What to Wear

We don't give up summer with a fight here in Texas.

It isn’t stolen from us prematurely, forcing abrupt changes in countenance or wardrobe. It lingers longer than in most places, the heat and humidity trailing, sticky and sultry, into early fall.

In my youth, fall meant football games, sitting on chilly metal stadium benches, bundled up in layers and drinking hot chocolate from the concession booth. Now I watch my son play, as I sit sweating and sticking to the scorching bleachers, hair frizzing, fanning myself and dreaming of a shower, a cold beer, or an evening dip in the pool.

Fall in Texas comes slowly, easing in, earned bit by bit. The first breath of it arrives on a breeze, a blessed shift in the stifling heat, a whispered promise of cool to come.

While most of the country moves on, strutting into fall with cool boots and warm jackets, we are in fashion limbo.

The magazines show bold black and white, an inspired splash of red, seventies-inspired bell-bottoms and pencil-thin pants tucked into go-go boots, large round sunglasses, shearling swing coats, and geometric patterns.

The mirror shows I’m wearing my cutoffs (again). Really—I’m 43. It’s time to stop dressing like I’m a nanny, even if summer makes me feel young. My feet, toes painted pink and happily clad in flip-flops, are losing their beach tan. My flowing floral Free people tank tops aren't looking as fresh as they did in early summer, and truth be told, neither am I. It’s time to shift gears.

It’s high time for fall clothes. I eye my sexy over-the-knee boots and long for them, but somehow at 90 degrees they seem misplaced and miserable. My cashmere sweaters and scarves look suffocating. My skinny jeans are too confining. My jackets taunt me: You know you want to wear me.

I am not only in fashion limbo with the weather—I am in fashion limbo when it comes to age. I’m pretty sure there is a point at which women change from shorts into capris, from tank tops into sweater sets with three-quarter-length sleeves. At some point I will trade my bikini for a demure one-piece and a cover-up, or skip the pool altogether. My strappy heels will one day be replaced by serviceable walking sandals. But how do you know when it’s time? I don’t want to get lost in nowomansland between trying too hard and giving up too soon.

If you look in magazines you can see sections like “What to wear when you are 20, 30, 40, and beyond.” I guess I am now in the beyond. It isn’t particularly helpful when the people in the articles are all models and the clothing is all designer clothing. What about real people wearing real clothes doing real-life stuff ? What is appropriate then? I know I’m no longer “it girl,” but I’m not yet “over it girl.” Whatever it is.

Maybe the rules aren’t as rigid as they used to be, back when wearing white or patent leather was acceptable only between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Perhaps it’s time to rewrite the rulebook, from the wise and weathered perspective of "beyond":

Wear what looks decent and makes you feel good until it no longer looks decent or makes you feel good, then stop wearing that. It’s hard to smile, dance, or strut your stuff when your feet hurt. Jean shorts with a hint of bum showing are too short. Lulu does a booty proud. Less is more when it comes to makeup and accessories. When it comes to shoes, handbags, luggage, or lovers—quality lasts longer. Have a pair of jeans, a pair of boots, and a pair of earrings that go with everything. When in doubt, choose the white blouse or the black dress. If you aren’t comfortable in your skin, nothing fits.

And if you still aren’t sure, solicit the opinion of a trusted and tasteful BFF, mother, sister, or daughter. Someone with the fashion sense, common sense, and cojones to say it like it is. Love her for it. And while you’re at it, love yourself too.


Illustration by Joy Gallagher

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