My birthday is in a couple weeks. I have generally considered it an opportunity for counting up my number of "birthday wishes" on Facebook and comparing it to the tally from previous years, but lately, I have devoted a portion of it to confronting the bane of my fashion existence. If you watch the opening credits of TLC's venerable styling makeover show, "What Not to Wear," returning in July for its final season, you will see a sign that warns "No miniskirts over 35." This sign haunts me.
Now clearly, it is ridiculous. Without miniskirts, 44-year-old Jennifer Aniston would have to go outside in her underwear and 67-year-old Debbie Harry would wear nothing but leather pants. But I am an inveterate rule-follower, and I have never been able to forget that sign, as much as it has been dissected and dismissed online. At 30, I thought: five more years. At 35, I thought: I am disappointing someone, every time my hem fell closer to my upper thigh than my knee. I still wore short skirts, but furtively, and certain that everyone recognized me for what I was: a vain, aging fool.
Over the past 12 months, that battle has become even more pitched. In August, I was told that I have an endocrinological condition that will require a lifetime of medications. A few extra milligrams here and there, and my body's complaints are written all over the scale: After the introduction of one new pill in November, my weight increased by nearly 10 percent in eight weeks. Rounding the corner for my birthday earlier this year, I was older, heavier and wearier than I had ever been before, and in a sort of wardrobe limbo: I had sized myself out of all of my clothing with zippers, buttons or particularly fitted sleeves.
I decided not to buy any new clothing until spring -- to wait out the season in leggings and sweaters in hopes that the weight would, as my doctor had promised, drop off, with the help of yet another new medication. I am grateful now for that time because it gave me the opportunity to sift through fashion's rules -- both those I followed willingly and those I guiltily ignored.
Many years ago, when the American version of "What Not to Wear" was but a twinkle in some producer's eye, I was on the receiving end of a makeover courtesy of the franchise's original British stylists, Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, for a New York Post piece trumpeting the show's U.S. debut. I still remember Trinny patting me on the ass, handing me a pair of brown palazzo pants, and saying, "You're just like me -- all torso, no legs." They were the experts and I was the acolyte, and I spent entirely too much of that summer swaddled in voluminous peach pants, wondering when I would be able to escape my polyester prison.
The more I considered this during my fashion time-out, the more I realized that the problem was not the advice -- as much as I hated them, those pants made me look three inches taller -- but my unwillingness to decide exactly how I wanted fashion to function in my life: Did I want to exploit it simply to make myself more attractive to others? If that was the case, swapping miniskirts for floor-skimming, leg-lengthening palazzos might make more sense than miniskirts, which I love because they represent and promote the life I want to lead: easy, convivial and made for warm weather. But if I could decide, once and for all, that I wanted my clothing's priority to be to delight me, rather than others, I had a lot less to worry about. If nothing else, it certainly provided the flexibility of spirit to exercise some dominion over fashion's rules, and to relinquish those rooted in something as immaterial as age. Instead of "No miniskirts after 35," how about "No miniskirts after you've stopped believing in the world as a place of infinite possibility"?
I am happy when I wear miniskirts. I have to believe that I am most attractive to others when I am happy, regardless of whether I am doing something as correct and soul-killing as "dressing for my age."
The older I get, the more evident the correlation becomes between success, however that is defined, and disregarding the opinions -- the nay-saying -- of others. I feel like we are collectively coming around to this: Surely, 2013 will offer a high-water mark for the phrase "and no fucks were given" as a supreme compliment. I always think of that expression with an asterisk: Many, many fucks were and should be given about treating each other, ourselves and our communities with kindness. But in terms of dressing to conform to others' ideas of propriety? The wisdom of my birthdays have provided me with just one fuck to spare, and it goes like this: Fuck that.
Check out celebrities who share the author's love for miniskirts: