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How Not To Wear Bruce Springsteen To Brunch

I’ve had a few inquiries about retirement wardrobes. As it turns out, dressing for the office is one thing, dressing for retirement, quite another.

I imagine you might be out there, sitting at the kitchen table with your cup of coffee. You prepare for yet another day at work, shoe dangling from your foot, laptop in bag, keys on the counter. You think, dressing for retirement? How is that an issue? Well, just wait until you find yourself faced with a closet full of suits, drawers full of rock concert tees from two decades ago, and nothing in between.

The same situation confronts stay-at-home moms, and freelancers who, after years in an office, begin to work from home.

Use cases to the rescue!

Here are the use cases for my current, retired-against-my-will-but-rather-liking-it lifestyle. If you are a stay-at-home mom, feel free to substitute feeding babies, park-going, and general child-chasing wherever appropriate.

  1. What? Pyjamas Are Clothes. They Are.
  2. Maintaining Your Physical Plant
  3. Hunting, Gathering, And Other Modes of Fortification
  4. Attending Fancy Lunches And Other Girly Stuff Like Shopping
  5. Meeting Old Colleagues
  6. A Date. Because Romance Does Not Die After 50.
  7. Very Fancy Dinners At Home Or Out
  8. Places With Swimming Pools, Oceans, And Room Service
  9. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

For an example, let’s look more closely at plant maintenance. Those of us at home generally become the fix-it person. These days I do almost all my own gardening, and I dress pretty much as below.

Cultural Context: It took a while, but I have made my peace with looking like the archetypal crazy garden lady. Function over form. Plus I wear my daughter’s old shirt and we mothers like to do that and hope no one notices.
Special Circumstances: I now have to wear reading glasses to see my roses. Prescription sunglasses are on the list. These are my first Crocs and I have to send them back because they appear to run large.
Desired Impact: Inflict more damage to garden than it inflicts on me. Beware of thorns, eye-level branches, and the mid-day sun. The Solumbra sunhats are genius. Look cute, fold up, washable.

Another big part of the homebody’s life is Hunting and Gathering. Otherwise known as running errands. I will come right out and say this. It’s perfectly fine to wear yoga pants to the grocery store, if, that is, you abide by a few principles.

  • First, go monochrome. Not the time for most of us to exercise our creativity. You Artsy Cousins? Of course, follow your heart.
  • Second, wear footgear from the same fanciness family. No to dress shoes, yes to flip flops or sneakers. Add a little style by wearing Havianas in a cool pattern, or Pumas.

Cultural Context: Grocery stores are just grocery stores. Efficiency and a little courtesy matter more than dress code.
Special Circumstances: I actually take yoga classes, for an extra dose of impunity.
Desired Impact: None. No impact. This outfit is as close as I can get to invisible, just as riding a bicycle is as close as I can get to no impact on the earth. I don’t actually have a bicycle, but it’s on the list.

Yoga Pants

Fortunately for those of us who like clothing, retirement does provide its dress up moments. For example, the ladies’ luncheon in all its guises. Dim sum in the city with friends, a baby shower for your cousin, shopping with mom and sisters.

Cultural Context: Women will appreciate what you wear. Especially, they will appreciate cute shoes. Pull out the ones that the men in your life don’t understand. Often involving bows.
Special Circumstances: The undeniable power and usefulness of a shirtdress.
Desired Impact: I find that amongst groups of women I like to look Put Together. One might also take the Flowy Flowers approach but I don’t convince anyone when I go there. And I always like to hear what people are reading. Best recent discover is To the End of the Land, by David Grossman. And we’re defining reent as the last 5 years.

And finally, The Date. The archetypal date. Butterflies in the stomach, extra time in the mirror, holding hands on a sidewalk.

Cultural Context: Whether you’re in a long, happy marriage, or single, you should date. And if you are neither, well, few of us fully understand the lives of our neighbors.
Special Circumstances: We all have our own.
Desired Impact: Both you and your companion should feel that you are desirable. I, personally, have never met a man who can resist jeans, a perfect white button-front, and pearls. Suede pumps with a chunky heel provide that little hint of toughness. Hair down, brushed, smelling of soap, no fuss. But of course, I am a Sturdy Gal, and this is the epitome of Sturdy Gal fancy. So the real lesson is, a man will be hard-pressed to resist when you’re enjoying your true self.


