LIVING UNSCRIPTED:Making a Fashion Statement

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I was shopping with a friend in Paris yesterday and looking through the racks, I wondered if I’ve chronologically outgrown my look. Even without looking in a mirror, I suddenly felt outdated in cargo jeans, swing tunic and a stack of bangle bracelets … after all, I’m in Paris, the fashion capital of the world, shopping with my niece Brigitte. A fashionable French woman my age sitting nearby was wearing simple beige with a turquoise scarf.

“Ok, I’m going to tell you something really important,” Brigitte said sternly when I said it out loud over a leisurely dinner in a sidewalk cafe near the Eiffel Tower (after a late afternoon biking tour, her in the perfect skirt, sweater, jacket and black lace tights designed for viewing below the knee — and above … and me in same tunic, bangles and the leggings I used earlier for Pilates, swapped out with the baggie jeans, for safer peddling). “You can’t change your look unless you change who you are.” Mmmmmmm …

I’m the first to say, “Life’s a costume and the world is a stage,” but do we wear who we are? And am I thinking about changing my look because, on some level, I feel changed? Am I still the person I was when I packed my bags back in November?

Maybe. And maybe not.

I’ve spent all these weeks on my own, becoming my own best friend and really listening to my inner voice. I make a plan every day. I get out and walk, I write, I meet up with friends, go to a museum, sit in cafes, take photos, connect from time-to-time with family, friends and colleagues on SKYPE… But I’m feeling my age, I see my limitations — and maybe I should tone it down, sophisticate it up — or maybe the beauty of 60 is not having to do that.

But I’m back in Paris. Unbundled from winter wear, the Parisians are just so fashionable — and I’m exposed, feeling silly in my Village look, bangles clanking as I move about. Not to mention my sneakers with orthodics; quite the fashion statement. Not!

Earlier this week, Janet and I met up for a final day of walking around Paris. I picked an area in transition, where kids were spray painting graffiti along the walls of a pedestrian street near up-and-coming fashion designers setting up shop. We were looking for — and eventually found, Andrea Crews, whose designs take pieces of what was in one fabric/style and sew them together with other pieces laying about, to create something truly unique; i.e., the sleeves of a jean jacket become pants legs, the collar -pockets, sewn over sweatpants … a knit sweater has a fur hood (that was once a fur sleeve). Of course I was attracted to the mix-match of fabrics, color, textures. They were ballroom and biking, the Hamptons and the Kibbutz; whimsical with an acquired sophistication … My definition of me.

The French couple who joined us at the table for our olive lunch last week were great fun in 1972 and they are wonderfully delightful now, 5 sons later, having lived in Saudi, Taiwan, the Ivory Coast –and Paris. His easy, generous nature matched the sound of his voice and animated expressions; her more conservative, aristocratic look matched hers. Bond, James, and I got out from under the covers to have lunch with them on Saturday… Their home is a travel log filled with fascinating mementos and comfortable, overstuffed furniture in rich shades of golds and yellows. But the delicate dishes bespoke a fragile underbelly; a tragedy when a freak accident took their only daughter at a young age. And so there are no frills in her dressing. Years later, there is happiness and gratitude in her short curly hair — and deeply religious in the color and fabric of her wardrobe. Her definition of her.

On a much lighter note, I was on the Kibbutz on Valentine’s Day and asked one of the younger gals how she was going to celebrate it with her BF … She replied “no biggie” and turned up her nose decrying media pressure to buy lacy underwear. Would she become a different person if she donned a x-rated outfit for an evening of frolicking in the olive orchards? Or is she who she is, wearing practical clothing for practical living in the middle of a dessert?

I haven’t worn tailored slacks with a turtle neck for over a decade (and even then I wore a gold waist chain underneath – a deliberate reminder that there was more to me than met the eye). I know I’ve earned my wrinkles and the right to eat a piece of dark chocolate every day, but underneath my layers, my body is changing shape and maybe that’s at the root of my fashion query.

“Look at yourself in the mirror, naked, and say I love you,” my friend Karen advised in a SKYPE call, “you have a great look. It’s you.”

I know it’s a badge of honor to have survived, relatively unscathed, and be on this side of some great life experiences (my many bangles, a visible metaphor for the hippy still in me). Regardless, packing for this trip was a challenge; and after shipping off my winter clothes, what’s left is pretty stripped down and basic.

Maybe that’s where I am: basic. A mature woman, traveling alone . . .with weight restrictions.

But I enjoy tossing thoughts about with my niece. She’s bright, gorgeous and interesting … Young enough to have it all ahead of her … Smart-in-vogue look — and confident she’ll find the perfect match to her stylish sensibilities. That last evening with her in Paris we watched the sun set in a beautiful, clear sky, leisurely eating, people watching as we chatted …. And then my eye caught a handsome figure, walking towards the corner, a short distance away…

“There he is,” I said, noticing the back of his head, his height and body movement “waiting for the light to change.” She glanced over in his direction and we watched him greet an older, shorter friend he clearly hadn’t expected to bump in to. As they talked, standing on the corner, occasionally turning our way, I noticed his neatly pressed collared shirt and one-button blazer under his light trench (and his shorter, less groomed, sloppy/casually dressed older looking gray-haired buddy). “Ooh,” Brigitte cooed, “you just found my husband.”

When the two men parted, he stepped off the curb and headed away from us. Brigitte handed me her card, begging me to chase after him and act as her intermediary … “Monsieur!” I shouted, catching up with him a full block later. He politely turned to me and smiled. Breathless from the jog, we spoke just a few sentences in English and in French, but enough for me to know that he is indeed the man who fit the smart casual style he sports.

He texted her later that evening, suggesting they meet for coffee. Elated and grateful for my hutzpah, she emailed me a translation of his text, including a line that read: Your Aunt was perfect.

NOTE TO SELF: hold on to the hoop earrings.

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.