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Silver Threads: Rethinking what to wear

When the Olympics begin Friday, American sports teams will be wearing the white pants, blue jackets and blue berets created for the occasion by the Ralph Lauren design team but manufactured in China. And according to internet polls, not many TV watchers in the U.S. will care.
Leaving aside the contretemps over the outsourcing of the labor on the uniforms, many observers complained that the outfits look “too European,” especially the headgear. But not all Americans wear baseball caps or cowboy hats, so what’s the fuss? My husband’s closet contains an array of items (some of which are more valued as collectibles than wearables): An oversized beret that he bought in Belgium, a deerstalker hat like the one Sherlock Holmes wore (it looks the same coming and going), a porkpie hat, a Scottish tam in his family (Davidson) tartan, a soft Panama hat that he can roll up and put in his suitcase for travel, and a little Alpine number that would look good with lederhosen.

No cowboy hats or baseball caps, and even fewer American women wear them either.

I got to thinking the other day about the fact that women of any nationality seem to have more trouble with clothes than men do.

Getting dressed for a casual dinner out with friends, I put on a pair of black pants and pulled down a cute top I’d gotten on a trip out of town this spring: a gauzy gray number with faux pearl encrusted neckline, enough length to cover my hips and sleeves to the elbow, past the creped and floppy part of my upper arms.

When I had adjusted the top just as it should be, I looked in the mirror and noted that the material was thin enough to reveal the several shades of garments and skin beneath it. The flesh-toned bra looked OK, but below it was a flabby expanse of midriff the color of a plucked chicken descending into about two inches of white underpants and then the black of my pants beginning just below the waist as so many of today’s styles do. Get the picture? Not a pretty one, especially on a 77-year-old woman all duded up for an evening out.

Meanwhile, my husband was good to go, having traded his khaki shorts for khaki pants and his limp seersucker shirt for a fresher one. With the exception of occasionally substituting a knit shirt, he’s pretty much wedded to this look. Mornings, for a mall walk, he wears running shoes with white socks, peeling off the socks at mid-day to put on Birkenstocks — leaving them on for that classic socks-and-sandals look if the weather’s cool — and slipping into his loafers if we’re going somewhere that night. He’s care free when it comes to his costume.

But the whole gauzy gray top episode made me wonder whether I should be rethinking the way I dress and considering only clothing more age appropriate. Oh, I’ll never bring myself to adopt the ubiquitous blouses printed with pink cabbage roses and sprigs of violets and worn everywhere (restaurants, doctors’ offices, DMV bureaus) by older women with navy blue pants and white Reboks. And I’m not suggesting a return to the fashions of yesteryear, when the ladies over 45 wore lace-up heels, dowager dresses and their long gray hairs in buns at the backs of their necks.

But I pledge to be more cognizant of my body’s realities the next time I spot a “cute top” on a hanger in a shop.

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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