Saturday, November 25, 2006

Signature, Or Rut?

Happy Post-Thanksgiving Saturday, dearests!! How was your day? If you're not a resident of the United States, ignore the groanings coming from this part of the hemisphere, and watch for flying buttons popping off of waistbands. It's funny 'til someone loses an eye, as my dear departed father would have said.

Honestly, though, for those of us lucky enough to feast amid warmth and comfort and plenty, may the overflowing gratitude strengthen and sustain us for the work to be done, and I don't mean the work of battling our way through the mall for Christmas shopping. I mean the great work, ya'll.
If memory serves, there's a special passel of pastoral ministry that goes on during the holiday season, with its excesses and its fantasies, and its expectations and its family mishegas. Hang on, sweet potatoes! Here it comes!

A Thoughtful and Scentually-Conscious Reader named Bill and I had this exchange today over in the comments section of another post:

He writes,"What do you think about patchouli? I confess to using it for over 25 years. I get it from Caswell-Massey. I always thought it was kind of cool, but recently I overheard some young ladies making fun of me at a social."

I replied,"Bill, bless your heart for asking a difficult question! It's SO HARD to evaluate something we've been doing for a long time, but scent is so important and evocative it's worth thinking about it seriously. Let me say this quite honestly: patchouli is such a dated fragrance and so evocative of the groovy 70's that it's just not a good choice anymore. Caswell-Massey makes nice products, though, so you obviously have good taste. Is it possible you were wearing a bit too much?You might go to a trusted pharmacy -- wait, let me post on this!xoxo PB"

So here I am posting about it.

What I was going to say to Bill was that he might go to a nice pharmacy where there's a cosmetics counter and ask for some advice on men's fragrances. Or he could just poke around a department store for awhile and sniff tester bottles. Lord knows women do this all the time.

Bill, remember that you must try a fragrance on your own self and let it sit for awhile to mesh with your own chemistry in order to really determine if it's right for you. I try up to four fragrances at a time, but no more. Spritz the left wrist, the right wrist, the left inside-elbow and the right inside-elbow. Wait at least ten minutes between each, and remove with alcohol if you hate it.

Sephora has scads of men's fragrance, but sometimes a big cosmetics emporium can be intimidating to men (and women, too, actually!).
That's why I recommended a pharmacy.
Bill, maybe take a friend with you to help you find a nice scented product? There are many out there that are reminiscent of the musky patchouli without BEING patchouli. PeaceBangers, any recommendations?

However, PeaceBang thinks that the really important thing about this question isn't about finding Bill a better fragrance choice. The important thing isn't even that some young "ladies" were heard making unkind remarks at a social, which is reprehensible and extremely hurtful, and I'm sorry that it happened.

The really important thing about Bill's question is that it reminds all of us how easy it is to get sot in our ways, to think we only look good in one color or one cut of fabric, or that we can only wear our hair a certain way or comfortably walk around in a certain kind of shoes.

Some of us are still spraying ourselves with Clinique Aromatics Elixir or Polo -- two fragrances that were so ubiquitous twenty years ago as to immediately date us when we walk through the door wafting these smells. Others haven't had a new hair style since the Reagan administration. Still others are wearing the same shade of lipstick they fell in love with when they were in their 20's and their face was a whole different landscape.

"But, PeaceBang, this is my signature look/smell/hairdo/pair of shoes!" you protest.

My lovely protesting people, signature items or looks can be terrific. Think Jack Nicholson's eternally sexy shades. Think Gloria Steinem's fabulous aviators. Think Julie Andrews' soft cap of shiny hair. Think Nancy Reagan's red suit. Think Mr. Rogers' sweaters.


A classic set of pearls can be a signature. A great, weathered leather jacket can be a signature item. Brilliant red lipstick. A beloved brooch or set of cufflinks. Paisley can be part of a signature, or warm, nubby shawls or a certain blue that brings out your eyes, or a Louise Brooks haircut that is totally out of date, but is absolutely YOU.

