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    A View from the Pew


    Recently, my daughter came home on a break from college. After a Saturday morning breakfast chat about her friends, her work, her search for apartments for next year and her most recent romantic interests, she stood to go upstairs to shower. Before she left the room, she kissed me on the cheek, pulled the latest copy of Vogue out of her overnight bag and plopped it on the kitchen table. “By the way, I bought this for you. Fun stuff."

    After I poured myself a third cup of coffee, I mustered the courage to look at the star-studded cover of sleek, label-gad women walking toward the wind-machined lens. My daughter and I used to pour through the pages and muse over the lifestyle of the people who seem to very casually wear the unwearable and took great pleasure in perusing Vogue together. When she went to college, I lost my Saturday morning fashion rag buddy. The pages of the magazine taunted me as I mused about my sudden discomfort with the images that stared up at me from their glossy frames. I felt as though I had stepped into a minefield and suddenly wondered why in the world I used to think that this was fun.What was going on here? 

    The word 'pragmatic' rarely enters fashion vocab. If you love it and you feel good in it, you buy and wear it, regardless of pain or practicality. I admit that despite budget restrictions, I own a good number of stiletos and suits and would never think of going to the grocery store without earrings and lipstick, at the very least. Every day presents a change of purse to match a particular outfit, and sometimes the outfit may be selected because of the choice of a favorite bag or shoes (I confess that I still change my purse if I think that the color clashes with my outfit). I even admit that I once refused to come out of the house to say hello to an old friend who stopped by to introduce me to his new wife because I didn't have my 'face' on. (He recently admitted to me through Facebook that he thought that I was mad at him these many years because of that incident. Pow, that hurt.) Okay, I admit it: I have allowed the stylediva within me to become the power magnate. Fashion rules. A thousand lashes and thirty days without matching bags and shoes for me. However, my recent practice of SAAC (Style At Any Cost) leans more toward supportive walking shoes and a giant satchel that holds my laptop, my brown bag lunch and a tote umbrella, just in case in rains. The brick walk that leads from the parking lot to my office kills nearly every stileto I own; I have befriended the cobbler and take credit for putting his daughter through her first year of college. Vogue smogue. These days, my outfits tend to revolve around a growing collection of Danskos. So sue me. I don't like wet and pinchy feet and can no longer go a full day inside open-toed four-inchers that threaten to land me on my yasch. I used to buy clutches based on their level of color, style and cuteness. Now I look for bags that hold my two-inch heels when I change them for a couple of hours at a meeting. My book-sized purses have been replaced by John Wayne-sized satchels that accommodate the daily bread of blackberry,notebook and arugula with date bagels. Take that, baguette queens.

    I nudged the suspect copy of Vogue with the base of my thumb so that the cover was now hidden behind my laptop. I suddenly wondered if I had evolved past brand names and fashion interests. Where did the love go? As I pondered the possibility that age might be a contributing factor, I considered the fifty-something women who still purchased high heels and carry the letter C on on more bags and wallets than New York cabs. These power queens still pull off The Look, an air of confidence and comfort as they stride down corridors in their high heels, balance home and career, labels and love, breezing between board meetings, brooms and Barney's. However, as I perused the pages (yes, of course I gave in) filled with Gucci and Channel, Givenchy and Dior, adorned by anorexic nymphs and sunglassed men clad in underwear or nothing at all, I found myself searching for anyone over the age of twenty-something. The flawless, youthful faces with no wrinkles advertised the miracle of regenerating cell magic with the newest brand of cream for aging skin with air brush wonder. Are you kidding me? Every page taunted me with nymphettes who existed on subsequent meals of lettuce leaves and flavored water, baring limbs longer than Gumbi and evoked the possibility of adventure, sexuality and arrogant carelessness. I couldn't seem to find anyone who aged within these hallowed pages (of course I read it from cover to cover). My daughter intended her gift as a source of enjoyment. Instead, the episode propelled me into a Vogue-funk and sent me running to my closet-and-a-half to consider when My Look had decided to take a trip south for the winter. 

    Hope arrives through the most unexpected encounters. I decided to dress comfortably that Sunday morning, anticipating my usual 14-hour Sunday and donned a soft gray skirt, red Dansko's and a red and pink argyle layered sweater with white collar and cuffs. As a compromise for my scaled-down non-look, I threw on a pearl necklage and earrings with my giant Swalarki pink-jeweled ring that I picked up at a 75% off sale in a Denver hotel on a lay-over several years ago. As I passed a mirror for a quick check, I told myself to face it: my cosmo girl days were long gone. My non-look was a far cry from outfits past, when my students would watch for my feet under the piano to see what cute stiletto I would wear and visitors drooled over my lastest scarf or newest jacket. I had decamped the world of sheek and settled for comfort. Where is Tim Gunn with a shot of fashion conscience when you need him. 

    Upon arriving to work, I encountered a staff member who would preside aand preach at worship that morning. He introduced me to his friend, who I immediately dubbed Friendly Guy, probably in his mid-fifties. You just liked him at first blush. 

    “Wow, you've really got it going on!” he exclaimed, checking me out from head to toe. “You must watch What Not To Wear! You're so coordinated. I love what you're wearing!” 

    For a moment I considered telling Friendly Guy that I felt like the last rose of summer when it dawned on my that Vogue wasn't the problem. I had become my own worst version of The Enemy. In that moment, I knew that I had allowed a contemporary marketing icon to dictate how I felt about myself based on what I wore on my back and on my feet. I decided right then and there that Friendly Guy had offered me an opportunity to reboot from my Voguefunk and return to the land of the resurrected, so I volleyed back, “Well, thanks, and yes, I do watch What Not To Wear. I love that show! I actually have a reputation on this campus as the Coordination Queen. My students tell me all the time.” 

    “I knew it,” Friendly Guy said, perceiving my interest in the fashion world. “Can you believe the women on that show and what they wear? What in the world are they thinking? They don't even wear the right bras or underwear with their clothes. It always fascinates me to think that they walk on the streets either oblivious to how they look or just uncaring about their appearance.” 

    Our family motto is Toutedroit (Straightforward). I suddenly became intensely interested in Friendly Guy's identity, so I asked straightfowardly asked him, “Who are you? Do you work in fashion?” “ Oh no,” he laughed. “I'm a priest.” 

    Shucks, folks. I'm speechless. 

    Was Friendly Guy an anomaly or is there really a little Tim Gunn in even men of the cloth? Are people secretly reading Vogue under the covers at night and watching Project Runway instead of Meet the Press? Did my Friendly Guy just pull back the curtain on the newest show in town? 

    And what all this say about those of us who might still want to always look our best but willing to compromise the height of our heels or the length of our skirts for a more accomodating style with a little comfort? And in what rule book does it state that voguish style equates to what the fashionistas dictate? It seems to me that whatever I wear, my clothes should suggest who I am – a woman who may have gained a little wisdom (and weight) over some well-heeled walkway. My mileage tells me that some styles should never be worn by people over forty and body parts serve us best if they serve in the style that God fashioned them. I may be preaching to the choir but I'll say this loudly and proudly, by gum. Vogue smogue. Beauty comes in many sizes, shapes and styles. It's up to us to find our style and work it. Or, in Gunn-tongue, make it work. 

    I still read Vogue on Saturday mornings. I still love fashion and I still want to own a pair of Christian Loubatin open-toed pumps someday. But now I just look in the mirror and love myself back. I am, after all, me.