Of Lipstick and Tennis Shoes


“That is awesome!”  I am looking in the direction of an older gentleman (like octogenarian old) and his two similarly aged female companions.

“What about them,” asks MB, taking a bit of his andouillette; we are in Lyon for a day trip.

“Are you kidding,” I ask back.  “Look at his outfit.”

MB turns to look back at the man walking down the street in a Kelly green blazer and light green pants with a pink tie.

“He looks great,” I continue.  “I mean, don’t you just love how old folks always dress up?  Look at the women, both in heels, both in hose, hair done and it is just a weekday lunch!  I mean, if I had my way I would wear workout clothes all the time and just forget about make-up and I have way more energy than them.”  (I have no idea if I have more energy than them, they are looking pretty spritely)

“I like you like that,” MB says smiling at me, “natural.”

I mentally give another high-five to the universe for putting this man in my life then smile before continuing on my tangent.  “They just put in so much effort – I respect it, ya know?  Like these ladies got up this morning and said to themselves: “yep, we are stepping out” and really took time to put themselves together.  And the dude, I mean, honey, how can you not give props to a man pulling off a jacket that color.”

MB smiles at me indulgently, “ouais, they look good.”

BABE,” He is clearly not getting this.  “Her blouse is even sheer with a black bra underneath.  That sweet little octogenarian over there is both sexier and trendier than me.”

MB laughs and then changes the subject and we continue our lunch.  I know MB would be happy to spend the rest of his life in jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops, never donning a suit again.  We are just not a particularly “formal” generation.  We are Generation X of greasy hair and plaid shirt fame – the generation that went into an Urban Outfitters craze, snatching up $100 pairs of ripped up jeans (this was in the 90’s – $100 was a huge amount to spend on jeans), something that my Mother never understood.

“I am NOT paying that amount of money to buy you something that is going to make you look trashy.”

“MOM,” insert appropriate 14 year old screech.  “They are not trashy, GAWD, they are everywhere, everyone wears these now!!!!!”

“Not everyone.  I’m not wearing them; your Father isn’t wearing them.”

I give her a flat, emotionless expression.  I mean, she is kidding with this, right?

She gets my drift and continues.  “Look honey, it just isn’t going to happen.  If you want to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a half-way destroyed product, be my guest, but I’m not doing it.”

So, I did.  I saved my money and bought an on-sale pair of Urban Outfitters ripped up jeans for $76.  They were so hot, in fact, if I still had them I would happily wear them now…unfortunately they fell apart after about 3 months and became completely un-wearable.  I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere.

The point is, my Mother couldn’t understand why we would want to buy new products that were designed to look like old, thrown away products; which is crazy because it makes perfect sense (wait, what?).  She had been raised by a generation of people who put themselves together and made an effort when they left the house…heck, even when they stayed in the house.  A people who 60 years later, while surrounded by jean-wearing messy-haired young people still proudly sport their Kelly green blazer to a weekday lunch.

My Grandmother was a perfect example of this generation – even when she was in the nursing home she would remove her oxygen mask for photographs.  HER OXYGEN.

Several years back when I was home for a visit, she and I made plans to go to the movies together (pre-nursing home days).  The night before I went out and tied one on with some friends and was therefore pretty tired the next day.  I got up and put on some yoga pants and tennis shoes with a t-shirt and just threw my greasy hair into a pony-tail; I mean, come on, it’s just a midday movie with my Grandmother!  I went to pick her up and we went to the movies and everything went fine…or so I thought.  About a week later I called her to see if she wanted to have lunch.

“Well okay, sweetie, that would be wonderful but maybe you could make a little effort this time,” she croons into the phone.

“Huh,” I say back to her.

“Well, last time we went out you didn’t look very good and it was a little embarrassing; I’m glad I didn’t run into anyone I knew.”


At this point, I just burst out laughing, “Well okay, I’ll make sure to tart it up for you next week!”

“Well, don’t go too far,” was her only response.

My Grandmother wasn’t raised with “exceptions” on how you presented yourself.  It wasn’t okay to “dress down” just because you were going to be sitting in a movie theater; she was raised (and therefore my Mother as well) that you didn’t so much as buy a gallon of milk without putting on lipstick.

