When Aging is a Good Thing

How to Thwart Age Invisibility

[The giveaway of Dr. Bill Thomas's new book, “Second Wind” and tickets to his Second Wind Tour Live Event” remains open until tonight, 14 March 2014, at midnight Pacific Daylight Time. You can enter the drawing at yesterday's post.]

Somewhere in the mists of time past on this blog, I told the story of standing on line at a coffee and bagel shop one morning when I was in my late 50s waiting my turn to order.

As the customer in front of me moved on to the cashier and I began to speak, the counterman skipped right past me with his eyes and asked the person behind me what she wanted.

At no other moment in my life has the phrase, “What am I, chopped liver?” been more perfectly appropriate and you can believe the entire shop heard me say it. (I even got a couple of laughs.)

I was reminded of this when I read a comment on Wednesday's TGB post about the age at which someone becomes old. Elaine of Kalilily wrote, in part:

”Personally, I think that those of us who consider ourselves 'elders' should make a big deal and celebrate that fact as something to admire, respect, and have some fun with.

“Wear funky glasses and hearing aids rather than try to hide those evidences of aging. (I do the glasses; I still hide my hearing aids behind my hair, but I'm getting there.) If you need a cane, use a colorful one.

“If ya' got it, flaunt it. Maybe if we had some fun flaunting being "old," the idea would lose its stigma.”

Elaine is on to something important that, as she says, could change the perception of elders. There is hardly an old person alive who has not been ignored, made invisible to the people around us, as I was in the coffee/bagel shop. It's painful.

But in Elaine's new view, our visibility is increased – a good first step toward elderhood losing its stigma.

Admiring her point, I was kinda pleased to realize that without meaning to or even realizing what Elaine is advocating, I have taken a couple of the kind of steps she suggests, mitigating two of the more obvious stigmas that give younger people permission to ignore old people: the need for comfortable shoes and baldness.

For a long time after pain forced me to give up my (still) beloved high-heeled shoes, I bemoaned that I was stuck with boring flats. Only in the past two years or so have I realized that there is fun to be had with that.


I have been buying silly shoes now. Shoes with gold and silver and pewter sparklies and most recently I have been taken with cute little brogans that use ribbons for shoe strings. (You can now buy ribbon laces online for any shoes that tie.)

See those gold sparkly flats in the photo above? I was wearing those on a recent visit to the neurologist for a minor foot problem. The first thing he said to me was, “Wow, love your shoes.”

I laughed and we had a connection beyond my floppy foot. I wasn't just another old woman patient anymore; I was the lady the the sparkling gold shoes. I won't forget to wear them for my next appointment and he won't forget me.

Other people sometimes notice my shoes – a couple have asked about where to buy the kind with ribbon shoe laces.

I've shown you my hat wall before now:

Hat Wall

The crown of my head shines through the few strands of hair that are left there so I never leave the house without wearing a hat. People I know and people I don't know often say, “Love your hat” and two different friends have given me a hat.

Yesterday, I was dressed in a pair of nice, wool slacks, a tunic-length light-weight coat, a beret and those gray shoes above with white ribbon laces. I'm not too shy to say I looked good, looked well pulled together – which isn't always the case.

On a whim, after a morning Villages meeting, I stopped in a local resale shop. As I walked through the door, one of the sales staff smiled widely and said, “I like your style,” then led me to a rack of clothes she thought fit my “style.” And it did.

When people acknowledge you for something that stands out, something unrelated to your age, that is what they remember you for. There are innumerable food market checkout people who nowadays know me as the hat lady.

The neurologist, on the other hand, is concerned with the other end of my body - my foot, and is reminded who I am because of my silly shoes.

So I am no longer invisible to that neurologist, to the sales woman at the resale shop, to anyone on my normal rounds including innumerable people in the food markets and Japanese restaurants I visit regularly. To them, I'm the hat lady.

So thank you Elaine of Kalilily for helping me recognize that what we're both doing in playing around with our age markers also removes our age-related invisibility cloaks and makes us more “human” to younger people.

