Reader Request: Rock Show Clothes for Grown-up Gals

Lovely reader Jori sent me this request by e-mail:

I am in my early 40s but fairly often find myself at concerts where the average demographic is early 20s and the standard attire seems to be jeans and graphic t-shirt or sweatshirt. I am not musically hip at all myself, but my youngest brother-in-law (age 26) is in a rock band, and a friend who is my age has a longtime boyfriend who is a local music producer, so I will go to concerts with her.

My problem is that I never know what to wear to these events. I can pull off jeans, but most t-shirts and sweatshirts make me feel shapeless and frumpy. I like to get dressed up when I go out, but I don’t want to overdo it when everyone else is so casual. And my biggest fear is looking like somebody’s mom who’s trying too hard to fit in. (I’m not actually a mom, so this fear is purely fashion-based.)

Nobody wants to go to a gig looking like a poseur, regardless of age, so the main thing to keep in mind is this: DON’T buy a bunch of clothes specifically for going out unless they resonate with your personal style. Nothing will make you feel more out of place than wearing what everyone else is wearing, but feeling like you’re in costume.

Luckily there are plenty of ways to utilize items that cross stylistic boundaries to create outfits that are chic, classy, and structured. Throw a dash of hipster into an otherwise sophisticated mix. Let’s take a peek.

This set shows three potential outfits for a late-night rock show at a dive bar, so there’s plenty of black and a few rocker-ish details.

The first outfit features the aforementioned graphic tee, though you’ll notice it’s a pretty arty one. Throw a black blazer over that too add some structure, add some dark wash bootleg jeans, and tack on a pair of Frye harness boots. For even more funk, roll the blazer sleeves up and pile on some bangles.

The second outfit is much more “out there,” in my opinion, but still do-able for an early 40s rock-n-roller. Start with a brightly patterned dress, preferably something abstract or geometric for sophistication’s sake. Toss on a black leather jacket – I’ve got a motorcycle style up above, but a bomber or even a tailored leather blazer could work just as well. Then add some classy, comfy black pumps. If it’s a standing show, swap those for black flats, but try to find some with cool detailing: Studs, zippers, or trim.

The third outfit is centered around an artfully draped top. Pick something black and fluid with batwing or dolman sleeves, asymmetric detailing, or interesting ruching. Pair it with a dark wash denim skirt that hits at the knee, and add a funky belt. Slip on some black booties and add some layered chain necklaces as a finishing touch.

This set shows three potential outfits for a more subdued show. Think folk-rock in a cafe, or quality pop in an intimate club. The looks are more casual and earthy, but I’ve used many of the same staple pieces.

The first outfit ALSO features a graphic tee, this time a little quirkier and covered up by an arty cardigan with short sleeves and adorable oversized pockets. Add straight-leg jeans, desert boots, and some bangles to complete the look.

The second outfit is dress-based, and also relies on a bright, geometric pattern for interest. A cropped denim jacket keeps the vibe casual and a lightweight scarf lends a trendy flair. Bright pumps or flats are the perfect finishing touch.

The third outfit utilizes that dark-wash denim skirt, but pulls in a floral patterned sweater and tall brown boots for a very ladylike cool. Adding a studded bracelet and statement-y necklace give this ensemble some edginess.

Any of these outfits could substitute flat shoes or boots if the gig in question requires hours and hours of standing in a drunken crowd, but I always recommend closed-toe shoes. If I’m playing a gig, I might risk a pair of sandals … but when I’m in the crowd, toe protection is a must. You never know who’s gonna stomp on your tender tootsies or slop beer on your feet.

Ladies over 40: What do YOU wear to rock shows, when you go? Any of these outfits strike you as too young? Too stodgy? Which one is your favorite?

  • Rosie Unknown

    I'm on the young end of people who might possibly go to rock shows, but I would definitely wear a lot of these looks. I especially like the very first one, although personally I would go with a slightly funky blazer (maybe something asymmetrical) and I would wear skinny jeans tucked into the boots.

    Great post!

  • WildBirdVintage

    I really enjoyed this post. It's something I've given quite a bit of thought to, and I'm only 30! And I still feel really old at a lot of shows.

    I always dig great fitting jeans, a vintage or authentic denim or plaid or western shirt (Tatter's or the saddle shop has some great ones!) and boots on both genders/people of all ages.