Somewhere along the line we have lost this sense of pride in appearance, maybe in longer work hours and busier schedules, in homes with two working parents and children to take care of…maybe by the time you have finished a 14-hour day you just can’t be arsed to put yourself together for a casual dinner out or a drink with a friend.  I don’t know what the reasons but it kind of makes me sad.  We’ve lost some of the glamour and maybe a little bit of magic – that thing that made you want to dress up in your Grandmother’s old clothes and wear her costume jewelry or try sporting an old fedora that is still in the attic.

I’m standing on the tram on my way back from French class as I notice an elderly gentleman step into my car (I am always keeping an eagle eye out for the oldies to make sure they get a seat if they want one).  I smile to myself as I notice that he is wearing a full 3-piece suit, complete with hat but is also sporting his grocery bags with wheels.  This man suited up for the grocery store…the grocery store.  I look down at my tennis shoes and blue jeans feeling like the ultimate slacker.  Maybe I’ll put in more effort tomorrow; maybe I’ll actually fix my hair and put on proper make-up…wear shoes that don’t have rubber soles.  The tram lurches off, rattling down the line and I watch the old man straighten his tie and vest, flattening them down as he prepares to descend at the next stop.  I feel an unexpected, maybe even bizarre, twinge of affection for him.  “Thanks for keeping it classy,” I want to say to him.

Then the tram stops and he is gone, disappearing down the road as I strain to follow his form as long as possible.  I grab the rail as the tram jostles me forward unceremoniously and I sigh; I’ll probably wear tennis shoes again tomorrow…but maybe I’ll manage a bit of lipstick.

P.S. I realize this isn’t a strictly French post – I like to deviate every now and again.  I hope you don’t mind indulging me!

33 thoughts on “Of Lipstick and Tennis Shoes

  1. We’ve lost a lot of “classy” in the name of “comfort.” Like you, I’m sometimes thankful, sometimes sad about it. Is it really about comfort, or have we just lost respect for other people… and ourselves? Is it another symptom of a generation who is afraid that any appearance of caring is “uncool”? I don’t know. All I know is that my ratty t-shirts and yoga pants get way more wear than my “nice” clothes (which would be considered frumpy weekend wear just a few decades ago). And maybe that’s a huge reflection of me as a person. Not a very flattering reflection, either. Yikes.

    1. It is a subject that gave me a bit of food for thought – in regards to how/why we have changed. I don’t think it is a poor reflection on you or anyone else who chooses comfort – we are now in a society where that is acceptable and maybe we should be rejoicing in that? I do think a lot of it has to do with busier lives and a casualness that society started embracing in the 60’s and 70’s when there was so much push back against “the system” or “the man” or whatever you want to call it (clearly I am not up to date on my beatnik literature, haha). Don’t know – but I do know I love, equally, the joy of going errand running in workout clothes as well as the feeling I have when I am in a fabulous dress and heels with my hair and make-up done up to perfection. 🙂 So, that being said, embrace your yoga pants fearlessly and without shame!!!!!!!!!

    2. So true! And so sad. I think we tend to forget that dressing nicely isn’t just for ourselves; it is also a reflection of our attitude towards others, even strangers. A while back [after a very long illness] I realized that I had slipped into a terrible way of ‘dressing’, so sloppy I hardly knew myself. I made a promise to myself that I would begin to dress nicely even if I never go out the door. And I have been astonished at the amazing difference I feel about absolutely everything when I am dressed nicely and made up. There is something very deep seated in our selves that actually responds to our personal ‘good care’ the same way that it responds when it sees others who take ‘good care’ of themselves. I think it lifts us all up when someone cares enough to be neatly dressed. It certainly doesn’t have to be fancy dress, or special dress. But just to make the effort to appear well groomed and neat in our person not only lifts us up, but I believe it inspires others to take a look at themselves and perhaps effect a change of their own. I decided that whatever others may think about my appearance, I still want to maintain it if only to feel better about myself. I realized when I was ill that it really depressed me on a whole different level when I wasn’t taking care of myself [partly because it was difficult to] and it oozed into other areas of my life as well. Believe it or not, the rooms in the house also became less tidy and the comfort I took from my surroundings definitely took a nose dive. It’s amazing what domino effect it actually had on everything, including me!

