I am getting ready to celebrate a birthday this month that frankly has me a little rattled. I am really, really not young at all anymore. These days I have found myself carefully examining my skin, more in awe than anything. I have written before about a daughter asking me, at the age of 6 or so, why my younger friend's skin was "wrapped more tightly around her." That same daughter commented the other day, looking at my legs by the pool. "Wow, mom, look at that. Your skin is so… crepey looking." Crepe. Silk crepe? Or crepe paper? Mmmm. Once again, I am kind of delighted by the phrasing and devastated at the same time. She is right. What can I do?
I just finished Joan Didion's Blue Nights, much of which is about losing her only daughter and husband within months of each other. It was so sad. (Breaking news, I know.) The whole thing beautifully written, of course, but I was particularly touched by her description of her own aging: "I have watched tears flood the eyes of grown women, loved women, women of talent and accomplishment, for no reason other than that a small child in the room, more often than not an adored niece or nephew, has just described them as 'wrinkly' or asked how old they are." Oh wow again. On a lighter note, when I first opened my shop at what I thought was a "young" 48 years old, we sold a few favorite books alongside the clothes and purses and shoes. I have never been much of a visual merchandiser, but I thought I was very clever placing Nora Ephron's brilliant I Feel Bad About My Neck in front of the Mario Badescu night cream. Aging is complicated for a lot of people, but I find myself equally touched by both ends of the spectrum there… the poignancy and true hurt in the Joan Didion passage, and the well-what-can-you-do humor in so much of Nora Ephron's writing.
But I guess this becomes a sensitive subject long before your skin starts getting loose. I know women of every age who complain about their arms… maybe they grew up with mothers who hated their own? or who told them, frankly, that's not your best feature? I don't know. When I planned my wedding on the fly, I had this kooky designer friend Kalinka whip up 6 bridesmaid dresses for me. Bottle green (it was December, so a little Christmasy), empire-waisted babydoll dresses, made of stretchy ruched velvet on top and chiffon skirts. And… the kiss of death… cap sleeves. They were so mad at me. These were women in their twenties, the physical prime of their lives – and all of them were hung up on their arms! (Actually, five of them were mad – the sixth being my dear friend Lisa, whose body rivalled Elle Macpherson's in my mind. She was unbothered.) I thought they looked beautiful, but the point remains… arms are tough.
What you need, I think, if you don't already have it, is the confidence to bare them. This won't make your skin any tighter, or the muscle any firmer, and it won't take any inches off. But you will be both cooler in temperature, and – in my view – cooler in the eyes of others. Absolutely no one is looking at your arms and thinking… hmm… could be tighter. I promise. To be honest, you're more likely to attract attention if you're bundled up in sweltering weather. Visible discomfort is always worse than an "imperfect body." I am a broken record on this subject, but I find confidence the most attractive thing in a woman… or in anyone, for that matter. My old boss – who clearly did a number on my psyche because I talk about her so often – was proudly photographed by Steven Klein, soft arms and all, in a sleeveless black shift. She was probably 70 in this picture. I think she looks amazing.
This is a long lead-in to the shirt I have been most excited about this season… the summer version of our very first and most classic shape. The Short-Sleeved Icon Shirt. To be clear, the original, with long sleeves, is great in summer as well – I wear it all the time. And to be doubly clear, we make other shirts with short sleeves. The Atelier Tunic is one (offset the exposed upper arms by cinching the waist tight and defining your shape that way.) Or there is the Elbow-Sleeve silhouette that acts as kind of a half-step between the long and the short… that one was new this spring and has sold like crazy. But the Icon is the one I've been waiting for. There is something about that clean-finished short sleeve and the spread collar and the simple shape that just LOOKS summery. It is a nod to the season – and for me has a slightly 50s vibe that I love. I may be romanticizing the classic Hayley Mills camp uniform shirt (an old intern of ours actually made her own shirt based on this very same fantasy!) I will admit that it isn't the sexiest look right off the hanger. Although if you were like Lisa – the bridesmaid unruffled by cap sleeves, who has a sense of style just as amazing as her body – you would buy it a size larger than your usual, undo an extra button or two, and people would blush just looking at you. So that's one way to make it a little more interesting. Another angle is sort of a Nantucket vibe - a personal favorite - with cut-off white jeans and preppy Tretorns, maybe even a scarf in your hair. Kennedy-esque perfection. Right now mine is relatively un-accessorized, except for blue jeans and the shell pendant I wear most days. (I rotate between a few colors.) Regardless, this is exactly the sort of shirt that, to me, screams confidence, not just because it shows your arms, but because it's a bit unsexy? Tomboy sexy, I suppose. Girl-next-door, not-trying-too hard sexy. It is more of a style thing – which is about confidence by definition. At this point in my life, and at this point in the summer, I don't need to look young or beautiful… I kind of just want to look cool. And for me, that's exactly what this shirt does. I also don't need to look at my reflection when I'm moving my arms – no one else is, anyway. I promise.