lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mutton dressed as lamb

Sad old tarts. (Been mums)
Mama's old 'n' buttressed!

These are two well-known anagrams of that awful and derogatory idiomatic phrase, 'mutton dressed as lamb'. 'Odd tantrums assemble' too; less striking, but interesting all the same. If you are wondering why I am thinking of anagrams of the phrase, it is simple: I am considering whether it applies to me, now in my glorious middle age. Age-appropriate dressing is something that is bothering me these days.

I recently saw something that disturbed me, you see. I was at my salon. There were a couple of women, dressed richly if tastelessly. One of them had her daughter along, a toddler. The toddler was going to get a haircut for the coming summer months. Well, that's nice. But the mother had dressed the child in clothes that made me want to weep.

Fashions change, I know. If jeans and skirts seem to hover on the pelvic bones on the strength of a prayer now, they will probably be back hugging the waist next year, but to dress a two-year old in low-rise jeans and a top that stopped halfway to her waist, to make her wear high heels for pity's sake, is ugly. Toddlers should be dressed in clothes that are comfortable and practical. They don't need sequins and embroidery and fashion that are more appropriate for teenagers or supermodels.

Talk about lamb dressed as mutton, I thought to myself. But then, it having struck me once, I seemed to see children dressed in adult fashions everywhere I looked. And it's disturbing. We read reports that girls are attaining puberty earlier and earlier. Now it seems that toddlers are becoming little girls earlier and earlier.

On the other hand, we see older women dressing in clothes that are more suitable for younger women, too. This is why I have been mulling over age-appropriate dressing. But try as I might, I can't make up my mind what is age-appropriate for a person who always dressed for comfort, not style.

Our grandmothers never had to worry about age-appropriate dressing. They wore saris, and that was that. Our mothers wore saris and that was that too. But for my generation that grew up wearing western wear, and lives in jeans and comfortable clothes, this is something of a poser.

When I was young, little girls wore frocks and shifted to long skirts and blouses as they grew older. It never struck me then but we all graduated to half-saris as puberty set in, one could probably tell which of the girls in a class of twelve or thirteen year olds started menstruating by the fact they wore half-saris.

At home, my sisters and I wore frocks, and at school we wore the uniform. Long skirt in a ghastly green, and white blouse. Later came the addition, a half-sari of lighter green. The long blouses that we wore became short and we bared our midriffs for the first time when we first wore a half-sari.

My mother had an excellent dressmaker, a Frenchwoman, who made our clothes, and we wore some lovely frocks, sheathe shirt-waisters and perfectly tailored slacks and tunics. Kate made our first grown-up blouses, too.

In college, we wore half-saris and slacks, bell-bottoms and with a great sense of adventure, saris. I suppose we felt all grown-up and mature wearing a sari. Soon, with the growing popularity of Hindi films (think Aradhana), there came the newfangled fashion of salwar kameez. Used as I was to the drape of half-sari and sari, I found the chunni unwieldy and irritating.

After marriage, without the influence of my mother and sisters who liked clothes, I dressed very casually. Jeans and tops were fine for doing my marketing in, running the house in and taking my son to nursery school in. For the rare socialising, I wore saris my mother gave me, never worrying that they were not the height of fashion, they were classy, weren't they? I never had much interest or patience to find matching petticoats and blouses, to follow prevalent fashions of sleeve lengths and such niceties.

True, I had some salwar suits made occasionally, but I preferred buying ready-made clothes, wearing them out and getting more. It is more than a decade and a half since I last wore a sari.

So, what is age-appropriate for me to wear now? The clothes I always wore, or saris and salwar suits just because I will hit the Big Five this year? Why should I wear a sari now, after living most of my life in comfortable clothes? If nothing, I'd feel awkward and overdressed in a sari.

True, it is hard to find sedate tops in my regular haunt, Fabindia, these days. The length of tops nowadays is shorter than I am comfortable with, but I can still find pieces that I am happy enough to wear.

Women with big hips shouldn't wear pencil skirts, women with short necks should avoid necklines that draw attention to that, and women with sagging upper arms should avoid sleeveless blouses: it is common sense. So, there are styles I avoid, not because they aren't age-appropriate, but because they are unsuitable for my body type.

Then there's the question of feeling comfortable. I wear shorts and lightweight cotton tops in summer months, but I wouldn't wear them to go to Lake Market. It is the same with skirts. No matter what, I won’t wear skirts with hemlines above my knees.

I suppose people can remark snidely that I am 'mutton dressed as lamb' because I wear western wear, because I don't follow age constraints but go with what is my usual garb and ultimately, comfortable. I wear what I feel comfy in, so sue me.

But isn't that better than women who spill out of their blouses and display spare tires and capacious bellies in saris worn well below their navels? I don't display more flesh than my arms, at least.

Shouldn't clothes be more body-appropriate and lifestyle-appropriate than age-appropriate?



Blogger Shirsha said...

