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The Ladylike Cardigan

Ann at home in light wash denim and the navy Gabby Cardigan.
always going for the navy

It may be a new year, but I am feeling really old. It has hit me anew that I will never wear a miniskirt again. While I don’t want to dwell on the negative, it doesn’t feel amazing. Goodbye to all that.

Then again… there are a lot of things I sell in my shop that are really not meant for me, age aside. I can love them on other people but they were never really my thing to begin with: caftans, wild prints, shorts of any kind. It is easy to go down the rabbit hole of self-pity. We can be sad that we can’t wear this or that – because of our shape, our age, our wallet – but why? There is so much that we can have. What I am wanting right now – and what feels right to me at 61, but could be just as right at 16 or 106 – is the Gabby Cardigan. I promise you, it is kind of perfect. It is a new riff on a simple, short, Chanel-style jacket with a rounded collar and little buttons at the sleeves… but this time in an incredibly comfortable cotton-silk knit. Historically, this silhouette is IT. A stylist’s dream. All the old ladies – sorry, older ladies – can look great in this style. But go a few decades down and it feels totally youthful and modern. (Think Barbara Bush to Kate Moss… the stark style contrast that I love.) Not to get too caught up in the First Lady thing, but Nancy Reagan was famous for wearing the red Adolfo version of this jacket. Jackie Kennedy was not just a Francophile, but a Chanelophile. I could go on. First lady, old lady, young lady, any kind of lady. You put it on, and you feel that way – ladylike.

When my youngest was home from college over the holiday and helping out in the store, she kept going into my closet and borrowing the older version of this sweater. (We did it in straight-up cashmere in 2014.) She also kept wearing my jewel-neck cardigans, which do the same thing in my book when it comes to ladylike style. She ended up buying this newer version and taking it back to school with her. Could she possibly be growing up? She looks pretty great in it, I have to say — and what a thrill that a piece can be flexible enough to work for women nearly 40 years apart in age. This is the same daughter who complained of having nothing to wear at age 7, and when I pointed out the loads of adorable hand-me-down smocked dresses in her closet, told me in a huff, “You only like those dresses because they are OLD – like YOU.” She wasn’t wrong. I was, in fact, the oldest mother in her friend group… by a lot. It didn’t bother me a bit at the time. But like I said… these days, I am feeling pretty aged. And maybe that’s why I am so into the sweater-jacket-cardigan thing right now – it feels pretty ageless.  

Over the holidays, I watched a lot more TV than I normally do. I was kind of blown away by all the ads aimed at older viewers. Why was I so put off by the grey-haired people looking so happy and playful? They were bounding through fields, walking hand-in-hand on the beach, dancing together, sharing cocktails on cliffs – whatever they were selling, it kept them healthy enough to hike all the way up there. I will never forget taking my dad to an elder-care facility when he was first starting to decline with some ‘introductory’ dementia near his 80th birthday. It was one of those progressive places that provides care in stages, where you start out feeling like you’re in a college dorm with lots of fun and a meal plan, and you try not to notice that the other side of the building has people in nursing uniforms. When we walked out, he looked at me and said “wow, there were a lot of old people there, right?” 

I admired his self-assessment at the time – at 79, he did not consider himself an old person – but now I am beginning to empathize with it. Who are the people dancing in the club on the commercials? Wouldn't they rather they be sitting down and watching? I honestly don’t know. And then, as if the New York Times had been tracking my thoughts, this article popped up featuring a group of people who call themselves the “silver tsunami” and meet up every Friday night for a dance party. I don’t want to give up dancing – I can’t tell you how hard I danced at our last company party – but I REALLY don’t want to look like I am trying to be younger than I am. At least for now, I know how to dress my age… which is why the Gabby Cardigan feels so good for me and for everyone. Coco, Barbara, Kate, Pauline, and me. And you. 

As far as styling goes - it is so effortless and simple that there is no need to overthink it. I will wear it with a simple tank or t-shirt underneath and jeans on bottom. (With or without the vitamins in the commercials, I have an “active lifestyle” – I need the jeans to move around a lot. Just not the low rise that has come back into style… another thing I will never wear again.) I could throw on some fat pearl earrings if I am feeling more elder-chic… and leave the extra piercings to Pauline and the younger girls to make it feel young and hip. I will stay in my lane and continue to figure out how to love my lane. It is not so much what I can’t wear anymore – but what kind of Old(er) Lady I want to be. A lady that my 21-year-old wants to look like is a pretty good start.

From Ann

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