What not to wear, septuagenarian edition
March 31, 2012 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Should I tell my 71-year-old mother that some of her clothing is ridiculous?

My beloved mother is in her early seventies but occasionally dresses like a 20 year old girl. Should I say anything? If so, how do I do this without hurting her feelings?

My mother is full of life. She generally wears pretty classy, age appropriate, stylish clothing (a lot of J. Jill, Lululemon, Anthropologie, and Gap, great accessories).

However, she has a few items that look ridiculous. My husband and sister completely agree. I haven't asked anyone else. We think people laugh at her when she wears these items. They certainly are not attractive. The two main offenders are her favorite shoes (she cannot be separated from these shoes and wears them almost every day): they look a lot like these black strappy high heel sandals (http://www.zappos.com/donald-j-pliner-cirila-black-crepe-elastic). She jokingly calls them her dominatrix shoes. She has had both hips replaced and is not necessarily even supposed to be wearing heels at all! The other main problem is that she wears bikinis at the beach. She's probably 30 pounds overweight or so, and she's 70+, so this just does not look "age appropriate" or at all attractive. She spends a lot of time at the beach. She also wears jeggings these days, and other tight jeans. There are probably a few other offending items as well.

She LOVES her bikinis and dominatrix shoes and her jeggings. But I don't think she realizes that they do not look attractive, they are certainly not producing the desired effect, and they look outright ridiculous.

I can speak frankly with my mother, and frequently tell her that I disagree with something she's doing (i.e. taking a bunch of different vitamins, pills, etc. at the same time without consulting her doctor). When she asks me if I like something (she didn't ask about these items), I can say that I don't like them for me, but they might be nice for her. But I think it is really hard to tell her that her favorite clothing items are working against her. I'm afraid I'd really, really hurt her feelings. And this has been going on for months (shoes)/years (bikinis) so my family's silence all this time just compounds the problem.

I'm 35 years old. My mother has embarrassed me plenty in my life, one way or the other. I am FINE with this. I'm only a smidgeon embarrassed to be seen with her when she wears these items and that's fine. I'm asking the hivemind for advice because I think she's embarrassing herself and that she would be appalled if she only realized that these looks are not working for her.

Should I bother to say anything? (I have said that I think those shoes are terrible for her health given the hip replacements.)

If so, how the heck do I have this conversation?
posted by semacd to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (72 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would love to be that confident at 71 (with both hips replaced, I imagine there might be some scars) that I could wear a bikini to the beach. Wow!
posted by infini at 8:05 AM on March 31, 2012 [45 favorites]

Don't you dare. At 70, she's earned the right to wear what pleases her. What do you care if her body isn't up to the Sports Illustrated standards for bikini-wear? And those Pliner shoes are great!
The universe every single frickin' day tells most adult women that they're not hot enough, young enough, sexy enough to attract love, desire, and all the rest of the goodies. Your mother is telling the universe to fuck off and leave her alone.
If she's happy, you should be happy. I'm in my 50s, and I hope to hell I have as much spunk and joie de vivre at 70 as your mother does.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2012 [210 favorites]

No. She's 71. She doesn't care what people think of her. It's freeing. And it's none of your business since its not harmful or illegal.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 AM on March 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

The shoes might be an issue, but let her wear a bikini. Maybe she just doesn't care if other people think she looks ridiculous?
posted by jeather at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think for the bikinis and jeggings you should just let go, and feel happy that you have a mother with the kind of spirit to wear these things (and the heels) at 71 -- that is impressive! She seems confident and comfortable in her body. Don't spoil that for her. And at 71, she's allowed to break the rules. If you feel that the heels are jeopardizing her safety, you might gently consider talking to her about them from that point of view i.e. not because they're embarrassing, but because you're worried she'll take a fall.
posted by peacheater at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

If what she wears makes her feel good about herself, then what else matters?

She's 71. This is not her first time dressing herself.
posted by inturnaround at 8:07 AM on March 31, 2012 [11 favorites]

There's no objective reality that tells us what kind of clothing is age- or body-size- appropriate. These are social rules enforced by friends, family, and strangers, as well as the larger social discourse.

She has lived long enough to make her own decisions in life. Let her.

The only concern you mention that I think is worth raising is the safety of the shoes, given her hip situation. Encourage her to consult with her doctor on them, and leave the rest alone.
posted by rosa at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

they do not look attractive, they are certainly not producing the desired effect, and they look outright ridiculous.