The thing about a signature look, though, is that it still needs to be evaluated and freshened up now and then, or we risk looking not like classic versions of ourselves but like people who are trapped in time, insecurely clinging to something that worked for us long ago when we were actually very different people.
Look how Gloria does this. The glasses are still hip, they suggest the classic aviators, but they're more contemporary and fresh and becoming to her more mature face:


How can we tell whether we're wearing a signature look or whether we're just in a rut? Think Liza Minelli's crazy-spiky eyelashes. Think the great hoofer Ann Miller's huge helmet head. Think George Hamilton's horrid leathery tan. When we become a caricature of ourselves, we're definitely in a rut.

Rut or Signature? Three Helpful Tips

1. When you get dressed and prepared to be seen in community, are you just reverting to the same choices again and again because you can't figure out anything else to do? That's probably a rut. If, on the other hand, you bring the same trusted oldies out of the closet every day with a sense of cherished appreciation, and you love the way you look and feel in them, and you Rock The Universe just being your fabulous self, that's a signature look.

Dressing and smelling and grooming the exact same way year unto year because you don't feel like thinking about it isn't classic. It's a rut.

2. Are you avoiding change because it scares you? That's one kind of rut we can very easily get into. If you think this might be you, enlist the support and aid of someone with more of a sense of dash and daring about them and go have fun trying new things on. You don't have to buy them. Just go see how it feels!

Who are you today? There's nothing to fear in pursuing an outward appearance that more accurately reflects the inner reality, even if that inner reality is older, more somber, and less cute or people-pleasing than it used to be.

A friend of mine walked through the door on Thanksgiving Day sporting her natural hair color, which is grey. She had been coloring it blonde all the years I've known her, and she was just breathtaking! The gray is shiny and multi-dimension where the blonde had not been. I could see her bone structure in a new way, and the steely glint of beautiful, strong gray eyes I had never really seen before. She had gone from pretty to formidable and handsome, and more truly herself.

The moral of the story is: Don't be afraid of change. You can always change back.

3. Are you clinging to one look because you think you're a certain "type" and something else Just Won't Look Good on you?
You wouldn't believe how often PeaceBang hears this, and how sad it makes her. So many times people have a very limited vision of who they are and What Looks Good on them. They will steadfastly ignore the dictates of fashion and even good taste in order to cling to some fashion rule that is either woefully outdated (like refusing to wear white after Labor Day) or that hasn't flattered them in decades, if ever.

Don't let stubbornness be your rut. When friends gently suggest that you'd look so great if you cut that miles-long hair, or surreptitiously try to take you shopping for new eyeglass frames, or your wife hides your bolo ties, moth-eaten turtlenecks or too-tight Wrangler corduroys in the garage, don't get mad. Get curious. Consider a change. Again, you can always change back.

So Bill, thanks again for your question. A big Bronx cheer to those meanies who tittered about your patchouli at the party, but they may have done you a favor after all. Best wishes and let us know if you find a new scent you like.



Blogger Berrysmom said...

I heart Gloria Steinem! She is my idol!

She is exactly ten years older than I, so when she turned fifty and I turned forty, it was big news. (Well, HER birthday was...) Of course she looked terrific--even now at seventy-three she looks terrific.

Anyway, because her 50th birthday was a Big News Event, the reporters asked her how she managed to look so good at the ripe old age of fifty. She replied, "This is what fifty looks like. Women have been lying about their age for so long that we have lost track of what a particular age looks like. I look like a healthy fifty-year old woman." ("... with great bone structure," she didn't add.)

What a lesson for me, on the edge of grieving turning forty. I will be grateful to her forever, for reminding me that I look just right for the age I am.

3:15 PM  
Blogger fausto said...

Classic example of a rut, for men of a certain age: the combover. (Bonus points for sideburns.)

Classic example of how not to fix a rut, for men: the Harold Stassen/Howard Cosell bad toupee.

Classic example of how to fix it, boldly: Willard Scott. Rudy Giuliani.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

--Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

9:59 AM  
Blogger bill said...

I never had considered that pharmacies might have fragrances. I will check that out. I live in a rural area and only get into department stores and malls a few times a year. Usually I order Aura of Patchouli via internet. That partly explains my being in a rut. It's hard to evaluate new fragrances long-distance. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

BTW I am not actually a minister. And there is probably not a Unitarian church within a 100 miles of here although I used to go to one in college. But I do have a part-time official capacity at the local church, so that's my excuse for reading your blog.

No combover. I try to look more like Jean-Luc Picard.

Thanks for your suggestions.

5:43 PM  

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