When it comes to style, new is so yesterday

By the time we reach our 40s, most of us have discovered that fashion history repeats itself. What goes around comes around – even if we can't always button it across the middle.

This occurred to me during a recent trip to the local mall, where I was haunted by the ghosts of my high school wardrobe in every clothing store I visited. There were racks of ruffled skirts and gossamer peasant blouses, rows of knee-high boots lavished with embroidery, and stacks of jeans dripping with beads and sequins.

My inner teenage girl desperately wanted to buy everything in sight – including the spiffy military jacket that must have been inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders. But the voice of common sense – the voice belonging to my inner middle-aged mom – told me it was time to shop for something more mature. Something "age appropriate."

I've been grappling with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. I mean, with Goldie Hawn posing for magazine covers in minuscule tank tops and Mick Jagger prancing around in the same hip-huggers he wore back in 1968, what do fashion editors mean when they tell older women to dress our age?

In my early 30s, not long after I became a mother, I went through the obligatory matron phase. Totally focused on my parenting duties, I schlepped around grocery stores and school parking lots in oversized T-shirts and ankle-grazing denim jumpers – outfits that made my Grandma Ruby's housedresses look seductive.

It took years to correct those fashion mistakes – and I have a family album of photos to prove it.

Not long ago, a stylish friend in her 80s reminded me that reaching maturity doesn't have to be synonymous with looking foolish or frumpy. Echoing the late Coco Chanel, my friend believes that achieving a style of one's own can take a lifetime – and that a woman should never stop trying. I admire her savoir-faire.

As a young girl, I spent hours reading Seventeen magazine and experimenting with fashion accessories. Clothes were my costumes, part of my creativity. Over the years I tried several different looks until I found one or two that came close to expressing the authentic self I was trying to become.

Today I have no desire to revisit my youth. I don't miss the insecurities or the acne. But I do miss the fun I had with fashion when I was 16. I haven't outgrown my weakness for romantic, handcrafted details – and I'm still crazy about anything vintage.

During our recent visit to the mall, my college-age son asked if we could stop at one of his favorite clothing stores. Walking the aisles, I pointed out that a lot of the merchandise bore an eerie resemblance to outfits his dad and I had worn at his age. (I didn't even flinch when my son called the style "retro.") He wandered off to look for a new track jacket while I admired a gorgeous display of hippie jewelry.

"That was neat stuff," I told him as we left the store and headed for the mall exit. "But it's probably way too young for me, and I'd look silly in most of it."

My son rarely has an opinion about women's fashion – mine or anyone else's. But this time he repeated verbatim what I always tell him when he asks for my opinion on his clothes.

"If you like it, that's what matters," he said, shrugging.

And that was all the encouragement I needed.

Next week, I'm going back for that cool military jacket.

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