In the year of Our Lady of “Feel Like A Woman” Wrap Dresses, 1974, Diane von Furstenberg was only 27 when she made the first wrap dress, but it’s like she knew what I would need at 45.
Her long-standing, aspirational style advice is to “…stay true to yourself.” Great! Piece of cake! For those gifted in style maybe “stay true to yourself” is easy and powerful, but for me in middle age it’s been a koan, a puzzle of cardigans.
What is true to myself? Is it a button-down? Capris? Birkies? What is, like, my relationship with clothes? Fashion psychology is now a thing.
I wanted to find out. I started keeping a clothes journal. In middle-age in a spiral notebook I was revealing the style of “my true self” by recording what I felt good wearing, and doing a little sketch of it, too (as a kid I used to love drawing clothes and making my paper dolls 18th-century royal ambassador-like sashes). Here’s what I have discovered. One would think that by one’s middle 40s one would 1) know what one likes to wear and 2) wear it. But this is not the case for me.
How can I possibly be this old and not know how to clothe this body-ody-ody? By middle age my grandmother had a distinct style, “a style uniform” as fashionable minimalists call it now. Hers was pumps, A-line skirt, patterned button down. My grandfather had suit, spectacles, wallet and watch. They went to the grave so ensembled.
By 50, my own mother mind-melded with Eileen Fisher knits in the lovely colors of ripening stone fruit. Yet here I was, fussing, a grown woman going, Wha? and Whycome? in the Urban Outfitters, musing on Do I dare to wear a jumpsuit recommended by The Cut? ( I daren’t.) What you wear makes a difference in how you feel. The research is in and I felt bad in a jumpsuit, okay?
Fran Lebowitz, she of a profoundly beautiful style uniform of well-tailored menswear, has said that, “People’s innermost thoughts are never as revealing as their jackets.”
In the second half of life I simply wanted my (choice of) jacket to reveal that I am warm, creative, approachable, forgiving, and trending positive—like, I listen to a lot of Oprah’s SuperSoul conversations and Tara Brach podcasts.
I wanted to feel good in my clothes. So I said to hell with separates.
In fall, the most middle-aged season, while in middle age, I am Team Say Yes to the Deep V-Neck Knee-Length Wrap Dress, Tied Casually at the Waist with a Belt of the Same Fabric. Feel like a woman seems archaic. However, in a wrap dress I do feel the creative energy of the universe. Better than I did in pants, anyway.
I’m in pants detox.
Being all one piece of fabric, the knee length wrap dress foregoes all the decisions and higher math of separates, there is no fear of VPL (visible panty line to the uninitiated), which allows me to think less about what I am going to wear and more about who I am.
It’s forgiving-flattering. In the knee-length wrap dress, I’m obviously not going to solve all the problems of the world, but I finally look like I know what to wear, and that’s one problem solved. And now that I have fewer decisions to make about my look, I can apply myself less distractedly to the larger fashion plate of the world, to the things that really matter.
Like… what shoes to wear with this perfect dress.