You are making a huge assumption here - that your mother's criteria for clothing is some measure of attractive, that there's a desired effect you have not defined, and that looking "ridiculous" is well, ridiculous. You're 35; your wardrobe agenda is not necessarily congruent with your mother's. She can pretty much wear all the purple she wants.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2012 [24 favorites]

I'm guessing she knows other people think she looks ridiculous. She's reached that special time in life were she just doesn't give a fuck about the haters.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2012 [34 favorites]

Specifically, the shoes might be a medical issue that could cause her problems. Her doctor and/or physiotherapist should advise on this. If they think she's okay to wear them, then they are fine.
posted by jeather at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your mom sounds awesome. Who cares if people you don't know and she doesn't know don't like how she looks (and how do you know that? Have people said it to you? Otherwise you're putting thoughts in their head). If I saw your mom in her bikini, I would be thinking how confident and terrific she looks. I wouldn't say anything to her, except maybe one time something gentle about the high heels--"I worry that wearing such high heels is going to cause problems because of your hip replacements."
posted by not that girl at 8:09 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

The beach doesn't count. I promise you there are older, heavier people wearing smaller swimsuits than your mom, all over the world right now. And they always look happy and like they don't give a damn what anyone thinks.

I think at age 71, the only thing you should say to her is that she should wear more practical shoes, and only if your activity that day involves a lot of walking, etc.
posted by whodatninja at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have this conversation, because you are way off base. If you are embarrassed that's your problem. Ge over it.
posted by kimdog at 8:10 AM on March 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

I went to the Middlebury language school the summer after I graduated from college. There was a 60+ year old woman in my language school who studied Russian for the hell of it. She, by that point, had taken two or three summers off from her nursing job to attend.

There was a folk musical group from Russia that came to the camp and directed the chorus, etc. Well, the men in the group wore speedos at an outing to the lake at one point, and this 60+ year old woman called out to these men half her age, in Russian, mind you, that they were looking GOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

And then she said, in Russian, I'm old. I can say whatever I want.

And I think, more or less, this is the case for your mother. She can wear whatever she wants --- but yeah, I'd talk about the shoes from the point of view of her hips and doctor recommendations because that could be a safety thing.

And I think your mom sounds awesome.
posted by zizzle at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

My mom is about your mom's age. Not to be morbid, but I've started to realize she probably has, at the outside, 10 years left to live (my mom's not in as good shape as yours) and some of those years might not be so great health wise. So if something makes her happy, I just let it go even if it's cringeworthy. Ymmv.
posted by bananafish at 8:14 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Talk to her about the heels because you're concerned about her hips & her safety. Only talk to her about the rest if she asks for your opinion.

I hope that I'm wearing a bikini when I'm 71!
posted by insectosaurus at 8:16 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't see how your mother is "embarrassing herself." If she actually felt embarrassed, she would stop wearing the garments in question. Think of it this way: suppose your mother were inadvertently to do out in public in a badly soiled blouse or sporting the notorious "skirt tucked into pantyhose" effect. When she realized her mistake, she would be embarrassed, then she would go home and change or otherwise remedy the situation.

She's not doing that, so it seems like the high heels and the bikinis don't embarrass her.

You go on to say "she would be appalled if she only realized that these looks are not working for her," and yet that appalling realization is exactly what you are looking to achieve; in fact, you're asking for advice on how best to disillusion her.

She's an adult, so she gets to dress the way she wants. If you want to influence her fashion sense, though, positive reinforcement of choices you like might work. ("Those new jeans look so pretty on you, Mom.")
posted by La Cieca at 8:19 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

What do you think her "desired effect" is? How do you know? I'm guessing she wears a bikini because it makes her feel good. Well, she is achieving that effect, and she is not embarrassed.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Geez, she's earned the right to do what and dress how she wants. Just ask this 86 year old gymnast.
posted by dgeiser13 at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

OH MY GOD SHE IS 71. She's probably well aware of the fact that yes, she is 71 and not in fact a 20-year-old girl. There's probably no way she's looking in the mirror and saying "Why, yes, I do look like a fledgling twentysomething today in these spiffy youthful clothes. I'm totally going to get me some twentysomething attention in these here tight jeggings, yes I am." The "desired effect" probably isn't trying to hook up with some 25-year-old - which I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest is what's being unspoken here - and more like saying "fuck it, I'm 71 and not getting any older, so I'm wearing what I want and flip the bird to those beauty and fashion standards that never, ever went away or even stayed the same when I grew up."

(And about the bikini on the beach? Some people - The Olds too! - frequent... gasp... NUDE BEACHES! Where they are NAKED even if they are all overweight and old and 71.)

I don't mean to sound rude here, but are you sure you're not the one embarrassed by being seen out with her? Because you say you're "only a smidgen" embarrassed yet write this big long post about it.
posted by dekathelon at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your mum likes her dominatrix shoes, jeggings and bikinis and they make her feel good and attractive, what do you hope to achieve by telling her that she's too old and too fat to dress like that?

