Friday, March 20, 2015

Soul Sisters: 40s Frocks and 90s Grunge

What first drew me to this dress was that it looked very much like it was from the 1940s. I gravitate toward a lot of older style but I think that the 30s and 40s styles may be those that best suit my body type, face, and hair.

Yet, once I wore it, I was reminded first of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld, and then of the whole "granny dress" trend of the early to mid 90s. Grunge was undoubtedly a part of this trend but not the entirety of it.

Foncie's Photos
My new dress does indeed look very much like day dresses from the 40s and even late the 30s. I suspect that this pensive mother would feel appropriately and stylishly dressed in my dress without even the slightest alteration. Her mid-calf hemline seems more 30s than 40s to me, but it's labelled as being from the 40s. Unlike in fashion plates, real women, even stylish women, are not always slaves to the very latest trend and hemline.

At any rate, the sunglasses with which I paired the dress would be just as stylish in the late 30s or the early to mid 40s. I bought them specifically with this dress in mind.

It is true, though, that, if I use the fashion plates as my guide, I should shorten my hem. I'm only 5'4", so anything I buy is longer on me than it's meant to be.

For now, though, I'm going to leave it at its current length, both because I the scent of the return on the midi is in the air, and because, at this length, it reminds me of yet another decade: the 1990s.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes

When it comes to the 90s, this dress makes me think first and foremost of Seinfeld's Elaine Benes!

Others disagree with me, but I always thought Elaine's character and I looked a bit alike in the 90s, when I was slimmer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus had not yet straightened her hair. We're both short, quite feminine, curly haired, a bit sassy, and prone to wearing retro styled outfits.

Dress: Mod Cloth; Sunglasses: Aldo; Purse: Ingledews; Boots, sweater, jacket, brooch, and earrings: vintage
Certainly, my style in this dress is like hers.

That can't really be in doubt, can it?

I always liked her fashion sense which was clearly influenced by the 1940s. (Incidentally, plots and archetypes from 40s movies and radio programmes are often spoofed on Seinfeld. To see what I mean, check out the hilarious library cop in the episode about the overdue book.)

Not only did she often wear 40s style dresses with 40s style brogue, but she often paired the dresses with 40s style fitted blazers and lovely brooches.

Note the brooches on the woman on the left.
I am always on the look out for great blazers but, now that I am busty, they're hard to find in a good fit.

Brooches were staples of the 40s but not of the 90s. My grandmother's yellow butterfly seemed to me to be a perfect match for the yellow birds on my dress and the yellow flowers on my sweater.

I had a whole spring theme going on, to go with spring itself.

My clip earrings too were more of the 40s than of the 90s. My look was an amalgam of two eras, but so was the whole "granny dress" thing of the 90s.

Elaine's hair was also a not so subtle reference to the 40s.

Pompadours like that had not been seen since the 40s. If you have curly hair, it's actually a surprisingly easy style to duplicate in its more casual forms. Indeed, many women in the early 40s permed their hair to get just the right huge hair.

I'm sure I'll wear my new dress again with a more overtly 40s style, including the hairstyle. The last time I wore my hair like this was for my Remembrance Day post, here

Generally, though,  I do tame my curls a bit, wearing my hair more as Elaine did in later seasons.

I really liked her hair like this.

I'm sad that Louis-Dreyfus has been straightening it for the last several years. Sleek is not always best.

Which brings me to another point:  there was more of the 90s about my outfit than just Elaine.

A Steven Meisel shoot from 1992
Paired with my granny boots, loose sweater, and boxy jacket, my look was more than a little reminiscent of grunge.

Willow and Buffy on the wonderful Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the 90s, 40s floral dresses were everywhere.

Me, in about 1995
Including on me.

The cast of Friends in an early season
And on Friends.

Steven Meisel, 1992
And in grunge looks. I think, nowadays, it's not so very easy to distinguish between grunge outfits and "regular" ones from the time, but the boots were definitely a key look of grunge.

So, for me, pairing my boots with this was only natural. When I look at this photo of myself, it seems quite clear why we called them granny boots and the dresses granny dresses. They're sweet and demure.

