My friend Elizabeth works in building supplies. If you drop into TNT Insulation and Building Supplies in Keswick, New Brunswick, you might find her schlepping heavy boxes of nails around, mixing paint, or doing everything from customer service to receiving. At the end of the day, she’s tired, her steel-toed work boots are dusty, and she probably has paint on her plaid shirt. But she’s not complaining, not at all. Except to say that sometimes she just needs to feel feminine. And glamorous. That’s one of the reasons when Victoria West Portrait advertised for women who might like a make-over, she jumped at the chance. She sent her name in and thought, “Please, please pick me.” She said, she wanted to see if she could still look good. At sixty-two.
You can see for yourself. She looks amazing. And, not to brag or anything… but that was not news to me. I’ve always thought Elizabeth looked great. And looks great. She has a style all her own. Cool, edgy, menswear inspired, with a dash of the feminine.
I first met Elizabeth Allen when we both attended Keswick Ridge School way back in 1970. I was in grade nine, my Mum had married my step-father that summer, and we’d moved to the farm. Elizabeth was in grade eight. In the way of small town New Brunswick, we are connected in a round-about manner. My step-father’s grandmother was an Allen from Scotch Settlement. That’s where my step-father Lloyd was born, just down the road from the farm where Elizabeth grew up. In 1926 when he was four years old, his parents left Scotch Settlement and moved to a farm in near-by Douglas, where I eventually grew up. You could say that Elizabeth and I are almost related. But then again, Hubby says I’m “almost related” to half of New Brunswick. I love that part of being from a small place, all those connections.
So the other afternoon when Liz and I met at my Mum’s to talk about style and our shared history, it seemed appropriate to take pictures with the old farmhouse as our backdrop. That’s my mum’s garden spade that Liz is wielding below. Of course you know that she isn’t really digging. Since the spade is backwards. Ha.
I asked Liz that afternoon what were her biggest style challenges. She said finding pieces that are age appropriate but still edgy, not staid or boring. Liz loves effortless-looking style, and wants to look comfortable and chic, but not like she’s trying too hard. She loves jeans and boots, and menswear inspired looks, easy clothes in rich fabrics with a good cut. Her current favorite jeans are Silver “Not Your Boyfriend” jeans which are made in Canada. She loves Blundstone boots, Fitflop sandals with a bit of bling, and Toms Kala black suede, wedge-heeled ankle boots that she says she can wear all day… and all evening. In fact, I’d say Liz is downright evangelical about those Toms boots.
Elizabeth shops in high-end boutiques and small consignment stores alike. Price is not the main thing; finding a great piece that she loves and which she can wear forever is. Ironically, she says that she usually finds those pieces only when she’s NOT looking for them. Take the Angie cold-shoulder top above, for instance. Liz is not actually a fan of the cold-shoulder trend, and the way it can make women look slope-shouldered. But this top called to her, so she tried it on and was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a fan of the cold-shoulder trend either. For the exact same reason as Elizabeth. But that blue and pink top looks amazing on her. It must be her great shoulders. I love the feminine sleeves and the crochet trim with her distressed jeans. Feminine and tough work so well together, don’t you think?
Liz said to be sure to say that she does wear dresses too. Particularly in the fall and winter, knee-length dresses with opaque tights, her Toms suede ankle boots, and a denim jacket. I love that look too. She said she wore that exact outfit to a wedding last winter, and in her funky Toms boots she was the only lady there who danced all night without taking off her shoes. Ha. Now those are some comfortable boots.
I remember that Elizabeth always had short hair when we were hanging out and riding the school bus together back in the seventies. But I love her hair longer like she has it now, thick and wavy. I think it looks fabulous on her. She’s thinking of letting it go grey, she said. And maybe getting it shorn off in an edgy, new short cut. The jury is still out on that one.
Like many women our age, Liz has battled fluctuating weight over the years. I was hesitant to use the word “battle” in that sentence because she is not at war with her body. In fact if anyone seems comfortable with her body, it’s Liz. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have the “I hate this or that body part” conversation the other day. Of course we did. We laughed about big butts and middle-age middles. But Liz seems able to accept herself, and not give up at the same time.
She’s very active; she walks regularly, snowshoes in the winter, loves to participate in a local fitness “boot camp” where she says she’s the oldest member. And to her own amazement, she’s recently started running. “More like trotting,” she says, with a chuckle. She runs on Sunday mornings, on nearby woodland trails. It seems to me that running has become her Sunday morning “devotional” time, as much a spiritual activity as a physical one.
Liz is also a devotee of Weight Watchers, and says she’s been attending meetings off and on for thirty-five years. I love how she never gives up. She’s certainly not obsessive about her weight; she eats healthy, and stays positive, and even when she’s heavier than she likes, she dresses the body she has. She says she’d like to be able to convince the younger women she knows of the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity. I think she’s a great role model for young women. Or women of any age, actually.
After high school, Liz and I lost touch for many years. I moved to Ottawa in my early twenties. She decamped for Moncton, and then Calgary and Halifax, returning to the Fredericton area only recently. We found each other again through a mutual friend on Facebook. It’s been lovely catching up and rekindling our friendship these last three years. Laughing about what we got up to when we were young and silly.
Last winter when I was home, Liz picked me up and we went to the Northside Farmers Market in Fredericton. After we bought samosas and homemade jam, we sat down for coffee with another old friend. Larry grew up not far from Liz. And we all went to high school together. That afternoon Liz recalled how I got in trouble in grade nine for wearing my skirts too short. We laughed about riding in the back of Larry’s truck to go to the Nackawic dances on Saturday night. Over forty km away. In the back of an open truck! It seems country kids will go to any lengths to get to a dance. I think I’ve written about that escapade before on the blog, about how long I spent in the bathroom of the Nackawic Legion trying in vain to unsnarl the tangles from my curly, curly hair.
It’s kind of amazing, you know, to sit and drink coffee and laugh with people with whom you share so many of the same memories. Some of which you’d previously forgotten. Ha. I’m so glad I’ve reconnected with my friend Elizabeth. She’s a true original. And I’m happy to have her back in my life.
Now back to Elizabeth’s “makeover.” She says that the pictures taken that day at Victoria West Portrait made her feel amazing. And after the shoot she headed off, still feeling amazing, to meet her mum at the church for a pancake supper. Only when she arrived home that night and looked into the bathroom mirror did she guffaw. “Oh my god!” she said to me the other day, her hands over her face, laughing. “The makeup! So much makeup. And here was me swanning around the pancake supper thinking I looked fantastic.” We both laughed at that. What looks good for the camera can look a tad Norma Desmond-ish in real life.
Navigating ones sixties can be a bit of a balancing act, don’t you think? Trying to stay current, to wear clothes (and hair and make-up) that make us feel good, like our best selves. As if we’ve still got it, whatever “it” is. But not like we’re fooling ourselves that we’re still twenty-five.
I actually think that my friend Elizabeth does that balancing act well. She can still hit that style sweet spot, dress in clothes she loves, and which make a statement about who she is. A confident, attractive, sixty-two year old woman, who’s pretty darned cool.
Like the old farmhouse, we’re both showing a bit of war and tear. But we still have a lot of life and, hopefully, beauty left in us. Eh Liz?
P.S. Some apparel links are affiliate links which may trigger a commission for me.