Originally published November 15, 2022.
This is an excerpt from the author’s funny new collection, which you can buy here.
You’ve probably all noticed that I recently switched up my personal style. That’s right, I’m wearing tunics now. That’s what this gorgeous piece of fabric draping my body is called. A tunic. It originates at my shoulders, meanders down my chest and stomach like a cool mountain stream, and ends its magnificent journey by lightly caressing my hips like a lover who’s just kind of phoning it in these days. It is my tunic. And it is perfection.
The word “tunic” most likely means something in another language, like Greek or Latin, but who gives a shit because in English, “tunic” means “suddenly, shopping at Chico’s doesn’t seem so gross anymore.” Because much like death, Jesus, or one of those square buzzy things they use at the Chili’s hostess stand, the tunic knows when your time has come. And baby, your time will come.
The tunic comes for all.
One day my middle-aged pudge was happily crammed into my usual tight Old Navy tank top that says GIMME CATS AND LATTES, then boom, the very next day, an invisible hand grabbed me by the neck and pushed me into my mom’s section of Macy’s. There I wandered dreamlike until I found the Holy Grail. The motherlode. The rack of Stretch Organic Cotton Jersey Tunics waiting for me under the fluorescent lights and warm bath of the piped-in Muzak. These tunics weren’t marked down, not even by a paltry 20 percent, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care one fucking bit. I hastily yanked my Visa out of my purse and gasped, “Put it on my card! Put them all on my card! No matter the predatory interest rate!”
Friends, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I paid full retail for those damn Stretch Organic Cotton Jersey Tunics. I had no choice. There was no resisting it. Because much like Eileen Fisher’s corporate messaging would say if I worked at Eileen Fisher and they let me write their corporate messaging, one doesn’t simply wear a tunic.
When you’re a woman over forty, a tunic wears you.
Now that I’m wearing tunics, I’ve thrown away the regular shirts that have suppressed me my entire life. Regular shirts are straightjackets. Corsets. Regular shirts conceal nothing. Torso, upper arms, hips, all of that bullshit is displayed in a regular shirt, like slabs of ham in a deli case. But in my tunic? In my tunic, you can’t see any of the middle part of my middle-aged body. I’m shrouded in mystery. I’m a stylish enigma. I’m a greying fortune cookie with a fortune inside it that says, “Fuck you, I was in shape in the eighties.”
In my tunic, I’m the Man Behind the Curtain. No, the Woman Inside the Curtain. And nobody knows what’s going on inside the curtain. It hides every secret. Did I just do two thousand sit-ups, or did I just eat an entire Boston cream pie I found in the back of the freezer? Is my lower back bare, or is it inked in a regrettable tramp stamp that says “American Skank” in Chinese characters? Am I an apple bottom or a kumquat bottom? Is my stomach untouched, or is it covered in leeches because of some stupid holistic thing I’m testing out for my idiot brother-in-law Gary’s new “wellness center”? Nobody knows. Nobody cares. Nobody can even imagine. Why? Because I’m wearing motherfucking tunics now.
Sometimes when I’m feeling subdued, which is the fancy way I say “hungover from draining a box of pinot grigio,” I switch out my tunic for a tunic-adjacent item: the long, lightweight sweater. Long, lightweight sweaters are magic, and they come in a broad spectrum of colors, ranging from light beige to medium beige to dark beige.
And, per store policy, they are only sold to women born before 1980. Sorry, it’s true. Don’t even try to lie because they’ll check your ID, youngblood. Long, lightweight sweaters are soft, they are silent, and they are the length of a fairly tall twelve-year-old boy named Jeremy. “What does wearing a long, lightweight sweater feel like,” you ask? Why, I’ll tell you what it feels like: it feels like being inside one of those caterpillar cocoons your kids had in their elementary classroom, except with less oozing and more cashmere. It feels like being back inside the womb.
Whenever I’m out and about in my long, lightweight sweater, strangers ask me if I’m a therapist. “Can you help me?” they ask. “Can you solve my problems? Can you keep me off the ledge, ma’am?” I gaze at them with a Mona Lisa smile, then I put my hands in the Namaste position and whisper, “I am not a therapist. I only look like one. Any advice I give you would most definitely make your mental health rapidly decline. But if you buy me a non-fat latte, I will find motivational quotes on Instagram and read them to you in a soothing voice.”
Back to tunics.
When I’m in my tunic, I’m ready for anything that’s expected of a woman over forty. If a Nancy Meyers movie needs an extra for a beach house brunch scene, give me a call. If someone is needed to stand in front of a crowd and stare commandingly until they quiet the hell down, I’m ready to go. What’s that? The Active Adult Senior Living center needs a more-cute-than-pretty, affordable model for its new ad campaign? Hand me a can of Ensure and a tennis racket and tell me to smile, bucko. I’m ready for my close-up. Put my mug on those junk mail flyers and send them out. Because I am confident, I am fashionable, and I am ensconced in three-to-five yards of kicky magenta linen. How old am I? I’m tunic years old.
Remember, friends, a tunic is not a caftan. A tunic is not a toga. A tunic isn’t one of those stupid muumuus sold at flea markets for a dollar. A tunic is never in style or out of style; a tunic transcends style. But most of all, a tunic is a woman’s way of saying, “You know what? Nobody’s looking at me anymore anyway, so why not just relax and throw out my fucking shapewear? Why not be comfortable and self-assured for once in my goddamn life?” Yeah, it’s pretty much that last one. A glorious, comfortable future awaits. I’m wearing tunics now.
To read an interview with Wendi Aarons about the inspiration behind writing this piece, click here.