I’m 40 years old — shouldn’t I have the fashion thing figured out by now?
Her hair was teased and frosted (it was 1981, after all, and Lady Diana had just gotten engaged); her silk floral tank and matching skirt were elegant but understated; a sweep of blue eyeshadow rimmed her eyelids; and a double strand of pearls floated right at her neck. She and my dad seemed so sophisticated — she holding her hands gracefully in her lap; he gazing intensely at the camera, temples graying ever so slightly, his own camera in hand. Seeing her in this photo, as I teetered on the verge of 40 myself, all I could think was that she looked leagues more mature than I’ve ever felt.
My mom was a divorce attorney in the era of L.A. Law, which meant a daily uniform of silk blouses, suits, and heels. She wore it all well, with an air of “I’m a power woman in a man’s world, so don’t mess with me” that made a big impression on me as a child. Her elegantly defined style seemed to reflect the fact that at 40, she was fully grown up, a person who was sure of her place in the world. That’s what I always thought 40 would look like for me too — complete with the perfect outfit for every occasion.
In contrast, I’m a working (but completely un-corporate) mom juggling three jobs. I’m sliding into midlife with a toddler who just finished potty training. I don’t know if Isaac Mizrahi would ever design a line called “Just Doing the Best You Can,” but that’s how I’d describe my current style. Instead of a suit and pumps, I’m more likely to wear a peasant blouse and jeans. I’m in that messy phase of life when the simple act of getting out the door with lipstick on and a necklace that doesn’t completely clash with my top feels like a major accomplishment. I’ve embraced the fact that I’m an unapologetic clog wearer, and I don’t need the Handbag of the Minute to feel I’ve arrived.
Sometimes I have trouble mentally bridging the gulf between what I expected of myself at this age and the reality. To be sure, I never thought I would become the mirror image of my mom. Silk blouses and makeup will never be daily requirements in my more relaxed work life. But I still find it vaguely disconcerting that there’s not a single outfit in my closet that I consider foolproof, no ensemble that I can look at and instantly know, “That’s me.” If having one’s own signature style, whether it’s “classic elegance” or “urban bohemian,” is a requirement of adulthood, well, that’s one test I’ve failed.