While it’s true that stay-at-home dressing is not so fraught with cultural expectations as are work dress codes, you just might be dressing exactly as you please for the first time in your life. If that’s the case, why not put thought into the effort? In my case, I have found that analyzing what to wear now that I’m home has clarified who I am becoming. Fully satisfying the “What To Wear?” for those activities I care about, rather than always Making Do, has increased my sense of intent.

It may sound pat, but is still true, that often when one’s wardrobe needs shift, one’s self is shifting too. From student to professional, from fiance to wife, from professional to mother, from mother to whatever comes next.

In my case, that’s a bicycle. You?

43 Responses

  1. I wear the craziest of mish mash outfits in the garden, but unless someone cones interloping then no one sees me in crazy lady mode.
    And I do circuit, weights or spin every morning so Iam always at the grocery store in Lycra.
    As long as I make an effort when I’m going out that’s all that matters!

  2. Happily married, yes, but the dates are few and far between. *sigh* Oh, well.

    But you’ve come over to the Dark Side and purchased Crocs! YAY! The Caymans fit better than their regular “beach” shoe. Yes, it could be considered disturbing that I know that…

  3. As a college professor, I work at home (not in my university office) as much as possible to avoid distractions (colleagues, meetings, students). Also, I live in a Southern city with a casual style, as a transplanted Yankee. My solutions: creating a wardrobe of comfortable “work at home” clothes (what I call soft clothes) no one will see that are not pjs; errand clothes, including jeans, skorts, and tailored shirts/Ts; teaching clothes, including tailored dresses, skirts, pants. I am short and plump: wearing yoga clothes outside the studio and without good foundation garments simply looks sloppy. Dressing like my students diminishes my effectiveness in the classroom. I find thinking about the definite differences between working at home and being either in the classroom or out on errands (in any case, out of the house) works for me to define my style.

  4. I have several Springsteen Tees but I never wear them!

    I am surprised to hear that yoga pants are on your list for errand running missions…don’t really know why but I thought they would have been a no no in your book.

    I wear jeans more often than not…and the white shirt and pearls!
    What is that pink item in the date polyvore? It looks like a fish lure but I am not sure!

  5. the fly in that final roundup made me laugh aloud. you are indeed fly, my lisa.

    in other news, i think you could sneak a well-loved concert tee beneath the trench in that final outfit with great success, particularly if you retain the pearls. i catch the fashionistas here at the office with printed tees under their blazers all the time.

  6. Great post!! I work from home and do alot of errand running, am happily married and go on dates with my husband. You are spot on with what you posted. Thank you!

  7. I too am recently retired, and it’s true that when the self shifts, the wardrobe should do so as well.

    No longer having to care about others’ opinions of what I wore, I did something I have always wanted to do: found things I liked and bought six of them, one in every color I liked (or possibly three each in the two, and only two, decent colors).

    The bad news is, that wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. The good news is, after having indulged the urge, I found it was a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    Conclusion: Yay! I’m saner than I thought! Always good to know.

  8. So well spoken. I especially love the link to the post where you discuss Sturdy Girls re: Pyjamas and the act of seduction, too funny!.
    Also “So the real lesson is, a man will be hard-pressed to resist when you’re enjoying your true self” is a line I may have to reuse. Perfectly put.

  9. There is nothing I enjoy more than hearing someone I respect talking about the style changes made once she are no longer wearing suits and career clothing five days a week. The gardening looks is delightful, we have a sport here at The Prepatorium called “extreme gardening,” and the outfit is perfect. (Although you and Crocs is something i am working to reconcile. Heh-heh.)

    I really, really like the Companionship look, it is just so you and so elegant. You really are a Polyvore goddess. I so love looking at your selections and creations, thank you for sharing some of that elegance with the rest of us!

