I’m struggling to help my daughter, who has asked to borrow some clothes so she can dress up “like a 45-year old” for a play she’s doing. Unfortunately for her I have no idea what “45-year olds” look like . Personally I live my non-working life in jeans. Rebecca is still only 12 but is already as tall as me and has the same size feet. She borrows my clothes pretty regularly – not the formal stuff, but certainly the black V-necks and the ankle boots; I’ll have to wrestle my trenchcoat off her back if I ever want to wear it again. So I should just have drawled “honey – this is what 45 looks like” and told her to go dressed as she was, just adding a harassed expression and perhaps some crow’s feet.
But that’s obviously not what they want. I suspect they’re after the look that middle-aged women had when I was little. In my memory* women then had hair that was styled and set once a week and wore headscarves to protect it in high winds. They had sensible clothes in muted colours; perhaps a jaunty scarf at the neck. They wore flat shoes and 40 denier American Tan tights. Slacks were acceptable but not jeans. They did NOT have tattoos. When they got a bit older they wore fur-lined bootees in winter and hats like mushrooms with stalks coming out of the top, and generally looked like the three Great Aunts from Glossop in I Didn’t Know You Cared.
There are no women like that around any more, and I for one miss them. I envy their domestic competence and their unshakeable self-confidence. Which is not to say that I want to be like them. Possibly it’s the dread of damart that makes women of my generation fear getting old so much (and may explain their sales slogan – Think you know damart? Think again!) When you pass 40, you are super-sensitive to how very OLD it sounds. I shuddered when I read a newspaper article the other day about a “sprightly 50-year old” Sprightly? Isn’t that how you describe octagenarian ballroom dancers who like the occasional Scotch?
Ageing is unavoidable of course, but I’m still waiting for the level of grown-upness in my head to match the number on my birth certificate. And, on a more serious level, I am reminded every day in dozens of little ways – this is only one example – that in the eyes of many people I’m very nearly past it.
*It was surprisingly hard to find images to illustrate this. There are some very odd things lurking under a search for images of older women, but nothing much that gives you pictures of “ordinary” middle-aged women from the past. Perhaps they were invisible?