Sunday, November 27, 2005

Observations of the Random Kind...

Ag! Somebody call the WHO…Les Médecins sans Frontières…the CDC! There is a plague upon us! An epidemic! Oh, the humanity…It’s too horrible to contemplate…eeeeeeeeeeeek!!

We’ve had to spend a little time in malls lately and it would appear that summer us upon us here in Cape Town with a vengeance. Saturday was sunburn weather for pale, peaked-looking blondes like me, cabriolet weather for the young and the sporty, like my husband, and execrable taste in clothing weather for half the women over the age of consent.

Each year brings its own examples of trendy new looks which, because of their very trendiness, quickly fade into the realm of tedious and tiresome. This year everybody has a white tiered skirt. Yah, there are a few variations…lace between the tiers, bling on some of them, maybe not white but the same style…three fourths of the female population of Cape Town must own one of these trite…but light and summery…little numbers. Paired with them, invariably, is an ungainly eyesore of a belt, invariably of a contrasting colour, invariably of a weight, texture, size, and style to clash with and simply overwhelm the deliberate delicacy of the dainty summer skirt. Few, if any, of the adherents to this bankrupt notion of style demonstrate any fashion sense in selecting the tops they wear with those charming little skirts, either. Fragile, fluttery little tops with handkerchief-hems or lettuce-edges designed to catch the eye with their airy, ethereal, wispiness and which should pair beautifully with the skirts, are pinioned, overwhelmed and overpowered, by those clunky, clumsy leather and metal atrocities that instantly fatten even the slimmest hips.

But the most egregious offenders are not the young girls who haven’t paraded around in enough fashion disasters to have learned a few embarrassing (and expensive) lessons. They aren’t the twenty-somethings who failed to get the memo about pube-baring pants and bucket-bottom jeans being tacky and entirely too passé. No, the flagrant offenders are those who should, more than anyone else, know better. I am referring to the current plague of Mutton Dressed as Lamb.

I try…I really try…to stifle my urge to make an under-the-breath critical remark when faced with a woman who is definitely old enough to know better but who is running around, just the same, with a bunch of her wrinkly, crinkly parts grossly overexposed. I truly try to not roll my eyes and hiss through my teeth when someone who is well past the first…and second…blush of youth packages her saggy baggy bits in threads specifically designed for the fit, the firm, the young. Even a fit woman past a certain age is collagen-deprived all over her body and while the muscle may, with effort and a private flat at Virgin Active, stay firm, there’s no help for the skin. Yah, you can lift this and inject that, but the plump, moist glowing smoothness of youth inevitably gives way to the thin, fragile, crepey texture of age, no matter what you do…and a helluva lot sooner than most of us…and all of them…want to admit!

My husband is not ordinarily a critical man, particularly where women are concerned, and most especially when it comes to women’s clothes. He follows the age-old male dictum of “less is more” and is not particularly attuned to the nuances of female fashion, but even he has taken notice of the recent upsurge in MDL sightings. “Mouton,” he whispered to me in the queue at the Pick ’n’ Pay the other night, and subtly inclined his head towards a woman browsing the Coke Lite display. From behind…and at a sufficient distance…she could have been taken for being in her mid-to-late twenties.

Long, moussed, teased, highlighted, artfully tousled hair cascaded to mid-back. An long expanse of extraordinarily tanned leg reached from a trendy pair of orange and pink high-heeled sandals upwards to disappear beneath the hem of an extremely short white skirt that was liberally printed with large red rosebuds. A shoestring strap cotton knit lettuce-edged T-shirt, pink layered over orange, completed the ensemble. Even the faulty selection of the clothing…the matching shirt and shoes paired with an “oh, that is soooo wrong!” skirt, bespoke a young woman still getting her fashion bearings. And yet…

There was something too perfect…too packaged…about the whole thing, even from behind. And, sure enough, she turned around and the face, the slight neck wattle, the softened jawline, the dead giveaway aging hands…surely she had borrowed the clothes from the closet of her twenty-something daughter? There were signs of rhinoplasty…the nose didn’t look bad, it just didn’t look real on that face. Was her forehead botoxed or just lifted a bit too much? Too-perky, artificially firm bosoms pushed out the front of the top, creating a prow-like effect. It was all just a bit bizarre!

We really aren’t very critical of the majority of people whom we encounter on our sojourns about the city. Lumpy huisvroue, dressed in calico or jeans and the nearest T-shirt to hand, faces naked as the day they were born, hair yanked back in a knot…these are women who employ no artifice, make no efforts to be anything more than the creature, for good or for ill, who greets them in the bathroom mirror each morning. They make no attempt to join the ranks of the trim and trendy and cannot, therefore, be held accountable to that standard. The young and exuberant, stumbling their way through the ever-changing fashion/fad/trend/style landscape, learning by failing, learning by succeeding, learning by doing…this is a time of individuation, experimentation, learning for the young teen crowd, and they can’t learn without making a few…mostly forgivable…mistakes along the way. (But I am almost compelled to ask, when I see a 13-year-old dressed like a $2 whore, “Where is your mother? What was she thinking, letting you out in public looking like paedophile-bait?”)

