fact that, ten years on from my student exchange, Bangkok had become quite cosmopolitan, it still catered to the tiny (compared to me) Thai women. So I couldn’t go to stores and buy clothes, and there was zero chance I could buy shoes. I found a tailor, and a shoe-maker. Oh, happy day! For the first time in my life, I had shoes that fit and were comfortable. It was bliss! (I actually got my sister’s wedding shoes made there – she sent an outline of her longer-and-narrower-than-mine foot, and we agreed on the design, et voila!) And I went to the tailor (which the Thai women did quite often too) to get blouses, suits, etc all made to order in my three year term. They were all simple, elegant, but practical, using good quality fabrics. I stayed away from a lot of the synthetics the Thai women wore (contrary to the common fallacy that people in hot countries live in cotton and linen), but took advantage of some of the lovely silks. A purple Thai silk suit was a favourite.

Coming home after three years, I found a different, more interesting, clothing market in New Zealand. My style hadn’t really changed – I still didn’t like fussy clothes, clean lines flattered my body, and with my height, I could carry off length. My return home to NZ saw me gradually put on weight, but my style stayed much the same. Then in the mid-90s, I started working at a new company, and met sometime-commenter Peony. And she introduced me to Penny. Danger, danger, Will Robinson! Let me explain.

Penny was a business woman who had run clothing stores in the past. She brought in clothes from selected NZ and Australian designers (and I remember a French brand too), and helped her clients put together a seasonal wardrobe. Appointments were free – she got a commission from the clothes we bought. So they were more expensive than I would usually buy. I thought I knew how to mix and match – frugality teaches you that – but Penny took it to another level. She didn’t have any boring clothes, and she didn’t mix and match them in boring ways. If I cringed at the price, she’d help me put together a group of clothes that could work together in multiple ways. “Throw on a cheap white t-shirt from a chain store,” she would suggest to complement a fabulous jacket, or outrageous skirt. She’d throw my favourite item on the floor, and then show how others would work together with it or with each other. Anything that was insufficiently versatile would be discarded. Unless I adored it. Penny taught me to have fun with clothes.

It helped that business attire at the time was just starting to change. And perhaps more that all my clients lived and worked overseas. So I had a couple of more boring suits that were great for travel and business; they were my “meeting clients” clothes. Most of my fun clothes were kept for NZ. I loved the surprise of asymmetric clothes. (I remember my father looking at an otherwise very simple, asymmetric black coat, saying, “but why?”) I discovered that I loved clothes with a bit of embellishment, a sense of fun or daring, but that weren’t too fussy.

I had a favourite beige cotton jacket that I would wear with black pants or jeans – it had very simple lines, but had pirate (it’s the only way I can describe it) white lace frills at one cuff and under the front panel of one side, and the other side was just plain. My girlfriends loved it. I loved it. My husband and male colleagues all shook their heads in puzzlement. I remember going to the supermarket once after work with my husband. He saw someone he knew, then looked at me, and moaned, “oh no, you’re wearing that jacket!” I could only laugh! That jacket pretty much represented my style in those years. Clean, elegant, but with a fun surprise. I had some great, fun, skirts and shirts, and over the years bought two winter coats that were just not available in most of the shops. Oh, I felt so good in those luscious coats! For about six years, I had fabulous fun with clothes, albeit tinged with guilt at the amount I spent at a single visit. But then I didn’t shop much elsewhere, so it probably all evened out. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I had never before enjoyed clothes so much. Never before felt that I had clothes for every occasion. Never before felt that my clothes presented how I wanted to be in the world. Calm. Sophisticated. Professional. And a little bit daring and fun.

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