Yet the pairing of the two started not as something demure but as something rebellious. There was something radical about the juxtaposition of army-style boots (which were ubiquitous for the grungiest grungers) with feminine, form-concealing dresses.

Looking back, it seems like such a fresh-scrubbed, lady-like look, it's hard to remember how rebellious it seemed at the time. It seems mere subtle differences differentiated the grunge from the respectable.

Beverly Hills 90210. I was not a devotee so I don't know their names. Donna and somebody?
Of course, as with the co-optation of all "street" styles, grunge was quickly embraced by the fashion industry and soon began showing up even on "good girls."

Me, at my BA graduation, in about 1995
The pairing of lace-up boots with pretty outfits was so acceptable that I was right to feel that I did not look underdressed in these boots when my undergraduate ceremony. (I did feel lonely and every sorry for myself. I'd long ago cut off contact with my brutally abusive family so, though I did bring two good friends, I felt pretty alone.)

Me, on the day I became a Canadian citizen, in about 1993
I'm sure I wore the same boots with this dress too and this was one of the most formal days of my life: the day I became a Canadian citizen.

And why were they called "granny boots," you may ask? I'm assuming it's because they had last been in style for women in dresses in about 1900. They really should have been called "great-granny boots."

Granny boots were part of my uniform from about 1987 to about 1995. Was I cutting edge when wearing them in the late 80s? I really don't know. They just made sense to me.

Brigitte Fonda and Matt Dillon in Singles
But soon the pairing of floral dresses -- short or long -- with boots was everywhere, with or without the tights.

The look, including its grunge iteration, is making a comeback, particularly amongst those too young to remember the early 90s.

My general rule is that, if I wore a look the first time round, I won't wear it again. Looks I embraced in my youth should probably be left to youth to reincarnate if they so choose.

Don't look back: don't feel like a clown. That's what I usually say.

Those Beverly Hills kids again
But every era has some youth fashion trends that work on their elders just as well.

And this look is so damned comfortable too, that I enjoy wearing it again.

I will revisit some looks, and this is one of them.

(I'm sharing this over at Spy Girl and on Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fiercely Feminine: Mature Women in Pink ... and Peach!

It's spring! I know the rest of the continent is digging itself out from mountains of snow, just to be dumped with more snow all over again. But here, it is spring. So I wore a spring outfit and found myself asking if I was too old to dress this way anymore. (I'll give you my answer later.)

It is unequivocally, joyfully spring.

We've even had a lot of sunny spring days, which is not always a given here.

Plus, I just got these shoes! Like my skirt, sometimes they look pink and sometimes they look peach, but, either way, they match the season.

A day like this was a perfect day to build an outfit from my fabulous peach feet up.

With such sensible but sassy shoes, and such good weather, I was inspired to practise my walking, stopping along the way to enjoy the flowers.

It really hurts to walk so I do need inspiration to endure the experience. Beautiful gardens are certainly inspiration. I've actually stopped and thanked gardeners for their hard work, telling them that it helps me with my hard work: walking and staying as strong as I can. This particular block is an old favourite, with its lovely houses and lovely gardens. It's also on a hill, so the practice is even better for me than if it were level.

Shoes: Ecco; Shirt: Reitman's; Skirt, sweater, sunglasses, tights, and earrings: vintage
While I walk, Beau rides my scooter next to me. He looks hilarious, all scrunched up and too tall and, let's be honest, rather inept. I think the giggle he gives me is an inspiration too. If I walk, I get to laugh at him a wee bit too.

Nice outfits are another inspiration for me to get up and get out. Just for spring, I busted out my spring cane, with its pretty pink flowers.

I was raised to believe that pink was bad, because it was part of the patriarchal hegemony: put girls in pink and boys in blue; teach girls that their role in life is to be pretty and decorative, as soft and useless as a flower. Pink connoted femininity which connoted weakness. I get it.  I hate the "pinkification" of little girls in the last several years. But I cannot accept that femininity and weakness are the same thing. I'm not a little girl anymore and I get to wear whatever I want to wear, and sometimes I want to wear pink. This does not make me weak. It makes me a woman with choices and free will.