You say that it's not having the desired effect - I assume that desired effect is the attention of men? Do you know for a fact that her goal is to attract a man/men or are you assuming that because of the way she dresses? I don't think you're the best person to judge her objective attractiveness given that you're 35 and she's your mother but if that is her goal and it is failing, you may be able to sensitively offer to take her shopping for some more flattering clothes, find her some clothes that are alluring but 'leave something to the imagination'.
posted by missmagenta at 8:27 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not getting any younger. Sigh.
posted by dekathelon at 8:28 AM on March 31, 2012

What if you bought her or directed her towards some flatter "dominatrix" shoes?

Like these maybe? Or these? Or these?

Because her safety in high heels is really the only issue I'm seeing here. I hope some day I feel comfortable wearing whatever the hell I want to because I'm not now.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:31 AM on March 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

I wear a lot of paisley. Every day. I also have a nearly 9 inch beard. I'm a professional. I know it bothers a lot of the buttoned down people around me (and above me). I know what I am doing and how I am perceived. I'm sure your mother does too.

Some people have actually tried to say things to me about it, but it's never gone well...for them. I usually just point out the absurd things they do without realizing it. The last guy that mocked me had a 6 inch spaghetti sauce stain on his shirt. I pointed out that with a good paisley no one would have been able to notice.

Take a look in the mirror and try to see if objectively you're doing better than our mother. Is your haircut from the last decade? Are your clothes new and stylish and well taken care of? Sometimes people get to a point where they realize they aren't going to be featured on the cover of any magazines and they decide to wear what they like. That's what I did.

Besides, paisley!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:35 AM on March 31, 2012 [37 favorites]

LOL, no, you should not tell a grown woman how to dress.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:46 AM on March 31, 2012 [13 favorites]

I have hip length hair, and I am over 35. According to The Rules, this dates me and looks ridiculous. Happily, no one has told me this, and I do get a lot of compliments. If someone were to tell me that my hair is not appropriate for my age, I would likely tell them to fuck themselves. Do you want your mother to tell you to fuck yourself?
posted by kellyblah at 8:47 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Red Hat Society was inspired by Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning".

Nthing backing off about the clothes but voicing your concern about the heels.
posted by brujita at 8:51 AM on March 31, 2012

The only thing you should tell your mom is that I think she sounds awesome, and that I hope to hell I can live life as freely as she does when I earn her age.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:52 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

If, at the age of 71, someone told me that what I was wearing was not having the "desired effect" or that I was embarrassing myself, I would tell them to go straight to hell. I'm 71, for fuck's sake. Let me wear what I want.

Hell, I would do that now, if someone told me that.

I would not say anything to her.
posted by King Bee at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I suspect the only reason we don't see more of this is that society has successfully killed the joy and confidence out of us. N'thing everyone else here: be glad she is so happy with herself, and at 71 she gets to do whatever the hell she wants with her body.

I want to grow up to be just like her.
posted by smirkette at 8:55 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: OK! I'm hearing the message loud and clear.

(My mom is absolutely awesome, and fun. This isn't about that.)

I really do not think my mom is just saying "I'm 70. Fuck it." That's never been her style or attitude. I really get the sense she wants to look conventionally pretty/attractive or I wouldn't be asking this question.
posted by semacd at 8:55 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have recently started, at age 43, wearing brightly-colored bracelets from The Christmas Tree Shops, diamond studs in my ears, waistcoat-like vests, and shoes in eye-searingly bright colors. I am male. If anyone dared tell me to change the way I dress, I'd tell them to fuck off.

Your Mom has 28 years more experience in the world than me. I think she deserves even more respect about the way she wants to present herself to the world.
posted by xingcat at 8:58 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not a very good dancer but I used to enjoy it, until someone offered to teach me to dance. Now I'm just self-conscious.
posted by superfish at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2012 [33 favorites]

In many countries bikinis are not reserved for the young and skinny, and all manner of people (especially fat, don't-give-a-fuck old ladies), wear them happily. I sort of like those countries better. Jeggings are terrible on anyone at at any age or size, but if she's not asking your opinion on her clothes, it's pretty rude to comment. The shoes, I would bring up, as a safety concern. Maybe you could take her shopping for more stable black strappy shoes? But you can't really dictate someone else's taste.

My mom is older than your mom, and she always asks me if her clothes look ok or ridiculous, so I tell her. (She almost always looks adorable, but if she's wearing something weird I tell her and she changes.) But the difference is she's asking me.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2012

I'm 28 and skinny and its hard for me to have the confidence to wear those things (even though I really don't care what people think) - so kudos to your mother for basically giving the finger to everyone's perception on what they think "old people" should wear. I know a lot of older people who are perpetually stuck in the 70's (bee-hive do's are prevalent with my older customer base) or have massive 80's perms. While they don't necessarily look "good" by today's standards, my customers see themselves as very put together and stylish. Seems like your Mother refuses to just stay stuck in a certain era.

