The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Dressing Down November 22, 2013

I dress for bed with relish. I can’t wait to be nothing but comfortable. It’s long underwear season for me (a season which takes but a mere two month hiatus in the height of summer) and if I can just find my XL gray fleece pants I’ll be in business. I don a zip front bathrobe on top of the whole affair, and with these three layers (plus knee socks and wrist warmers and maybe even a scarf for the neck) I am done. As I add each piece, I marvel to myself that I’ve been wearing this particular ensemble since my pregnancy, now over ten years ago. The older one gets, the less of an impact time seems to have, so for me it has become a number of little significance. At first it sounds kinda comforting even. Yeah, this go-to set of pajamas has been part of my life for ten years now…. ten years….a decade…. infant to fifth grader…. Hmm. I begin to wonder if this isn’t actually something I should announce to too many people. I stop for a second and look down at my own clothes. I begin to take a slower and more critical look at them and begin to see some obvious shortcomings: the robe is full of pills and is nothing close to soft anymore, the pants have the very weakest elastic left in the waist, and the fabric itself is thinning in small, penny-sized spots. Just a few days ago I chided my mother for wearing a sweater simply riddled with holes. She readily copped to it but said it was by far the warmest sweater she’d ever, ever worn and she kept it for that reason alone. “What’s it made of?” I asked her, truly curious, and expecting it to be made of the finest wool or some high-end fiber. “Oh, it’s just a polyester blend of some sort.” What?! I couldn’t help but think ‘cashmere anyone’? Likely as simple as picking up an LL Bean catalogue…It’s not as if she doesn’t have a stack of em somewhere in her many piles. And I’m thinking her budget could handle one such purchase without much trouble. So, as my mind flashes onto my mother’s holey sweater for which she really has no valid excuses, I wonder, am I as bad as that??

Good Lord, please say I’m not. But then I remember all the episodes of “What Not To Wear” and realize that yes, I am as bad as that. But I can’t justify spending a hundred dollars on new pajamas and long underwear when I run out of food money before the month’s end. And even if I did come into a bonus windfall of cash, why in hell should I spend it on clothes that no one ever sees? Wait. Is this also my mom? She’s got the cash but wouldn’t dare to ever spend it on herself. (Naw, I’m not that bad by any means. Give me a couple hundred bucks and I’ll find something pretty to take home. Just not sure I could blow it on pajamas and underwear.) Phooey. I feel a little less than comfortable in my comfy clothes now. They’re reminding me a little too much of my parents’ place. Old and worn. Man. Is this how it starts?

My ex and I used to marvel over the strange arc of our parents’ lives with respect to fashion – of their clothes, their home decor, hairstyles, accessories… We both noticed that our parents – both pairs being about the same ages – had somehow ceased being stylish at some point in their middle adult years. We’d look at gorgeous black and white prints of them in the sixties and ooh and ahh over our mother’s suits, the perfect hair, our father’s ties and crisp trousers…. they all looked so damned fine. And their houses were tidy and tasteful too. Then we moved into the 70s, and both pairs seemed to keep pace alright. Ties became wider, colors leaned towards harvest golds, browns and yellows, women’s hair got bigger. They still presented themselves well. Then came the 80s. It was that decade in which our parents seemed to slow a bit. (Granted, if you were going to miss a decade of fashion, this was the one to pass on!) Our homes no longer received cosmetic upgrades, our mothers no longer looked sharp and put together, our fathers no longer seemed hip and cool. When we looked at what was going on concurrently in our lives, we realized that our parents were knee-deep in the kid/family/career thing by then, and so the fashion side of life just sort of stalled in the shadow of everything else. I even noticed a time – when I was very young – when mom and dad would have parties, or even go to parties, but that too seemed to come to an end the older we kids got.

And then there came a time – I think around when I was in high school – when my parents just seemed to become cut off from their peers altogether. They had absolutely no social life. They hadn’t much of one to begin with, but by the time I was a senior, they had no life other than their work and the summer music festival they hosted here in Greenfield. My ex had noticed the same behavior in his folks. The only common thread we could find that made sense was the stages at which they were in their lives. They just sort of disconnected from the culture sometime in middle age, never to truly return. And if it was happening to our folks, it had to be happening to others’, too.

