All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
Most of us have heard Shakespeare's "seven ages of man" monologue from As You Like It.
I browsed the greeting cards at the grocery store today, and this is what I found. Except for the 40th and 50th birthday cards, they were each the only card for that birthday. There were three options for 40th birthday, and five for the fiftieth. What do you think these cards can tell us about aging culture in the United States today?
"The scary stuff about aging is real, but our fears are hugely out of proportion."
Sometimes research takes writers into territory that is not only unfamiliar, but unpleasant. The unfamiliar I can deal with, but this was the first project where I dreaded the so-called “review of literature”. As it turns out, slogging through the massive body of literature on aging and women was as miserable an experience as I’d expected, but also disappointingly familiar. This was especially true of the information on the biological aspects of human aging. “Hair sparse and grey”: check. “Skin like parchment”: check. “Fewer curves”: check. “Wrinkles”: check. My posture is pretty good so far, but I am no longer 5’ 9”. I walk more slowly, descend stairs more carefully. Less hair in “those” places, but more facial hair, though "rarely to the point of disfiguring”, as one author helpfully adds. The word “atrophy” stops me in mid-sentence and I smile. Tell me something I don’t know.
My intention in this chapter is to provide some context for the stories in the chapters that follow. For readers who, like me, have reached their seventies**, it’s old news. But in the optimistic thought that the book might be of interest to younger readers, I will try to summarize existing works on the topics of aging, gender, and fashion succinctly and practically. For serious scholars who want more, I'll provide a bibliographic essay in the appendix.
**The beginning of my chapter reviewing the literature on aging, women, and fashion. Comments and suggestions are encouraged.
*I am actually 69 and 3 months, but will be 70 by the time this gets published.
I am working on Que Sera, Sera (aka Book 3, aka Age Appropriate), which should please all my patient readers out there. The first draft of the proposal is done, as is a very rough draft of the introduction. The glaring holes in my research are now clearly and uncomfortably visible, so I am renewing my effort to connect with American women who graduated from high school in 1967. If you want to participate in what I hope will be interesting discussions about your experiences from little girl to today, you can do the following:
Join my Facebook group, The Class of 1967.
Follow my Class on 1967 profile on Instagram.
Please also share this with your high school classmates! I really want to cast a wide net!
This is in response to the interest in the PBS Digital Studios video "Why was Pink for Boys and Blue for Girls?" Post your questions here and I'll try answer within 24 hours!
I know, I know. I have complained about repetitive interview questions, but the truth is that is order for people to open their minds and let go of gender stereotypes, those of us who do this work must answer those questions over and over. Besides, every once in a while, we get one of those really fun interviews with someone we can share a laugh with, along with the information.
Last May, I had one of those interviews, with Shankar Vedantam of NPR’s Hidden Brain. We met at my local mall and strolled around the kids department in Macy’s, chatting about pink and blue, pockets/no pockets, and the missing character on the boys’ Star Wars T-shirts. (Can you guess who it was?) It was a double blast because inside I was fangirling like a twelve-year old. Hidden Brain is one of my favorite podcasts: smart, well-paced, and slickly produced like an audio documentary. And Shankar Vedantam is a great interviewer and host; being on his Rolodex was a dream come true.
So enjoy the podcast episode. Bonus: now I know how Lise Eliot (Pink Brain, Blue Brain) pronounces her name.
Thanks to UK retailer John Lewis, I was bombarded with media requests for interviews last week. That's generally a good thing, except it would be incredibly helpful if they didn't ask the same damn questions all the time. (Especially "Why is pink a girl color?" and "What's the problem with stereotypes?")
So this time I thought a few pictures might calm people down.
As recently as thirty years ago, parents had LOTS of choices for their children's clothing and toys. Strongly gendered clothes and toys are not "traditional". Nor are they necessary, until the objective is to multiply your profits by forcing people to buy boy and girl versions of things that could otherwise be handed down or shared.
So chill. And don't even start with the "slippery slope" arguments. The world isn't about to end if girls wear camouflage or boys wear skirts. If it were, it would have already happened.
This is so exciting! This project took a detour over a year ago as I realized that it would require not only additional research, but also some serious re-thinking of the structure of the book.
You may remember this image:
The original plan was a fairly straight-forward cultural history of clothing for women over fifty, similar to what I had done in Pink and Blue for infants and toddler clothing. But the story would not let itself be told that way.
You see, we don't start "aging" at fifty; childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age are also part of the journey. Learning to be female is not a weekend workshop or even a four-year-degree program. It is a lifelong process of being led into each life stage along a path shaped by cultural beliefs about aging and gender. So I revised the plan.
A Facebook reader sent me this message:
Hi! I was wondering if you could help...my 9 yr old son generally wears 'boy clothes' and he loves the science and nature pictures on the t shirts. He's lately become more aware of gendered clothing as a problem and wrote a letter to Lands End recently requesting that they offer science oriented t shirts for girls as he best friend is a girl who likes science and he found it very unfair ( they wrote a nice reply). Today we went to the store to get him some new sneakers and he wanted the pink ones. We got them as I don't have a problem with that but although he was sure about getting them he was also a little concerned that he would get harassed by the other boys about them. We talked about it and he was undeterred but wants to have a good 'come back' in case he gets teased to educate others that ' pink is for everyone'. I thought perhaps you could help as I find your page so informative about these matters. Thanks so much, A___
What is the appeal of rompers? The original rompers were designed as playclothes for infants and toddlers as a time when the standard clothing for children under the age of five years was dresses. Like dresses, rompers were one-piece, which was desirable for mothers who believed that children could be "spoiled" by too much handling. Compared with ankle-length skirts worn by young walkers, rompers allowed more freedom of movement. That's fine, but we now have many other options, and we no longer believe that babies are harmed by being handled in the process of getting dressed. But the image of romper as a childish style persisted, and has influenced adult casual wear.
Rompers, jumpsuits, overalls and the like all have a few advantages that make them attractive enough to appear in the fashion pages on a regular basis. They also have aesthetic and practical drawbacks that each generation seems destined to rediscover. To begin with the advantages:
No sooner had the RompHim appeared, but it was the target of criticism and humorous memes. My own objection to the name was that it joined a growing list of unnecessarily gendered style terms -- man bun, boyfriend jeans and the like -- that seemed to signify a transgression of gender rules. Since rompers have a long history of unisex and masculine design, it seemed an odd choice. Of course, ACED Designs probably intended to give their project a rebellious aura and make clear the intended market for the RompHim: men so secure in their masculinity that they can and will wear anything. Men like James Bond.
Ridicule plays an important role in policing men's appearance and behavior. It can be the first warning a boy or man gets that if he persists, he risks harassment and ultimately violence. In my long ago dissertation research, I studied how cartoons making fun of older, more formal styles helped accelerate the transition to the modern business suit. Psychologists who have studied fashion behavior have found that "avoiding ridicule" is the top motivation for men's clothing and grooming choices, in contrast to women's number one reason, which is to look attractive.
This begs the question, "Will the RompHim survive the memes?" According to their Kickstarter page, they not only exceeded their fundraising goal, but quickly sold out the first production run. In another year we will be able to see if it is the wave of the future or this year's Nehru jacket.