I know, your Mother is embarrassing (mine is too in some ways), so I know it kinda seems like a pile-on since you've dealt with her craziness all your life and you know its YOUR MOTHER and if you are seen with her then people will see that you are related and then people will think that you actually approve and omg what if they think I dress like that (etc, etc..). But what a lot of people on here are trying to say is that she's lived her life and just let her... be her hot older self. I mean if she was in danger to herself (which the shoes might be), then yeah, say something. Cause really, who cares what people think? As long as she is happy. :)

On preview: Do you think maybe your mom is afraid that all the "age appropriate" things look too... old for her? Maybe you can help her go through some catalogs or websites and have her point out what outfits she thinks look nice. She just might be overwhelmed by all the choices (or lack thereof).
posted by littlesq at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: I agree with everyone here, but if you really think your mother isn't aware of how she looks, and wouldn't like it if she knew, then next time she wears these things, take some fun family photos, and then just let her see them. You don't have to say anything about it - she'll see them and either be horrified at her appearance, or not. If she's not, then you shouldn't be either.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2012 [26 favorites]

I really get the sense she wants to look conventionally pretty/attractive or I wouldn't be asking this question.

Unless her manner of dress is negatively impacting her life in some way (she wants a man and the men are fleeing in the other direction, she needs a job and can't get hired) then it doesn't matter how she looks in the eyes of others. She feels pretty in these clothes. Let her be pretty in her head, which is where it matters the most. Confidence and happiness are the most attractive things a woman can wear.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

My mom is a little younger than your mom, as well as a generally unhappy person, and I would love it if she had this great of an attitude about clothes and life in general. Let her have fun.
posted by fromageball at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

If she is trying to look conventionally pretty...maybe she does to other people and you aren't seeing it because you have you mom glasses on. The same ones which prevented you from allowing her to like the same songs as you when you were 16.
posted by oflinkey at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I understand the sentiments here, but I think there is a world of difference between telling your mom to stop wearing something and letting her know that maybe it doesn’t look as good as she thinks. If I’m wearing something that doesn’t look good I want people I’m close to to say something. It seems to me that some of the attitude of not telling her is infantilization. She’s a grown woman, she’s not that fragile, is she? On the other hand you have no place telling her what to wear, just an opinion on what looks good.

No one knows how they really look, it’s hard to judge. Everything doesn’t look good on everyone, I’m not sure why people take it so personally. I would mention it to your mom and she’ll let you know what she thinks. Then drop it. It’s not like you’re giving your opinion to a stranger off the street.
posted by bongo_x at 9:15 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

I’m not sure why people take it so personally.

Because people - women especially - are bombarded by a constant blaring message of "you don't look right the way you are; you must spend this and do this and suffer this and keep trying, keep trying, maybe you'll look right and be worthy someday" by a world of media their entire lives, and it's awful and exhausting. If you don't take it personally then good for you; but almost everyone does. OP's mom doesn't need OP to chime into the chorus, especially now that she's 71 and no possible good can come of it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2012 [23 favorites]

Is there anything more satisfying than embarrassing your children? I can tell you that my own mother used to say, "If they're not embarrassed by you, you aren't doing it right." She is shining on, and you are lucky to have her! I miss my mother tremendously. Right now, call your mom and make a date to go shoe shopping for some nice, high stable wedges, then lunch with champagne. And pick up the check!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:29 AM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

That said, OP, you might want to just call your mom's orthopedist yourself and ask about the heels' effect on her hips, because if you're right (and I suspect you are) that they are possibly quite dangerous for her hips, it would be appropriate to express that concern, backed up with dr's advice, sooner rather than later. But as far as the rest of it? Even if you're right, and she'd be embarrassed if she realized that she doesn't look as hot as you think she wants to -- what good could it possibly do to tell her so?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:31 AM on March 31, 2012

This thread is making me want to pull the stuff out of the back of the closet when I replaced my entire wardrobe in Jan this year with appropriate middle aged stuff - yes, jeggings but with a series of HUGE LOOSE tops because I used to feel good/imagine I looked nice in fitted sweaters/tshirts and fitted jeans until I saw a photo of myself and realized that my middle had aged and spread (and it wasn't cheddar cheese).

I like MexicanYenta's idea of taking photos and seeing what she might say when she sees them, then adn only then perhaps bringing this stuff up.
posted by infini at 9:32 AM on March 31, 2012

Do you have a sibling? I ask because i have one and when my mom makes odd fashion choices like these, we can talk to each other and roll our eyes in whatever fashion [my mom has a dental gap and you can always tell when she's dressed up because she wears fake teeth to cover it. She dresses up to go to the doctor, she does not dress up to go to funerals or to hang out with us] and then just soldier on.