      1. That is a very good point, Suzie!! I know when I would wear proper suits to work and really have my hair styled and make up done I felt more motivated and focused. Dressing well really can bring up the confidence level…she says as she sits typing this in a hoodie and yoga pants. haha – terrible! BUT your post has inspired me and I’m going to put myself together to tackle this Saturday! 🙂

  2. I’ve got to say I like dressing up, and even at work i wear dresses every day whereas my female French colleagues are always in jeans and cardigans. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just personal style/preference!

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean – I always felt more professional when I was dressed in “work attire”. But then after a few months of it I would miss my tennis shoes – really it’s not the dresses for me it is the shoes that destroy me! haha 🙂

  3. I miss getting dressed up for work, the suit, the hair, the heels. Now, my time “out” is to walk my kid to school (4x a day–this is France, with a 2-hour lunch break!). I let myself go for a while, but now I try to do better.
    That said, I am a little nuts about hygiene and since I work from home, I am able to throw laundry into the machine or mop the floors when before I would have taken a coffee break or stopped by a colleague’s desk to chat and reset my brain. There is nothing like bleach to kill germs. And I have bleach drips on way too many clothes. So, to safeguard the new stretchy jeans in the “curvy” cut that I ordered online from the U.S. and had delivered to my mom who spent a fortune shipping them to me, I instead wear decade-old Decathlon workout pants that once were black but now are gray, plus bleach splotches. And somehow, I never quite get changed out of them. It is eternally frustrating to me.
    That said, I totally dress to the nines to go to the Saturday market in town.
    And I totally married my Euro husband because he wore a jacket and tie to go to the supermarket. Since he met me, though, and became a regular visitor to the U.S., he has adopted U.S. casual dress and usually is found in baggy shorts and an oversize T shirt. Grounds for divorce, no?

    1. HA – I love your old decathlon pants – I have ancient yoga pants that are the same. In fact, when my sister saw them she asked me how I found such a PERFECT brown color…uh…because they were originally black. hahahaha! Working from home definitely lowers the dress-up standards…I mean, who are you dressing up for? Now that I am actually venturing out daily for French classes I am still being pretty slackery though so I don’t really have an excuse. BUT every once in a while I yearn for a nice suit or shift dress with hose and properly styled hair. Le sigh. And oh dear, the U.S. has de-formalized your husband…we are good at that as a nation, I reckon. 🙂

  4. This was beautifully written, and I really enjoyed it 🙂 Also? Your grandmother sounds like an amazing lady. My nana is going to be 81 this Thursday, and she still keeps it classy no matter where’s she headed. I sent her 2 delicate silk neck scarves in the mail for her birthday, and I know she’ll put them to good use 🙂

    As for me…well, I’m still unemployed, so I actually haven’t gotten properly dressed in like 2 weeks. I’m surprised I’m still married at this point.

    1. Thanks so much, Crystal!! Love the Grandmothers – I aspire to raise my personal standards before I get to be one. 🙂 You are so lucky to still have yours with you (Grandmother, that is…not personal standards, lol).

      UGH – I know what you mean, when I was at home and Xav would be out of town I could get REALLY bad…like, “do I need to shower today” bad. Hope something will turn up for you soon – I know it’s been a pain trying to find something!

  5. I actually cant wear sports gear in public; I think of it in the same vein as underwear. Im not sure why this is (my sister always ribs me about it because I have to get changed and if Im stuck am very uncomfortable!).
    But jeans? Don’t know what I could wear without them. Wish I could pull off some style. Just need a stylist : )
    Great post chica xxx

    1. for reals? My goodness, I love my sports gear – as you witnessed with my steady uniform of running pants and sports bra/tank top in Nola. ha! And you do not need a stylist – you always look put together, missy! Thanks for reading!

  6. Loved it. I truly do enjoy watching elderly people put on their best duds. They believed in looking your best no matter where you were going, how you felt or what you were going to do. On another note, I have a ripped pair of jeans now that I absolutely love. I think Joey Lawrence (Blossom days) would approve.

    1. BWAH – Joey Lawrence reference – YES! And I, too, still have a pair of ripped jeans that I wear every once in a while – it’s the 90’s man, I still feel cool in my ripped jeans. haha! But yes, I do think it will be sad when no one dresses up anymore – we may have to pick up the baton and keep it going. 🙂

  7. Great post, N-K. I have to say that I feel better when I’m not dressing like a total schlub. It would be great to actually wear more — scratch that, *any* — makeup to work. Always makes me feel more awake when I’m put together.

