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Silver Threads: On dressing for senior success

“Mom!” yelped my 40-something-year-old daughter, who is sometimes keenly observant of me. “Where on earth did you get that shirt? Really!”

She was talking about my green tee with the large, black gothic-type words “Extreme Couture” splashed across the front and descending into two big human skulls wearing Indian-chief headdresses. “At Sam’s,” I said proudly. “Like it?”

Really! Seventy-five year-old women can wear what they like. Unless, of course, it’s too brief to completely cover sags, wrinkles and age spots, offending the eyes of observers, and so outlandish as to be hazardous to the health.

In the latter case I’m talking about those five-inch heels with the platform soles that you see in fashion ads, department store shoe salons and sometimes on actual people. I guess I don’t get around to the spots where young women are wearing them, but I imagine they’re able to maneuver, else you would see accident reports in the paper.

It seems to me you would have to have fairly longish legs to look good in them (because I recall a time in the ‘70s when three-inch heels with platform soles were popular. I had two really petite co-workers who looked like Minnie Mouse in them). How tall would a gal with longish legs be in today’s models? If I had had a pair at, say, 17, I would have been 6-foot-2 and that would have been too much to bear. I was 6 feet in my then-stylish three-inch heels, and in a seemingly shorter America in the ’50s, some of us tall girls were sensitive. (“Go out with him,” advised my 5-10 mother when a pygmy asked me for a date. “You’ll meet someone taller.” But I just couldn’t bear the humiliation.)

That sensitivity didn’t keep me from wearing the high heels of the day, though. And not just for dress. I toured New York City and climbed the Statue of Liberty in them during my college years. As a young reporter, I walked around New Orleans in “spikes” with needle toes — and I have a bunion to prove it. Remember, we didn’t wear pants except on picnics in that era, so many of the current comfortable shoes weren’t an option unless you wanted to look dowdy and, well, old.

Thong sandals — not flip flops — were acceptable with skirts in the summer, and white bucks or penny loafers with socks were good on cold days, as were ballerina flats without socks or hose in summer and winter. These were for school girls; when you went to work the heels were worn almost fulltime.

We females have always been fools for fashion. And not just back in the days when Scarlett was hanging onto the bedpost while Mammy was pulling her corset tight, tight, tighter. If you’re a young reader, it may surprise you to know that trendy young women wore something called a waist-pincher back in the ’50s. It looked a lot like Scarlett’s corset, except that the bra part was missing and it didn’t require lacing; it hooked behind you. My college roommate wore one, always, but I thought them torturous looking. I did, however, like other girls who decided they had too much flesh on their bones, wear a girdle when I got dressed up in something slinky.

Girdles weren’t really terribly painful — if you bought them big enough — and they were good for holding up your stockings in pre-pantyhose days. We wore clinging knit two-piece dresses woven of wool, and the girdle kept everything smooth underneath, or so we thought.

Today’s young women don’t have to put up with much pain to be fashionable. (Frankly, though, I would think a thong would be a bit uncomfortable.) They’re waist-pincher, girdle and — except for special occasions — high-heel free. A friend of mine told me that her 6-foot, 30-something daughter loves the new shoe styles. But she did approach her mom at a party and ask to swap footwear for a bit because her feet were killing her.

When I look at those got-to-pinch somewhere, accidents-waiting-to-happen shoes, I wonder that anybody called my tee shirt extreme couture.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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