When I was in college I pierced my nose. My mom told me in a bitchy tone "I don't think that is attractive" and I told her "It's not FOR you, it's for me. Other people in my peer group think it's okay" so I'd think a little about what you're saying about the "desired effect" My mom has spoken a lot about how one of the thinks she loves about getting older is giving so much less of a fuck about what other people think. It's a little weird because "people" in this case includes me.

So if for some reason I'm having an event that I'd like her to be at and for some reason I'm concerned that she might dress in something that to her strikes a "casual" air but to me reads a lot more like "Couldn't be arsed to put on a bra" I might mention, politely, it and then let her make her own decisions about what she wanted to do about that. At some level we dress for ourselves but also other people and so while I think it might be worthwhile mentioning "Hey those shoes are going against doctor's orders aren't they?" and then getting prepared to leave it alone and have a sibling/husband/whoever brief eye rolling session and then shake it off. I personally think my mom thinks that she's giving off a different impression than she actually is, but it's her mistake to make.
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really get the sense she wants to look conventionally pretty/attractive or I wouldn't be asking this question.

I've come to find 1) no particular piece is any more age appropriate than any other and 2) it might not be about a particular piece, but the context it is in.

Take jeggings f'rinstance. Are they such a crime in themselves, or is it that the top ends at the biggest part of her butt, drawing the eye? Different top, problem solved! So could you assist in doing stuff like shopping together 'til you find a bikini that makes the girls look perky, not flattened out?

I'm really so, so torn about the shoes. On the one hand, I don't think women of any age belong in such torture devices outside of an erotic fetish context. On the other hand, 1) we recently had a conversation about how the balance of the heel was just as much of a factor as height 2) I could see how surviving hip replacements would give you the psychological grace to wear any damn shoes you please on your happy, working tootsies and 3) being up on the ball of the foot, consciously working on every footfall, drawing up the torso, weight back, standing taller, etc. could be posture-beneficial in a way that shuffling around in flats isn't ... and 4) a 'flat' does not necessarily equal 'orthopedically beneficial walking shoe' in women's shoe world!

If so, how do I do this without hurting her feelings?

I've been watching a ton of Trinny and Susannah ... this one about bras in particular was quite enlightening. They are masters at commenting in the baldest way possible, and then finding a solution. So maybe watching them or some other makeover shows together might start a conversation? She might have a thing or two she wants to tell you too!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2012

Response by poster: She also wears slippery platform flip flops which I harangue her about because she frequently trips (also not great for someone with a double hip replacement) but that's different.

I think a big part of this is that she doesn't want to look old. (She got Botox; had wrinkles photoshopped out of a recent photo.

I like the photo suggestion. That way if she isn't achieving the desired effect she may see it for herself. And if this is the desired effect she'll love it and will rock out with her bad self.
posted by semacd at 10:02 AM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe I didn’t say it correctly. Everyone looks good in something, no one looks good in everything. To get personally offended because something doesn’t look good on you is a really tough way to live, sort of like being really upset if everyone in the world doesn’t like you.
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 AM on March 31, 2012

The only concern I would bring up would be the safety issues of the heels.

Other than that: I wish my mom (who will be 70 this year) still had the confidence and flair to dress like this!
posted by scody at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2012

Well if she wants to look cute in a conventional sense and you can't stand the freaking jeggings maybe you could say something like "Mom I can't handle the jeggings. It's not you it's me - I just can't. Here let me take you shopping for jeans. Also I'm afraid you're going to fall off your heels and I'll lose you." The swimsuit seems like a no-go area to me, though.
posted by jcrcarter at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2012

Your Mom sounds awesome. Try to find peace with feeling embarrassed in public, focusing on things like how wonderful it is that your Mom is a colorful person and not wearing terry jumpsuits everywhere.

The only place I'd sneak in with a small comment is on the heels, but I would do it by finding her an alternate pair of flats or very stable platforms with a similar look that she will/can be able to love the way she loves her other shoes. Give them to her (with the receipt, making it clear that she can return them for stilettos if she wants) and tell her how much you love her and that you'd be really sad if you guys couldn't go to the beach/do stuff because of an injury.

Let her make her own decision.

Also, rest confidently in the knowledge that 90% of the people staring are admiring her flair and her gumption. I often admire the confident older women who wear whatever they want and wish that I could get away with it at 31. Of course, the key to getting away with it at any age is exactly what your Mom has in spades: confidence.
posted by arnicae at 10:29 AM on March 31, 2012

Yeah, your mom gets to wear whatever the fuck she wants. The family photos thing is a good idea. But I wouldn't say anything to her unless she asked. As some other people said, I hope I am that awesome when I'm 71.
posted by woodvine at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2012

Have a look a this blog
It features some seriously stylish old ladies! Not all in the conventional sense, but why do people tend to care so much about fitting in a box anyway?

