Tomorrow I turn the big 3-0, and this birthday has me thinking about how society deems certain fashion cut-off points. The big 3-0 is the biggest fashion cut-off point of all.
In your 20s, you’re finishing up college. You move out of your parents’ house and into an apartment of your own, date guys you know you shouldn’t, because of the possibility that one of them might be Mr. Right in disguise, and work a job to pay the rent, while trying to figure out what you really want to do for a living. Society deems this behavior acceptable. You’re finding your way.
You can get away with almost anything. You’re young. You can wear ripped jeans, ruffles, plunging necklines, micro-minis, neon tights and shapeless styles like shift dresses.
You’re allowed to experiment at Fantastic Sam’s, telling the hairdresser to cut it all off, give you bangs, or dye your ‘do “Run Lola Run” red. You’re allowed to get angry with the world and take it out on your hair.
But in your 30s, you’re supposed to have arrived. You’re supposed to be settled, and that includes being settled on a hairstyle. You’ve chosen a career, you’re in a solid relationship and you’ve purchased towels that all match.
You are no longer allowed to wear “cute” jewelry, body glitter, or, I’m told, flip-flops when not at the beach. What then do you do if you live three blocks from the beach? Does this rule still apply?
By 30, you’re supposed to know your shape, and, to reflect that knowledge, your dresses should be more structured, and your pants should create a streamlined silhouette. You want to look professional, which translates to hemlines to the knee and a covered up décolleté. If a neckline is too low, a camisole should be worn. In your 20s, you had the time and desire to work out, and the toned arms to prove it, but now you bring work home (that didn’t happen when you were a barista); you start to shy away from sleeveless.
In your 40s, you’re a mom, a capable woman balancing work and home. You want to feel sexy, but you still want to look like a mom, and that, my friends, is a paradox; you may show leg or neck, but not both. You start trying to hide figure flaws, steering clear of clingy fabrics. While your 30s were about being chic, your 40s are about being — I hate this word because it’s its own opposite — classy.
The last age group is 50-plus. In your 50s, your children move out and you suddenly have time to do the things you always wanted to do. You throw dinner parties and attend charity events, and you do all this in statement jewelry.
Please understand, I’m not saying that I agree with any of this. I don’t. I did things quite differently, getting married at 21, and starting a career at 24. What I am saying is that society does a really good job of perpetuating these archetypal women, pitting me against the mythical 30-something.
I don’t like her. She’s no fun at all.
When I was 15, I was in Heathrow, making a connecting flight on my way back to the U.S. from a summer in Europe, I noticed this head covered with a rainbow of braids. I knew those braids. That audacious hairstyle belonged to designer Betsy Johnson. I was awestruck. I walked up to her to say hello while she was having a breakfast of caviar.
That’s when I realized that if you’ve got to settle on a look, make it bold and unapologetic regardless of age.
Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at Mariel_Rodriguez@antiochla.edu.