Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why You Should Dress Your Age

 Mr. E took this pic a couple of nights ago, after i'd finished cutting his hair out on the patio. This day was a scorcher and i didn't want to be trying to concentrate in the heat, so we waited until 8:30pm to get started, when the mercury had dropped to a mere 88F. I wanted to take advantage of the light to cut Mr. E's hair, and waited until that was done to request a photo or two. When Mr. E started getting close to the ground in order to capture a 'monumental' vibe, it was fun to play along and channel a different me.  Plus, and i know this goes against the common wisdom that all style bloggers are narcissicists who love nothing more than the mirror, it gets a bit wearying looking at the same mug day after day. At the same time, it keeps me on my toes trying to mix up the photos a bit!

This top is another Sorbetto, which i actually finished before the 'dandelion' one.  Truthfully, i was making this one more along the lines of a muslin and didn't have high hopes about loving it overmuch. But the fabric was paid for and it had been sitting in the laundry basket for a year - nothing ventured, nothing gained. Happily, in addition to getting the fit just where i want it, i also got a top i love! It is great belted, gives a 'mod '60's' vibe when worn out and loose, the print is wonderful and flattering, and the silk bias trim adds a nice contrast and pinch of luxe to your basic tank.

Here's how i wore it earlier in the day for my walk. I enjoyed the echoes of the sleek but practical lines of 1950's women's sportswear. Just a step up from wearing a plain black knit cotton tank, but much more 'me'. I enjoyed wearing it much more with the black skirt, though, as i've had a 'thing' for wearing all-black sleeveless + skirt ensembles during the summer since i was twenty. I remember a look i wore quite a bit around age 23, 24. I'd cut the sleeves off of a ribbed black mercerized cotton sweater to make a tank, and wore it with a wool knit just below the knee straight skirt. Accessories? Black leather pumps with low pointy heels and almond toes, round green lens moutaineering sunglasses (with little leather temple shields grommeted onto the frames), head full of curls and chains chains chains! I wore a similar look to Oakland International Airport back in the day (early 1980's) and set off the metal detector.  The security lady took a look at me and gave a little smile and shake of her head. Then she patted me down and waved me on through. I got a LOT of stares - this was definitely pre-9/11.

Which brings us back to the question of whether your age should inform your manner of dress.  There's a discussion on just this question right now on the You Look Fab forum, and as usual many ladies say that age shouldn't be a factor in how you dress at all. Now, on an intellectual level i completely understand why they make this argument. Over the decades there has been a load of utter hoo-ha dumped on the 40+ woman consisting of ridiculous 'rules' as to how you should dress. These rules are nasty, and sexist and ageist and no fun and don't even make any sense. In rejecting this flim flam people understandably embrace it's opposite.

But i don't see why your age should not inform your style. Charmingly, my thoughts on this topic are nicely expressed by rae, the youngest contributor to the thread:

"The one thing I would add is that everyone should always be evolving. Most of us don't dress like we did in high school because we are not the same people mentally as we were back then - different priorities, different jobs, different goals, different inspirations. It's not so much breaking "rules" about what age can wear a mini, for example, but becoming out of touch with yourself that can make something look too young."

Exactly. How old you are is part of who you are. Everything in this universe is subject to change, including each of us. I occasionally run across the person who is determined not to change and they scare me. Frankly, the concept of the 'uncanny valley' comes to mind. Changes you make don't have to be drastic or strictly according to Mr. Blackwell's taste, on the contrary i feel that they should have everything to do with you. But if nothing is changing, something's wrong.

I do have a couple of pieces of advice or topics worth considering as a person approaches midlife. Keep an eye out for body changes that may affect how you'd like to dress. Many women find that somewhere in the 40-55 age range their body shape changes (usually the waist thickens a bit, you may find your bust increases, hair may thin, and so on). Less well known, your coloring may shift as well (beyond just more grey hair). Around 40 i found that all of my 'failsafe' makeup colors and products were doing less than nothing for me. I panicked, but i needn't have. I just found new 'failsafe' colors (warmer, clearer tones with less brown) and switched to liquid foundation instead of powder. In the process, i discovered tubing mascara and can now wear mascara daily for the first time in my life - something i'd wanted to do for years.

Other changes i made were more individual. I found that straight up black felt too harsh, which led to a thoroughly enjoyable and productive exploration of prints and colors. My relationship to myself and my goals changed with age as well. This led to my commitment to developing the 'dream wardrobe' i'd fantasized about the whole time i was growing up. I now choose nicer fabrics, splurge on a few dressier pieces, commit to fit and detail, and spend time planning and dreaming about where i want my wardrobe and style to go. In addition to showing myself and others that i value myself enough to make this happen, i find that it's helping me to move forward with other projects in my life as well. What was i waiting for?

I realize that body and philosophical changes take place at various times in life. But certain of these changes are indeed tied to age. And i don't see what the trouble is in acknowledging this. I personally would feel very awkward trying to dress as if my age played no role in my life and who i am. (Not to mention how boring it would be to never change!) Sometimes i wonder if the extreme commitment to 'age doesn't matter!' reflects a bit of the desire to stay young. Or at least to not get 'old'.

But the big reason why i think age matters is the skill and experience i've earned in the style realm and which has come with age. Practicing and studying and making mistakes over decades leads to improvement in any endeavor. Truly, my approach to and appreciation of clothing and style is so much richer and subtler than when i was in my twenties and thirties. It's not like i'm some genius, it's that anyone who puts in years and years studying any subject will achieve a more profound understanding of it. You can get better at it.

