When Will I Be Old Enough to Wear Purple?

In 1961, Jenny Joseph wrote a famous poem called “Warning,” that has become more and more relevant to women as they continue push beyond the societal norms that dictated their places in the home, limited their opportunity in the workplace, and infringed on their birthright of personal choice and expression.

Whether or not you know the title of the poem, you know the first two lines:

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

This is a wonderful poem about being in charge of your own happiness, boiled down to allowing yourself to make your own choices about who you are and how you express yourself. Many women have taken this up as their platform for personal empowerment and enjoyment. It spawned The Red Hat Society, founded by Sue Ellen Cooper in 1997, which promotes “fun after fifty”.
Ms. Joseph wrote that piece when she was 29.

29.  Most people don’t know that. That’s pretty young to be thinking that far ahead, don’t you think? At that point in her life, what age do you think she thought counted as being ‘old’?

Right now, the only people seeming to pay attention to this work are the older women – certainly not 29-year olds. If they are paying attention, it is information that is surely filed away for ‘when they are older’.

When is that? At what age are we defined as ‘old women’?  

When will I be old enough to wear purple?

Like anyone living in this generation, I asked Google.

“How to Dress Your Age” brought up about 84,900,000 results (0.52 seconds).

I have to say, first, that NONE of the results on the first 2 pages mentioned wearing purple anywhere. But I did find multiple lists of “age-appropriate” dress for people over the age of 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70.

(I’m sad to say that even Oprah had one. Age-appropriate, Oprah? Really? Conformity?)

By my deductions, that would make 80 the age of the ‘old woman’ and the allowed time slot for wearing purple clothes and red hats.

Are we expected to wait before we can be free in our expressions of who we are? Conform now, be happy later?

Ms. Joseph herself questioned that, in the last lines of her poem:

“But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

Whether your mode of dress is full-on ornamentation or simply a matter of concealing nudity, what you choose to wear is a part of who you are, and is often a matter of self-expression.

What happened to “Be You”? Is self-expression and thinking outside of the box conditional? How do we keep using lovely phrases like “Be-YOU-tiful” while we are telling people how they should look, and at what age they should look like that? Isn’t that talking out of both sides of our mouths?

One could argue that how one dresses does not determine the character of the person; however, how one dresses affects the perception of that person by others. No, another’s perception of you does not define you, but it will affect how another will treat you.

The only person that needs to accept me is me. But I will not truly have self-acceptance if I don’t allow the same for everyone else.

Change is needed here, but shifted to the perceiver aspect of ourselves; to allow others to be who they are, before the “Be You” attitude can be fully adopted and acted upon.

Fashion may seem like a small detail in the grander themes of personal power and freedom, but it really isn’t. This ‘small detail’ is a baseline for levels of acceptance and self-esteem. It is a long-standing, self-perpetuating model and prototype of societal conformity that is completely at odds with any and every idea of self-expression and the tolerance thereof. The gateway to all other types of the push for conformity.

A funny thing about this type of following the herd is that the rules are fickle. We knowinglyadhere to rules we know will change nearly every 10 years; it’s like following a religion with changing Gods. Yet the true essence of ourselves doesn’t change (it may grow, but it won’t change).

Your favorite shirt, skirt, shoes, hat, pants, tie, hairpiece, or jewelry (whatever it is) makes you feel good, lucky, powerful, confident, comfortable, etc. Clothing and accessories you don’t like, don’t. How you feel in what you wear is reflected in your attitude, even if it’s only a little bit. Dress yourself up in what suits you. Only you knows what that is.

With more people making that choice, we can slow and maybe eventually stop the dictates of this one aspect of forced uniformity. Progress and change do not come from repeatedly same thinking. The pressure put upon young people by the fashion magazines cannot be discounted. Imagine the possibilities of the younger generations growing older with more self-esteem and better acceptance of others …

I’ll tell you this right now: I’m 48 years old, but the only things that will affect my decision to wear a miniskirt will be the outside temperature and whether or not I feel like shaving my legs.

(My skirt will be purple only if it matches my shoes.)
See also What Not to Wear.


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