Yesterday I wore this dress to my American lit class. I accessorized with opaque tights and pointy tweed flats that had a chartreuse ribbon woven in. When I arrived to class, I took note of all the students who had arrived early, got out my books, and never took off my overcoat. I am the professor. I am 42 years old.
At home earlier that morning I felt as fresh and crisp as a fall day in Manhattan--on upper, upper Fifth Avenue, near the Met. I felt like Marisa Berenson, mod and spare. But as I looked at my students, all 20 years younger than me, I felt inappropriate, a classic case of mutton dressing as lamb.
I guess this is what's meant by a midlife crisis, though mine is solely sartorial: my clothing does not match my age or, I admit, my station. Surely professors have more leeway than other professionals; indeed, we're often stereotyped in books and films as being rumpled, patched, or (ugh) sensible. I am none of those things; I've always thrived on being a little askew, original, and daring. That doesn't mean plunging necklines and teetering heels, but it does mean mismatched prints and eccentric shoes by Chie Mihara (before Saks, courtesy of Tootsie Plohound). But in order to pull off daring, the clothes must have an underlying sense of propriety; just as years of musical scales precede the jazz artist's improv, proportion, fit, professionalism and, yes, age-appropriateness are the foundations of a true fashion original.
So, what to wear, or--not? Even Stacy London's been rocking these sheath dresses on TV, though I must admit that I've been growing concerned about the baby-doll-and-long-locks look that she's been sporting lately. When even the divine Ms. L could use a fashion intervention, should the rest of us give up? Or start watching Finola Hughes? (There's no way I'm taking fashion advice from a former soap opera queen. A queen's a different story, though. Love you, Clinton!)
I still really do like the line of the J Crew dress above. Christiane Celle makes a similar one in silk, and with a flat pair of gladiator sandals, one could be Jackie Bouvier in Capri. Perhaps the problem isn't the overall cut of the dress; it's the label. Although J Crew tosses a couple of 60-something models into their catalogues, their target audience is really the 17-26-year-old set. Perhaps I simply have to find similarly priced labels for--ahem--women. But that's the difficult part. And when you're surrounded by 20-somethings all day, you subconsciously begin to assimilate. Stay tuned for The Professor Wore a Hoodie.