    “Still coping with the Crocs”

    1. LPC really IS the Polyvore goddess!

      I love this line the best: “the real lesson is, a man will be hard-pressed to resist when you’re enjoying your true self.”

      Sigh. Thank you for that today.

  10. I knew a woman in Toronto who freelanced from home, as I did at that time.
    Every morning, she got up, got dressed properly, did her hair, left the house and walked down the street to buy her newspaper. When she returned she was “at work.” This routine kept her disciplined, which is harder than it sounds.
    As much as I tried to emulate her, I never managed it.
    I now work at home about 1/3 of the time.
    Unless I have a pressing deadline, I roll out of bed whenever, and lounge on my sofa in a T-shirt or PJs. Almost all of my writing is done in a semi-nude state (it’s hot in Hong Kong) on the couch.
    But if I wander outside — even if only for groceries or dry cleaning — I dress decently. I would never wear sweats or gym clothes outside unless I’m exercising. I’m barely willing to be seen in sneakers.
    The most casual I get are jeans, nice sandals and a decent bag. You never know who you’re going to bump into.
    If I have errands downtown, I usually throw on a dress or a skirt, even if I’m not doing any official work or going into the office.

  11. Brilliant post! I lecture part-time and freelance from home a couple of days a week so I have semi-retirement issues. Forget Crocs, I’m hankering after a pair of quality penny loafers (Ines has spoken!)

  12. Like Pearl, I’ve been working more and more in my study at home, where distractions are fewer, but I still must be able to run up to campus at the drop of a hat for an impromptu meeting with administration or faculty members, many of whom are high-profile. Dress code for non-teaching academics in the Midwest tends to be business casual–mine generally consists of a knee-length twill skirt and a button-front shirt, with a crewneck sweater or cardigan and tights in cooler weather, and conservative flats. Not a lot of jewelry–a brooch–or, if meeting with the Vice Chancellor, a named professor, or a Nobel laureate, maybe pearls. :)

    For get-togethers with friends…well…we’re all Sturdy Gals, unless Pimm’s or mimosas are involved.

  13. I laughed out loud at “retired-against-my-will-but-rather-liking-it lifestyle” because we are definitely sisters in this respect!

    It occurred to me recently that of course my wardrobe was pathetic because it was 90% work-oriented and 10% pajamas/sweats. No in between.

  14. Working from home, I’ve learned to think of my wardrobe in four categories. They are very similar to yours.

    I put your Maintenance & Body into one category I call Practical. I separate your Companionship into: Suburban Casual [outside the home] and Business Casual [for trips into the city]. And I have a fourth category I call Special Events, which is holidays, weddings, and social events.

    I need to have a distinction between suburban clothes and city clothes because when I didn’t do that, I never looked properly dressed in either place. Too fancy or not fancy enough. Eventually I learned to make the distinction, and now I shop accordingly.

  15. Croks!? really? Those things are like a sartorial fingernail on the chalk board. Some canvas slip ons can be hosed off just as easily.

    And not to be evil, but this is true, not everyone should wear yoga pants. I am no lech, not even close, but just know that anything form fitting will naturaly attract attention to whatever form it is fitted to.

  16. I’m at the stage of looking forward (in all its meanings) to retirement and have wondered what I’ll wear. While your examples are great, I don’t think that you have adequately covered the use case of the day spent staying at home reading and/or paying the bills. I can certainly see myself wearing jeans, but I’m not sure I want to do that all the time. So perhaps another installment? Also, I’m glad to see that your date outfit is only a little fancier than what my husband would want to see – I was anticipating something much dressier, forgetting that your beau undoubtedly appreciates the sturdy gal in you.

  17. Do you truly want to be invisible at the grocery store? At 5’2″, I’m ignored enough as it is (think the line at the deli counter). The yoga pants doen’t work for me. My body type needs more structure on the lower half. Perhaps if I were actually coming from yoga class . . .

  18. Dear LPC, you have such a knack for slipping in the occasional killer remark. “And if you are neither, well, few of us fully understand the lives of our neighbors.” A++

  19. hi lisa,

    so happy to hear you that you are getting a bike. what a week it has been. my butt is so sore!

    i’m surprised that you would wear crocs at all or yoga pants to the market. i don’t know why but that surprises me.