Style is so much more fun and satisfying when you're not just fussing with trying to look halfway decent or worrying over what colors you like and how they go together.  Knowing what silhouettes will look great on you, what style references will delight you for years, the colors which intrigue you makes shopping much easier, it is true. It also allows you to focus on the details that take your style to another level - how can you use fibre and texture to enhance the color story of a particular outfit? What jewelers make pieces that magically convey your own message? What are the little alterations you can make to clothing (even tees and undies!) that absolutely finesse the fit?

To me, this is the wonderful gift of being older. It is quite possible to become expert at dressing your body, to have developed a great closet, to hone your own style in exquisite detail. I love how this influences my style, even more the style of many other older people i've known through my life. I say let this secret of age out of the closet, and say 'yes!' to dressing your age!


  1. You look fabulous. Also: word. I probably dressed more like I was 40 than I should have back when I was 20, but that's just where I'm at. Short skirts, overtly sexy styles and the like just don't sit well with me, and it would not be authentic to me to wear them at my age and in the context of responsibility that has grown up around me.

  2. Wonderful post, Steph. I love the concept of evolving, and that means changing, over the decades - while staying true to oneself. I also agree that most lists of "rules for older women" are a bunch of rubbish!

  3. Hi Cynthia! why, thank you :) and 'word' back atcha. I don't get the 'youngyoungyoung' thing, either - pry because i couldn't wait to turn 18 and get over being a kid! You'd think people would realize that 'authentic' is different for different people, too. I really like how you own being a responsible grown up with a degree of earned authority - lots of people these days feel weird and act apologetic around this, especially younger women.

    Thank you Patti! It's nice to hear your perspective on this, as i really admire the way your style is very feminine and romantic and soft while also being strong and grownup. It's a bunch of traits that totally make sense together, but for some reason our culture thinks that they don't or shouldn't or something.

    It's great to see you both of you leading the way! steph

  4. I love the print and style of the blouse on you.
    I have a picture of me somewhere, visiting a friend in Berkeley, when I was in my mid-20's. I was wearing my summer uniform of a pull on black straight skirt and sleeveless crop double breasted jacket with semi-portrait collar. I loved this and lately have been missing it a lot. :) I love black in summer. When I traveled to Key West in my early 30's, I left my small bit of luggage in a bus station locker and when I found a hotel room and went back to get it, that area was locked off over the weekend! I looked around at the local shops on Duval Street and found a black Mexican wedding style dress in cotton. Reversible. Square neck on one "front" and vee wrap on the other. Some black on black embroidery. Sleeveless with a ruffle over the shoulders. Loved that dress and wore it until it faded and I then felt "too old" for it as well. "I'm younger than that now" as the song goes.

    I had a lengthy answer to this question over at You Look Fab but in sum, your "age" is largely dependent on other people's thoughts, my opinion. They look for preconceived clues. Obviously, there are demographic segments where a ten year old isn't lumped with a 50 year old but within those broad ranges... And I think where women get in trouble is when there is a gross mismatch such as a 45 year old wearing a six year old's party dress complete with satin headband. Anything that puts in mind of Marie Antoinette playing at shepherdess. People are tolerant of young people going about in costume but older people are supposed to have a wittier version of whimsy.

    I like to signal "pretty, prettiness" and I think I'm going to be fine going forward into old age, assuming I'm lucky, because I also do spunkiness. Spunkiness is a quality I admire in old folks.

  5. Hi Vildy! Thank you! That's a great story about your wonderful 'summer black ' looks. Both of the ones you describe sound eminently covetable!

    I piped back into that thread in part to agree with your idea of preconceptions. Mr. E gets that from time to time - harried people serving hordes of the hoi polloi take a look at a short, slender figure and think 'female' (completely missing the strong jaw and brows, big shoulders and eeny behind, grizzly beard, etc.) It's not like any of us have made some huge study of what various ages 'look like'. So to me 'dressing your age' has to do with your own take on your life experience, as opposed to how XXX age 'looks'.

    i admire spunkiness generally!!! :) Happy Day, steph

  6. This is so beautifully said. We've been discussing this in a different vein at our dinner table--about the impossibility of imparting what you've learned through years of experience to others. It seems I can read situations more clearly now than I could at age 30 or even 40. And, yes, my waist is thicker and my hair is thinner. The biggest change I've noticed is that I'm a lot less willing to tolerate ANY discomfort in my clothing nowadays.

  7. I found your post very thoughtful and I agree that age matters to the extend that we evolve and know our bodies and what suits us better.Apart from that I also tend to go for more quality as I age.

  8. Thank you Terri! It IS so very difficult to convey this difference of perspective to others - it does come thru a bit elliptically at times. It reminds me of the position that the human brain cannot comprehend that of god's, because the one encompasses the other (as many years encompass one). Maybe?

    "It seems I can read situations more clearly now than I could at age 30 or even 40." ah, that ability is truly worth so much! not to mention much more interesting :) not tolerating discomfort in clothing is really a virtue, and i honestly believe it is essential in honing a person's unique style.

    Hello angie! thank you :) having that time to know ourselves is a luxury in itself, i feel. And i go for quality more myself. The fun part is that you know what 'quality' means for yourself, as opposed to the received wisdom.

    Happy Weekend! steph