“Putting on the Ritz”

by Lorien E. Menhennett

A fashion show participant
who wore one of my hats.

I’m a bit scared of growing old. And I know I’m not alone in this thought. Becoming weaker, losing one’s faculties, potential diseases … doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But I was reminded yesterday that growing older doesn’t have to mean you stop having fun, or strutting your stuff.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a fashion show, called “Putting on the Ritz,” at Norwood Crossing, an assisted living center where my mom (a hospice nurse) has had patients. It’s a beautiful facility, not like the typical “nursing home” you imagine, with dimly-lit, antiseptic-smelling halls and depressed residents wheeling themselves about. No, this is an amazing place with a fitness center, a cafe, an incredible arts program, and many more amenities. My mom has told me – and I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment – that if she ever has to go to an assisted living place, she wants to go there.

I was also lucky enough to help, albeit indirectly, with this fashion show. I collect vintage hats – I have about 80 of them, at last count – and when my mom heard the facility was putting on a fashion show, she asked me whether I would be willing to loan some of my hats to the ladies. “Of course!” I answered. I don’t get the opportunity to wear my hats much these days, although I used to when I worked in an office, so I was pleased that others would put them to good use, if only for an afternoon.

And let me tell you, these ladies (and gentlemen) looked sharp. The fashion show began with a woman reading the show’s manifesto, which the participants had written themselves. I found the manifesto quite meaningful, so I will share it here:

Older adults are excluded from so many things, just for being in their golden years. In many ways they’ve changed. In many ways, they haven’t. It’s like starting over – losing things, but gaining other things. Everyone still has their own personal “air.” They show it in the way they hold their head, in whatever they do with their chin.

Another participant wearing one of my hats.

Our models come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone has their own way of moving – individual differences. It’s an opportunity to express ourselves.  But even walking across the street can put you in that same situation – it’s the way you move. Our builds are all different. We’re embracing the differences. Wearing clothes that fit one’s personality. Some people are serious-minded; some look like they’re happy. It shows the emotions. There’s room for every mood, build, and emotion. Fancy, dress-up, dress-down. We are heterogeneous and homogeneous. Age is not pertinent for what we are doing here. We are women and men.

It’s the person we are trying to project. Clothing is just another tool that we use to project a persona to others. At our stage in life, we have to be more accepting of who we are. We won’t be perfect – whether it’s in the therapy room, or in a fashion show. It isn’t necessarily what we’re wearing that’s the fashion, it’s who we are.

Then the women – dressed in their finest, some of them wearing my hats – and the men, dressed in tuxes – walked or wheeled their way through the rows of chairs to the music. And we’re talking fun music – “Pretty Woman,” for example. At the end, they all went to the front and danced. One woman really boogied, shaking her hips, shoulders, and head as she walked with her walker. I commented to my mom that she could really show me and my girlfriends a good time if she came out dancing with us on the weekends!

The postcard advertising the fashion show –
with my hats featured!

It was a good reminder that growing old doesn’t have to mean losing your sense of self, fashion, pride. It just means that you accept certain limitations of your body and work with those, still expressing all of the things that you did when you were younger.

I plan on enjoying my youth and middle age, doing what is possible during those eras of my life. But I saw yesterday that growing older doesn’t have to be so frightening after all. You’re still you, I will still be me. As the participants said in their manifesto, “Age is not pertinent for what we are doing here. We are women and men.”

I plan to take that sentiment with me, no matter how old – or young – I may be.