  20. Your bike needs a few other essentials – a helmet, a lock, and some panier’s.

    It’s been my experience that the only parking lot more dangerous than Whole Foods is Trader Joe’s.

    You don’t want your brains scrambled in the parking lot by someone who was relying on the back-up camera in their Prius!

  21. I can completely relate to this post and it has come at the perfect time as my poor wardrobe is in desperate need of some middle ground. After sixteen years in the hairstyling industry my clothing was not for the stay at home anything! I hardly had any casual wear at all and had to really start adding those particularly normal pieces that didn’t scream “Hey, I’m a trendy, hip hairstylist!”. I’m still trying actually, as I’m always drawn to what is not appropriate for gardening or grocery runs…it’s a delima. Your ideas are very helpful…although I haven’t jumped on the croc bandwagon…yet!
    xo J~

  22. Just found your blog recently and really appreciate your posts. I retired rather early due to health issues and fully relate to the transition wardrobe. I have finally, after 3 years, defined it for me. My at home wardrobe needs to be versatile enough to leave the house at a moment’s notice but entirely comfortable for my sewing work or housework. I love vintage aprons and have been wearing aprons in general for years. I am a sloppy cook and need the protection of an apron. I make many, they are theme like or just fancy and tend to top jeans or my favorite ottoman knit pants from Coldwater Creek and a nice T shirt or shirt. I always wear earrings, and usually a bracelet or two. For gardening I wear old jeans and t’s with an old apron. Again, I am sloppy and I get really dirty. My public clothing is much more polished and proper. One thing I know for sure, style evolves all the time. Try anything that strikes your fancy, it’s only clothing.

  23. Great post. I am also retired–from nursing where I wore really cute, creative uniforms. Black scrubs, even.

    I work best at home in my leopard flannel pajamas, but since “home” is temporarily a downtown high rise, and a I have a dog who needs to go out, I cover up with a long raincoat and hot pink Burberry rain boots to get in and out of the building. I will have to rethink this strategy when the sun comes out!

    I have both dressy and casual going out clothes, but what I live in are black North Face cargo pants and an array of Patagonia and North Face fleece jackets. Great for walking my German Sheperd, and then they do double duty at the barn with my horses. I tend to wear Merrill clogs for everyday, and recently scored them in leopard–Yay! Otherwise, I stick to wearing black. It’s easy, sophisticated, and simplifies my wardrobe. I try to wear makeup and some creative silver jewelry just to improve my mood. I use scarfs and colored fleece jackets to warm things up.

  24. I agree completely! And thank you for the license to continue wearing my most ridiculous gardening outfits. I confess to actually wearing pajamas whilst weeding. At this point, I just try to “clean up well” and don’t worry too much about around the house fashions. My extensive supply of Nike dryfit pants serves me well in this regard – so comfortable and so inconspicuous.

  25. You know, I wouldn’t mind a friend showing up for lunch in a Bruce Springsteen tee and biker boots. Patti Smith maybe?

  26. Loved this post! The “Heart” was eerie, do you have a cam on me?

    These days, I live in stretch trouser jeans or pants and elegant (well, that’s the idea) v-necks. Trying to avoid any vestige of the wash n’ wear retired look, so no fleece or running shoes outside a gym. Yoga pants, (which are essentially black stretch pants) are fine by me for running errands and get a lift from jewelry and a good bag.

  27. Tabitha – I am in awe of your exercise regime. If I were as disciplined as you I’d say Lycra and to heck with it:).

    Jan – I have to send these back because the 7 is too big, but I look forward to wearing them in the garden.

    Deja – Thank you so much. And I find my its/it’s etc. has gotten worse now that I no longer hand write anything:(. I know you know the right way.

    Pearl – Exactly. You are using your location to define the use case. It sounds as though you have transplanted Yankee style quite successfully to this environment.

    hostess – I know. I wanted to dispel the myth:). It IS a fish lure. Supposed to be a symbol of how generally men have a topic that they like to discuss and the best thing we can do to show love is listen. Even if it’s painful:).

