Monday, January 21, 2013

Being the Crazy Lady

I stumbled across Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen sort of by accident at my local library—it was an attractive coffee table book, and I wanted something to leaf through. Once I opened the book, though, I was hooked. It’s based on Cohen’s Advanced Style Web site, which he devotes to pictures of stylish women and men of a certain age, that age frequently being somewhere in their eighties. Some of these individuals dress a lot like they probably dressed when they were younger—Chanel suits, stylish hats, fashionable shoes that don’t look like they’d kill you if you wore them for an hour. But some of them are obviously individuals—lots of colors and textures, wild combinations of jewelry, and in at least one case false eyelashes so long you wonder how she can see.

They were wonderful, and I was enchanted.

Part of my enchantment came from having just started Amanda MacKenzie Stuart’s biography of Diana Vreeland. In case you’re not familiar with her, Vreeland was a legendary editor of Vogue in the sixties and seventies. Unlike the present editor, Anna Wintour, Vreeland was never considered a beauty. Her own mother told he she was ugly and others agreed, although many pointed out that her ugliness seemed to disappear once she began to speak. By all accounts, Vreeland gave up early on trying to achieve the conventional idea of beauty. Instead, she went for interesting, which the popular press sometimes equates with crazy. In her sixties and seventies, she wore her black hair in a blunt bob that set off her very white skin (which she sometimes made whiter with powder). Instead of blush, she wore two slashes of rouge across her cheeks, extending to and covering her ears. She wore brilliantly colored clothes that sometimes looked like costumes. And she put Vaseline on her eyelids. Bizarre it might have been, but she carried it off. And nobody could deny that she was one memorable woman.

I think the women in Cohen’s book are similar in a lot of ways. They’ve reached the age where conventional beauty is pretty much beyond them. In a way, we expect them to be invisible—like those elderly women in the grocery store who seem to disappear in the cereal aisle. But these women have chosen a different route, defying expectations and doing their own thing.

And maybe there’s a lesson there. Being beautiful is pretty much a crap shoot, after all, a matter of genetics, iron discipline, and maybe a more-than-passing acquaintance with Photoshop. Those of us who don’t make the cut can either try to come as close as possible or do what Cohen’s ladies have done—say screw it, and go for crazy instead. Wear that wild-looking scarlet kimono jacket. Buy that turquoise scarf with the bangles. Get those crystal earrings that dangle to your shoulders.

What’s the worst that can happen, after all? People may look at you funny, but at least they’re looking. You won’t disappear.

I’m sort of taking the whole crazy lady thing to heart, although crazy in romance land sometimes translates to routine. So check me out at the RT Booklovers Convention. I’ll be the one in the bright yellow ruana with the round Harry Potter glasses. Who knows, I may even Vaseline my eyelids. Couldn’t hurt, right?

So what about you? What’s your wildest fashion indulgence? And do you go for beautiful or crazy?


Kelly Jamieson said...

Cool! Can't wait to see your bright yellow ruana! As for me, I'd kind of rather be one of the ones who disappears... :-)

Sydney Somers said...

Now I'm pouting that I'm going to miss out on that too :( You better plan on posting some pics, Meg! I'm pretty low maintenance in the fashion department and prefer my jeans and t-shirts over anything else. I'd have way too many pairs of boots (the more kickass the better) if I didn't have a budget to stick too. :)