Elaine has a lot more to say about this at a terrific post on her blog titled, I Want to Have Fun with the Trappings of Age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: The Lady in Red


I like this idea.
Have you looked at the blog Advanced Style, Ronnie? Now, those ladies are not shy about being noticed and feeling good in some amazing clothes.

Yes, Betty. Advanced Style has been featured here many times.

Ronni, I love this idea. I am a large woman who uses a scooter due to health, and wanted to disappear for a few years from public scrutiny. Then I started to feel how much that hurts and I now try to dress nicely and a bit differently on purpose. I wear an ankle length coat that is a deep blue trimmed in red for beginners. I have to wear odd shoes to fit my feet conditions-so I am thinking, why not decorate them with some ribbon ties and maybe fabric paint? Thank-you Ronni for showing us how you make this work.

I had just the opposite experience lately at my neighborhood grocery store. A very young clerk was ringing up an older woman's groceries when the woman began trembling. The young cashier was very attentive to the older woman's needs, got her a bottle of water, asked if she needed assistance and found someone to help her. I was so taken by this kindness in a world that often seems not to care....especially about older people. I spoke to the manager before I left about the fine qualities of this young employee.

Limited income kept me in very simple clothes for years, but now I volunteer at the ACS thrift shop here. I'm able to add dramatic jewelry and even a pattern or two that sparks up my wardrobe. They spark up my morale too.

Mom taught me to be original and confident about clothing.

As a teacher, I wore colourful outfits.

My students enjoyed walking into a positive atmosphere filled with light and color.

I have a collection of hats, like the Joe Friday one I don when taking mom out for breakfast.

That detective hat goes nicely with my long leather trench coat.

Only thing missing is a fake detective badge.

"Just the facts."

As an older man, I am amazed at how some of my senior lady friends put themselves together. It's marvelous what you guys can do with some jewelry or a scarf. Not so much for their male counterparts (me included I'm afraid) who seem to revert back to their childhood and insist on wearing clothes best left to their grandsons. Many of the men here at the assisted living facility where I live have adopted the sweatpants and football jersey look which they insist on wearing and wearing and wearing day after day.

That's the reason I keep coloring my hair the bright red. My students loved it when I was teaching and young people still stop me in stores and parking lots to tell me how much they love my hair. It helps to keep me noticed.

I LOVE your shoes. I'm a shoeaholic and often get comments on my footwear.

There are some really zany socks out there and I have a collection of them. My favorites have a tiger down the front; the tiger's tail curls around to the back.

Being very short (around 5') I've always had trouble getting served in a coffee shop or bar. The staff just don't look down to my eye level, but over the top. I'm so used to this now in my 70s, I just wave the money in the air and don't for a minute think that lack of service is due to age invisibility.

I'm a slob around the house and garden but make an effort when I go out...colourful silk scarves, jewellery that complements them and unusual comfy shoes. I don't think it's in the psyche of Mediterrean people to ignore older people: the men flirt and the women are chatty - all ages!

Maybe it's related to living in a sunny warm climate.

When I was a young woman I saw other women wearing curlers in their hair and sloppy clothes when shopping for groceries. I vowed to always try to look my best when I was in public.

It has been a lifetime habit and I dress nicely and wear jewelery when going to the grocery store. I have been complimented on how nice I look several times.

I shun drab colors and my wardrobe is full of hot pinks and bright turquoise. I accent my clothes with scarves and jewelery. Although I do not go in for trendy clothes, I think I look well pulled together and do not have the dowdy look that some elders have.

The quote caught my attention today and when I read it yesterday (?) as a comment. The mention of a cane made me smile, remembering my mom. When she had to start using a cane, she found a company that sold clear plastic ones with pink roses inside, filling the full length of the cane. It was unusual, beautiful, and a great conversation piece. It sort of became her trademark. I hope if and when I need a cane, I can find something similar.