Check out this 2min youtube trailer to a documentary titled: "Irene Williams, Queen of Lincoln Road"

Let your mom have fun!
posted by travelwithcats at 10:46 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really get where you are coming from. I also get where the pile-on is coming from. It's easy to say, "fuck standards of beauty, she's 71, let her do what she wants" but it sounds like that is not what your mom is trying to do. From your follow-up comments, it seems like your mom seems to place a lot if importance in conventional beauty.

Your mom sounds a lot like my grandma. She is almost 80 and a fashionista who wears way nicer clothes than I do and learned photoshop so that she could edit photos of herself (badly) and then put them on facebook. She definitely wears heels and sometimes bikinis to the beach and its not because she's saying "fuck conventional beauty", it's because she has always worn bikinis and heels and was conventionally beautiful for much of her life.

As you know, your mom is well aware of how she looks in a bikini. I think if she ever asks your opinion you should be honest. But otherwise don't say anything. And tell her you are worried that the shoes are a tripping hazars.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mobility is the key to independence and health in your elder years so those shoes would really concern me as a daughter. I think the idea to find her an alternate is spot on. I'd also make sure she is talking to a doctor about mobility - hopefully with two bionic hips, she already is. Movement and balance classes would also be great for her and boost confidence.

I recently availed myself of a personal shopper at Nordstrom. I'm a terrible shopper and I need to build a wardrobe from the ground up. The service is free and they do alterations for free too. It was great! If she has a little money to invest in her wardrobe - and maybe you and her family can go in on a gift, this might be a good option for her. While I was there a granddaughter was doing something similar for her grandmother. They got things altered right then and then shipped to her home for a small fee. I think that a few age appropriate outfits that also are kick ass and "sexy" would be great for your mom.

But, at the end of the day, you have to let your mom be herself. Remember that you are not responsible for her. People will not judge YOU for your mother's actions and she is responsible for how she presents herself. Focus on enjoying your mother and her zest for life now, you'll look back on it with humor and love later.
posted by amanda at 11:03 AM on March 31, 2012

I agree with letting your mom wear whatever the heck she wants.

That being said, we all wear stuff that is not the most flattering to us. I see nothing wrong with suggesting that a certain item of clothing isn't the most flattering and suggest a fix. " hey mom, I don't think those jeggings are looking as great as they could on you, let's try on a different pair with a different top..." That's advice we could all use from time to time.
posted by Vaike at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2012

Agreed with everything that has been said above, but one thing to consider about the shoes is that flats might not actually be more comfortable for her. If she has spent her whole life wearing high heels most of the time, her legs may have adapted to them and her Achilles tendon may have shortened, making walking in flat shoes genuinely painful. One way to deal with this is to wear gradually lower and lower heels so that the tendon stretches over time, because transitioning quickly from serious heels to seemingly-comfy flats could be both painful and dangerous.

That said, the heels she wears should be well-balanced and not too narrow-- no stilettos, and something with some shock absorption will make a world of difference to old bones. These aren't quite as over-the-top as the ones she's got, which should please you, but they're pretty sexy, which should please her. Wedges, depending on what the sole is made of, can also be great.
posted by dizziest at 11:32 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Look. You can't help me answer this question if you're focused on how I am embarrassed. My awesome parents have been embarrassing me my whole life and that's perfectly fine.

I asked this question because I think if she knew how she really looked, she would not be happy. I think that because I know her, and she likes to look pretty, and stylish, and young, and a little funky. She has never liked to look eccentric.
posted by semacd at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

You don't say if she is married or has a partner. My mother (68) dies her hair dark brown (and likes to dress smartly when she goes out etc) and while personally I feel it looks unreal and she should consider letting her natural gray start showing (she'll force me to cover my gray when I'm home because it makes her look old!) I can't really do much about it because Dad says it makes her look 16. And I know he's had his cataracts done so...

I'm not interfering with that ;p
posted by infini at 11:51 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you want her worrying about what she wears in the last few years of her life? Life is too short for stuff like this.
posted by meepmeow at 12:22 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I see myself in photos I notice things (good and bad) that I'd never see in a mirror. Is there any way you can take pictures so she can check out how she looks? Sorry, I don't have any good suggestions for how/when to do this. Maybe go shopping with her, or offer to help her organize her closet.
posted by wryly at 12:28 PM on March 31, 2012

Best answer: I think if you're not willing to risk hurting her feelings, all you can do (aside from the excellent photo advice above) is stuff like:

-Gush over the clothes she wears that do look good, and tell her how flattering they are.
-Show her pics from magazines or online of clothes or shoes that you think would make her look great, encourage her to get them.
-Plan to go somewhere with her where her offending pieces of clothes will be just plain inappropriate for anyone. (Someplace fancy, perhaps, or the opposite - a place so low-key that jeggings and heels would be way OTT.) Go shopping with her for replacement clothes for that occasion. Maybe she'll have that "What Not To Wear" revelation when she sees herself in them.
-You said she does ask you about some of her nicer clothes, but not the unattractive ones. Maybe try an answer like "Yeah I like those pants! Actually, they're much more flattering than the ones you had on the other day - those were ok, but these are really good on you." You know, make everything about what's positive, not negative.

