I need to define my terms here. Or Ellen Barkin’s terms about what not to wear over 50.* I know exactly what she’s getting at, and it’s not laying down the law for etiquette purposes.

To be fwee to expwess myself, by dressing inappropriately and having no hair cut, only attracts favorable or neutral response, if my face and body meet the very rigid sexual and age standards of cruising and outsourcing society. Diverging from those standards in any way, including color, gender identity and so on, is punished every day in a million wordless sidewalk encounters up to stone job discrimination.

It’s about signifying that you are employable and not easily knocked over. That you’re in the running because you’re paying attention — why hair cuts are better than hair do’s, and both are form-conferring as opposed to fatal droopy long grey hair. A woman I know stopped dying her hair at 65, and she said people instantly began to treat her like an idiot. Compare and contrast pix of Mary Sue Coleman before and after her presidency of UMich. It’s not about sex, it’s about power.

Mary Sue Coleman before her university presidency.

Mary Sue Coleman after her UMich presidency.

Losing your teeth, as my friend F pointed out long ago, is more than a cosmetic problem.** It is passage out of the middle class. And that means invisibility except to predators, especially for women.

And Ellen would know, because she came up out of Brooklyn. She did lose her front teeth in a stickball accident when she was 10. Brooklyn, where the sharpest old babes in the world get their hair done every week, even if they have to wear their bunny slippers to the beauty shop.

We’re going for ambulatory here. Not respectable. Respectable kills.


*Ellen Barkin’s 10 Rules for Life After 50

from O magazine, 7/07/ p 207

Don’t wear your hair longer than your collar bone.
No red lipstick, unless you have olive or dark skin. It’s aging.
No blue jeans to dinner out. (But black jeans are okay.)
Don’t expose your knees. And cover up. Don’t try to compete with 20-year-olds. A woman between 40 and forever looks great because she has style, not because she shows off her body.
Don’t ever wear anything strapless.
But at the beach, if you have a toned body, rock that bikini for as long as you like.
No miniskirts. A short skirt is okay with black tights.
Don’t ever revisit a trend you’ve lived through once before.
Don’t wear hats, except to keep the sun off your face. A hat makes you look as if you’re trying to get noticed.
Wear fewer accessories, and keep your look clean.

I agree.

I think these are good rules for everybody over 23, actually. Except the red lipstick and the blue jeans and the strapless.

They have strapless wedding dresses now. Holy shit.

**My dentist’s office is full of baby boomer guys who haven’t brushed their teeth since they left their mother’s home. His woman complains of his horrendous bad breath and won’t give him any. He goes to the dentist, and she REMOVES ALL 32 OF HIS ROTTEN ABCESSED UNFLOSSED TEETH. Sexy.

Originally published 2007.

Copyright (c) Jeannette Smyth, 2012-2017, all rights reserved.