Meantime, I'm most likely to adopt cute shoes, if I come across some I like, or a hat. I don't know if I could wear a beret with your panache, Ronni. Something more fedora, Stetson-y style sounds like just the ticket for me. We need sun protection here anyway (Denver), so brims are in order. Funky glasses are another option, although by the time I pay for my lenses, there's little left for quirky, designer frames.

I think the invisibility thing happens twice to women. The first stage of invisibility occurs when a woman reaches the age when she is no longer sexually alluring to men. Suddenly men no longer pay attention in the same way they did before.

The second stage of invisibility is more general and occurs when we hit the age of looking "elderly." Then many people start looking straight through you. Not everyone does this, of course. In fact, once you do catch someone's attention, I find that people are generally very polite and helpful. Just not very interested.

Mary 8:53 the sexually alluring invisibility only happens to the "formerlies" women who were used to the attention of random men in their youth. There actually are a whole of women who never had that "alluring" to begin with and had to make do with getting by on other non-physical traits. They generally deal with aging much more easily.

I was in a college class of 40 boys and only 2 girls studying IT and never had a single date throughout those so-called alluring years. My formerly "hottie" sister-in-law cannot deal with aging at all and I never had a problem with it. They need to hire older women as spies and for surveillance jobs.

I just love all the comments here, and I'm glad I'm not the only one (besides Ronni!) who is finding her own elder style. But it's true that the guys could use a little flair as well. Khaki pants and a sweater always looks good on an older man. And, these days, everyone wears sneakers, so that works too. So much is attitude, I think. Attitude and confidence. And how you feel about how you look helps with all of that.

Well stated Mary 8:53---

I especially liked ---

"In fact, once you do catch someone's attention, I find that people are generally very polite and helpful. Just not very interested.'

I'm a style blogger. I am making a HUGE point of my long gray hair and perennial sneakers. Wearing them, however, with cuffed boyfriend jeans and chandelier earrings. We can do this, make old age fashionable. Stick to your guns.

And Vera, I'm a formerly, and I'm actually much happier now that I'm sexy for an old lady (as a street person said to me in passing) than I was when I was young, fit the cultural imperative for female desirability, and had no idea how to handle that "gaze" and the related behaviors.

Love this! And those shoes Ronni. They're great. I too can no longer wear heels that I love. Now I'm going to start looking for different flats!

Thought-provoking post - as usual - and the comments are just as interesting. Very intuitive comments by both Mary and Vera.

When gays were trying to get people to notice and respect them, they had a saying: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!"

So I think we should say, "We're old, we're bold, get used to it!"

Great idea- I'm starting with the shoes- oh yeah!

Now you're talking! Dee

Love Nancy Wick's observation. Fully mature adults should adopt those words as our slogan.

I love this post! Being under 60, i've been looking for something to help me. I didn't really even know what the problem was. I've started to put a little color back into my eyebrows. And, after reading this post, i AM going to order those funky frames i've postmarked but never followed through with! I feel everything everyone's written about here; being invisible. No more! I feel energized! Thank you so much for this discussion!

Love those sassy shoes, Ronni.

Well, I'm a guy and so maybe this doesn't really apply to me. But I do like my sometimes silly and always colorful holiday ties.

What great posts and just what I needed - Ronni I was beginning to wonder if I was an 'age denier' because I like to jazz up my clothes and look the best I can - I don't die my hair and had never considered I was trying to look younger - just alive! But all these comments are so on the mark - look people in the eye, smile and 'lighten up' - I loved the phrase - "we're old, we're bold, get used to it" - might get it printed off - Thanks again everyone - you've brightened up my morning!

What fabulous advice/tips! There are so many opportunities to make oneself feel better no matter what our age/barriers! I'm a firm believer that you might as well look nice---it is your visual voice!

Flats don't have to be boring. I also wear flats(mainly to work) not because I can't wear heels anymore. Flats are comfortable and more appropriate at work. Why not be creative? Creativity is not age related. We, as seniors, are meant to be creative. Don't be a wall flower, be the furniture - stand out!

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