By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Friday, August 25, 2006


During the days approaching the Better With Time Modeling Contest, I noticed a strange reluctance to do anything that might mar my appearance. I put up a batch of plum jam like I do every summer when the red plums on my backyard tree ripen, but this year I fretted over the brown stains on my fingers and nails. Normally, I ignore the stains or maybe even admire them as a badge of honor for following the arcane craft of my grandmothers, but now I was afraid the judges choosing the finalists for Macy’s Seattle Better With Time Fashion Show in October might reject me because of my ugly hands. Should I pumice the calluses, paint the nails and stop using them, effectively relegating my hands to the status of a 12th century Chinese woman’s bound feet—considered beautiful but ultimately useless?

Other activities took on an aura of danger. My bicycle’s back tire was off whatever the name of the thing is that connects the tire to the frame. With great difficulty, not being particularly mechanically inclined, I put it back on by eliminating the kickstand. Now black grease joined the brown plum stains under my fingernails, but I was all set for tooling around the neighborhood. But what if I crashed and scratched my face? Or broke my leg and couldn’t walk down the runway? I went on the ride anyway, but I’m embarrassed to admit I hesitated before setting out.

Do celebrities—real fashion models, actors, TV news anchors, etc.—live their lives under a cloud of worry over their appearance? Do they forgo work and fun in fear of disturbing their perfection? If so, what constricted lives they must lead.

In my first post I related buying a classic pantsuit for the modeling competition. The clerk who rang up my purchase was one of those impossibly gorgeous young women who inspire speculation over their off-duty gig. I told her I was participating in her store’s older-woman fashion search and asked her what she thought of the pantsuit. I said I actually preferred funkier clothes and described an alternate outfit consisting of pieces I already own: a short bias-cut brown skirt, long top with a wide, big-buckled woven belt over it, vintage orange denim jacket and high, sling-back heels. Which outfit did she think the judges would like better—classic or funk? She said my own clothes would be better because I would stand out. She thought everyone would wear something similar to the liz claiborne suit.

So what to wear? Back home I tried on the new outfit. It was nice but so ordinary, so career-woman businesslike. I experimented with several combinations from my closet but finally settled on the new liz pants with a favorite old shirt, lots of dangly necklaces and flats. It’s the outfit in the photo. My husband took the picture right before I left for the contest. I would be comfortable if not particularly splashy. Of course, my husband said the gold chains looked like something an aging male wannabe disco dancer would wear nestled in his chest hair. Thanks so much, sweetheart, for the vote of confidence.

Saturday morning, the day of the contest, I was fairly calm—more nervous, really, about finding parking in downtown Seattle than I was about the competition. I usually take the bus when I go downtown, but today I didn’t want to work up a sweat walking to the bus stop. It turned out there was a parking structure directly across the street from Macy’s, which I luckily drove straight to without circling around and around the block looking for a space. It cost $12 to park, but oh well, it was a special day.

The doors were supposed to open at 10:00 a.m., but when I arrived at the third floor Stewart Street Room right on time, there was already a humongous line doubled back on itself down the hall. Each semifinalist was allowed to bring one guest for support, and the crowd was abuzz with excitement. And, boy, was the beautiful salesclerk wrong! Never before had I seen such an astonishing collection of fashion statements—everything from beachwear (no bikinis but clamdiggers and tube tops) to flowing flowered dresses dripping with ruffles and bows that I could picture a southern lady wearing on the verandah while sipping a mint julep. One woman sported one of those gigantic picture hats with a three-foot brim. Another looked as though she’d borrowed her granddaughter’s rave clothes. There might have been three classic suits.