I enjoy the beauty of pink.

So I went all out. I wore my iridescent pink, lavender, and green sunglasses.

And I wore matching earrings.

I made two concessions to the time of year. One was my fuzzy pink sweater.

Geraldine McEwan
It makes me feel like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and I think that's always a good thing.

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
Christie often describes Miss Marple as fluffy and pink, alluding both to her outfits and to her love of knitting. I'll have more to say about older women in pink later. 

I was not too cold in just my fluffy sweater, even as the sun began to set.

The lighting at this time of day is quite magical, don't you think?

My other concession to the time of year was my purple tights. They added a bit of darkness to my outfit which, I felt, was appropriate for March. It seems almost obscene to be able to wear such a light and spring-like outfit when the rest of the continent is still in the thick of winter, so I added just a touch of wintery darkness.

I feel a kind sly delight in our early springs, like I'm playing a trick on nature or on the Canadian climate.

But am I also playing a trick on my age? When I dress like this, I do wonder, am I too old for this? Are these colours for other women, younger women, women not doubled up on a cane, women whose skin is still tight and whose bodies are still firm? Am I being too girly?

Maybe not.

I saw this photo on Pinterst and started to question my feeling that my most feminine outfits are no longer appropriate. I think she looks fabulous and she's probably twice my age. She's decidedly feminine, but she's not "girly" or inappropriate. I'd wear this outfit in a heartbeat, especially with all that vintage bling. I might wear less face powder, but to each her own. 

Who says you have to be young or able bodied to enjoy spring colours and diaphanous skirts?

Helen Mirren
There's not a hint of the little girl about Helen Mirren here in her amazing dress and pink hair. She loves wonderful feminine frocks, and they never seem inappropriate.

This woman's grand-daughter had cancer so she dyed her hair pink in solidarity with her. She looks like Betty White! Read about it here.
Besides, white hair suits pink, whether the hair itself is dyed ...

Queen Elizabeth
... or the lady in question decides instead to wear a pink hat. 

Let us all pause for a moment to admire her brooch, which you just know is real, not costume. 


Angela Lansbury
As I was saying, I think pink or peach can be really very flattering on older women. It shows up often in Murder She Wrote, both in Lansbury's outfits and in the walls around her -- because it suits her. She was in her late 50s when the show first aired.

Meryl Streep
Young or old, a pale-skinned woman can find pink and peach quite complimentary.

And my skin is nothing if not pale. Here it's so pale it's actually taking on the yellow of the sun.

Of course, I'm not white haired yet, and doubt I will be for some time, so I can't play up the white hair with pink thing. 

Susan Sarandon
But check this out. Tell me our dark haired Susan Sarandon is not utterly beautiful in this dress. Tell me she's not having fun in her wonderfully feminine dress. Tell me that wearing pink makes her weak. Tell me she's told for this dress.

Yeah, right.

Femininity should not be the territory of the very young, not exclusively anyway. I suppose there are some very feminine things that I would have worn when I was young, but wouldn't wear now. A poufy wedding dress comes to mind. I won't wear one. But just wait till you see the dress I am wearing to our wedding! Wow!

Pam Grier
But I digress. Pinks and peaches are also not the territory of the very thin. Check out the original foxy lady, Pam Grier, in this lightly ruffled, pink blouse. She's always been a stunning beauty.

Michelle Obama
And OMG, look at this dress on America's first lady!

She wears pink a lot and nobody can accuse her of being merely decorative.

She's strong. Check out her pipes!

My arms are pretty strong and muscular too, actually. It comes of having to use them so much for things most people do with their backs and legs. My outfit does not alter my strength -- physical, intellectual, or emotional -- in any way. Anyone who thinks it does is someone who believes the lie that femininity and mature strength are at odds with one another. I've even heard women say such things, but it's time to lay that myth to rest!

Meryl Streep
I think we have a verdict, don't you?

Strong, mature women can wear whatever colour they damn well please.

They can do it proudly, defiantly, prettily ...

... or playfully.

Or they can wear it just because it's spring.

(I'm sharing this for Women's Day over at Spy Girl and on Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)