2924830182_3840f7438a_mWhen a friend sent me a link to a fashion piece in today’s New York Times, and I did my initial skim, I was psyched. One sentence jumped out at me: “Can a woman over 35 really hope to find something that doesn’t make her look as if she still sleeps under a Bon Jovi poster?”

That is one of the central questions I grapple with as a Formerly (OK, one of the more superficial of the many superficial central questions I grapple with as a Formerly.) What’s a woman, who has lived through the ’80s, to do, when all of a sudden the ’80s are “back!” and she has a feeling she’s not supposed to partake this time around. She still wants to look relevant and in the mix, of course, and not as if she shops at Chicos (sorry, but COME ON with the giraffe prints and chunky faux African beads!), but neither does she want to go around wearing ironic machine-distressed T-shirts featuring cereal box icons from her childhood.

I hunkered down to read and learn. I was not enlightened, at least not as I’d hoped.

In the piece, the writer, Cathy Horyn, goes shopping with three swank stylists for recession-friendly clothing for the over-40 set. She makes it clear from the get-go that they’re not burrowing for schmatas in the irregular bins at some factory outlet (which, if you’ve never done it, can be the same kind of satisfying as wading deep into the thorniest bushes to get the ripest blackberries). “Although we didn’t work with a budget, we were strict with our choices; each piece had to be worth the money, as well as be age-appropriate,” she wrote.

The fact that she wasn’t working with a budget, yet purported to be addressing women who were, should have tipped me off to what was to come.

The stylists in the article went on to select a $925 cotton shirt from Miu Miu and a silk crepe Balenciaga shirtdress for $1,195 as being worth it in this economy, as well as other items, most of which were out of the range of even someone like me who spends a disproportionate amount of her children’s college fund on clothing. “It was easy to put together age-friendly looks that were reasonably kind to the purse,” wrote Horyn. “In fact, except for one or two pieces, most of the things we found were under $1,500, and some, like a cute Wayne silk dress, were less than $500.” Less than $500! Praise be.

I can’t control myself. Just one more quote:

“…looking at a $1,400 silk print dress, Brana [one of the stylists] said with a rueful laugh, ‘I don’t know anymore if that’s expensive or not.’ She decided that it was a good buy, along with a $2,100 metallic leaf-patterned coat at Marc Jacobs and a below-the-knee striped jersey dress with a long, winding sash.”

I got news for you, Brana:  $1,400 is expensive for a silk print dress, unless you’re getting married in it or watching your child get married in it, or if you are committed to wearing it at least once a month for the rest of your life. And even then, it’s no bargain. No, it may not be the most expensive dress in the collection this season, but for $1400, it should do way more than simply look age-appropriate. It should satisfy all your womanly desires and for that matter, your husband’s man-type ones, too. It should make your kids’ lunches and wait with them at the bus stop, and attend their teacher conferences and sell the nasty chalky chocolate bars to raise money for the PTA at their school. And when it’s done, it should get itself dry cleaned and hang itself in your closet for future use.

Pointing out that some who work in fashion live on another planet from the credit card wielding hordes who simply need something cute to cover their over-40 bodies is not exactly a blinding insight. Anyone who has seen The Devil Wears Prada knows that, and I have worked at fashion magazines one and off for years. From the relative safety of my desk over in editorial, I have observed, some of the silliness that goes on. (And yes, there are plenty of perfectly normal fashion chicks who get it, but we don’t hear enough from them.)

Still, I was really hoping to come away with something useful about what to wear these days, given that I’m decidedly past the just-throw-on-anything-and-look-adorable days. I’m even willing to pay more for my clothing now that I’m a Formerly, in exchange for not looking like a hoochie.

But is my choice really between a $1,400 silk dress and an $18 tank top that says Little Miss Sunshine? Shit.

Photo by Mike Powell CC