It took a long time to check in. We were each given a number printed on a plastic sheet to identify us for the judges. Mine was 69. I did not take that to be an auspicious sign. The contestants took advantage of the long wait to consume the fruit, cheese, cookies and beverages provided and compare personal histories and their reasons for and expectations of signing up for the fashion show. One woman asked if anyone else had had any disasters while preparing for the competition. While choosing her outfit, she couldn’t see herself from head to toe in her mirror. She had a different shoe on each foot and wanted to see which one looked best with her skirt, so she stood on the toilet seat in her bathroom. Yes, you guessed it, she fell into the bathtub, ineffectually scrabbling at the towel rack on the way down. She bruised her backside but fortunately was not seriously injured. She was more worried about the skirt than getting hurt. A waffle-shaped soap scum design was printed on it from the bath mat, and she was afraid the imprint would prevent her from returning the skirt to the store. The accident convinced her it was not the thing to wear to the competition. Some blotting and a blow dryer rendered the skirt returnable.

Once we were all seated around the ominous, looming runway, the Macy’s event coordinator greeted the 137 semifinalists and their support groupies and introduced the judges: herself, her assistant and a talent scout from the TCM Modeling Agency. She asked for a show of hands of all the contestants who were in their 50s. Maybe 60 to 75 percent of the women raised their hands. Then in their 60s—a few dozen, including me. 70s—maybe six or eight. 80s—I think I counted three. 90s—yes! There was one woman who was 93. The coordinator read one of the essays we were all required to submit to be chosen as semifinalists. She said it represented the theme a good many of us had expressed—being grateful for the time, now that we were older and had paid our dues by raising families and working at careers, to pursue our own personal dreams.

Then, on to the competition. What brave women! Attempting to be something we’re not with grace and style. Trying to be different, moving down the runway in a unique way with that little extra flair that makes someone a winner. Some women removed a jacket and flung it over their shoulder, occasionally hitting themselves in the face in the process. A few untied long scarves from around their necks and twirled them in the air. One woman pulled off a hat to reveal blond curls that cascaded to her waist. Some women walked with elegance, some had a sexy walk, some bouncy and, yes, some were awkward and clunky. But the audience supported everyone, no matter how clumsy, with enthusiastic applause. And when the 93-year-old woman took her turn, slightly tottery but game, she was rewarded with a standing ovation. Really, it brought a tear to my eye.

My group was called to line up before the stairs leading to the runway. I had been having a great time grinning maniacally at the women who had gone before me and clapping for them hard enough to make my palms sting. I didn’t think I was especially nervous, though I had noted that my upper lip was trembling when I’d reapplied my lipstick earlier, but now as I approached the runway, my smile began to fade. Practicing my walk at home, I’d decided to adopt the strong stride I’d seen the contestants in the Miss F.A.T. (Fabulous And Thick) beauty contest I’d watched on TV use rather than the mincing, one-foot-directly-in-front-of-the-other gait that couture models employ. I’d planned to take a couple of turns in the middle of the runway and in front of the judges’ table, maximizing my few moments of fame, but once I was up the stairs I shot down the runway as though I were racewalking. I was back in my seat, finished before I’d realized I’d even begun. The woman sitting next to me, who’d done a near-professional job of modeling early on, asked me, "Did you have fun?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Well, that’s all that counts, then." I should have practiced more.

So, I wasn’t chosen as one of the 15 finalists. I won’t get to model in the fashion show in October, though I do plan to enjoy the consolation gift of a complimentary facial massage from Shiseido, one of the Better With Time sponsors. My brief fashion career is over. I’ll have to go back to just being a writer. You can check out my books at

My beautiful, almost-professional seatmate wasn’t chosen, either. In fact, looking at the winners, it was hard to determine what criteria the judges had used for their decisions other than picking the 93-year-old who was so clearly special. I wonder if I’d ignored the lovely salesclerk’s advice and worn my classic pantsuit I would have had a better chance. Maybe I would have stood out more and won. Maybe.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Better With Time Fashion Model

Tomorrow, 149 other semifinalists and I will stride down the runway to compete in the Seattle Macy’s Better With Time Modeling Contest for women 50 and older. Fifteen finalists will be chosen by a panel of judges from Macy’s merchandising and advertising departments and from the Seattle fashion community. The lucky winners will model in the Better With Time Fashion Show in October.

