Dressing for What's Next: Confidence-Building Clothes

What to wear for the rest of your life.

By Kim Johnson Gross, Photos by Michael Waring

Dressing for YourselfShe’s 10 years younger than I am. Her last marriage left her with money, two young boys and, rumor has it, very little body fat. My daughters like her, and she makes their father laugh — he’s behaving like the man I fell in love with 27 years ago. Back then, giddy and love struck, we felt as if we had won the lottery. Well, he feels that he has won it again. When it came time to meet my ex-husband’s soon-to-be bride, all I could think was, "What am I going to wear?"The occasion was a party celebrating our youngest daughter’s high school graduation and my ex’s 50th birthday. For me, it marked several major transitions: my becoming an empty nester, my ex moving on to his next life and, worse, my becoming his "first wife." Obviously this moment was about more than looking my best; it was about feeling good about myself and the decisions I had made. Who knew that one day I would need to know how to dress like an ex-wife?I wanted to wear something to help me feel festive. Something distinctive — I didn’t want to look retiring. I decided to build my outfit around my favorite necklace: a dramatic turquoise extravaganza, a 50th birthday gift from a treasured friend. The rest would be easy: something black, slimming, and sexy — perhaps a peasant skirt and strappy top.Professionally, I advise everyone to try on special-occasion clothes at least two weeks before the event to check for fit, condition, and the feel-good factor. I’m not sure why I ignored my own advice, but I suspect it had everything to do with denial. When I got dressed, nothing worked except the necklace. The top looked washed out from wear, and revealed back flab that wasn’t there last summer. So I slipped into a short black dress that had been a favorite, but now it hugged my tummy and made my legs look wintry white. The black that had always made me seem blonder now looked severe. I didn’t want anyone to think I was in mourning. Panic set in. It was time to dig deep into my closet.I’ve always loved anything in a leopard or Pucci print — sexy classics that brighten my wardrobe. Fingers crossed, I tried on the stretch silk Pucci skirt I splurged on after my divorce five years ago. I had justified the cost because wearing it made me feel happy, sexy, and independent. Like any true friend, this fabulous skirt has never failed to boost my spirits or forgive my varying weight shifts. It didn’t fail me this time. I wore it with fun drop earrings, a flourish of bangles, black Jack Rogers sandals my mother had bought me years ago and a black halter top that showed off my arms but hid the back flab. The combination was winning and comforting. I felt good that night. My children were pleased with their mother, and my ex seemed proud that I didn’t look like his first wife (but was).Our clothes are the sum of our experiences. We keep those that suit us and say goodbye to those that don’t. The same goes for relationships: It takes courage to let go of something that’s not working — even after all the mending and tailoring imaginable — and to give up the hope that you might fit into it again. But it’s necessary if you want to make room for something new. What to Wear… to Celebrate Your IndependenceGraphic prints and 1960s-inspired patterns are giving fashion a buzz now. If you haven’t saved your Puccis or Lilly Pulitzers, contemporized versions are the next best thing. This body-skimming A-line dress by Michael Michael Kors, $150, is a guaranteed confidence booster. Jana Feiffer linen-and-seashell bag, $325. Constanca Basto jeweled sandals, $189. Kenneth Jay Lane cuff, $125.What to Wear… to Give a Classic Look Some JazzThis fluid, waist-defining shirtdress has a sexy V-neck and a flash of leg below, but it’s the bold geometrics that make it irresistible. Tibi silk twill dress, $230. Nine West gold-plated necklace, $34. Hollywould seashell-clasp rattan clutch, $895. Naturalizer metallic slingbacks, $65.What to Wear…. to Give Jeans a New IncarnationThis artsy tunic reminds us of a beach coverup on the Italian Riviera, but it’s right at home over new-again slim jeans. What cinches the look: the applique belt. T-bags matte jersey tunic, $106. J & Company jeans, $135. Jana Feiffer belt, $195. Bettye Mueller patent peeptoe pumps, $370.How are you dressing for the rest of your life? I want to hear from you. Please share your fashion stories, concerns, confusions, and victories. E-mail me at kjg@more.com.Originally published in MORE magazine, March 2006.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:06

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