Let’s pretend it’s deep summer and it is really hot and you tend to wear those little sleeveless cotton stretch-tops or even a dress with spaghetti straps the way you always did, all your life. Without a bra! Because you are of the sixties generation.
Except you are 50 plus now, in terrific shape — for “your age”, as impolite people like to add — and can’t see no harm. And then a girlfriend, a really good one, otherwise she wouldn’t dare, says to you, “Your upper arms jiggle!” Which is just another way of saying, “If I were you, I’d stop wearing sleeveless tops and not show the world my naked arms — at your age! And while you’re at it, wear a bra!” That kind of hurts — but it’s worth investigating this summery topic that invites all kinds of fashion-trouble.
Trim, athletic upper arms are a dream that doesn’t come true for many (including myself — but excluding Madonna), certainly not when you are over 50, when untamable flesh appears in all kinds of places you didn’t even know you had. In younger years it’s luscious, firm and silky from head to toe, the breasts sit proud and high — but then, all of a sudden it seems, the flesh is jiggly and moves about like Jell-O pudding. Especially the flabby upper arms that are so un-Michelle-Obama-like that it’s tragic. But it is the truth — and it seems sometimes unfair — women have more loose flesh on their body than men. Which is really nice as long as it wraps itself in perfect proportion around a trim body. (And I don’t mean like Lady Gaga’s real beefsteak-dress of last year!)
Nora Ephron, the late, very funny American writer and author of the bestseller “I Feel Bad About My Neck” knew a thing or two about the older body that seems to betray you whenever you look away. She sometimes felt as bad about other body parts because everything goes south when you hit 50. She opted not only for turtleneck sweaters but also long sleeves. It is also safe to say that she was never spotted bra-less at her fabulous New York lunches.
In my informal fashion-quiz, which I do often for fun with girlfriends, I ran by them the question, “How long can you go sleeveless and bra-less in public?” At the very most until your late 50s was the answer. Because no matter how fit you are, there are not only jiggling parts on your upper arms but strange and scary wobbly hills and fatty deposits right under your arm that don’t need to be exposed freely to strangers anywhere. And certainly not without a bra.
We all know the older lady-hippies, don’t we? They are still around, and either beloved or ridiculed by onlookers. Once adorable super skinny flower children and budding feminists who banned not only the bomb, but bras as well, they still have flowing grey hair, comfy shapeless dresses over natural bosoms, Birkenstocks and recycled shopping bags. I love hippies, I was one myself, and the idea of liberation on all fronts is always appealing. But while your mind and animals should run wild and free, bosoms of a certain age should not.
Who decides what is beautiful and fits the bill of propriety? Naturally, it is very important that only you yourself decide what is permissible at what age — it is an individual question of comfort and aesthetics. Of course, you should have a relaxed and loving relationship with your body and allow it some freedom, no need to wrap it in “Spanx” like a wounded knee. But there’s nothing wrong with being a little critical and in control when it comes to exposure. I found that a good way to test one’s tolerance is to recall what is a real turn-off when looking at other people’s bodies in public.
Sadly, too many older women have an uninhibited streak when it comes to nakedness. As for me: I don’t like to stare at aging armpits — it’s creepy. Sorry. Therefore I wear sleeveless stuff without the bra only at home or with close friends. But fashionable life goes on in the outside world. So, here’s the plan for a cool and pretty summer without exposing flabby flesh.
First, get hold of a comfortable bra and consider these tips.
1. If you must wear a sleeveless dress — and it better be gorgeous — wrap a beautiful, feather light silk scarf or stole around the shoulders.
2. Layers are life-savers! Wear a slightly transparent long-sleeved stretchy shirt under the dress. Alternative: a flimsy long-sleeved chiffon blouse.
3. Get a short little silk or cotton cardigan (waist length), that you also can just hang casually over your shoulders if it gets too warm.
Now you’re all set!
Sabine Reichel blogs regularly as Grey Vixen.