  • Make Do Style

    They look great ideas – and good advice xx

  • Alecia

    Age appropriate in my opinion-( I am early 40's) would definitely wear boots or other closed toe shoes-I do prefer jeans, boots, belt and and a tee w/o a jacket or other toppper -usually quite warm. Occasionally will wear a printed dress with casual boots.

  • Barb

    Great suggestions Sal.

    At 38, I've had the same concerns. Frequently get a laugh out of the 40-somethings showing too much cleavage while still rockin' their '80s 'do.

    Wearing my favorite jeans to a show is a given. If I think the venue is going to be too warm for my rock'n'roll jacket, I layer with a button down shirt over my graphic tee. (Since I only wear graphic tees when going to concerts, I'm going to try the tshirt surgery mentioned in Kelly's guest post.)

    My El Naturalista shoes get worn to a lot of concerts. They're fun and the thick rubber sole makes them great for standing:
    http://www.elnaturalista.com/index.php/en/collection/collectionSS10/yggdrasil?force=5811

  • Tracy

    These are great suggestions. I'm usually challenged with this situation a couple times a week, except I'm the one actually on the stage at the dive bar. Lately my go-to outfit has been a little black dress topped with a denim jacket and a pair of black cowboy boots for a little country edge. Now I've got a few more ideas to work with – thanks!

  • K.Line

    Not that I go to shows v often now, but I just wear what I'm wearing – often jeans and boots and a jacket or sweater. I think dressing down is better at these things.

  • Hannah

    I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with Sal on the graphic tee+blazer+motorcycle boot outfit. I have seen a lot of older women (older than the general population of the concert that is!) wearing that combo and it reads to me as trying too hard if it's not what you wear everyday. I do agree with the idea of not buying anything new to wear to shows, BUT if nothing in your closet is getting you excited to go out, here are my 22 year old go to concert outfits that can be easily replicated: american apparel v-neck, blazer with rolled up sleeves, jeans, and equestrian boots. or a comfy plaid/patterned button down with jeans and the same boots.

  • Sheila

    I'm 42 and have been to lots of concerts in the last couple of years – Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, and Rush, to name a few. Aside from the Alice Cooper concert (for which I did "Alice eyes" and top hat – costume, basically), my uniform for concerts is:

    - funky graphic tee (with a long-sleeved tee layered underneath if you're prone to being cold)
    - jeans or simple jean-cut cotton pants
    - grommet leather belt
    - Vans or Converse-style flat shoe (motorcycle boots in the winter/cold weather)

    For accessories, I'll usually do a leather stud cuff and a steel necklace.

    The worst thing you can possibly do for a rock concert is look like you're trying too hard!

  • Andrea

    Personally, the outfits are a little frumpy. #3 isn't bad with a change of shoes. I'd go for boots, but then I am generally not a fan of shooties or pointy heels.

    I'm 40 and still totally into the metal music scene. Until we moved back to Seattle 2 years ago I frequented concerts regularly. I'm now simply without my sister-in-law aka my partner in crime to hit the shows with. Bummer!

    My usual outfit is a fitted tshirt or a cute spaghetti strap top (usually babydoll but not always) with bootlegged jeans, studded belt and boots or wedges. Occasionally I throw in a skirt – denim or cargo style – and I might bring a cover-up but it nearly always comes off- concerts tend to get very hot!

    Since I don't have cleavage, it doesn't get much play and NO 80's HAIR! ;-) I was sporting a mohawk in the 80's! I just try to make sure I actually look good in what I have on and feel comfortable.

    I think it's obvious if you try too hard.

  • The Raisin Girl

    Speaking as a 20-something who goes to rock concerts, I'm a little doubtful of that first set of outfits, especially the suggestion of rolled up sleeves with bangles or the third outfit in the set. It would completely depend on confidence–that and not overdoing it on the makeup. With too much makeup and an ounce of awkwardness, any one of those first three would make the wearer look as if they were trying too hard. Also, I've often noticed that if someone is wearing way more jewelry than they're used to, it tends to be obvious, so I don't know how I feel about the bangle suggestion, especially if the person doesn't normally do bangles.

  • Andrea

    PS – I generally see newer bands with a significantly younger demographic: Devil Driver, Kill Switch Engage, etc.

