Now I’m in my 50s, I look around and see little on offer when it comes to inspiring archetypes in dress and appearance. Where I live, there’s pretty much just two styles: Toorak Woman – caramel tones, black Range Rover, highlights, shops at Thomas Dux – and The Artistic One – red flats with leather daisy, stripey top, grey bob (she also has a cousin who only ever wears variations on a theme, the theme being, as a friend put it, “menopause mauve”).
In fact, the deficit has been there for decades, only it’s covered up till a woman gets into her mid-40s by the whole paraphenalia that goes with playing the role of the “desire-awakening maiden”*. Once a woman outgrows the role she’s been obliged to play since she was 12, she looks around and sees … what?
I’ve been lucky. I grew up to be tall and willowy, with the square shoulders and long legs of a model and people would say, “hey, you should be a model …” I could wear a sack and make it look good. I was confident and inventive in what I wore. I made clothes by knitting or crochet – I crocheted myself a sky-blue bikini when I was 12 – and was mad about customising them, cutting off sleeves or sewing on braid or ribbon. I’d pick up bits and pieces and turn them into things to wear. A man’s tie I found somewhere I wore for years as a belt, and in Balmain market I found the beautiful buckle below which I also made into a belt. It touches me today to see what a good job I made of it and how tiny my waist was.
Fast forward several decades, and now what? I realise writing this that I’ve been asleep in the “delight in dressing up” department for years and I’ve mostly become a conventional dresser. So where to next? The game’s not over. I can walk into a room and turn heads. I know it’s in response to a certain presence, rather than fresh skin and child-bearing potential, and it suits me fine. In fact, it suits me better than it often suited me in the past, for then I felt owned by men looking and some of the crude and frightening stuff that went along with it.
What does it look like if I want to take up another version of that earlier delight in dressing? Have you done this yourself? What did you develop? Ideas welcome.
* The quote is from Polly Young-Eisendrath, Women and Desire
Image: Michelle Jank (right), Australian-born designer and stylist, a former style inspiration for me, with model