Kelly Gray circa 1999
During random dissassociative moments I find myself googling for vintage St. John ads. I do it in part because pop culture has destroyed my mental image of the midlife female with “Cougar Town” and reality TV, and I may be trying to scrub Hollywood’s Disgraceful Older-Woman imagery out of my brain with more appealing images. The old St. John ads were purposeful design parodies, and they were fabulous, and the sophisticated look was in vogue in the late 90’s when I got divorced and started buying my own clothes.
The other reason is, I just bought my first St. John dress:
Isn’t it ordinary looking? It’s really not: The department just store picks the wrong models for their established designer lines. On a middle aged woman with some shape St. John knits are perfect: Professional, forgiving, just right, worth the price, but only on clearance. I was lucky enough to be in a store that had my size: One of their stylists picked it out for me and I fell in love with the quality and the fit. There is a reason the St. John Tribe is so devoted: It’s one of the few design houses that cater the midlife body. Customers scream bloody murder when new designers try to “update” the style or fit.
My first St. John was a $1000+ splurge, but I’d just gone through a period of extreme wardrobe aggravation. My super-abundant closet space had been overstuffed with clothes I loved but couldn’t wear, not because I’d gotten “fat” but because my body had changed shape without my permission. My ribcage expanded, which made button-up shirts out of the question. All of a sudden I had hips . . . which was good in a way, since I’d never really had them before, but DAMN, I couldn’t button my tailored pants anymore.
Much in the way one’s eyesight fails in one’s forties, there is nothing that can be done about middle aged spread except buy new clothes. This is why women in their forties wear yoga pants all the time: We don’t want to admit we’ve reached the elastic-waistband-pants stage of our older female relatives, who we swore we’d never look like. Unfortunately Time doesn’t care what we think.
I finally boxed my old size (4) and put them in the attic for some future when I magically reverted to my old weight, as if that would ever happen. I decided to give them to my niece. A year later, I boxed my size 6 clothes, and will probably give them to my younger sister. Today, some of my 8’s don’t even fit, unless they’re knits, which means my wardrobe is now 95% knits. I’ve come to terms with it, and found a way to make it all look professional. The smartest tactic was to go high-end retail on important items, and fill in the rest with stealth. I went crazy during Coldwater Creek’s going out of business sale, and returned to my old online standby, Boston Proper’s slowly-morphing travel collection. Some recent acquisitions:
One would think I’d find solace in my shoes, because at least feet don’t get fat, right? WRONG. Feet expand and contract when hormones go whackadoodle. For a year or so my feet shrank a whole size. Then they grew back. Now even they are tight. Consequently my closet is full of shoes I can’t wear on any given day so . . . My advice? Unless they are adjustable, shoes are NOT an “investment.” DO NOT DO THIS:
So am I finally reconciled with my new body and my new closet? More or less, since Spooky doesn’t give a flip either way. I can get through a work week without headaches now, and my old clothes no longer taunt me from their hangers. Out of sight, out of mind! The shoes though . . . both my feet and my pocketbook say “Ouch.”