You Wear It Well

Dressing for the long game

I used to wear everything and feel great.

I was a thrift shop ninja – could fit into anything, trying it all on in front of the store’s one full length mirror. I’d wriggle into skirts, suits, dresses over and under my clothes, discard the duds and carry an armload of winners up to the cash register, hoping I’d hit the “yellow/pink/green ticket half off today” jackpot.

I used to stock up on all the clothes I never knew I needed: red bolero jacket, atomic age printed circle skirt, kelly green linen pantsuit. I won’t say I always looked great (the kelly green linen pantsuit was likely a mistake) but it all fit. I worried about my skin and my hair but had total body confidence. I was young and healthy. I stayed slim without trying.

Now it’s a struggle to find one thing that fits and feels right. Maybe part of it is the difficulty of changing my perception of who I am and what suits me.

I’ve just gone through a whole clothing journey for Eric’s daughter’s wedding. First of all it’s been years since I went to a wedding. Is it the age I’m at? I don’t know many people getting married anymore. Friends are in a paired or non paired holding pattern, either too satisfied, settled or lethargic to do anything different. Friends’ kids (my own kid) have bigger things to deal with.

Dressing to perform is its whole other set of problems but made easier by the addition of a guitar. You’re there to do a job and so in the end meaning business is crucial – no fussy shoes or flirty items without pockets. Nothing that will distract from the job at hand, which involves physical coordination and endurance but also an attempt to leave my own body and soar. That’s one of the reasons I play music.

The last wedding I attended was about six years ago – my nephew’s celebration in Charlottesville. Pre-covid, post a very difficult weight loss regime where I’d ditched twenty pounds, I slipped easily into a fitted gold dress. I was still in my fifties, hanging onto the image of myself in my forties. Before that it had been my friends David and Jolene’s party in Manhattan. I went through torture for that one, fell back on interesting shoes. When I saw photos of the event a few years after the fact, I thought I didn’t look half bad. This is a very important thing to remember – twenty years from now when I’m in my eighties maybe I’ll look at myself now and think who was that goddess?

For Luci’s wedding, I felt the pressure of being the wife of the father of the bride. This wasn’t a day to shine but to supportively glimmer. I looked through my closet, thinking maybe something I’d stowed on a hanger years back had transformed into something I could wear. Of course it hadn’t.

So it was time to trawl websites. I saw cute dresses everywhere, but then I’d remember “I’m not thirty anymore. I’m not even fifty anymore!” I’m not saying I want a Nancy Reagan two-piece. I’m just saying the me in my head still dictates a script that the me in reality won’t find a role in. The “cute dress” of my twenties or thirties was cut for a tiny bust, slender waist and sylphlike hips and I have none of those any more. I keep in okay shape, could be better, but I’m a well-earned “womanly” now. Not quite in “what would Jennifer Coolidge do?” territory yet but getting there.

Sometimes I’d forget and go ahead and order a dress for my past self. I’d even get two sizes, hopefully – “one of these has got to work!” An order from H&M which if you’ve ever tried stuff on in their dressing room on lower Broadway or near Macy’s in Manhattan know surely stands for hell and misery ended up down in Virginia, back up to New Jersey, over to Boston and finally arrived after so long I’d probably gained and lost five pounds. It was so wrong I think I only took it out of the package as a joke, a cruel joke.

I spent some time on The Real Real – it’s a fun site where fancy stuff you could never afford for real comes scarily within reach. The photos are professionally clear, but in the fashion world most of the brands come from, a size 12 US is an XL so you have to swallow your pride. Fine. I zeroed in on a few fluid style dresses ie the cut is forgiving. The type where you choose where your waist is, if you want one. An interesting print in a good quality fabric. That kind of thing. I texted a choice to my friend Julia because we talk about what to wear a lot. She gave me the confidence to at least give it a try. They have a decent return policy if it didn’t work.

The dress arrived and it was cute. It actually fit, in a fashion. I still kept looking, just not sure. And what would Eric wear? I wanted to be slightly coordinated, not like we tried too hard, not like a stage costume kind of thing or salt and pepper shakers but to go together.

I hedged my bets, ordered another dress at 5 in the morning one day, hit a few charity shops – a jacket here, a belt there. The weather came down, cold and snowy and i realized we’d be spending a lot of our time in coats. A rugged down vest wouldn’t do. At the last minute I grabbed a fluffy fake fur coat from a local store holding a going out of business sale to toss over the dress.

Oh and Spanx-like tights. The packaging said Bum Tum and Thigh shaping. The waistband comes up to the ribcage. God they’re amazing! When I got married the first time I didn’t even own a bra, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to get one. Technology and undergarments have come a long way. Dammit so have I.

Wedding day I belted the dress, which may have been a cop out, I don’t know. Eric’s suit, my dress, my daughter’s dress all complemented Luci the bride’s pale creamy gold gown. I felt good about that, glad I’d sent back the 5 AM last ditch effort. It had been perfect for a younger me maybe. I still can’t enjoy wearing polyester (does anyone? There sure is a lot of it out there) so that had decided it for me. We were in our coats for the wedding in the beautiful town hall and took them off to sit down for dinner in a cozy pub so I think the outfits passed muster. Eric looked sharp, and I don’t think we let Luci down. Luci the bride looked gorgeous and perfect, her new husband Simon effortlessly smashing in a blue tattersal check suit. Their three kids were a picture (maybe a motion picture, because at 12, 8 and 6 they never stopped moving).

I wish Luci’s mother had still been alive to see her daughter marry the love of her life. She would’ve looked amazing in the mother of the bride role. That’s the main thing about getting older, we can fuss about how we look and wish we were younger. But getting to stick around for the big moments, embrace our elder status, the privilege of still being here? Vanity be damned, if we’re alive we’re gorgeous in our decrepitude.

Maybe I wish I’d gotten my hair blown out to look smoother. Worn brighter lipstick. But when Eric walked his daughter into the registry office to the tune of the Small Faces’ Autumn Stone, he looking so proud, Luci a giddy combination of beauty and strength, I felt nothing but joy and was especially glad I’d worn waterproof mascara.

20 thoughts on “You Wear It Well

  1. clarke

    hah, julia coolidge is my neighbor! or should i say i live down the street from her mansion, ha ha. not that i am agreeing with your assessment, but guys have similar issues. you look fantastic! that’s a great photo!! very, uh, impertinent. stay gold, PonyGirl!! happy holidaze, xxxcm

  2. rainperry

    I’ve never been a clotheshorse like you, Chuck and Julie but I so feel this post-50 shopping story. The dress you picked is lovely!


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    1. amyrigby

      Thanks so much Rain. I love that term clotheshorse – my mom was definitely one and so was I, I think living in the country for so long has pushed practicality to the fore but I still do love clothes!

  3. Donald Ciccone

    “the wife of the father of the bride”… there’s a song there.
    Cool dress. Smart belt. Great coat! My dad used to say that my mother was “clothes crazy”. I remember once being in Macy’s with her while she agonized and the whole department was decked out like the cover of Revolver. So it must have been ’66.

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