Friday, October 2, 2009

Garanimals for Grown-Ups

by Susan McBride

I love October, and not just because it's my birthday month. The older I get, the happier I am when summer has ended. Since I shun the sun (how else can I keep my ghostly pale complexion?), I'm a lot less fond of shorts and bathing suits than I used to be. I long for crisp days when jeans and sweaters are the norm. And I'm thrilled that scarves are in, even with T-shirts. I've never worn scarves much before, except thick woolly ones to keep the cold at bay; but my fashion sense keeps changing as I, um, mature. When I go shopping now, I realize I'm drawn to items that I would've bypassed maybe even a year ago. I'm less prone to buy trendy things and more enamored of classics (although I'll never dress in Polo head-to-toe again as I did during my early college days!).

I guess I've got clothes on the brain as I desperately need to clean out my closets (more like purge) and sort out what fits, what I don't wear, and what I'm lacking. The last four years have kind of ravaged my wardrobe as I've gone through so many changes. Back in 2005, I had shrunk down to a size zero after eating healthier (read: going vegetarian) and trying (successfully) to get my cholesterol down. I had new author photos shot, and the photographer had sent me out with a stylist because "you're much cooler on the inside than you are on the outside," as she put it. I was advised that my hairstyle was too "anchor-woman-ish" and my sweater-sets had to go. The stylist definitely kick-started my interest in fashion again. I realized, too, that when you're the size of a clothes hanger, everything looks terrific. I had wonderful outfits that I wore with high heels to speaking engagements, conferences, social outings, wherever. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in "Sex & the City" (minus the cigarettes and the promiscuous sex).

Then came my breast cancer diagnosis in late 2006. The first thing I craved out of surgery was a hamburger (which I inhaled--God, it tasted good!--but haven't had since). I was told on no uncertain terms to eat more protein during radiation therapy so I consumed plenty of yogurt, nuts, fish, and chicken. My doctors were thrilled when I put on 10 pounds, and my friends and family breathed a sigh of relief, too. I hadn't realized until then that everyone thought my skinny (albeit very healthy and energetic) self had resembled nothing more than a "bobble-head doll" or a "human lollipop." Nice. As for my fashion sense during this rough period: I lived in camisoles and sweats. Comfort was key. I worried more about healing and feeling strong again and less about dressing like a magazine cover girl. So my chic little clothes and high heels gathered dust. Once I recovered from treatment and started working out again, I lost a few pounds as I got back in shape; but my size zero days were gone for good. Which meant I had a closet filled with clothes that didn't fit.

Once I donated some things to charity and gave others to petite friends and relatives, I was left with a wardrobe mostly comprised of various colored zip-up jackets with matching camisoles, jeans, and sweatpants. Perfect attire for writing, but not exactly how I want to dress when I'm doing a bunch of speaking gigs this month...or promoting THE COUGAR CLUB next February.

I wish there were Garanimals for grown-ups with colored tags that told me what went with what. It would make life so much easier. I find it amazing how my tastes have changed over time. I want to look good, but I need to be comfortable. I'd like fewer pieces that work together better. I want to wear heels on some occasions and flats on others, depending on what I'm doing. It's kind of like my changing wardrobe reflects the changes I've made in my life. I'm learning to focus on fewer things that are more important, to toss the bad stuff as fast as I can, and to celebrate all the good stuff. It's taken me awhile to figure out that it's the good stuff that never goes out of style.

P.S. I've done a MAJOR closet overhaul, donating three fat bags of clothes and shoes to charity. Whew. That calls for a little shopping to celebrate, don't you think?


  1. Oh, Susan, you always looked so great every time I saw you!

    Being a great-grandma, even when I'm dressed up for a conference, I want my clothes to be comfy and feel like p.j.s and I never wear high heels anymore, despite being a member of the stiletto gang.

    As for scarfs, I have a good friend who is also a mystery writer, who takes one suit with her to conferences and a whole bunch of different scarfs to change her look. That way, one suitcase is enough for her.

    I could never do that, I'd be sure to drop food or something else on that one suit.


  2. Stick with black and a few pieces of gray and red to flesh things out. But my secret to dressing when going out is the Boden USA site ( which has great, happening clothes for us women of a certain age--not too young, but not too old either. The wrap dresses are devine and are a good alternative when you have a speaking engagement. On any sized body, they will look great! Maggie

  3. Aw, Marilyn, thanks for the compliment! I think fashion is fun to play with, and I'm going to have a ball picking out new things to go with my changing wardrobe. You're right that being comfortable is so important.

    Maggie, I've never heard of Boden, so I'll check it out. I love black and take it when I travel; but everytime I leave my house in it, I'm covered in cat fur! Gray is awesome, and brown, too. I'm trying to use those as my neutrals and add more color to them. Love wrap dresses, too!

    I keep looking inside my newly cleaned-out closets, amazed that I can actually see things! No more cramming stuff in.