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Sometimes It's Harder to Get Old in the Age of Reason


"A in't if funny how time just slips away . . . ?"

You know the song, and if you've reached what polite society insists on calling "a certain age," you know the answer, too: No, it's not funny.

What many people do about it, however, is hilarious. The hair weaves, the liposuction, the relentless, gaudy trendiness. All in a futile effort to turn back the clock and recapture lost youth.

Why do we do it? And is there a way to pull it off without looking thoroughly goofy?


HE: It's all gravity's fault. If we lived on the moon, we'd still look 21. But we still try to do a Harold Lloyd maneuver on the clock hands because we remember how sleek we used to look before we had to raise kids, or work for a living, or acknowledge there was such a thing as stress. Never mind that we were also stupid, immature, selfish, boring and inexperienced back then--we want to be young again!

And, in the attempt, we manage to appear stupid, immature, selfish and boring, even though we should be experienced enough to know better. There are clues to watch for. For instance, if you see a guy of a certain age wearing leather pants in August, fussing over his ponytail and hitting on cheerleaders, you can be pretty certain the grains of sand in his hourglass are falling like boulders.

SHE: Before I criticize men and women for trying to look young, I have to come to their defense. It isn't easy to keep reminding ourselves that we look older than we feel, that we shouldn't choose the skirt that is too short, the shirt that is too loud.

But, sadly, we always seem older when we wear something too trendy--when we're trying too hard. The trick for looking youthful without looking absurd is to wear modified versions of now clothing.

HE: You've got to be honest with yourself, sometimes brutally so. The aim shouldn't be to look young, or look mature, or look any certain age, but to look like yourself. There isn't a thing wrong with wearing bright clothes, or figure-conforming clothes, or fanciful clothes, as long as your personality and, to a lesser extent your body, allow it.

For instance, I'd feel terrifically uncomfortable--and I'd look idiotic--wearing long, baggy printed shorts, clunky high-top Nikes, a bizarre Day-Glo T-shirt and a baseball cap worn backward. But I'm also not ready to invest in geezer pants with the waistline up around my armpits, sensible brown shoes with white socks and a Chrysler New Yorker.

SHE: Nor am I ready to forgo what's fun in the name of sartorial "maturity." I'll always pick up a trendy accessory to stay in touch with the fashion times.

But there are some definite no-no's for the "mature" woman: mini-skirts, sleeveless dresses; backless dresses; plunging necklines; stiletto heels; baby-doll dresses. Of course, you can take any of these, modify them, and they become acceptable. For example: the "backless" dress with a small cutout filled in with flesh-tone net.

Then there are those things that always give a woman the aura of advancing age: matched sets of costume jewelry (earrings, pins, necklaces), blue eye shadow; a single strand of graduated pearls, bubble hairdos sprayed to the max, a clown-like application of blush, lipstick drawn well over the lip line.

HE: Men over 40 should never shop at the Gap, unless they're having a sale on really bizarre aloha shirts, which no man can ever have enough of at any stage of life. They're ageless gonzo attire, a sure-fire lift to the spirit and a SoCal must. Men over 40 should also never wear anything in the wardrobe locker of "Beverly Hills, 90210" or anything hanging on the racks of the section (read: slum) of the men's department that's defined by chrome and video monitors blaring MTV.

Men over 40, ideally (and this is a really BIG "ideally," considering the economic climate), should have a tailor. They've paid a few dues, and they deserve it. And custom-tailored clothes look like a zillion bucks. Unfortunately, they cost just slightly less.

SHE: In her book "Winning the Age Game," Gloria Heidi reels off a list of "winners"--clothing accessories, styles and colors--that help a woman look ageless. Among the items: lots of pearls; brass buttons; functional looking eyeglasses (jeweled frames are for the very young); the colors white, bright red, navy blue, coral and shocking pink; Chanel-style suits in bright colors, and trench coats.

Also, she mentions an important way to prevent looking matronly: "Avoid the too-timid look," she writes. "Add a bit of drama. Matronly is a beige polyester knit suit worn with a beige blouse with tucks and lace, a small gold pin, classic beige pumps and a small handbag.

"Ageless is the same suit worn with a black silk shirt . . . blouses are old . . . a red and beige silk scarf at the neck and several gold chains. The purse and shoes should be a subtle adaptation of the current fad."

HE: Men, I don't think, have such elaborate options. Older guys can't really disguise the fact that they're aging, but they can try to cut considerably more of a dash while they're doing it. This can't be accomplished with gear from Banana Republic--makes you look like an aging Indiana Jones--but it can with a razor-sharp business suit.

Tweeds or namby-pamby colors won't do it; you need something perfectly cut, preferably dark, with a really bold tie or handkerchief. And the suit has to be cut perfectly, and by that I mean it has to be cut to artfully disguise little bodily flaws. The shirt, too. Again, a good tailor can do this.

An outfit like that can't make you look younger, but it can make you appear ageless. Take Yves Saint-Laurent's maxim to heart: Fashions fade; style is eternal.

SHE: And don't forget the pearl from the late, ageless Gloria Swanson: "You only get in life what you command." Agelessness doesn't just happen. You have to make your own magic.

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