Couple of things :-

1."Our mothers wore saris and that was that too. "
Uhmm, dont quite agree, they had age-appropriateness for saris as well, like the colour and the form and the material and all that. Like my g'mom will only wear white/cream/beige sarees w/o a colour tending to dark shades on the borders... so after the first few times you almost exhaust what you can gift her :(

2. "The length of tops nowadays is shorter than I am comfortable with,"
Have you considered the kurtis, they kinda make up for the short top sizes! But u know what, Fabindia is cliched :( Can I suggest? What abt tailoring customized stuff? The short tops bring me tons of stares when i have raise my hand to hold the bus railings on the ceiling.

3. "Shouldn't clothes be more body-appropriate and lifestyle-appropriate than age-appropriate?"
Yeah, thats the sensible mantra!

11:19 am  
Anonymous dipali said...

Comfort, any day, Lali, one zimbly needs to wear what one feels happy wearing! Age is just a number, state-of-mind and state-of-bod are more relevant, I guess...

2:06 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

I'd say you already practise age-appropriate (what a word!) dressing. You say you don't wear short skirts, or wear shorts outside home, and that you are uncomfortable with short tops; I think you are fretting needlessly.

6:35 pm  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

I think one should wear whatever they are comfortable in. I have friends who will wear really short skirts that ride up their fat thighs however disgusting it may look just for the heck of being "cool" and trendy. And even though I'm probably half their size and may be able to pull it off I wouldn't wear that just 'cause I wouldn't be happy or comfortable in it.
Very nice post.

8:55 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Shirsha- they had age-appropriateness for saris as well, like the colour and the form and the material and all that...
Quite, I only meant that they wore saris exclusively, unlike us, who wear nighties, kaftans, house-dresses and such things.

But u know what, Fabindia is cliched :( Can I suggest? What abt tailoring customized stuff?
I am allergic to synthetics *wail* and tailoring is much of a muchness for me, I'm afraid. I just don't have that kind of time to devote to clothes.

Dipali- Yay, lady. Comfort is my first criterion, too.

Ash- Remind me to tell you all about the short short thingie I picked up and wore, heh.

m (tread softly upon)- You hit the nail, Lady. Comfortable clothes are one thing, but how we look in them has to be considered too, hasn't it? I'd not step out in the shorts and tees that I wear at home in these horrible summer months, it has nothing to do with the size of my thighs, though, it is just not seemly. :-)

9:53 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Mutton dressed as lamb indeed. Yet another of those malicious snidenesses directed against women, not that sometimes they aren't richly deserved.

The point about lambs dressed as mutton hurts the eye more, though. Everywhere I see, there are li'l girls in cropped tops and halter-tanks with a low-waisted mini skirt or low rise jeans. I'm probably objectifying children here, but children in plain A-line frocks, or a pair or shorts and a cotton top, or the old, old pinafores used to look so much prettier. To me at least. And they shuffled about less in the discomfort of high heels and tight outfits.

Oh well. The tyrannies of parental affection.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

I wrote such a long and apt comment for this post, it isn't to be seen! What happend? My comment on m(tread softly upon) has vanished too! Checking if this one shows up, then will post my comment again!

3:26 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

Now that it's working, let me just summarize what I said. Basically, that G and I wear almost similar clothes, barring the A-line frocks, pinafores and short skirts that she wears and I can't :P G has a taste of her own in clothes. No tummy shows for her, even if I don't mind a little bit of it peeping out from under a short top. So she sets her own rules, and I break all that were set for me :P We both do indulge in halter necks, sleeveless and spaghettis, irrespective of our ages. Must say, I wear them and go out simply because I'm comfortable carrying off what I wear. Besides, I don't look my age, so make the most of it ;-)

3:44 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

@Priya: if G likes what she wears, then that settles it. But it's a little painful to see tops designed to show cleavage on six year olds because they don't, you know, have any. And rhinestones and sequins on summer frocks! What's the deal with that??? It's not a moral high ground thing, you understand, sweetheart. It's simply a matter of my personal tastes being taken by surprise :D

P.S: you totally do not look your age. I completely agree with THAT. Hehe.

4:23 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

What brought this on? Not just seeing children in tarty clothes, I think.

11:26 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rimi- The word Rajesh used, 'tarty', is distasteful, but some clothes that children wear these days are distasteful too. Kids need clothes that will protect them from scrapes and bruises as they run around and play, not clothes that make them look like miniature adults in a fashion show.

Priya, you know you carry off certain styles so you dress in them. But would you feel comfortable wearing them, say fifteen years from now? That is my point.

Rajesh- Not just seeing kids in "tarty" clothes, no.

6:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one looks good only when one dresses comfortably and the way one likes to be dressed. follow the trends blindl6y and you will make a fool of yopurself. the sooner the women of our ages realise they will be better off! remember the orange and yellow guru shirts dad got from bombay! -kavi

12:44 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Kavi- Oh yes, I remember those guru-shirts. But comfort and trendy dressing are different. I find jeans comfortable, but I wouldn't wear halter neck tops or ultra-short tops because I'd feel uncomfortable in those. A matter of one's comfort levels, I suppose

1:37 pm  

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