Women who dress and groom themselves as if they were the be-all and end-all of fashion, however, who seem to view themselves as, if not trendsetters, at least cutting-edge fashionistas…but who fall desperately short of the mark…these women are a different story altogether. My favourites are the omnivores, the eager fashion omni-victims, those poor, deluded souls who disgorge the contents of their pocketbooks at the first sign of a new trend, whether it suits them or not. My husband, on the other hand, tends to notice those whom we have come to call “fake teenagers”…Mutton Dressed as Lamb. And the malls these past days have been overrun with them!

Last weekend we sat at a café, sipping cold drinks and watching the parade of passersby. There was the one I nicknamed Morticia Addams. Long, inky black hair (sadly, devoid of the suppleness and sheen that denotes natural, healthy colour and condition) with raggedy ends and a white streak emblazoned from one side of her forehead all the way to mid-crown. Long, lean…to the point of unnatural thinness…legs encased first in stiletto heeled boots sporting weapon-like toes, then in skinny black jeans low cut enough to be barely decent. From behind, as she browsed the skimpy summer tops at Mr. Price, she looked like an anorexic teenager, but the face, when she turned around, showed decades of hard living. So did her bared belly. It was deplorable, that toneless expanse of bare flesh, and although I was too far away to actually see the stretch marks themselves, the half-mast nature of her navel…a dead giveaway to another stretch-marked sister…told the tale.

In stark relief were the middle-aged ladies who were comfortable in their skins. Some of them were stout and matronly, dressed in casual slacks and tunic tops that skimmed their ample curves tastefully. Others had maintained the slimness of youth, but had opted for coiffures and fashion that flattered their mature looks: sport casual looks from the likes of Lacoste or the South African version of Liz Claiborne, attractively groomed women who saw no need to cling embarrassingly to a youth long past. Holding hands with their (presumed) husbands and strolling past the shops, the presented an almost poignant counterpoint to the pathetic and desperate aging MDLs that surged around them, tricep wings flapping, crinkled bellies jiggling, hair-extensions obvious to anyone who knows what they are.

It was actually kind of sad, seeing all these women who really are old enough to know better, reduce their self-worth to their tits and asses, to realize that without their youth…or the youth they see in their magic mirrors each morning…they believe themselves to be of diminished worth. Women who accept the stages of their lives, who recognize that age and gravity have a telling effect on us, are so much more attractive than those who cling in panic to a time long-dead. They not only look ridiculous and do themselves as disservice, they teach our daughters that, without youth we have no value, and therefore we must cling to it, claw it to our breasts, damage our skin, carve up our flesh, malnourish our bodies, and make damned fools of ourselves in public…all to maintain an illusion of youth that is immediately dispelled the moment a real teenager hoves into view. Kinda pointless, isn’t it?

And pathetic.


  1. Hi SV,

    I find the way people dress here to be very different than the States (although I have been gone from the States a few years). Women seem to take more time to be feminine (and to be more serious about being feminine) which I enjoy, especially as beauty treatments here are so much more affordable than in the States.

    (My eyes rolled in envy at your mention of Liz Claiborne. I MISS Liz Claiborne.)

    I was at the nail bar once, having had my nails done and waiting for them to dry, and I heard the oddest clunking of someone climbing the stairs up to the nail parlour. I was absolutely amazed at this extremely old lady who was wearing the tallest pair of high heels. She had to hold onto the rail climbing the stairs and how she made it up them I will never know. She was dressed in couture with matching bag, shoes, scarf around the neck and hair arranged in a peculiar fashion. My feet hurt just watching her walk across the floor. She excused herself for a moment to go to the ladies' and I asked my nail lady what her story was. My nail lady patted my hand and explained, "She's 93. She wears her hair that way to cover the balding marks from all of her face lifts. But it's okay, she's French!"

    That really made my day. If at 93, I can still be concerned about being in "fashion" well, I just hope that flats are in that year.



  2. Hey, Catalyst...she sounds like my late husband's mother, who is a native Parisienne! No matter where they go or how old they get, French women seem to retain that je ne sais quoi, ya know?

    Yah, I miss Liz Claiborne, of the few great designers who also designs for the more amply porportioned figure...think I'll stock up on her stuff next trip back...renew my affair with Mr. Macy...

  3. hehe love the post SV :)

    there are loads of MDL out there.. gareth often grabs my hand and point them out. some of the worst is when women wear jeans 2 sizes to small and end up piling out of them.. muffin top.. eish.. not nice!

  4. Hey SV! When you going to update your blogs. You always have interesting stuff to say. I check religiously for your ramblings! Maybe you just busy with your cottage etc.
    C ya!

  5. Is your husband indian by any chance?


  6. Why, yes, Peter, my husband is Indian! Born and raised in Durban, in fact. Why do you ask and how could you tell?



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