Judith Rizzio is a 65-year-old self-proclaimed “style activist” and is helping Joan Marquis with a closet cleanse and choosing things to wear as well as things to throw out…
Marquis is 69 and dressed in khakis and a back Tee, she is fearful that Rizzo will tell her to throw out everything and start from scratch, which she can’t do on the pension she is on.
Rizzo says to her:
“Fantastic! You aren’t afraid of patterns, which is great.”
After this the Marquis feels a sense of peace, maybe she can keep some of her clothes after all…
Rizzio operates a business called ‘Out of Our Closet’, and helps older women achieve their own potential through fashion, cleaning out their closets and teaching them how to shop on a budget. She draws her experience from the theatre!
She is very aware of the financial means of may women aged 50 and over, and offers her sessions consulting on a sliding scale or pro bono, as well as in exchange for goods and services, like a meal, photography, or artwork.
Rizzio fights against the tyranny of the fashion industry, she feels it’s an industry that prioritizes thin bodies and expensive clothing.
She said :
“I want people to feel just as special as someone walking down the street wearing haute couture”
Not just that it’s a huge political stance, however, it began with a drag queen…
Picture a Halloween party, it’s 1992 at a facility for AIDS patients, Rizzo was the director of volunteers and the former female impersonator got into his Dolly Parton drag and performed that night.
He wore a red sparkly dress, his face painted with makeup, with a blonde wig. The clothes were big and saggy on his small skinny frame, but he managed to know a great tune whilst holding onto his IV pole, the first time he felt alive in months!
“I sat there in tears, clapping …It blew me away to see the life that brought him.”
Rizzio had a lightbulb moment and realized that the simple act of getting all dolled up in those clothes brought that person so much joy in times of sadness and pain.
This is what she tries to do now with her work, to bring out the joy in her clients, with clothes, although she still leans towards practical clothes she can easily shove into a suitcase, very sensible.
Marquis found one pair of black skinny jeans her friend made her buy, she said:
“They’re tight on my legs, but I talk myself into wearing these every now and then”
Rizzio challenges her to find more pants like this, and to show off her calves, which, of course, Marquis has said is her favorite part of her body.
For Marquis, this is a pretty big change, as, during most of her life, she leaned towards being invisible, but now as she has aged she says:
“[I am starting to] not give a rip”
Rizzio, on the contrary, is well known in Portland for her eye-catching ensembles, even though she is a slight woman, absent of curves, with closely cropped grey hair, it’s easy to see her as she stands out with a tomato red polka dot jumpsuit.
A lot of her clothes are, in fact, second-hand, although she likes to have the occasional spend on a $150 dress!
She lives by the RuPaul lyric:
“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
Which is essentially driving at this – although we slip on clothing each day in order to construct a unique image of ourselves, underneath we’re all the same.
“Out of Our Closet”, which she started just a few short years ago, is a way to give women the permission they won’t give themselves, she just refuses to let them disappear or be forgotten.
There are more women over age 50 who live in America today than at any other point in history, according to the United States Census Bureau.
“Age is a motherf—er, especially for women. Older men become ‘sexy,’ and older women become ‘ugly,’ …But it goes beyond the image thing. It’s that sense of ‘we are done, our purpose is done”
Rizzio is practical and down to earth, she pulls down the flap of her own corduroys a little, she said:
“You see this? This is a hysterectomy scar. Anything that rubs against it makes it really uncomfortable… [Do] you ever experience the scar tissue feeling on your breast?”
“If my purse strap is in the wrong position, it hurts …I’ll wear undershirts to make me feel better.”
Then Rizzio said:
“That’s great …If you’re gonna wear something like that, though, you might consider camisoles with some design or bling.”
Then Rizzio explains that for women, bolder is how older women can remain visible!
To test this, she experimented at the grocery this is what she did:
First, she went wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and a black coat. Nobody even noticed her.
Then she upscaled everything. Put on a black Russian hat and one of her eight vintage leopard-print coats (she believes everyone should have “puss print”) and went back to shop for broccoli.
There were many people who commented on her outfit.
“Okay, I’m not disappearing.”
And you shouldn’t disappear too, so take a leaf out of Rizzio’s book and be bold, be noticed, and live a happier life!