Middle-Aged Woman, Little Black Suit

Continental breakfast
Image via Wikipedia

Bloggers Note: In keeping with the unintended theme on women this week, I’ll relay a story that showed me just how hard it is in some cultures for middle-aged women to be taken seriously….

Location: London, England

Time: March 2009

Place: Fancy Intercontinental Hotel – breakfast

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  My sister-in-law had told me when she entered middle-age that middle-aged women were not taken seriously in the western world unless they dressed up.  I heard her with part amusement and part interest.  I was to find once again that Hearing and Experiencing are not the same.

I walked down to the breakfast area of the Intercontinental Hotel in London, England in jeans and slip on flats.  I had almost overslept breakfast and the meal as described on the brochure was not to be missed.  The descriptions of butter croissants either chocolate, plain or almond; pastries of every kind;fresh fruit and juices; and an omelet bar topped off with whatever kind of coffee drink you so desired were mouth-watering.  More over, we had only three nights in the fancy hotel, heading next to Hotel Jubilee, a ‘cold toast and bad jam perfect for our budget‘ hotel.

I waited at least 10 minutes to be seated, growing increasingly frustrated.  The waiter who seated me gave me the up and down look making snap judgments on  both my intellect and budget before seating me with no eye contact.  I helped myself and people-watched.  I was the invisible person – I was the middle-aged female frump, a nuisance to be ignored.  Let me make it very clear that there were middle-aged male frumps who were doing just fine.  But not the female…

So I decided to do some non-scientific research.  I obsessed and planned over it all day long.  The next morning I jumped out of bed, even later than the day before.  I had no time to shower but I put on my little black suit and the highest heels I own.  I topped it off with make up on an unwashed face.

It worked – “Good morning Madam!  Would you like to be seated?”  No waiting, no frustration. I gave what I hoped was a charming sophisticated smile through teeth, unbrushed and fuzzy with sweaters still on them, and followed him to a premier spot with sunlight pouring through the window. The excellent service continued and culminated with a copy of The Times brought to me on a silver tray.

The research had ended, the results were clear – Middle aged women need little black suits in order to be recognized and taken seriously.

Thankfully I have several role models who are on the other side of this stage and have not allowed poor service, middle age, black suits, or Botox to take over their identity.  They have instead focused on growing increasingly wiser, humbler, and more fun. And as those characteristics are molded deeper into their wrinkles, they have become more beautiful.

Note from the blogger: This post is dedicated to Pauline Brown, Ruth Johnson, and  Bettie Addleton – Beautiful women who don’t need little black suits.

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17 thoughts on “Middle-Aged Woman, Little Black Suit

  1. Hi Marilyn! I am currently reading a chapter from “From Foreign to Familiar” called “High Context Versus Low Context Cultures.” Your experience fits in perfectly! I remember feeling humiliated when I attended a funeral in Texas. In the East and in Baja, Mexico, we wear whatever color we desire to wakes and funerals. However, the South still has rules about dress, I learned. I noticed that everyone was dressed in black-except me! I was dressed in a little,spring green suit. I apologized to the family, but I learned a valuable lesson that day!

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  2. Lol! I live near London, and have found the perfect alternative to the black suit – THE “IT” Bag. No matter how I am dressed, once they see my Mulberry bag, I always get good service ;-) A little makeup helps.

    BTW, are those Iznik tiles from Turkey on your banner?

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  3. still makes me giggle, I LOVE this story and my mom! Great writing and portrayal of the scene and you in the scene. Especially like the dedication!!!

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  4. I was waiting for the punchline… “So I marched into the manager’s office to ask him to explain WHY…”

    Is that in Part II or are you going to try to convince us that you really left it at that??? :)

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  5. Oh my gosh! I think you’ve just explained something to me about the way I’m treated in department stores in winter! I get very cold, and dress in layers that often make me look like I’ve brought everything I own with me to the store to carry around. (And only the very young look cute in a pair of thick warm boots!) In spring and summer I’m comfortable in flowy cotton lawn, linen, and sleek sandals. Then sales clerks actually seek me out and acknowledge that I might have a brain. Thanks for setting me straight, and for a wonderful laugh!

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    1. Haha! I know right?! Yes – winter is for the young that can wear skinny boots with high heels! So glad you enjoyed. This aging thing is made more fun through writing and connecting!

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  6. Loved this post being an “invisible woman” ! and yes, I have joined the group on the other side in my jeans, tee shirt and Birkenstocks! Not that I think I am humble or wise; just want to BE.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed! I think back on that moment many times! And I think you probably are humble and wise…There is a great feeling in being willing to just be.

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  7. Hey Marilyn, I just put my comment on your news feed. I tried to get it here but something happened and I couldn’t access. So while my thoughts were fresh, I pecked them off. I wish I could get it here also. You are one fantastic young woman and don’t tell me that you are middle-age.

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  8. Thank you so much!! And so glad you laughed and YES you are my role model until death does part us. I hope Aunt Ruth sees it!! If Aunt Edna was alive she would be in there too.

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  9. Marilyn, I laughed till I was in tears, and then had to read it to Dad. Thank you for the honor of being one of your role models, although if you look carefully inside my flats, you might find feet of clay.
    Anyway, YOU are a beautiful woman in jeans or black suit or whatever you choose to wear. Love you.

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