I've done it. I've solved the mystery of how a reasonably stylish young woman turns into a dowdy old lady. It goes like this:
A little girl spends her childhood looking at her grandmother's frumpy nightgown and thinking how the little purple flowers are kinda cute, but how hopelessly out of date it is. When she informs her grandmother that the nightgown just isn't cool, the grandmother doesn't seem offended. She just states that she--gasp!--doesn't care. No one outside the family is going to see her in it anyway, and it's very comfortable and practical.
Years pass. One day the granddaughter, grown, is walking through a Sears on her way to somewhere else. She is not looking for clothes, but she is suddenly brought to a complete stop in the lingerie section. Now keep in mind that this is Sears. The "lingerie" is Playtex bras and packages of tube socks. But what has stopped the granddaughter cold is not a bra designed for women with breasts shaped like torpedoes. It is The Nightgown, a cotton summer nightgown almost identical in style to the one she disparaged so many years ago, complete with little purple flowers and lace detailing on the front.
As the granddaughter looks at this nightgown, she is transported instantly to summer mornings in her grandmother's kitchen. The smell of Grape-Nuts and hot Constant Comment tea suddenly fills her nose. She can hear her grandmother's voice making her morning telephone calls, smell her grandfather's pipe smoke wafting up from the workshop in the basement, feel the tubby poodle's warm breath on her feet as she waits patiently for a toast crust to be slipped under the table on the sly.
In the grip of uncontrollable nostalgia, the granddaughter buys the nightgown, takes it home, and wears it. No one's going to see her in it anyway, she reasons. And gosh darn it, it really is comfortable and practical.
And, slowly, like an infection taking hold, the granddaughter's fashion sense starts to change. She's already picked up her grandmother's knitting habit, all the while reassuring herself that knitting is really trendy and hip and retro. Now she starts wondering whether it wouldn't be a good idea to knit herself some dickies. (You know, the fake turtlenecks that are nothing but neck and a little bit of fabric you tuck under your top so that people think you're wearing a turtleneck, but the joke's on them!) And maybe she should pick up a couple of sweatshirts showing scenes of adorable woodland creatures. Maybe the dickies could be sewn into the sweatshirts! Now that's just genius. And the dickie-sweatshirt combo would look awfully cute with some colorful polyester pants. Bright green would be lovely.
The granddaughter recognizes what is happening, but seems powerless to prevent the descent into practical, comfortable clothing. She wonders how many generations of women in her family this has happened to.
So if you see a woman on the street who looks a little frumpy, don't blame her. Blame her genealogy. Understand that somewhere in her past there is probably a cotton nightgown with little purple flowers. And don't waste your time pitying her, either. After all, polyester pants really are comfortable and practical!