I am shopping online for a dress for my nephew’s wedding, wondering what is appropriate for “the aunt.” He’s the oldest cousin on my side of the family and the first to get married, and it is a Navy wedding, with those glorious uniforms. It is an outdoor, evening wedding in August, but what to wear in the heat or what to wear in the evening doesn’t seem nearly as important as what to wear in one’s very late forties that will look good in pictures, not be too similar or too different than what my sister will wear, and–the critical caveat–not make me look fat. So many dresses scream “older woman,” with flowing, strategically-attached fabric meant to camouflage some body part, and while I may need that, I don’t want that. The dresses that don’t scream “older woman” seem to scream “teenager” or “paid escort.” There is not much in-between, which puts me in a bit of a fashion pickle.
It occurs to me for the first time that when I got married, at age twenty-six, some of my parents’ friends were not much older than I am now, and this strikes me as impossible, but I do the math and it’s true. Those who attended my wedding, the women anyway, must have spent a little time wondering what to wear to the event that was flattering, seasonally appropriate, etc.; maybe they even bought something new. But of course I have no memory whatsoever of what any of them wore, and I don’t think it’s because I was a distracted, love-struck bride; I think it’s because I didn’t care. I was fond of them all, but to me, they were old.
I loved all of those women, my aunts and my mother’s best friends, and should have been hyper-aware of their presence since they were present and my mom was not. If asked, I might have noticed that one looked good in purple or another another in a sweetheart neckline, but those women were in such a different category than anyone whose fashion sense mattered, I hardly noticed. What I do remember is the emotional support they offered me; one quietly whispering that I looked beautiful and just like my mother, one spending most of the reception entertaining my ninety year old grandmother instead of mingling with other (more fun) guests, one quietly finding the misplaced cake knife and minding my then one-year-old nephew–the one who will get married soon. They were lovely, helpful, funny, big-hearted women, but I sure don’t remember what they wore, and this may have been because they had crows feet and aging decolletages, and older-woman haircuts. And the truth is, weddings, in general–or at least the aesthetics of the wedding guests–are a younger woman’s game. A married, middle-aged woman doesn’t even register on the beauty and style scale unless she’s inexplicably sexy for her age or has had a lot done to herself, like, say, Jennifer Lopez, and nobody wants to see that in a mom or an aging aunt.
So I will give myself maybe thirty more minutes to scour some websites for dresses that can be returned with free shipping. I’m looking for a dress that says summer and fun but not I’m pretending I’m in my twenties! A dress that also says tasteful and lovely but not I like to dress like Barbara Bush! The elder! It’s a delicate balance, like everything else about life and being human. The best thing I can do is pick something simple in the color I look best in, and spend the duration of the wedding giving compliments, talking to elderly grandparents, and making myself useful. Also good advice for life and being human.