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?