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The little black dress – then and now

Posted in fashion

Joan Didion for Celine
Joan Didion for Celine

A few weeks ago we were contacted by an online retailer asking if we wished to participate in their LBD Valentine Mood Board. All we had to do was pick one, or more, of their offerings and accessorize it the way we saw fit. After a brief correspondence from the plumpness of our beds (sofa girl just waking up in Cape Town and me already buried under the covers in LA), we decided I would take this one.
“Not sure there is anything for us” she ventured.
“Mmm, the pleated one is nice.” It was: right length (under the knee); right material (a wavy organza that probably swayed nicely as one moved) but one drawback – sleeveless. Not good if you are conscious of your chicken wings.
Everything else was too short, too revealing, too tight. And, frankly, too black.

Julia Roberts for Givenchy
Julia Roberts for Givenchy

Black was my go-to color for most of my 20s and 30s. It could have been that punk and goth had left an imprint on my sartorial choices – eventually, when the most risqué fashion started to give way to a more (rock ’n roll) office attire, if opening my closet, you would have been confronted with a sea of black, with some red and navy sprinkled in. If I ever went shopping with my mother, she would roll her eyes and sigh “Not black again!”.

Frankly, it was much easier to look chic when clad in black. A bright red lipstick, a white shirt, an extravagant necklace all looked interesting against a black canvas, and even black on black looked put together without  much effort.

Dolce & Gabbana's Sicilian grandmothers
Dolce & Gabbana’s Sicilian grandmothers

These days, my wardrobe is a lot more colorful with the exception of two tailored black pants and two little black dresses, both easy items that cover a multitude of sins while making me look, yes, chic. The difference is, I rarely put black fabrics near my face, lest I want to look like a Sicilian widow. What looked so flattering twenty years ago now makes me look drab or ghostly, my features dragged down and blurred by the absence of color. sofagirl pointed out she still looks good in black when she has a tan but her idea of a tan is the healthy pinkish hue her skin will acquire over the Summer and her saving grace is her red hair. Me, I just look like an extra from the Godfather.

Hence, the pants will always be paired with a white or cream top and the dress will be enlivened by a colorful jacket, a silk scarf or, at the very least, the double string of pearls my mother bequeathed me years ago.

Charlotte Rampling for Nars - lovely but very, very retouched
Charlotte Rampling for Nars – lovely but very, very retouched

The fashion world, though, does not seem to share my predicament. It looks as if aging is hip these days, as witnessed by the latest advertising campaigns by Celine with 80-year-old Joan Didion as its face, Julia Roberts (47) for Givenchy and a smattering of Sicilian grandmothers for Dolce & Gabbana. What all these ads have in common is black. I shouldn’t complain; rather, I should be grateful that older women – Diane Keaton, 69, and Charlotte Rampling, 68, for example – are still engaged to sell. Maybe the fashion industry has caught up to what we have known for a long time: women in our age bracket are more likely to have disposable income to shell out on pricey clothes. Or has it?

Judging from the latest collections, only Raf Simons of Dior and Miuccia Prada feature advertising campaigns with clothes someone my age could ever wear (if only I had that disposable income). Putting age front and center, like Celine did, comes across more like a high-brow gimmick to get a brand noticed – or a nod to Phoebe Philo’s taste in books.

Walking to the Apple store yesterday, I took the short-cut through Nordstrom’s fashion department, like I always do: I browsed a bit through the offerings from Theory and L’Agence and looked around at the middle-aged assistants hovering in the vicinity, with not much to do. Neither I nor them were the target customers for the short skirts, stretchy and draped dresses that surrounded us. I can spot myself in the wrinkles of Dolce & Gabbana’s grannies but I cannot see myself wearing any of their clothes anymore.

My little black dress now (Theory)
My little black dress now (Theory)

All this means our sartorial choices become uniquely ours, even more so than when we were in our 20s. Mixing what we know looks good on us with the latest trends and a touch of the classics is bound to achieve the desired results: fashionable, chic and age appropriate. With not a hint of Sicilian granny.

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9 Comments

  1. Actually, too true–there’s photographic evidence and the Internet never lies! 🙂
    Seriously, you look great.

    February 17, 2015
    |Reply
  2. Who are you kidding?! Billy Crystal would continue to say…”you look mahvelous, dahling!”

    February 17, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Too kind…

      February 17, 2015
      |Reply
  3. silvia
    silvia

    You cuty. The more I talk to people who haven’t seen you in years the more I’m convinced I’m right on how you look today.

    February 12, 2015
    |Reply
    • WordPress.com Support
      WordPress.com Support

      Either that or I have become more photogenic…(yeah, fat chance of that…)

      February 12, 2015
      |Reply
  4. I’m still stuck in black. But I do listen to my daughter telling me not to wear khaki (my second go-to color) because it washes me out. White is good, though. The colors I can’t bring myself to wear are the ones that remind me of older women: pinks and blues and oranges. Yuck.

    February 6, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I can see you are blonde so black is probably more flattering on you still. Yes, well, khaki and beige are not going to be your friends, your daughter is right. Because our features lose definition as we age, it all becomes a big washout if we put skin tones against our skin. But with your hair and complexion, I bet you would look lovely in pale blues, greens and purple.

      February 6, 2015
      |Reply
  5. I really like the Theory dress. I have a similar dress from Target(!) – not cut quite as nicely – but a similar style – that I wear quite often.

    February 5, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Target is a great place for unexpected treasures!

      February 6, 2015
      |Reply

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