We Harpies often discuss to the Old Harpy Home we’re planning for our golden years. It will be a villa, somewhere warm. PilgrimSoul will probably insist that it be on the ocean. There will be lotsa dogs and cats and books, plus many guest rooms so y’all can come visit. But there will not be “fashion” or makeup or–needless to say–plastic surgery allowed. Of course, by then,it will not matter how we look. Society will already see us as useless, unbeautiful, asexual creatures, just by virtue of our age.
Which, counterintuitively, might be a Good Thing. At least, that’s what Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alison Lurie* discovered. Lurie recently penned a dynamite essay in The Guardian about how she was unceremoniously dumped by Big Fashion and the beauty culture:
Soon after I reached 60 I was abandoned by Vogue magazine and all its clones. Like former lovers who drop you slowly and politely because they once cared for you, they gradually stopped speaking to me. Without intending it I had permanently alienated them, simply by becoming old. From their point of view, I was now a hopeless case. They were not going to show me any more pictures of clothes I might look good in, or give me useful advice about makeup or hair.
At first my feelings were hurt. Hadn’t I loved fashion and been faithful to her all these years? Just as one avoids the songs that recall a lost lover, I stopped reading her magazines, even in a doctor’s office. As a result, I felt first panic and then a rush of euphoria. I was abandoned and alone, yes, but I was also free: after more than 60 years, nobody was telling me what to wear.
So Lurie cleans out her closet, getting rid of “everything too obviously ‘sexy’- that is, shiny and low-cut and tight and uncomfortable.” Oh Gawd, the relief she must have felt. She also gave up her monthly hair dye, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that her natural hair color was now silver:
This led to a wonderful discovery. White and grey hair go with every colour, including white and grey.
But it gets better. As it turns out, Alison Lurie is my soul sister, because she immediately ditches that tool of fashion sadism I most despise:
I got rid of all my high-heeled shoes. I hadn’t worn them very often since I slipped on an outdoor stairway covered with wet leaves and broke my leg. I had already understood that if I had been wearing flat shoes that day I would have avoided a miserable week in the hospital and three months on crutches…although fashion magazines don’t admit it, high heels always slow you down and hurt your feet. Fashion pretends to be a feminist, but still makes it almost impossible for anyone under her spell to negotiate a subway grating or a rough gravel path, or run for a bus without turning her ankle.
Ah yes. Fashion pretends to be a feminist. The operative word there being pretends. And once fashion stops pretending to care about you, you can stop pretending to give a shit about fashion, as Lurie and her friends discovered:
My friends made similar changes, all individual and all in defiance of fashion. All of us realised with joy that we could now wear the clothes we liked best.
While I’m always loudly proclaiming that women can be beautiful and sexy at any age–my family has many over-60 examples of this phenomenon–Lurie’s essay made me reflect on what it must be like to be freed entirely from that unspoken obligation to be sexy. When you’re over 60 and our youth-obsessed fashion culture posts a big DO NOT WANT sign on you, it must sting. Because, really, who wants to be told that? It’s a bitter pill to swallow for some women, and Lurie does note that not all her friends have accepted their split with Big Fashion:
Alas, some…are still worshipping at the altar of Fashion, who has for ever turned her back on them.
What I liked most about Lurie’s revelation was that she wasn’t railing against our youth-obsessed culture, or against Big Fashion. She is, very simply and matter-of-factly, done with them. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, over it. She’s on to the next thing. Personally, I’m not. Not yet. But I will be someday. And I’m really looking forward to it.
*If you haven’t read Alison Lurie’s novels, start with Foreign Affairs or The War Between the Tates. You will not be disappointed.