Certain birthdays are “big”. Or so society would have us believe. 10, 16, 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, etc. are all duly noted by law enforcement (voting, driving, drinking, car rentals, etc.) and Hallmark card writers as well. But some birthdays just feel “bigger” than others. For me, 21 was very, “Finally!”, while 30 was more of a gleeful life celebration. Paradoxically, 39 loomed way larger in my psyche than 40.
As my next non-“big” birthday approaches, I find myself thinking about this years’ number (46) as epic. Is it because it’s four ’till fiddy, or because I’m drowning in retin-A every night before bed? I’m not sure I can survive a four-year long drumroll towards 50, but I do feel much like my twelve-year-old daughter lately. She is a ‘tween. Not yet a teen, at twelve she’s between childhood and puberty. The tween years are notoriously tumultuous — much like toddlers, tweens are all of the brawn, none of the brains. Pre frontal cortex development aside, one of the most challenging parts of being a tween is shopping for clothes.
When I attend events at my daughters middle school, I find myself talking in height and weight percentiles as we did when the kids were babies. There is such a vast array of body types, growth rates, and style expression amongst her peers it would be comical if not for the pained expression on most 12-13 year old faces during any event where parents are invited. Very few clothing companies are successful at providing great clothes to tweens, although they sure are trying. There is the controversial Abercrombie, with its soft porn marketing campaigns and ridiculously over priced logo’d clothes. There is the Gap and Gap-owned Old Navy, who peddle basics at a decent prices and the worlds most inconsistent fit known to man. It’s as if their fit models have growth spurts mid fittings. Then, there is Delia’s. For young girls, this hits all that a tween (and teen) might want in a store.
Loud thumping music, check. Bright colored clothing with torn necklines and sassy but sweet sayings on them, check. Cheerful, knowledgeable staff to help sort through the store, check. Wait — I think that one is for the Moms (they know who’s paying, after all). Their catalog is just this side of provocative. They are, in the words of Ryan Gosling, “The perfect combination of sexy & cute.” Wandering through Delia’s with my daughter I am hyper aware of how I’ve entered into a “Be a mother and only a mother in here, no shopping for yourself.” zone. As women we are supposed to look like our daughters, but not dress like them (but no Mom jeans!) The thing is, there’s some cute things at Delia’s. Most of them are silly and nothing I’d be interested in, but every now and then, my daughter will catch the one item I’ve tucked into the pile as we head toward the register. “Mom! YOURE buying something??” as if I’d poured Chardonnay into a sippy cup. She relented, as, you know, I was buying her a bunch of stuff AND I agreed to lend her my picks.
Recently, I was exploring our local Urban Outfitters, where each and EVERY heavily pierced employee had an expression of, “Ma’am, Anthropologie is down the street. Off you go.” And again, my arms were loaded with items for my daughter and myself to try. My return expression was, “Don’t worry, the postage stamp sized daisy dukes are for my 12-year-old, I’m getting the tasteful lace top!!!” And just as I turned the corner filled with marcrame crop halters, there it was. A Betsey Johnson re-issue of my Prom Dress.
Some say everything old is new again, and what comes around goes around, but it is rare these days that trends wait 30 years to cycle back. It’s more like every 6 months. But sure enough, the forever young Betsey Johnson, doer of cartwheels, whose business woes are many, had done a collaboration with Urban Outfitters. The dress had an ever-so-slightly different pattern, and short sleeves, but the signature cut and rows of hooks and eyes down the front (or back! it was reversible!) were still there.
I remember getting on the train alone to New York City to go to her Upper West Side boutique to buy my dress. My father gave me his credit card, as he had to my sister two years prior. I loved the store, the style, and the clothing so much. I didn’t want the dress to look “prom”, but I knew I wanted a ballet neckline, floral, with a full, suitable-for-spinning, circle skirt. I tried on one dress and bought it immediately, almost disappointed I found it so quickly. I went home and proceeded to try it on every night before bed leading up to the Prom itself.
I wore the purple and green floral dress several times — the prom, my college formal (where I sewed on a black taffeta waist band that I tied in back to camouflage my Freshman 15), and the Holiday party at my first post college job (thankfully by then I was able to remove the taffeta belly coverer). I found the dress about a year ago and wore it out to dinner with a denim jacket and flats. I certainly never knew that dress to be either trendy or enduring, but it turned out I had a good eye from the jump.
I will celebrate 46 next week, very much a tween. A friend of mine pondered, after making some lovely purchases for her own wardrobe, “I hope I don’t look like I’m trying to look 25!” Never mind that she looked fantastic in her new duds, after a big, giant hit of self-doubt about my own style thwacked me in the head I paused and then thought, “I really DON’T care if I look like I’m trying to do something or not.” I may not be 20, but I ain’t 50, 60, or 70 yet either. And what if I was? Isn’t that the fun part of getting older? The not caring? Perhaps dressing your age is less about the Dress and more about the styling. My wish is for every woman to dress in a way that makes her feel more herself. My tweenage daughter included.