Other than that sort of thing, I really don't think there's much you can do unless she asks; it sounds like she wants to look good but she's also sort of attached to the idea that she already does, and I don't know that it's anyone's place to disabuse someone else of that notion unbidden.

(On preview, maybe I come from an unusually long-lived family, but I find it bizarre that some people think 71 is practically the end of this woman's life! She could have another 20 years walking around in those dangerous shoes!)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Already Pretty: You're Too Old To Have Fun With Fashion - why must older women become sophisticated, refined, and classic?

"As I’ve said before, I think clothing’s ideal main function is emotional: Clothing should make you feel good. When you look good in your clothing, it’s easier to feel good in that same clothing. But it’s the feeling, the emotions, the swell of pride or jolt of confidence that really matters. And the style rules I read for women over 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 seem to focus exclusively on looks. You don’t get to feel creative or nostalgic or cutting-edge if you’re an older woman. You get to feel stately and composed, worldly and wise. Small, controlled emotions that befit your chronological age even if they grate against your internal age."
posted by flex at 12:40 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

I understand you think your mom would be embarrassed 'if she only knew', but I think it's kind of sad to want to take her illusion from her. So she doesn't look as great in a bikini as she thinks she does. She enjoys it and thinks it looks good. I really can't see where the harm is in that, or why it's anyone else's problem to solve.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:42 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I only wish my 76-year-old grandmother were only 30 lbs overweight and had the confidence to wear a bikini; my husband wishes the same for his 63-year-old mother.

I'm guessing you come from the "guess" portion of the Ask vs. Guess culture, since you seem to be attributing thoughts and motivations to both her and other people who haven't actually voiced them.

As an Asker, if I were wondering these things about an outfit, I'd ask my mother-in-law (who happily pairs multiple fluorescent animal prints), "So... what are you going for with this look?" She'd tell me that she just enjoys it, and my husband and I would chuckle at her latest fashenanigans (fashion shenanigans).
posted by bookdragoness at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

People are focusing on your question when they focus on your embarrassment. You asked if you should bother to say anything. The answer for many appears to be "no." I agree. But to answer your second question:

Personally, I would not have this conversation with her unless you are willing to take her shopping, and replace every item in her wardrobe that you don't like with something she likes just as much that you approve of. I hate it when family members try to be judge-y and controlling of what you're wearing (something that happened to me a lot as a teen -- why are you treating your mom like a teenager?) without being willing to invest in fixing THEIR problem with what I'M wearing.

You could do this indirectly by giving her a personal stylist session at Nordstrom's for Mother's Day with a good sized budget of 1000-2500 dollars.
posted by spunweb at 1:08 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I totally get where you're coming from -- she's your mom and you want to protect her from the people who might criticize her behind her back or give her funny looks. As we get older, I think it's natural to start taking on some maternal feelings toward our own mothers -- we want to protect them the same way they have protected us, and this is one way of trying to do that. But just like our mothers had to do with us (or should have done), we need to accept that we can't control all their choices or protect them from everything.

My mom is a little younger than yours; she doesn't dress eccentrically like your mom, but she does frequently wear clothes that aren't very stylish or are way too big for her (but some of her outfits are awesome!). I used to point those things out without her asking -- partly because I was a bit embarrassed, and partly because I hated the idea of other people thinking mean things about her or making snotty comments (women really can be mean to other women). Like your mom, she doesn't dress this way because "she doesn't care what others think"; she frequently asks me and other family what we think of her clothes and mention if other people have complimented her outfits, accessories, etc. And sometimes she kind of has meltdowns about her clothes and body (still, at 67! It makes me so sad :( ). So she does care what others think, just like your mom does (most people don't get botox as an expression of their joie de vivre).

What I do now is limit giving my opinions unless she asks, because she is so fragile about this stuff and I really just want to make her feel good about herself. If she asks me if I like a jacket, I might say "I love the color but it looks a little big for you -- you might want to have it tailored so it can show off your narrow waist better!). If she doesn't ask, I just tell her she looks great, beautiful, etc, because no matter what she wears, she does! So for your mom, if she asks what you think about her outfit, I would suggest doing the ol' say something positive before giving advice: "Mom, you have great legs! I actually think a nice pair of straight leg jeans shows off great legs better than jeggings. You know, I need to go jeans shopping soon -- want to come with me?" Or, as others mentioned, point out an outfit in a magazine (don't pick one that screams OLD LADY, as obviously that is a sensitive issue for her) and say "Mom, I thought of you when I saw this outfit -- you would look great in something like this! Looks like they sell it at Anthropologie; we'll have to stop by there sometime soon".