  28. lauren – ha:). that meaning I had not yet teased out. The flies and honey, yes. Oh, to put Bruce beneath my trench I’d really have to be ready to defend my indie cred. I could do it, one night, in New York. Remind me next time I am out your way.

    mary anne – Thank you so much. Enjoy your dates.

    Vivienne – Your comment made me laugh right out loud. Thank you.

    Laura – Thank you. Glad you liked the guest post;).

    TPP – Essentially, I missed the whole Crocs as fashion trend. To me it’s like Uggs. Good for their first purpose. You are surfing and have sore, cold feet? Wear your Uggs. You have shorts on and a tee at the mall. No Uggs. Please….I thought of you and the shirt dress and the Sperrys:). We do have to have lunch, one day, somehow.

  29. Joyce – I absolutely write in PJs. I have to spring it on myself, start before the day begins. And I did as you do, when I lived in New York. I should specify, my choices here are for suburbs and not a city. There’s something about a city whereby dressing just well enough protects one, I have always found.

    That’s not my age – Why thank you! Penny loafers are lovely. Particularly when Italian and sleek as a greyhound.

    Staircase Witch – Yes, if you need to be able to walk out the door for meetings with little notice the whole strategy shifts as you have described. Also, yes, shoes that can be hosed off and less toe-prickering I imagine.

    MYFWBS – Then I am happy:).

    Susan – So happy to make you laugh. And you should have seen my wardrobe, two years ago when I was first off work. Yikes.

  30. Ally Bean – Absolutely. Now, I have separate maintenance and body because I cannot garden in yoga pants. Too many prickers that don’t come out of stretchy fabric. In terms of suburban and urban dress clothes, I agree. Good point.

    Patsy – I suspect that phrase had its origins, oh so many years ago, on Cape Cod:).

    Brohammas – Crocs are like chaps on a cowboy. Suited to a purpose, other interpretations in other situations.

    MJ – OK. Confession. I work in pyjamas all morning. I’ve always preferred to write on a sofa, or a bed, than at a desk. At work I always wound up shoes off, feet on my chair. So I really don’t have any particular at home dress, except for gardening, walking, or cooking at night, when I wear whatever I put on to go out that day. Which does highlight another issue – I want a cool apron to cover up and cook in:).

    Janet – Ha! I am pleased to have finally communicated the true spirit of a Sturdy Gal. Dress for the purpose on which you are focused:).

  31. Kerry – You are welcome. I own them in seersucker and they are wildly, wildly comfortable. Others have walked 2 miles in them with nary a blister, BTW.

    RoseAG – Ah. Good point. Very good point.

    Jessica – That’s a fascinating problem to solve, however. I wouldn’t think you’d want to give up all your hip and trendiness.

    Corinne – Thank you! “One thing I know for sure, style evolves all the time. Try anything that strikes your fancy, it’s only clothing.” I appreciate your thinking. And I need some aprons, but I just don’t want ruffles:(.

    Mary Jane – Leopard flannel, pink Burberry, and creative silver jewelry. I’d say you’ve got ta version of the Artsy Cousin ethos nailed.

  32. Cate – Thank you. In your work it’s almost like you need sporting equipment to wear:).

    Patricia – Of course. It’s all about cleaning up well and knowing when it’s needed.

    Anon – Thank you. I was just waiting for someone to say this. Because, of course, in many social modes Bruce is perfect for lunch. Bruce and some Doc Martens. Patti Smith can wear whatever she pleases if she’d ever like to come for quiche:).

  33. Those jeans looks absolutely perfect. Great choices! I will absolutely admit I wear athletic wear to run errands. I often rely on boots and long wrap sweaters to elevate leggings to public-appropriate attire. ;)

  34. I love how well you captured that sudden surprise when you realize your life has changed and you own nothing to wear that is not work clothing or sleepwear.

    As the so-called trailing spouse living in Europe while my husband works, I find many things in my life free to be shaped by me rather than work. This is both a gift and a challenge. Waking up and getting dressed for the relevant “use case” adds some much needed framework to my day.

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