I got a bunch of gift cards for the holidays, so this past weekend I went to a local department store at the mall and looked around for something to buy. I’m not a big shopper, especially since my big Zen wardrobe cleanout ages ago. But I thought I’d canvass the landscape and see if there was anything that caught my eye. I’m generally a proponent of buying quality clothing, and I’ve learned to hold out for something that I really love instead of buying something just for the sake of buying. But with these gift cards, I thought I’d splurge on something different, something kind of fun and frivolous.
The problem? I couldn’t find anything! I tried on all kinds of things from velvet moto jackets to sparkly tap shorts to beautifully cut sheaths. But there was only one thing I really loved, and that was a slouchy cream-colored sweater…with a cartoon owl on the front. I already have a sweater with a fox on it, but this one was three stops deep into adorableville. It was nicely cut, kind of relaxed yet flattering, mouthwateringly soft and the graphic made me smile. I put it on and found that it hit that intersection of cute and fun that I call “fetching.” But I had a strange thought when I tried it on: Is this too young for me?
Suddenly I realized that I’ve been having this thought more and more lately, as well as its more depressive counterpart: Am I too old for this? Just to be clear, this isn’t a story about “dressing your age.” I’m too much of a feminist to believe in a lot of that bullshit: I think if you’ve got the legs for it (or even not) wear a miniskirt if that makes you happy. If you like your hair long, keep it that way. Celebrate your strength and dignity at any age! Forget mutton dressed as lamb — dress like your spirit animal!
No, what I’m talking about falls into the category of cuteness, of “quirky dressing.” Or even just semi-quirky dressing. (Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m fairly subdued and straightforward in terms of how I wear clothes, and my version of quirky is pretty chill.) But I do dig a quirky print, have a lifelong fondness for Hello Kitty, can’t resist slightly ironic florals, and am severely tempted by those adorable Charlotte Olympia cat flats. I’m not quirky head to toe, but I like a splash of whimsy here and there, and being short, people always call me cute by default, anyway. (Oh, the woe of being 5’2″!) I guess you could say that what I’m talking about also falls into the category of “taking yourself seriously.” Meaning: would wearing a sweater with a super cute owl on it make me feel like a chump?
Ironically, I face this conundrum partly because I have a lot of sartorial freedom in my life. I’m lucky in that I work from home, so I can wear anything I want — theoretically at least. I’m also lucky to have a body that hasn’t changed drastically as I’ve entered the dark side of the thirties. What I wore in college and as a young woman is not that far from what I wear now: jeans, boots, shorter skirts, tights, lots of boys’ sweaters and oxfords. I skew Goth-y and punky, but it’s essentially the wardrobe of a wannabe Parisian gamine mixed with a slight bit of humor. It actually works most of the time, so I don’t know what I’m complaining about here. I guess it’s really the little whisper of doubt nipping at me — the weirdness of bing a lady and heading towards 40 and feeling like I should feel like more of an adult than I actually do.
That’s the rub of it, in fact. This past year I’ve felt more “settled” into my life than ever. Maybe “settled” isn’t the right word, actually. It’s more about feeling rooted and confident in what my life is about, who and what I love and value and cherish, feeling bolder about what truth and beauty I want to put into the world. It’s about going through this crazy journey and acquiring wisdom and experience, feeling battle-tested and strong and warriorlike, unwilling to put up with bullshit and wasting my time with what doesn’t matter. My heart is expansive and strong, and my game is tight! In my book, this is what feeling like an adult is about: not the acquisition of statuses and possessions, but the hard work, self-knowledge and (always evolving) wisdom that ideally should go into the trappings of adulthood in the first place.
I suppose, being a sartorially motivated person, that I’d like what I wear to reflect this lovely new feeling of being bien dans sa peau and rooted and grown-up. Yet so many “grown up clothes” lack imagination — and I don’t even know what that means, really! I don’t want to dress like Anna Wintour. I don’t even think it means wearing designer or expensive clothes, as beautiful as some of them can be. And honestly, deep down I don’t want to dress differently: I like the clothes I wear a lot. Everything in my closet is beloved to me. But I suppose I am looking that special element, something that marks this new expansive feeling in my life.
I guess that’s probably why I had another strange thought recently. I was slipping on a pair of earrings as part of what I call “Operation Sparklepony” (I know, not very grown-up of me) when I thought to myself, You know, I really should just buy myself a pair of diamond studs. Now, I’ve never been a girl who was big into jewelry or precious gems or anything like that. So this diamonds thing…where did that come from? I asked myself. I think it’s because diamonds have lasting value, they’re the opposite of disposable — they’re legacy, things you treasure and endow with spirit and significance and pass on. They last. To think of an accessory that way — that’s a grown-up thought. Who knows: I’m the least likely diamond buyer on earth, but maybe it’s just the right thing for me now. And that’s something I’ve taken time to grow into. (Plus: Operation Sparklepony!)
So I didn’t get that lovely owl sweater I tried on. In the end, I decided I’d be content with my fox one for now and would save the gift card for later. And maybe I’ll buy something diamond-y, but I probably won’t. There are other ways to create that sense of legacy and heritage in your wardrobe that don’t involve precious gems. Maybe I’ll just buy another bottle of perfume! In the end it doesn’t matter, because I know now what I want to commemorate, and it’s worth thinking over, waiting for, and working towards. Such grown-up thoughts indeed.