Age-appropriate dressing

The key to successful aging is to pay as little attention to it as possible.  ~Judith Regan

Friends, I’m taking time off for a week or so. This essay ran in Strut magazine in the fall of 2007. I’m happy to report that I’ve purchased two military jackets since its publication….

What is hip?

By the time we reach our forties, most of us have discovered that fashion history repeats itself. What goes around comes around – even if we can’t button it across the middle.

This occurred to me last week at the local mall, where I was haunted by the ghosts of my high school wardrobe in every clothing store I visited. There were racks of ruffled skirts and gossamer peasant blouses. Rows of knee-high boots lavished with embroidery. Stacks of jeans dripping with beads and sequins.

My inner teenage girl desperately wanted to buy everything in sight – including the spiffy military jacket that must have been inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders. But the voice of common sense – the voice belonging to my inner middle-aged mom – told me it was time to shop for something more mature. Something “age-appropriate.”

Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been grappling with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. I mean, with Goldie Hawn posing for magazine covers in miniscule tank tops, and Mick Jagger prancing around in the same hip huggers he wore back in 1968, what do fashion editors mean when they tell us to dress our age?

In my early thirties, not long after I became a mother, I went through the obligatory matron phase. Obsessed with parenting duties, I schlepped around grocery stores and school parking lots in oversized T-shirts and ankle-grazing denim jumpers – outfits that made my late Grandma Ruby’s housedresses look seductive. It took years to correct those fashion mistakes, and I have an album of photos to prove it.

Maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits.

Not long ago, a stylish friend in her eighties reminded me that reaching maturity doesn’t have to be synonymous with wearing ugly shoes and frumpy polyester suits. Echoing the late Coco Chanel, my friend believes that achieving a style of one’s own can take a lifetime – and that a woman should never stop trying. I admire her savoir-faire.

As a young girl, I spent hours reading Seventeen and experimenting with fashion accessories. Clothes were costumes, part of my creativity.  Over the years I tried several different “looks” until I found one that came close to expressing the authentic self I was trying to become.

Today I have no desire to revisit my youth. I don’t miss the insecurities or the acne or the go-go boots. But I do miss the fun I had with fashion when I was 16. I haven’t outgrown my weakness for romantic, handcrafted details — and I’m still crazy about anything vintage.

During our recent visit to the mall, my college-age son asked if we could stop at one of his favorite clothing stores. Walking the aisles, I pointed out that a lot of the merchandise bore an eerie resemblance to outfits his dad and I had worn at his age. (I didn’t even flinch when my son called the style “retro.”) He wandered off to look for a new track jacket while I admired a gorgeous display of hippie jewelry.

“They carry a lot of great stuff,” I told him as we left the store and headed for the mall exit. “But it’s all way too young for me, and I’d look silly in most of it.”

My son rarely has an opinion about women’s fashion – mine or anyone else’s. But this time he repeated verbatim what I always tell him when he asks for my opinion on his clothes.

“If you like it, that’s what matters,” he said, shrugging. And that was all the encouragement I needed. Next week, I’m going back for that cool military jacket.

Need some fashion advice from the experts? For excellent tips on dressing with style after age 40, subscribe to “Fabulous after Forty” online.

–Photo of the invincible Lauren Hutton on the catwalk —

9 thoughts on “Age-appropriate dressing

  1. age AND body appropriate! My grandmother wore stylish and trendy clothes into her 80s…she also had a great model’s body, but didn’t go for short skirts or skin revealing clothes.

    I’m still learning, at 53. I take my 23 year old daughter with me to shop and she helps me pick winners for MY body every time. She keeps me current. God love her.

  2. I’m looking forward to wearing that “retro” look in the senior home when it comes back around for the third time. You’re right Cindy – it won’t button in the middle – but I can always wear a sweater (or shawl).
    I hope you had a great visit with Nate over the Easter holiday – what a great kid. I remember he always got the newspaper on the porch…didn’t make me walk out in the snow to retrieve it from the sidewalk.
    Enjoy your time off.

  3. Tara, I am always a little envious of women who have daughters to help with these tough fashion questions! 😉 Luckily, my son’s longtime girlfriend, Andrea, loves clothes and has her own fashion sense too. I do love the idea of “evolving” as we age, and not being stuck in a time warp — whether we are talking politics or fashion or anything.

    Kathy, I am smiling as I picture you wearing your “retro” clothes in the senior home — you will look fabulous! Thanks so much for your kind words for Nate. He always enjoyed you and Jim, and one day when he’s home for more than 2 days, we’ll all go out for dinner together. Would love that.

    Cindy,
    so true about the wisdom of our children. I am always amazed at how wise Nate is now, only because I still hold the image of him as a little boy somewhere in my mind.

  4. And I bet your look GREAT in those jackets too!

    I also struggle with “age appropriate” clothes and hair for that matter. Some days I’m better at marching to my own drum that others but it’s only occasionally that I realize I’m dressed almost identical to my grand daughter (and immediately change clothes).

    Hope you are having an enjoyable break and that all’s well with you and your family.

    xo jj

  5. In Sundays ads I saw maxi dresses, MAXI DRESSES!!!
    It’s true, if you hang onto it long enough it’s bound to come back into vogue.
    Age appropriate dressing? That’s a tough one.
    Lately I’m seeing lot’s of Glamma’s, women with grandies and falsies, and giant hair and clothing from the Jr. dept. Not so good:(
    I hope you are taking a little time to recharge your own batteries?

  6. To Starrlife: LOL…I hear ya gal! Once I was hot in my bellbottom hiphuggers, now I’m more luke warm to cool – – and I don’t mean the cool that equals groovey.

  7. I’m a conservative dresser by nature. The majority of my clothes are tailored and in black, brown, tan, or grey. I like it that way. Knowing that no matter what I put on is tasteful and appropriate, saves me a lot of needless anxiety.

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