Permanently Out of Style

Oh, sure.  Somebody like me gets a lot of questions.

Paper or plastic?  Credit or debit?  Tap or bottled?

You see what I mean.  But hey, I’m used to it.  It’s part of being a semi-public persona (i.e., someone well-known to at least a dozen people) who’s too lazy to do much of anything for herself.

However, this most recent query stopped me in my low-heeled tracks.  “Who,” a woman asked me recently, “is your fashion icon?”

My fashion icon?  I could feel my skull crashing in, my breath growing short, my balance teetering.  Just look at me, I thought, panicking.  Do I look like I have a fashion icon?

Unfortunately, it was a perfectly earnest question asked me by a style consultant.  We were traipsing in and out of stores in Soho so I could learn some insider shopping tips.  In theory, it had sounded like fun.  In practice, it reminded me of how much I dislike shopping.  All the styles start whirling together like a deranged merry-go-round and pretty soon, I’m working on a migraine or recalling how I’ve just left a novel I’ve been reading at a particularly critical point and really should get home immediately.

There is a reason I dress the way I do, which might be charitably described as desperately hoping to look classic.  As my husband has very unhelpfully pointed out, even when I buy new clothes, they look very much like my old ones.  This is because, I tell him, I have a certain style, a certain je ne sais quoi.   I possess  a signature look the same way I have a signature fragrance.  Neutral colors on my body and Quelques Fleurs on my pulse points and I am hereby set for the rest of my life.   Why mess with a rut if it’s comfortable?  After all, it took me a good decade for me to be pried out of maternity clothes (so comfortable!  so forgiving!); if it hadn’t been for my daughter’s insistence, I’d still be wandering around looking like one of these older women going for the oldest pregnancy record in Guinness.

In the meantime, the fashion icon question was ignored, then it reared its head again on a Soho street.  God, what now?  Who’s a fashion icon, anyway — and why don’t I have one?  Madonna, no way; Carla Bruni, I can’t stand; Michelle Obama, too young; Anna Wintour, too cold and unsympathetic — and I can’t afford the Prada.  Jackie O?  Too dead.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I mumbled.  “I guess I’ve never thought about it.”

This appeared to be shocking news.  No fashion icon!  No style focus in life!   Hopeless!

“You probably just need to think about it a little longer,” the style consultant said.

I trailed her in and out of a few stores, thinking about the matter.  It finally occurred to me that not only do I not have a fashion icon in my life — but I am also a little sick and tired of the whole word icon, along with derivatives like iconic.  Enough with it, enough with diva, too, as long as I’m at it.  (Diva used to be an interesting, expressive term.  Now, it’s just any fairly ordinary woman with a bad disposition, no talent required.)

I have no icons, fashion or otherwise, in my life.  Now and then, I stumble across a diva, then keep stumbling in the opposite direction as fast as I can.   Life’s too short for ill-tempered people and I’m too old and set in my ways to dredge up a fashion icon.  I headed home as quickly as I could.  My book was there, waiting for me.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about helpful hints for an unemployed kid

11 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    If there’s a fashion icon that likes baggy, comfortable stuff before it ends up on a homeless chick, that’s my icon. 

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    That would be me.  Does that mean I’m your fashion icon?

  • I was just told by a “local (Dallas) fashion guru” that I dress too conservatively for my age (54). I haven’t been able to shake that comment for days!  And now I can wonder who my fashion icon is? Back in the 70’s I could have said Peggy Lipton or Ali McGraw. Now, I can’t even think of anyone I look to for “the way”  50 somethings should look. Helen Mirin’s on my short list, though.

  • I don’t have a fashion icon either; never thought about it!!! Now that I am, I’m embarassed to say that in my non-work hours, I’m wearing stuff that looks like what my daughter wears, just 3 sizes bigger. LOL. Now that’s dumb. She looks drop dead gorgeous; I look like I’m a wanna be.  I need to re-think this.

  • Cindy A Link

    Poof!  You’re my icon, Ruth!

  • Winston Link

    I agree with you on the word diva.   All the true divas are dead now, and so is the word.
    And as for fashion icons, if you are ever asked to name yours again, just slowly tilt your head, cross your eyes, smile, strike a kitchen match, whisper Joan of Arc, and dreamily drift toward the nearest fire hazard.   That’ll teach ’em to waste your time with frivolous questions!

  • You’ve hired a consultant to take you shopping and nudge you in a new direction? This is what friends do for free. I’m still grateful to the friend who urged me it was time to add pink to my black and gray palette.

  • My husband has sworn off counting the number of black turtleneck sweaters, preferrably cashmere,  in my dresser.  Trendy doesn’t suit me, black cashmere does. Best to be my own style icon I suppose, I really can’t imagine anyone else would want me.

  • I’m with you on all of it: divas, icons, hatred of shopping, preference of staying home in baggy clothes with a good novel.

  • My fashion icon is Zooey Deschanel. Except that she doesn’t have my thunder thighs. So we can’t actually pull off the same silhouettes.
    Are there any fashion icons out there who work in their fuzzy Cookie Monster pajama pants?

  • Paula Link

    Who said Ali McGraw? Hell, I still want to look like her!
    In fact, I’m 57 and seem to waver between aging hippie and aging preppy in my style choices. Both are pitiable. I keep thinking if I magically dropped 40 pounds and got back an inch of height, I’d dress like a modern sophisticate, whatever that means. But not if it requires 5″ stilettos!

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