Any woman over the age of 30 will tell you that things start to change after hitting the big 3-0. I mean, there are lots of fabulous shifts that occur in the 30s. A more developed sense of self. The ability to say “no,” without guilt, to unappealing invitations and requests. The ability to shove off things that probably would have caused panic and chaos had they happened in your 20s. Self-confidence. Swagger. Financial security (maybe). A reduced likelihood of falling on your face in stilettos (maybe, but only because you’ve had a decade to practice). Overall, there are many ways that the 30s can be pretty effing sweet for women.
There are some not-so-stellar shifts that start to occur, too. Easier weight gain. Unwanted stray body hairs that require the skilled use of needle-nose tweezers. The unanticipated effects of gravity. Hormonal and emotional roller coasters from the sputtering out of ovaries. The first appearance of gray hairs (I remember standing at my bathroom sink, in horror, as I examined the lone gray eyebrow hair on the end of my tweezers… much like a biologist may gaze upon newly-discovered, flesh-eating bacteria slated to wipe out mankind). But perhaps one of the most troubling changes that a woman encounters in her 30s is wardrobe-related.
I came face-to-face with this grim realization a few days ago when I decided to take a trip to Pearl Vision to get an eye exam and order some new specs. The store was located in the mall, that strange conglomeration of retail that I typically avoid at all costs. However, I had an hour to kill before my eye exam so I found myself meandering through the stores to do a little clothes shopping. Gag.
It didn’t take long for me to remember why I so rarely attempt clothes shopping these days: I don’t know how to dress myself anymore. I’m too grown-up for Charlotte Russe but I’m not serious enough for Loft or New York & Co. My days of shimmying into tacky concoctions of lycra, glitter, and sequins are, thankfully, over. But I’m not ready to resign myself to boxy clothes that attempt to hide my curves or, frankly, require ironing. I still want to look sexy, but my idea of sexy has changed a lot in the last 15 years.
There is part of me that misses the simplicity of clothes shopping when I was in college. I fondly remember trips to the mall with my gal pal and club bud, Tiffany. We’d gleefully shop for outfits to wear to the bass-thumping, sweaty-bodied frenzies that made up the Ybor City club scene in the early 2000s (what? really? God, I’m old). The more sequins, the better. The tighter and trashier, the better. We affectionately (and accurately) described the outfits we sought out as “hoochie mama clothes.” Cheap and trashy was A-ok. We could go into Forever 21 or Rave and get an entire outfit and jewelry (big, hoop earrings made of nickel that would turn your earlobes green) for less than $30. Even better, there was a store not far from campus that stocked only the cheapest and most fabulous ghetto shoes our little hearts could desire. All the shoes in the store were $9.99. They were sort of like the plastic cutlery of footwear – cheap, gaudy, and not meant to be used more than once.
I spent most of my 20s happily shopping in stores like Forever 21. But once I turned 30, it just felt…wrong. I remember walking through a Forever 21 when I was obviously no longer 21, feeling like a poser, hoping nobody would catch me, wondering if the sorority sisters searching through the nearby racks saw me and wondered which one of the teenagers in the store was my daughter. I found myself less and less enthralled with the cheap clothes I once went ga-ga over, so I traipsed over to the Loft to look at some options that would better align with whatever image I was supposed to portray in my 30s.
And it was a snooze. Button down shirts with collars. Cardigans with fluffy, flowery broaches. Slacks (the horror!). Shit that required ironing or even worse, dry cleaning. What was this strange place and WHO WORE THESE CLOTHES!? I left Loft, totally confused. I then wandered into Dillards and roamed the “misses” aisles, disappointed. More slacks. Dresses paired with cardigans. Floral prints…lots of floral prints. Was this it? Was I now resigned to dressing like a 75-year-old on her way to an early bird special before bingo night?
This challenge becomes quite evident if you go out to bars or lounges on a weekend night, when women in their 30s are there. My friend Nina and I went to the Canopy in downtown St. Pete last night and the tragedy of mis-dressed women in their 30s was present. The rooftop bar was speckled by a rainbow of lycra, donned by plenty of women well beyond their 20s. But who can blame them? Options are limited. I wore a sleeveless black pinstripe jumpsuit and Nina (who is 33) donned a pretty sleeveless black dress. I think we looked nice, age-appropriate, not geriatric… but we both found our outfits in juniors departments. We both admitted, in hushed whispers, to still shopping in juniors sections. Just more selectively now. And in department stores versus, well, Rave.
This may be part of the reason why I pretty much live in gym clothes and sweats these days. That, and the reality that I don’t really ever have to leave my home looking like a grown-up (which, on another note, is why I really need to start my speaking/coaching career… so I’m forced to shower and put on real clothes once in a while…but I digress).