PS -- I think you should let the bikini thing be. Bathing suits are just too sensitive. And honestly, almost everybody looks a little silly in bathing suits.
posted by imalaowai at 4:25 PM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I totally understand your question and I understand the persnickety responses.

My mother is someone who would be mortified if she were wearing something that made her look silly. Aw, hell, so would I be. But there is this fine fine line to tread here.

I think a few things:

First, if someone told me my favourite, favourite shoes looked ridiculous on me, I'd be crushed. Even if I took that feeling and turned it into an angry tirade against the other person, if it was someone I cherished, my favourite shoes would probably be ruined forever. And that would suck.

Second, if she is someone who is very concerned about her looks and has always been conventionally pretty and attracted a lot of attention, she may not find the attention she is getting now unusual. Or bad. Any attention is good attention?

Third, I know from my own aging body that what I think looks good now is different than what I thought looked good twenty years ago. (Honestly, I imagine waking up at 22 with my 42 year old body--even on a good day. The horror! Ha!) So, when I'm dressing and looking at myself now, I'm really just comparing myself to by best and worst days from the past few years. I mean, you pretty much have to do that to put a bathing suit on at all, amirite? So, when she's looking at herself in the mirror in her bikiki, she's probably not thinking, Yeah, I have the ass of a 25 year old, but rather: MmHm I look just as good as I did last summer.

Finally, and paradoxically, I find that except when I'm looking at myself in the mirror, when I picture myself, I pretty much see myself as I did looked about ten years ago. I expect that will probably be true for the rest of my life (see myself as thirty-ish). I am definitely aging much more slowly in my mind's eye than I am in the real world. So, there is almost surely some part of her that really doesn't fully appreciate how she looks to others.

The real question is whether you think it's worth bursting her bubble. Myself, I wouldn't. And I really kind of hope no one ever bursts mine. These are the self-delusions that let us pretend we are immortal!
posted by looli at 7:23 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm a decade younger than your mother and I wear a bikini. No, my body is not perfect, and no I haven't had plastic surgery. But why should I hide my imperfect stomach? The people I notice most, and the only ones who gross me out at the beach, are the numerous men- young and old- who parade their humongous naked guts around, strutting their stuff flaunting their bellies like they're some new manifestation of hyper-masculinity.

The shoes, yeah, for safety, but the rest of it, let it be.
posted by mareli at 7:26 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a was to get some of what you would like to see. Make fashion suggestions you genuinely think she would look nice in. I spent an entire decade or two wearing little more than black. Who knows if that worked for me back then. I'm more in rebellion to what I used to wear than anything else.

I'd be open to suggestions for a new style, but it would honestly have to be more appealing to me than what I wear now. I love the show "Supernatural." If I could pull off the clothes those two do I would in a heartbeat, but I have a thrift store pocketbook and a round physique. I'm going to look like the puffy guy who can't stand the heat in a suit.

When I was 17 I idolized my great grandfather. He'd passed away much earlier in my life, but when I was 17 I actually fit into his clothes. I went everywhere in a woolen overcoat, an old man scarf, a stetson hat (less cowboy, more Al Capone), and boring assed button down shirts. This look lasted me until I got to college and the clothes wore out and I discovered Joy Division.

I can't think of a decade where I am currently happy with how I dressed then. Like I mentioned above...my current addiction is paisley. In another decade I will wonder how I ever put one on and took myself seriously.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:46 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two things:
  • A. This is 2012, not 1850—71 years old is young!*
  • B. Look at the sheer delight that dressing how they like is giving these women.
*My mother is 78 and gets called "kid" by her elders. She always tells me that inside she still feels like she's a 27-year-old. So, pick up an old photo of your mom from her college days when she was doing something fun/zany... that is the person that your mom is, she's just inside a quality carrying case.
posted by blueberry at 11:46 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mom, I worry when you wear those shoes; I want you to be healthy, and those high heels are a bit precarious.
Mom, I know you like to add a little bling to your wardrobe, and I thought you might like this (snazzy and attractive piece of clothing, silver and rhinestone strappy sandals w/ lower heels, etc.)

She likely knows how she looks, and is happy with her style. She'd probably love it if her family saw her as a lively, sexual/sensual, hot ticket.

the photo idea is quite good.
posted by theora55 at 10:07 PM on April 1, 2012

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