Clothing for Women of a Certain Age

For the past two years, I have been appalled at the clothing offered in catalogs and at my local department stores. Everything seems to be dingy in color and decorated with bits of lace.

I cringe.

Back in the day, I wore tailored Jones New York and Liz Claiborne to work, accented with certain pieces from Ralph Lauren and The Talbots. When I moved to a smaller town where I earned less and the style was more casual, I found my best value buys to be department store brands.

I have never owned a designer piece in my life, or anything remotely couture. When I moved into a CEO job that required a few pieces of evening wear, I found those at Nordstrom's in Chicago.

Never any lace. Just not me. I knew at age 13 that my style was tailored, bordering on sporty. In high school, I drooled over Bobbie Brooks, Garland and John Meyer of Norwich in my Seventeen Magazine. I knew this was me: Plain cardigans and crew necks, plaid A-line skirts and jumpers, solid turtlenecks, tiny sprigged-print blouses, plain T-shirts and jeans, striped pullovers in summer. Sneakers, loafers, ballet flats and low pumps.

In my 20s, I was lured away for a time, attempting to achieve the Stevie Nicks look, favoring ruffly wrap skirts and flowered tops with long, flowing sleeves. And fringed shawls. It didn't last. In grad school, I wore sweatshirts and Dockers - much more my style.

The fashions of the mid-80s to mid-90s were too large for a short woman. Finally fashion turned my way again about 10 years ago. It was a short run.

Today, retired but busy with volunteer work, I live in jeans and khakis, with turtlenecks, tartan plaids and corduroy. A twinset and pearls for dressier occasions. I don't buy much, other than lingerie and pajamas, it seems. These items don't change much.

I love packing for travel because it forces me to choose items that can be worn together and that serve double duty. I love choosing, oh maybe 12 items, most in a neutral color. One trip to Europe was gray, black and white. Another was navy and white. An autumn trip to the southwest of France was black with aubergine and rust. Scarves are a must in Europe; they tie together many ensembles.

But that's travel. In general, I have way to many things hanging in my closet. I've given just about all I can part with to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul.

I fantasize about a 10-or-12-item capsule wardrobe. Determining how I could do this is something that puts me to sleep at night.

If I had to cull my wardrobe down to 12 items, this is what would stay:

  • Little black dress
  • Blue jeans
  • Tailored white blouse
  • Blue chambray shirt
  • Black cardigan sweater
  • Black turtleneck
  • Ivory pullover sweater
  • Striped T-shirt
  • Plaid flannel shirt
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Black dress pants
  • Tweed hacking jacket

Since it's cool where I live for all but 2 1/2 months of the year, I could actually get by with this wardrobe. I'd augment it with a camel wool coat and a khaki raincoat plus an olive or brown barn coat. Maybe a gray sweatshirt for really cold days. That brings my total to 16 items, excluding undergarments, pajamas, robe and shoes.

I could do it.

It would sure cut down on clutter.

Here's an idea I love: Cutting down to 37 items. I could do that and it would give me more flexibility than the 16 items above. Among other things, I'd add: A white cardigan, a red pullover, an ivory turtleneck, a navy blue dress, khaki trousers, a blue Oxford cloth blouse, an ivory spring and summer jacket, a cotton floral dress, a deep red jacket, black leggings, a black tunic, a white tunic and tops in blue, yellow, pink and turquoise.


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