When you drive a regular route, you get used to seeing the same people often. There's always the joggers, the women with the strollers, the parents waiting with children shivering at the bus stop on those frigid winter mornings.
There’s one particular woman, I see every day at 7:30 as I round the corner onto the Post Road. In every kind of weather, she’s outside, walking a her little black dog up one side of the street, and circling back. She wears a black Persian lamb coat and on colder days, sports a matching black mink pillbox cap and knee high boots. During spring or warmer mornings, I can see her hair, coiffed beautifully, and her makeup is always impeccable: blue eyeshadow painted all the way up to her eyebrows accentuates large brown eyes, and cranberry red lipstick is the splash of color which tops it all off.
She must be in her eighties, maybe even older, and it amazes me not only that she’s out walking that dog so early, but that she looks so put together! When must she get up every morning? And why does she still take the time to put on her face just so? It can’t be to impress or attract a man - she’s probably too old for that - but who am I to judge? I admire this woman who, in the sunset of her life, makes the effort to look this good, for whatever reason.
I have never been one to take much time on my appearance. I generally smear some concealer on my undereye circles while waiting for the light to change, and if I’m lucky enough to hit another on the way to the gym, scribble on some purple eyeliner. For special occasions, I’ll take out the liquid eyeliner and try to do a straight line, maybe even put on some mascara, even though I can’t stand how it makes my eyelashes feel sticky.
What does it say about a person who puts time into looking good? I used to think it was just vanity, and considered myself above it all, in bootcut blue jeans and men’s white undershirts. In college, I had a boyfriend who was excellent at putting an outfit together, in a very understated way. An oversize olive green handknit sweater was paired with some oval black eyeglasses which framed his round face perfectly. Cargo pants hung on his hips just right, while managing to obscure the bit of baby fat he’d never managed to get rid of. He found his own style which suited him perfectly, and he wore it well.
When I scored a college summer internship in the Big Apple, he decided to come along while I went clothes shopping, as my casual wasn’t going to fly in a New York City publishing house. We began at a small boutique on the western part of midtown, where he insisted I try on a candy apple red two piece jacket and skirt suit. I balked; I had never worn red in my life, but decided to try it on just to humor him. What appeared in the mirror was stunning - the padded shoulders and fitted waist flattered my figure completely unexpectedly, as did the mini skirt paired with a some high heeled pumps, another foreign object. This was a me I didn’t recognize, but it felt strangely good! I think it was my first taste of sexy. That outfit went on to become a favorite, and snagged more than one job interview.
Several years ago, I got hold of a pile of fashion books and put them in the bathroom, where I could pore through them in two minute stints twice a day, while brushing my teeth. Most of them focused on finding one’s own style. I loved the Trinny and Susannah series, especially the before and after looks. Some I didn’t agree that the “after” actually looked better, but it seemed really fun to play around with different identities that could be changed in a moment. So many of the women who allowed themselves to be “made over” fashion-wise experienced a huge burst of confidence. It was inspiring, and somehow, I thought about how I could probably afford to pay a little more attention to what I put on my own body.
I have always loved color, and often admired funky cool accessories on other people, but had hesitated to get daring myself with fashion, though I did shave the side of my head in high school, and I always did wear interesting jewelry. Somehow, I decided to be more experimental. I paid attention to catalogues when they arrived in the mail, especially Anthropologie, a favorite, as its publications were not just showcases for new products, but works of art in themselves, in both theme and particular style. And I stopped thinking of fashion as something superficial.
At tag sales and thrift shops, I began experimenting with belts and handbags, especially anything ethnic. If I found some really wild accessory, I tried to pair it with a simple outfit, finally realizing the concept of balance: if you’ve got an amazing piece, you have to allow it to pop, and this can’t happen if you’ve got too many other things going on.
And I started getting lots of compliments on my outfits….it felt really good! Not only that, but I discovered that many excellent conversations were started when it began with something I (or another person) was wearing. So many stories about a piece led to other areas - the stained glass bracelets on each wrist were picked up on my first trip to Hungary just after college, and then I moved there to teach English, and you did the backpacking thing, too? WOW…...
The beautiful old lady strutting down the Post Road with her dog early every morning is my reminder that it’s worth it to look good, because then I feel even better, and who knows what magical things happen after that.
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