Monday, August 9, 2010

Never a Fashion "Formerly," Only a "Presently"

This post starts off with the insignificant--whether clothes represent status as "formerly hot"--and morphs into the important, the call to see beyond daily pettiness to our roles in God's universe.

I spent the afternoon clothes shopping in a store called "Forever 21."
I accompanied my really 21-year-old daughter, perusing the stock of cheapo tops (lots of dolman sleeves out there!), "jeggings" and dysfunctionally flimsy sweaters. No need to buy, because my closet is amply stocked with what I call "hand me ups."  Clothes my daughters begged me to buy--now rejected as passe.  "Here, Mom. You take them."

Some might say that the only thing more pathetic than a mom in Forever 21 clothes is a mom in Forever 21 clothes that are five years old.

But they're perfectly good.  My husband and I paid for them--I can't just give them away.  That wouldn't be frugal.

I don't wear micro-minis, cleavage-down-to-there, or high-waisted wisp-blouses that make one look in her second trimester.  Just sweaters, t-shirts and solid-color jeans--okay, I also rescue the girls' quickly-junked trend purchases.   Trouble is, my thriftiness is extreme:  Just as the buck stopped at the desk of Harry Truman, the out-of-style bucks we've spent stop in my closet, in the form of short-length sweaters, loose-knit tie-front shirts, long jersey skirts and western wear.

It's all there, waiting to be worn again by me. Can't I somehow incorporate that  three-quarter-sleeved snap-front orange crop that barely reaches my belly-button?  It's only been worn twice!  How about that poufy-hem layered skirt?  I can't bring myself to throw out perfectly useable, nearly new garments.

Clothes as Merely Wrapping:
On the other hand, what is a boomer-mom to do?  Not at all ready for the non-waisted look at Chicos (and their stuff's way to large for me) perhaps I should follow the lead of Stephanie Dolgoff, who got a a book, 30,000 monthly blog visitors, and a big write-up in the New York Times yesterday, by grousing that, at 40, she's "formerly hot" and has no fashion station?

On the one hand, I scoff at her making much of a non-problem; on the other, it's great she used her entrepreneurial skills to make money from this superficial idea. Nearly all of the 62 comments Dolgoff's Times article generated included the words "vapid," "inane," "offensive," or "trivial."  It should be noted that the author coined the term "formerly hot" as a joke to cope with her shifting interests.

She suggests that at 40, one must mature, and attempts to define her new phase. Here's how it's expressed in garb: "Trends are for little kids," she declares.  Animal Prints? "OK at 20 or 60," says her NYT article, "but for 40-somethings, they raise all kinds of unseemly 'cougar' questions." Retro styles? "If you were alive during the time the look was first in vogue," Dolgoff admonishes, "it can look as if you've saved your outfit for all these years."

Well, um, I have.

Which is why sartorially, I've never been, and intend never to be a "Formerly."  I'm a "Presently," which means that I try to look good, frugally. Might be funky, might be hand-me-up, might be something I got at Ohrbach's on Wilshire Blvd in 1969. It won't be anything with a tag seen on a runway.

You'd think that wearing clothes stashed since their last fashion pass would be lauded as green.  Recycling, as in style cycles, is at least as in-vogue as Vogue.  And putting on that kilt I wore in high school revives in me a frozen time, as much as flight through the night skies retains the youth of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.

Perhaps some of us are too far out of the chic-race to even lag behind.  That's why my stroll through Forever 21 today was more anthropological research than serious shopping.  My daughter found a few things to wear in her new job. (And I began planning which cranny in my closet they'll eventually occupy.)

Why bother? To reach the Bigger Picture:
The value in the "Formerly hot" term is as motivation to reject it (I suspect Dolgoff would agree), particularly valuable to me now, as my youngest child leaves home.  I spent a lot of time on parenting, but I won't be a "former mom." Yet I do look forward to leaving behind the less developed person I am, by improving my knowledge, accomplishments and attachment to things that really matter--becoming, with each day, a "new me."  Change is not only inevitable, but desirable.

Tonight begins the Jewish month of Elul, a time of repentance and introspection in preparation for God's judgment on Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year 5771 of the Jewish calendar.  Each day during this month, the shofar, a ram's horn, is sounded, its tones awakening listeners from petty concerns, like how trendy we look, which bars we frequent, and how well we earn attention from strangers of the opposite sex.

I never had a "formerly hot," party-hearty life, but I've previously had a less spiritually-connected one, and my level of godly focus constantly moves and approaches and sometimes, withdraws.  This time of year is specially endowed with a cosmic magnet pulling us beyond the mundane, the clothes and paint chips and accessories, to seriousness.  We lose daylight and realize the imminence of darkness; we hear the shofar and are called to self-evaluation, just as music affects the soul though we cannot see or touch it.

So perhaps, in a sense, I am a "formerly." Formerly I had learned less; formerly I was more self-absorbed. Presently, though, is the opportunity to increase and to grow, and in this month of Elul, to prepare.

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