I thought about it again this week when I read the New York Times article on Zelda Kaplan.
|Photo: New York Times|
Zelda Kaplan was a 95 year-old New York socialite, fashion show fixture, former housewife, philanthropist, and self-made style icon who had much of her own flamboyant wardrobe custom-made from fabric she brought back from her many trips to Africa. She was often photographed, and recently danced the night away at a popular New York nightclub for her 95th birthday. This week, she was sitting in her (usual) front-row seat at her friend Joanna Mastroianni's runway show at New York Fashion Week when, as the second model walked on to the runway, she collapsed and died and had to be carried out by security. Zelda Kaplan was anything but invisible. And that, dear readers, is how to make your exit.
So this got me thinking, why is it that this, let's call it Zelda-like approach to life (and fashion), is seemingly so rare in women as we age? Is the expectation still that we are still, to some degree, expected to become the invisible woman after 40, or 50, or wherever the benchmark is supposed to be these days? Are we really still expected to wear our hair a bit shorter, lower the hemline, be quieter, more demure? Is there anything less flattering than being called mutton dressed as lamb? (In this day and age, Really?)
I am certainly not excluding myself from this indictment. Haven't we all in recent times seen Madonna or Cher on television and kind of sighed to ourselves, smiled, or maybe agreed out-loud with the conversation in the room, why doesn't she just stop? Sort of fade into the background like Bardot did, and make room for the Adelles and the GaGas? We have all had that conversation at some point. I am not proud of that. We look at these women, these artists, who are still practicing their craft, and we think, why?.... instead of congratulating them for breaking the mold, we try to stuff them back in.
But the question perhaps should be, why do we care? Yes, Madonna is getting older. Yes, Cher is getting older. And yes, I suppose more than a few of these women have had "work done" to maintain their brands or maybe even their self-esteem. But who cares? Sean Connery was certainly no spring chicken when he was a shirtless Bond. And isn't Tom Cruise like, almost fifty?! Maybe we should ask ourselves what the real reason is that a 60 year-old in a miniskirt makes us uncomfortable.
|Photo Courtesy International Tina Turner Fan Club|
Thing is people, you don't have to wear flamboyant African togs, or even a negligee to the office to become unforgettable and unique at any age. You are not going to become irrelevant or insignificant based simply on your sartorial choices. Sure, you say, but I am no Tina Turner (those legs!). My point is simply that these women are perhaps not iconic so much because of their celebrity status and sartorial choices, but because they simply know who they are. And so should all of us. And that is why it works, because their identities inform their choices, and not the other way around.
So I for one am going to stop asking myself "is this appropriate for a 40-year old, and start asking "is this me?" in everything from sartorial choices to how I approach food, my work, and I suppose other humans. I expect that once in a while I might still get it wrong. And if, after a lifetime of self-discovery and trial and error, I decide that who I am really is an apology for taking-up molecular space, a buttoned-down, Beige Gal (unlikely, people. Unlikely). You can be sure I will do it with conviction and commitment. With any luck, I too will have to be carried out of the room someday, having made my exit.