Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ironic Outfits for Women Over 50?

In a recent posting on the New York Magazine website, New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, 54, asks: Can Women Over 50 Pull Off Ironic Fashion? To answer this question, she offers a slide show (click on blue title above to view) with analysis of nine celebrity women over 50 wearing what she considers ‘ironic’ outfits. As one reader so astutely observes, nowhere does Horyn define ‘ironic.’ If irony has to do with intent, can it be judged by looking at a photograph of a woman’s outfit? Perhaps, Horyn is using the term loosely, to mean 'incongruous,' that is, not what we’d normally expect a woman over 50 to wear.

The slide show’s celebrity women over 50 include Madonna, Cher, Diane Keaton, Sharon Stone, Deborah Harry, and Betsy Johnson. I admit: their outfits—cone hats with pom-poms and hip-high leather boots—are attention-grabbing. But if you’re a celebrity, especially in the performing arts, isn’t dressing a little over-the-top the norm, part of the job description? I expect Diane Keaton to wear big-brimmed hats and Sharon Stone to wear sexy tops and jeans. Frankly, I would find it ‘ironic’ if Madonna or Cher turned up at an event dressed like me!

Also, call me crazy, but what’s so ‘ironic’ or ‘incongruous’ about what Deborah Harry and Sharon Stone are wearing? Sure, I wouldn’t advise any of my over 50 non-celebrity friends to wear mini-dresses or torn-up jeans. However, it’s not unusual to see older, non-celebrity women in my town trying to dress like 20-somethings. It’s not ironic, it’s just a bit tacky and sad.

And finally, I'd like to say “bravo” to all the readers who commented that the important thing is to wear clothing that makes you look good. I hear too many older women over 50 say, “Enough! I don’t want to be a slave to the ever-changing fashion trends or to the media’s perceptions of beauty. I want to wear what I like and what’s comfortable—period.” I get that older women are tired of caring about such things. However, I don’t think we should throw caution to the wind—that is, start wearing clothes that neither flatter our shape, coloring or age. Just because we’re over 50, doesn’t give us license to start dressing with the inhibitions of a 4-year-old. (There’s plenty of time to do that when senior dementia sets in!) Instead, being over 50 gives us the freedom to pick and choose clothes that are both comfortable and flattering, regardless of whether they are in vogue or not. And that may mean we’ll have to leave the hats with pom-poms for the celebrities. I can live with that.