Many years ago, as a young dance student at UCLA, I sat mesmerized as one of my instructors demonstrated principle by recreating a movement she had seen performed. It was from one of the notable postmodern dancer/choreographers of the time. (I don't remember who the dancer was but I'm pretty sure it must have been the incomparable Pina Bausch.)
She began the movement with her back to the audience, and then very slowly and deliberately turned to face them full on, at which point she threw her arms upward and outward and lifted her face toward the sky as if to say, "Here I am world!" And then she turned around, reversing the movement until her back was again to the audience. And then she repeated the sequence again. And again. And again. And again...
The first time she did the movement it was powerful and meaningful. By the fifth time it became a little boring. By the 15th time, cliché. But around the 20th time it became art.
As with anything in life, when we do something fully and intentionally it reinforces who we are and what we believe. It sends a powerful message. And this includes the simple act of how we clothe ourselves every day. Particularly as we age, continuing the thread of our personality through our attire ensures that we stay visible in a world that is constantly chasing after the next new fashion thing, no matter how crazy it is.
Consider photographer Annie Liebovitz. Ms Liebovitz wears the same thing almost every day: a black button down shirt, a bespoke men's black jacket and black pants. Her "brand" is unmistakable and infinitely practical. It would be very hard to imagine her spending a moment of indecision in front of her closet thinking "I have nothing to wear."
Then there's my spectacular friend Dolores, who turned 89 in February. In her younger years (and by that I mean in her 50s and 60s) she wore her beautifully graying hair in a low bun. She also favored small Laura Ashley-type prints in dresses that she wore with her own hand knitted cardigans. It was all a charming counterpoint to her raucous sense of humor. I don't think I've ever seen her in pants. The only thing that she has changed is that she wears her hair, now a glorious silver, in a very chic chin-length bob, and the smaller scale prints on her tops and skirts, are a little more ethnic.
Every summer Dolores takes herself off to Tuscany to spend a few weeks with her daughter and son-in-law at his ancestral family home. Her suitcase is a child-size Tommy the Train roller. It holds everything she needs: "Most of the time I'm lying around in my bathing suit and a tank top. I just need enough room for my knitting," she explains. And she always finds some helpful young man to hoist that roller in the overhead compartment.
Dolores doesn't have to shout -- visually -- to get noticed. She's quick-witted, highly read, and a fabulous storyteller. Everything about her, from her attire to that Tommy the Train roller, says "this is who I am." And that's why people love her: what they see is what they get.
Knowing who we are and repeating it intentionally is a formula for authenticity. It keeps us sane. It means we don't have to keep re-inventing ourselves to fit somebody's idea of how we should be or what we should look like this year or next year. As Dolly Parton succinctly put it, "Know who you are and do it on purpose."