|Dear D.A., Thank you for writing this wonderful post.|
I am schooled in what is appropriate, or so I like to think. My mid-century mother taught me manners like how to eat with a knife and fork (convoluted, when raised in Boston), how not to speak with your mouth full, how to greet people and say goodbye, how to write thank you notes (very important), how to sit properly (of course), and assorted tidbits of etiquette that were, no doubt, precisely what she was raised with.
As we all know, the rules changed dramatically for the Baby Boomers. Depending on our age (and influences), we may have retained more of these conventions than others – or walked away from some entirely.
Not long ago, I was included in a discussion on the importance of being pretty – something I most decidedly was not when I was a child or adolescent – and a subject about which I have mixed feelings, not only having come of age in a time of grunge (hello, Hippies?), but as a matter of principle.
And incidentally, I say that I wasn’t pretty with full knowledge that while my perception of myself is subject to some distortion – I was a very geeky kid-turned-teen with big boobs, bushy brows, too much hair and pointy white glasses. Rest assured that “pretty” would not have been among the adjectives applied to me.
But here’s the thing. These words – smart, nice, creative – were definitely used to describe me. And I reveled in that. I realized that as I grew up, I had assets to work with – and they had to do with who I was, not how I looked.
Flash forward more decades than I care to clarify, and I’m astonished that “pretty” remains such a preoccupation. Then again, we all like what is visually pleasant, and even more so, beautiful. But let’s go a few steps beyond that. We like people we can trust, believe in, look up to. We like people who are good to us, and with whom we enjoy interacting.
Of course, when it comes to sitting pretty – knees together, ankles crossed – or many of the other teachings in my childhood, I have my varied adventures in France to thank for a broader perspective. And here I must say that I changed the way I hold a knife and fork at age 15, thanks to the logic of a lovely family in Normandy. (I eat “European” and my mother clucked her tongue at that fact her entire life!)
I will also say that somewhere along the line I developed my own sense of what is appropriate. For example, I resent anyone telling me to dress my age, as I feel more than capable of accommodating occasion, body type and personal style – none of which is tied to the year of my birth that appears on my driver’s license.
In fact, at this stage in life, I believe in basic respect plus “do your own thing.” Do I chalk that up to a hybrid set of experiences, or the maturity to know that we’re all free to do the same?
This past weekend, I was discussing the issue of what to wear (or not) with my man. He nodded in approval on the Eileen Fisher I was admiring, and he shook his head at the crop tops splashed all over Elle and dare I say it… the New York Fashion Week runways.
“I’m not into the crop tops,” I said, “though on the right person I think they’re cute.”
“Isn’t that dressing your age?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “It’s common sense. I didn’t do crop tops at 20 so why would I now? They’re made for a certain mood and body type. They aren’t me, and I know who I am.”
He glanced down at my provocative peep-toes, as I went off on a conversation about shoes and boots – also very much part of who I am. He smiled. I smiled. Enough said…
And isn’t this what style is all about? Isn’t this the pleasure of a few years under our leopard belts? Must we feel constrained by convention, as long as we aren’t inappropriate (however you define it), which allows us to bask in whatever suits our fancy?
I’d like to mention one last observation. A friend of mine was a stunning beauty from the time she was in her teens. Now in her mid-fifties, her body has changed and likewise, her skin. Don’t get me wrong – she’s still lovely. But the drama of transitioning from hotly pursued to pleasantly perceived has been anything but easy.
I find myself grateful for the words I embodied as a kid and a teen – smart, nice, creative. Though I learned to work my assets, I’ve stuck to my essentials. They’re about who I am, what I know, what I contribute, and my attitude.
As far as I’m concerned, that leaves me sitting pretty.