What are you wearing, old woman?—a poem about disruptive senior style

Older woman in tee shirt and sloppy sweater and hoodie, pointing to the sole of her walking shoe.

Old woman wearing sloppy old workout clothes. Senior style?Bring it on.

What are you wearing today, old woman?

Are you in Jenny Joseph red
with a purple hat that doesn’t go?
Are you jingling and jangling
with bracelets and brooches
and sparkly heels and rings?

Or are you in sloppy old workout clothes
because you might work out today
(you never know)
or because they are dear old things
that suit you so.

Whatever clothes are on your skin
they cuddle in, they signal out
Here comes the Queen!
or Here comes someone comfy
in her stretchy skin.

When your hair is grizzly grey
it’s only a hint of your role
your silky self and feeling soul
plus a cupboard of clothes
with something to say.

So what are you wearing, old woman?
And how about you, old man?

Rachel McAlpine 2019

Old woman wearing purple hat, red sweater, purple brooch, red boots, five rings and two necklaces.

Old woman wearing purple hat, red sweater, red boots, purple brooch, five rings and two necklaces. Fine. Bring it on.

I think a lot about the clothes old people wear, including me. Of course you know Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning”, starting

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go…

This poem is eternally, outrageously popular because (I suspect) disruptive senior style was a new concept for many readers—a liberating thought. Thanks to Ari Seth Cohen, the New York Fashionistas’ habit of dressing up for fun, glamour, and artistic expression is part of our common consciousness. Hooray for them! Me, I’m usually in bright colours that “do not go” but I equally delight in a sloppy old hoodie and tights and tees. In New Zealand, sports wear (a euphemism) is kind of the norm for every day except for professionals. Look around you at any international airport — there we are, the comfortable Kiwis. And the older we get, the more we require easy pull-on garments for every part of the anatomy. Let us not bewail the fact that these garments are not fit for a New York catwalk but celebrate their comfort and practicality. Surely Alexander the Great and Marie Antoinette would have paid a fortune to acquire such luxuries as our sweatshirts, puffer jackets and sports shoes.


43 thoughts on “What are you wearing, old woman?—a poem about disruptive senior style

  1. mpardi2013 says:

    I admire your freedom, especially as it is freedom of expression. I’ve always found it odd how “professional dress” is supposed to fit the profession you are in. Teaching college anthropology I took heat from the administration for not wearing a tie. Tie? How about bush jacket and pith helmet, perhaps with a shovel over my shoulder?

    I don’t think you have to be old to express yourself freely. But then, there are reasonable limits. I often thought that some students, if they were living at home, could not possibly have gotten out of the house that way. They were barely dressed, some even in negligee. But issues like that open the door to those who claim some women invite rape by their dress – a position I strongly reject.

    Now, walking with a cane and under a mat of white hair, I can walk around with my fly down and no one seems to give it a thought. Is that another example of unrequited expression?

    My wife is really strict on how we dress to go out to a wedding or funeral or other such event. I remind her: I don’t think we’ll be the center of attention.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      As for freedom, if not now, when? Glad to hear you were a tie-resistor. So was my ex from the very start. As for me, I taught in the time of “stockings”, weird pre-Lycra things that usually sagged and “laddered” but we’re presumed to protect our students from corruption, I suppose.

  2. Sadje says:

    A great style statement. Wear what you like and are comfortable in.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And true for young and old. Fashion (as in the current fleeting fashion) and conventions interfere with our instincts.

      1. Sadje says:

        Absolutely right

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I have decided that my main criteria are comfort and shades of blue. I have abandoned the belief that I need to wear lots of other colors. Why? I like all shades of blue.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      An impeccable decision.

  4. rhinophile says:

    I’m with Elizabeth on the shades of blue. Green and purple as well. Living in Melbourne, I am also required to wear black as a complete outfit from time to time. The benefit of wearing my hair ridiculously orange is that I pretty much always look colorful. 😄

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The wild hair means you are just pretending to be black. Right now I’m walking into town in an old coral jacket, violet sweater, purple tee, red boots and black trews. Random and certainly bright. Blue suits me best but hey!

      1. rhinophile says:

        Sounds marvelous, Rachel!! I can picture you walking into town, in all your vividness!!

  5. You are rocking whatever you decide to wear… but I especially love your glasses and that purple hat. I’ve always been a bit (too) conservative in choosing my clothes… maybe it’s time to kick up my heels!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      If not now, when?

