(First, I must insist that this is not an exercise in getting reassurance. I don't need you to comment positively on how I look in this outfit -- you'll see, as you read, that this is about me seeing me, as much as it is about anything at all. Read on.)
It's a dress I bought at Biscotte in Paris last year and I love it not only for that reason (what, this dress? oh, I bought it in Paris . . .) but for the tightweave, fine polished cotton, the pintucks across the yoke, the capacious yet cunningly-shaped pockets, and yes, the rich blue. Catching sight of it in windows on the Paris streets, though, all I could notice was how, well, squat it made me look, and how poorly it worked with the extra horizontal line formed by the cardigan hem. The flat, antiqued gold shoes (by Cydwoq), funky though they may be, contribute to an inappropriately "little girl in a smock" effect whereas I've always before worn the dress with black tights and black shoes with a pointed (lengthening) toe and a short heel. The blue was too bright and weren't the leggings either too young or too last year? And much as I hate to admit it, I'm wearing a few more pounds than I was last year, as I, like Une Femme adjust to the vagaries of menopause.
My husband, dear man, couldn't see the problem, especially since he thinks my legs are great and that I should show them off more often -- which is a sentiment I should appreciate, except that perversely I interpreted it to mean the dress showed my legs off too much, making my unfortunate choice even worse. I did know enough to stop the boring soundtrack (after a while) and concentrate on enjoying being in Paris having fun with someone who thinks I look gorgeous and was willing to take in the exhibition of Kiraz's "Parisiennes" with me -- that's the poster in the background, behind me as I pose in the courtyard of the Musée Carnavalet (lovely, reasonable-sized museum to visit in a beautiful historic building, right in the heart of the great-for-shopping Marais).
Those gorgeous, elongated, oh-so-chic young women that Kiraz depicts didn't make me feel any better. But the real fashion tyrant is in my head, not hanging on a wall. And I have to say, I have very mixed feelings about her: on the one hand, her continual scrutiny and her list of rules to dress by keep me from making horrendous errors (come on, I said horrendous -- I'm not conceding this outfit as such an error, it could have been so much worse -- think flip-flops!); on the other hand, said scrutiny and rules can interfere with expressing myself through my dress and with enjoying life in my dressed body (does that last phrase sound as odd as I think it does? It seems to be the best way here of saying what I mean).
Part of the problem, perhaps, is that while I occasionally achieve something approaching "sophisticated and chic," such dress doesn't express my personality nor, really, my lifestyle (I live on an island, for heaven's sake, where I ride a bike along a dirt road daily in order to work my way down a ramp and into a small passenger ferry -- I often get to work to find dirt splashed all the way up the back of my coat, despite the bike fenders!). My inner tyrant could make sure I hit her idea of "chic" more often -- she'd make me edit much more ruthlessly -- but her list of rules make me chafe. The list is one that has us asking if the skirts we love are too 90s or unsure if we can trust our own fashion instincts or need to be talked out of them. While the list certainly exists for younger women, the Great Mutton Debate means that we women of a certain age must watch every fashion step lest we trip into pratfall. There seems to be general disdain among "mature" women across the fashion blogverse for the smock (and perhaps I should have adopted it, says the photo above) yet for whatever reasons, I love this shape -- I feel good when I wear it, happy and, well, a bit sassy, if truth be known.
The phenomenon of catching sight of myself in street windows and wanting to go home to try again is not limited to Paris, of course. I remember a conversation with my much-better-edited daughter, my most helpful shopping companion, once when I was second-guessing what I'd worn, and she pointed out that making mistakes occasionally was a reasonable corollary of being able to take risks, to try out new things, and that she thought that was an important part of me (how lucky am I -- a husband who likes my legs, a daughter who applauds my fashion errors!). In Paris, of course, the problem is exacerbated by the city's reputation for chic-ness (and by the limitations of what I packed into that wee carry-on). So when I started thinking of writing about this, I thought of Une Femme's post last fall asking what "chic" is? At the time, altho' I spent some time thinking about her question, I don't think I responded, because I wasn't at all sure that "chic" was indeed something I aspired to. I still worry that it might have too much to do with class, perhaps even with power. (To be really honest, I wonder if I worry it might be too close to how my mother would like me to dress and whether I still harbour a bit too much 70s anti-fashion sentiment -- now those would be some inner demons to exorcize!)
But when I go back to re-read Une Femme's wise post, I find these words: it also seems like trying consciously to achieve it undermines the effect, much like a cat chasing her own tail. Perhaps we try too hard. Perhaps it's a question of putting yourself together to suit your own taste and then letting go. Perhaps chic is as much a result of attitude as anything else. So perhaps I can wear my smock and be chic too, if only I have the right attitude.
Or perhaps not. My inner tyrant and I will be debating the issue for some time, you can be sure.
Meanwhile, my twin 8-year old nieces arrive today, accompanied by their big brother (14) to spend several days with me. Of course, a big thunderstorm last night dramatically announced the arrival of cool, rainy days that are forecast to last the duration of the kids' stay, so we'll be out and about trying to entertain ourselves. Paris and chic-ness (achieved or not) are quickly becoming a too-distant memory.