Beauty Is Youth, Youth Beauty
For a few minutes last week, I misbelieved the title of this post was the real Keats line. I had been thinking about youth and beauty, and youth in general. I read part of a weird essay in which the author said she laughed when Kenneth Goldsmith called a writer born in 1981 “young.” Kenneth Goldsmith was born in 1961. He probably—like me—thinks anyone younger than him is young. I was born in 1979. I think of people born in ’81 as quite a bit younger than me.
In Denver, I co-host a monthly reading series that takes place in a small art gallery. The current exhibit, which was up during last weekend’s reading, is called “Beautiful Pornography.” It was distracting—the readers performed in front of a giant photograph of a naked redhead. Her body reminded me somewhat of my body: small-breasted, a little bony. I did find her beautiful. But as the night went on, it started to nag me, that her beauty was uncomfortably close to adolescent. The model looked to be in her 20s, but still.
I’m convinced I hit peak beauty at age 25. My husband sweetly insists I look better now, but the numbers are on my side: According to data from millions of users on OkCupid, the men that women rate as most attractive age along with them; at 40, they like 38-year-old men. Men, on the other hand, continue to rate 20- to 22-year-olds as most attractive until they’re 50. (This is called the Wooderson Rule, after the character in Dazed in Confused who says “I get older, but they stay the same age.” Check out Dataclysm by Christian Rudder for more insights along these lines.) Recently I ran across a stack of old pictures from my grad school graduation. “I sure was pretty when I was 25,” I tweeted, and a friend replied, “Just about all young people are pretty.” Certainly everyone looks good in old photographs, with their dated hair and silly clothes and bigger smiles. When I think of old photos, I think of people looking happier.
This is not to say I don’t prefer being 35. When I was 34 or 33, a woman I know, tipsy in a bar one night and having just been called on some indiscretion, dismissed the admonition with a defiant “I’m 35!” She said it several times. “I’m 35!” I love this refrain, which suggests 35 is the magic number where you stop caring about petty crap. Now that I’m 35 I say it too. Don’t bother me with any Mickey Mouse bullshit; I’m 35. (On surveys, there is usually an age bracket that ends at 34; I have jumped to the next bracket.)
IDGAF may be the name of the game, but style-wise, I think in my 20s I gave fewer fucks. I rarely wore a bra and often wore low-cut tops; my old friends remind me I inadvertently exposed myself all the time. When my pants were too big, my underwear would show in the back.
As I’ve said before in this column, money is always bound up with style. I have more of it now—money, that is. Also, “I’m 35.” Inevitably, my style has changed. Here are some of my style rules at 35:
Never buy pants or shoes online. The fit on both needs to be perfect, and it’s too easy to convince yourself a less-than-perfect fit is good enough to save yourself the trouble of a return.
Never wear uncomfortable shoes.
Never go braless to work. (In general don’t foreground sexiness at work.)
Don’t buy something you don’t love just because it’s on sale. (Initial cheapness is offset by high cost per wear.)
Don’t buy something that will need to be heavily altered to fit, unless it’s extremely cheap and some kind of rarity.
Don’t buy clothes that look good from the front if they don’t also look good from the back (or vice versa).
Don’t leave the house if you’re unhappy in your outfit. It will torture you all day/night. Change clothes and be late. If time is of the essence, put on something reliable; have reliable outfits on retainer.
Foolproof outfit: Silky button-down tucked into fitted jeans with (comfortable!) heels or pointy flats. Add current default jewelry; have default jewelry on retainer, but rotate every few months. Lipstick.
Always have lots of dresses. Dresses are the fastest, easiest outfits because there’s only one moving part.
Always have lots of tights to wear with said dresses. Buy a size up in tights so they are less annoying to put on and wear. Don’t necessarily default to black; I like maroon tights as a neutral.
If you buy something that doesn’t go with anything else in your closet, buy something to go with it at the same time.
Buy new jeans every year. You can keep wearing the old jeans, but buy new ones too. Don’t feel bad about this.
Wear the same dress to multiple weddings (unless you’re the bride).
Don’t keep garbage, ill-fitting loungewear. It is good to feel cute even while sleeping or lounging. (Lounge often.)
Always carry a hair elastic and bobby pins.
Match your perfume to your outfit. (Some people claim to enjoy the contrast of wearing Chanel No. 5 with jeans and a white T-shirt, but I’d rather wear fancy perfume with a fancy dress. Also, who really wears jeans and a white T-shirt?)