  6. JT Twissel says:

    That’s a very cute outfit. I love it.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      But which one, I wonder…

  7. Cathy Cade says:

    I’m in New Zealand at the moment, visiting my daughter in Wellington. It’s nice to relax about clothes and fit in anyway. I mostly brought comfortable clothes as I was going to be here for a while. The whole atmosphere here is laid back and relaxed (although I haven’t been into work with her…).
    I’m wearing purple at the moment; it’s possibly the most common colour in my wardrobe.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Cathy, I live in Wellington and will be back next week. Cup of coffee perhaps?

      1. Cathy Cade says:

        Why not? Were going back now on 2nd July though so timescale might be a bit tight

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        I’ll get home monday and consult the diary:)

  8. I love the subversiveness of ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’. And the promise that one day I can wear what I like and I won’t be bothered by cultural norms, or what other people think. But so far that only takes the form of wearing wonderfully warm furry snow-boots in the office, a fluffy nylon jersey in the weekends (it came from a designer shop but you couldn’t tell), and taking my puffer coat anywhere and everywhere.

    However, I’m starting to indulge a secret desire to wear pink which I haven’t done since I was 11 and as embarrased by bowing at the wrong time at a piano recital. That feeling got all wrapped with the cuddly soft pink cardigan I had on at the time and that was the end of that. Now, I wear a beigy pink beret and have hatched plans to buy a pair of pale pink ballet flats. Under garments and night attire might come next. I may end up perhaps a pale imitation of my friend whose entire wardrobe is an ever-expanding kaledioscope of bright pink.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Glorious! I just saw a women’s rugby team in pink and suddenly realise it’s another taboo. Go for it!

  9. Rachel, love the hat.

  10. alison41 says:

    Love the sofa outfit – go for it. And yay for elasticised waistbands! Oh the heat, irritatio and expense of wearing those damn stockings – pantyhose were no improvement either – life in Africa generally lends itself to sweatiness.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Dressing in a hot climate requires a whole new level of attention! I puzzled over it when I lived in Japan and now I reckon I’ve got it licked.

  11. JOY journal says:

    🙂 The look works for me, especially the boots. Actually, I think as people’s skin and hair lighten with age, it’s important to shake things up with clothing color. Too many American cities are a sea of black and gray from head to toe.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You’re so right about the aesthetics. When I noticed myself going grey from the neck up—grey hair, grey face, grey teeth!—I dropped the city black. It’s a pleasure to see more colour nowadays on our high street and in offices.

  12. chattykerry says:

    I am as happy in my leopard print Calvin Klein coat as my supermarket leggings. Age allows us to do exactly as we please, within reason. In our heat and humidity you see some eye watering outfits on all ages but live and let live.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You’re a great example of free expression and I like your tolerant attitude—life is more interesting with a live-and-let-live attitude.

      1. chattykerry says:

        Thank you, Rachel. Your groovy boots suggest you are of a similar mindset.

  13. Ellen Hawley says:

    Love the outfit. You wear it with style.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Ellen. I must admit I rarely wear the gorgeous hat. I’m one of those hats-make-me-itchy people.

  14. Oh, Rachel, I wear so much black and white! All seasons. It’s just been so convenient…and same old, same old. You – and all these wonderful comments – have me rethinking all that. Do I dare break the cocoon??? My only “statements” are my red rimmed glasses (dark red and purple though) and my zebra striped umbrella (how very brave!!). So – into the breach…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Black and white can be jazzy especially with astonishing glasses and zebra umbrella. On the other hand, there is fun to be had…

  15. Love your purple hat outfit! Remembering your patchwork? colourful jacket with words inside…someone special gave it to you or you to them…..you must still have it…photo please? Myra (:(:(:

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I had forgotten about that long gone jacket. I think the words were either runes from The Hobbit or something to do with Sam Hunt—?

  16. Jan Whitaker says:

    I think your outfit is very stylish.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Why thank you. It wasn’t meant to be fashionable but yes, maybe it is stylish!

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And Jan, now that I realise you’re an authority on style, I doubly appreciate your comment.

  17. Being old doesn’t mean ya can’t still be cool.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I take that as a given don’t you?

  18. Wendy says:

    Yay for dressing to please ourselves. I refuse to wear black these days, colour makes me feel so much more alive, brighter, more confident. Have you seen this BBC documentary ‘Fabulous Fashioistas’, (perhaps I’ve mentioned it before – can’t remember) about 6 women, average age 80 who do it their own way. Inspiring, as you are in your purple and red 🙂

  19. Arent we lucky to be born in this age and redefine fashion. I loved your poem and post

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We are lucky! Thank you Kate.

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