This brings me back to my present meditation: Is this decline a natural characteristic of one’s middle years? Is this a real danger – a statistically supported phenomenon of middle age? I realize that not all events are inevitable, and the more one questions and scrutinizes something the better one understands it and the more empowered one becomes to change things… but honestly, are my comfy clothes a warning sign of my increasing cluelessness? Is the ease with which I don my twelve-year-old pill-y bathrobe an indication that I’m tuning out? I do know that I don’t care as much – we all know that aging-related phenomenon. Super-old folks often dress like crap cuz they don’t f*ing care anymore. Why should they? They no longer have anything to prove. Plus – they’re not out to get laid. And frankly, it does seem that most self-beautification is about getting some. Or at least having someone else consider you being a person worth getting some with. And doesn’t there finally come a time when one stops caring about that kind of stuff at all?? I know I hardly do. And maybe that in of itself is just giving up. I don’t know. But hey, how can you miss what you don’t even want? My life is so different these days from my life of two decades ago, I’m not sure it makes sense to even compare the two. (When people ask me if I’m not interested in dating, I reply that I’m already dating a ten year old boy. !) Joking aside, there are moments when I’m a bit worried that I’m losing my touch, my oomph. Yeeps. Me, rockstar Liz, an old lady. Never woulda thought.

I do miss one thing though. And there is one thing I do continue to wish for as I muddle through my middle years out here in the country. I miss looking good. Dressing up. Just for the joy of it. I may be a chicken farmer these days, but I still want to feel like I look good from time to time. I want to know that even if most nights I hunker down in some really crappy looking threads, that even if I do pull out the high rise mommy jeans when I’m carrying around an extra ten pounds, that somewhere in my closet there is an outfit or two that I feel slammin in. Usually that goes with a smaller dress size. Off the no-carb wagon some four months, I’m almost where I was at the start of my weight loss last Spring. So maybe that’s part of it. Hard to get psyched about dressing a body you’re not keen on showing off to begin with. So was that part of the mix for our mothers? Did those extra ten or twenty pounds seal the deal for them? Not sure. For one reason or another – or a bunch of em all together – they just kinda tuned out and settled into a holding pattern of non-style. And it seems as if they were oblivious to their departure from the world. But I am most definitely not oblivious. Only wish I were. Then my crappy sweatpants wouldn’t seem like such a mark of shame. And I could forgive my mommy pants. But I can’t. And I don’t want to give in yet.

So please call ahead if you’re planning to stop by for a visit, because while I’m old enough to enjoy lounging all day in elastic waist pants, I’m not keen on you seeing that for yourself. And although my chickens don’t give me much of a reason to clean up my act these days, I think I still remember a little something about dressing up…

 

One Response to “Dressing Down”

  1. Gene Burnett Says:

    Yeah…I used to care a lot more about what I looked like when I was younger than I do now at 56. Hair, clothes, accessories…it’s much more about comfort and ease of movement now. I’m much more focused on what I’m doing than how I look doing it. Less to prove, almost no boy-girl vibe to stoke, status and cool mean very little to me. I’m not totally indifferent to fashion…I would never wear a shirt with food stains on it, which to me is the true sign of not giving a shit…I would never wear something that would stand out as ugly or ridiculous or weird. But caring about “looking good” has been replaced by “not looking bad” or “not standing out”. I don’t mind good-looking clothes but only if I feel good in them and can move freely in them when I work or play. I actually kind of like being below radar in the fashion/hormone scene. I can get around more easily and observe people without being observed so much. You get kind of invisible to the younger crowd if you’re not dressing and acting a certain way and are of a certain age. I know a lot of people don’t like that about getting older but I like it a lot. But don’t worry, if I ever get up to New England, I’ll give you at least an hour’s notice. ;~) GB


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