    Someday I hope to have a wardrobe filled with nothing but classy (yet still fashionable) clothes, so I can be a rockin’ oldster.

    1. AH – and there it is – you will be one of the proud few who is going to keep it going!! KUDOS! Maybe if I return back to the Southern U.S. I will get better…haha, who am I kidding? 😉

  8. Love this and it made me think too. Why is it that when I lived in NYC I WAS one of those people who dressed to go to the post office? True, I do put on at least mascara before heading out the door, but still…sigh. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

    And yep, my Grandmother on my Mom’s side was SUCH a lady. So inspiring. Because it wasn’t just about her lilac blouses and White Shoulders perfume but who and how she was…

    1. Thanks Heather!! Yeah, I know what you mean – I was like that when I lived in Washington, D.C. and after about 3 mos in NZ I lost it. I guess some of it has to do with where you are and what you are doing in your life…who knows!

      Grandmothers are the best – oh and don’t you love remember little details like the perfume they wore. 🙂

    2. WHOA! I wear White Shoulders! It’s impossible to find these days. Does this mean I’m old? When my parents decided I was old enough to wear cologne, my dad bought me White Shoulders. He gave me a bottle on my birthday every year until a few years ago, when it disappeared from stores.

      1. Okay – I clearly am gonna have to find this perfume and see what it smells like. Let the internet search commence!

        p.s. It doesn’t mean you are old – it means you are CLASSY!

      2. I agree! My Grandma was screen star elegant. Sigh. And Catherine (ps I know I am late in responding), I don’t know where you are but there are companies that specialize in selling “vintage” scents. I am sure you could find WS on one of those sites. Google it!

  9. Loved this! I got called a gypsy when I met our grandmother after a night of food-sicknesses. She wouldn’t walk out of the airport beside me! And I had put on a matching skirt and top (pink!) just for the occasion….granted, I was a mess. She forgave me when she saw that I had actually brought some make-up with me…

    I think you’ve hit on why there are so few of the older generation visible in Colorado. We’re a bunch of dirt bags. But it’s nice to have found my niche!

    1. haha – that sounds about right re: The Nonn.

      Sounds like I would enjoy running around Colorado in my workout clothes…”what? I TOTALLY just got back from a bike ride, no, really!” 🙂

  10. A friend of mine in Lyon was actually shocked to see me in what I call my “dressed like a person” state. She was so used to me in yoga pants or pajamas or tank dresses that she didn’t know I sometimes dry my hair, wear lipgloss and put on matching pieces of clothing. I appreciate other people looking nice, but find the effort too exhausting for me to engage in regularly. Hard to pull off sweats and a baseball cap here in France, but I’m trying!

    1. haha – I hear ya! It always cracks me up when I actually make and effort and how amazed people are. “You clean up alright, eh?” 😉 And oh man, how I miss the baseball cap love of the USA – best thing ever for a lazy day and everyone looks cute in a baseball cap. However, the few times I’ve attempted it here I get REALLY weird looks. Le sigh!

  11. Oh yes, please indulge yourself on exceptionally stimulating posts like these. You’ve made our minds wander around through the past, calling up memories of people long gone, and hearing their voices speak about how we once chose to dress and act so differently. It’s the kind of story that echoes; we are one moment laughing along with you and MB, and then become serious as we think of people we loved, and how much life changes. You have the gift of packaging an idea and wrapping it up with a bright ribbon. Merci.

    1. What a lovely comment, Whitt! Thank you so much for reading and I’m so pleased if you enjoyed this post. It is funny – this is one of those posts that went down a path I hadn’t originally intended but it was such a pleasant sojourn that I decided to just go with it. Hope your journeys are going well!! Cheers

  12. …which just goes to show how much serendipity and chance count! On comments, when someone like you creates a ‘sticky’ post, one which triggers the imagination and free-association, it should be acknowledged with appreciation. I regret letting your kind reflection on “a peaceful and magical place” sit so long without reply; you seemed to have said everything so perfectly that anything I’d add would just tarnish the luster. As to voyaging, this year the climate is showing it’s irritation, so I’ve spent far too much time waiting for good-weather windows. Bumpy, yes, but well. And, of course, I do look forward to be taken down those unintended paths. 🙂

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