This is the day we played dress up. I and my co-conspirator Jacqueline Depaul had ourselves professionally done up as if we were 19-year-old cool kids hanging out in Hollywood. People were in disbelief, and not for the reasons we expected.
Remember George Plimpton? He was a journalist who would try being a professional sports participant to better understand what it was like. Hint, he got hurt a lot. This was a bit like that, but instead of trying our hands at pro football, we decided to see what dressing like kids would be like.
We had a full glam squad to get us looking like this. The idea was that we would produce a video (coming soon) of the aghast reactions of people on the sidewalk who saw us dressed in a way that would be completely unexpected for people our age. The four-man camera crew followed us around the most straight-laced part of LA we could find- the financial section of downtown.
Results: Massive fail.
No one cared; no one even gave us a second look. That was not part of the plan. We had no idea what to do, as we were expecting these vivid reactions from our passersby. No one thought there was anything all that odd about us, no one cared. Really, how could this be? Could we be any more colorful? What would it take?
Semi-defeated, we decided on Plan B: direct inquisition of passers-by. We needed to understand why no one was even noticing us. What we found was super fascinating and much more informative than we ever anticipated.
It’s Not What You Wear. It’s How You Wear It
Yes, people felt there was a dissonance. But it was not what we were wearing. IT WAS OUR AGES! This blew my mind. I look 60, I have no age interventions, nothing to turn back the clock other than exercise and I eat well. No one believed our ages. People thought Jacqueline was 23 or perhaps 25. She is 50. I had to show a guy my driver’s license to prove my age- he thought I was 30. That is an insane level of dissonance.
I have to surmise the reaction we were getting was that people had a fixed idea of what “old” looks like. Our bodies and the way we carried ourselves did not match up to that. This is something I speak about all the time, how we as a culture are brain-washed by the tsunami of images which show people our age as broken down out to pastures. If we were more broken down, bad posture, overweight or some other look that corresponded with how they were seeing 60 portrayed on TV, perhaps the reaction would have been different. The thing is, we don’t look that much different than the other people we write about in AGEIST.
The results of the experiment were the reverse of what we expected. It was not that the clothes were a mismatch for our age, it was that our stated ages were a mismatch for people’s ideas of what this age should look like. We were pushing people to give us negative opinions, and no one would bite. Every single person we spoke to thought we looked amazing; they loved how we looked. The only negative critique I received was my shirt did not match my socks and that I could up my game in that area. Ok, but otherwise? “You look like money.”
Of course, part of our relative street anonymity may have been that the bar is pretty high for shock- the competition that day was a homeless guy wearing a spotted leopard throw rug as a poncho. Hard to beat that for sheer spectacle.
How did it feel to be dressed like this? My initial impression was that I was dressed as a clown, and in the interest of our experiment, was fully accepting of my soon-to-be street humiliation. Strangely, after 10 minutes, it felt completely normal; colorful, to be sure, but it felt fine. I owned it, which I think was part of the reason no one noticed us.
Just Own It
This brings to mind one of our readers Bill, who recently wrote in admonishing us for using the term “age-appropriate.” He was right, and his critique still stings. If we are about anything here at AGEIST, it is that age-appropriate is a horrible concept and must be added to the lexicon of terms never to be used.
One of the big findings for me from this experiment is that the possibilities for what one can wear and be taken seriously are far far greater than I had ever thought. The key, as we say so often here, is to own it. This was me taking my own medicine and seeing that yes, it’s true. If I walk proudly with a sense of ownership, it does not matter at all what I wear. If I decide to dress like a 19-year-old, the effect will not be to have people question my style or sanity; it will be that they question my age.
AGEIST is about showing possibilities and through the telling of stories, expanding our imaginations of what is possible. It turned out that in this case, it was my own imagination that needed expanding. Will I be buying those Supreme pants? Nope, but the faux Gucci belt is on my shopping list.