In the preliminary competition we were each required to write a 250 word essay and submit a photo—mine is the one posted here. My sister took it when we traveled to Newport Beach, CA, for my daughter’s wedding. The photographer cut the top of my head off, but I still made it through the first round of applications. Some of you, perhaps most, are now thinking it would have been much better if she’d lopped off my entire head. Too unkind.

It’s a real kick to get a chance to model at the ripe-old-age of 60. When I was a pudgy, bespectacled preteen, I spent hours fantasizing about glamorous photo shoots. I poured over Seventeen imagining myself in all the cutest outfits. Never mind that I wore a size 14 and my grandmother made most of my clothes—puffy cotton print skirts with gathered waistbands and color-coordinated cotton blouses. My mother made me add a pair of corduroy pants under the skirt in January along with an obligatory sweater or two. Winters were cold in Missouri. If someone had told that girl she was going to have to wait until she was middle-aged to audition for a fashion show, she would have been devastated.

Two magazines I’ve read this August have also featured older women in conjunction with style and fashion. Vogue’s cover reads, "Style Secrets From 20 to 93, Dressing Your Age." And sure enough, women representing each decade swan about in gorgeous clothes on the inside glossy pages. Prestigious women, too: Ellen Barkin 52, Nora Ephron 65, Yoko Ono 73, Robin Chandler Duke 82 and Babs Simpson 93. Who could ever have imagined Yoko would make 70? And in cutoff jeans, gloves, tights and high heels? Most of the pieces are interviews, but Nora Ephron writes her own essay, an excerpt from I Feel Bad About My Neck. She is not at all happy about getting older. She will definitely not go gently into that good night.

The other magazine with aging models is AARP. Not surprising, right? The five winners of the Faces of 50+ Real People Model Search were, according to the magazine, "…whisked to New York to appear in ‘Fall Style’…where they got in touch with their inner Armani." AARP’s models included two men. And a $498 sweater by Faconnable paired with $40 Target boots.

I debated at length over whether I should buy new clothes for the audition or wear something I already own. I put off the decision until today when I suddenly rushed to Macy’s to shop. It seemed only fair to reward the store execs in some way for giving me an opportunity to become a fashion diva. I picked out a classy but conservative liz clairborne pantsuit, a size eight, the six was the tiniest bit too snug—my preteen self would have been so envious. In the fitting room I took advantage of those mirrors that show you on all sides to practice my audition poses. I didn’t think I looked too bad, only a little dopey; however, I also noticed when I was changing from one outfit to another that the flesh on my back and belly hung down in folds in a manner remarkably similar to a Shar Pei’s. Sigh. Maybe Nora Ephron is on the right track after all.

Here is my 250-word contest essay. I’ll let you know next week if I’m chosen as one of the fifteen finalists for the fall fashion show.

Better With Time
I’m a sassy, sizzling sixty with the time and self-confidence to enjoy life and style. Try a new look? Why not? Now I have no boss or clients I’m required to impress. If it doesn’t work, it was fun to see myself in a new guise.

I can take the same light-hearted approach to how I use my time. Weight lifting? Sure. Wow, see that biceps definition! Yoga? Can’t do the Wheel yet, but Downward-facing Dog is a snap. Walking? Love it! An hour five days a week keeps my blood pressure and weight down and my health prescription free. Then for a dash of spice, throw in a little biking and swimming.

And speaking of spice, a lifelong passion for reading has segued into writing fiction with two published romances, Special Delivery and Big Bad Wolfe, both released by Wings ePress, and a just-completed mystery tentatively titled Touch of the Devil. Techno-phobia? Not allowed! I designed and maintain a Web site,, to reach out to my readers.

Volunteering warms my heart and allows me to give back to the community that nourishes me. A love for gardening has blossomed into grubbing Himalayan blackberry and ripping out English ivy in our parks and forests as a Washington Native Plant Steward. I’ve grappled with the mysteries of the compass with Boy Scouts and braved an icy plunge into snow-fed streams at Girls Camp. An old lady? No way! Life does definitely get better with an accumulation of wisdom and years.