  • tinyjunco

    definitely agree with the advice to work mostly from what you already have on hand. if you look how you're generally comfortable looking, you won't look like you're trying too hard. and if you're a couple decades older than the rest of the crowd, you'll stick out anyway. so i think any of the outfits shown would work great provided they're along the person's regular style.

    i'm pushing 50 and so tend to focus on comfort more than 30 years ago. sturdy comfy shoes are a must, and i find that instead of a purse i like those little wallets (big enough for a credit card, id, $$ and a lippie) that you can slide onto your belt. no weight on your back/shoulders, easy to get to and hard to lose.

    since we are talking rock 'n roll here, remember dark colors don't show the dirt (or worse!). i wouldn't wear anything that can't be easily laundered (sweat, spills and worse can and do happen) or anything that you need to constantly fuss with. stay away from irreplaceable heirlooms or expensive pieces at rowdy venues.

    usually i like a strong silhouette in dark colors, great hair and makeup, one or two stronger accessories. usually……..great topic! i hope more ladies comment. steph

  • The Curvy Life

    I am so glad you posted these! I am going to see Sting with my man in two weeks… now I am thinking of something cute to wear!

    La-

  • Cynthia

    I'd just wear dark wash jeans, a semi-fitted band t-shirt from a show I've actually been to (like my go-to Wilco army bird shirt from the Ghost is Born Tour, that gets me chatted up all the time), and a pair of comfy suede sneakers. Unless it was ice cold out I'd be without a jacket of any kind. Hair down and straight as usual. Minimal makeup. For age-appropriateness reference I'm 41. Am I doin' it wrong?

  • WendyB

    What, you didn't use my Lady Gaga outfit as an appropriate example? I'm aghast!

  • Stacy

    I am 36 and went to a rock concert a few weeks ago (Nickelback, et al.). I didn't want to look like I was trying too hard, most definitely. I wore a pair of black designer jeans, a black silk cami babydoll top and some comfortable sandals to stand in. I would not wear a skirt…or a blazer…or heels of any sort.

    I am going to see Sting in a few weeks, and don't really count that as a rock concert per say. I will probably dress up for that one, since it will be an older demographic and I highly doubt people will be standing for much of the time, so heels would be allowable.

  • Dianne

    First of all, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with this problem! I still attend as many rock shows as I can(I'm a former DJ)even bringing my 8 year old along when appropriate. I am 48.

    Second, I think you nailed the looks, but not the shoes. I'd do flats all the way, or even funky sneakers. I find that I'm usually standing, jumping and dancing for too much for heels of any kind and my Frye boots make my feet sweat.

  • rb

    Oh I can so relate to this, but unfortunately am coming late to the party. I'm 45 and my husband has until lately been in a band whose average member is 25 years old, and the band tends to play venues with attendees mostly in that age group.

    I think it's important to remember that you don't have to look 25, and that if you try to, it will look unnatural.

    Since you can pull off jeans I'd say to wear those and a more age appropriate top than a graphic tee- like a SweetPea top. As you know, it gets hot at these events, so I wouldn't layer up too much. I also wear flat or flattish shoes because I end up standing.

    I've also worn casual dresses to his gigs and while I was more dressed up than the average member of the crowd, I didn't feel out of place because, again, I'm aware I"m not their age.

  • Anonymous

    I think most of those are ok for many types of music venues. However, who has $300 for a casual dress? Any tips on where to hunt (aside from JCrew and BR, which I already prowl) for cute summer dresses that don't break the bank would be appreciated!

  • Sal

    Anonymous: Indeed! Most of my casual dresses are thrifted, but here are a few other possibilities:

    - The Tulle sale section, http://www.tulle4us.com/tulle/sale/?page=all&sort=price_a

    - eShakti: http://www.eshakti.com/

    - Land's End Canvas: http://canvas.landsend.com/ix/canvas/Canvas/Women/Dresses-Skirts/index.html?catNumbers=2198~2199~2209&store=le&tab=17&cm_re=CV-_-Tab-_-WM-_-F-_-061110

  • Jori

    Thanks to Sal and all the great commenters for the suggestions – and mostly for making me feel like I'm not the only one wondering about these things! Rock on, ladies!

  • CompassRose

    I wouldn't wear any of this, but then… I just probably wouldn't wear any of this. (Except maybe something kind of like the third top outfit, in a kind of general way with a completely different T-shirt.)

    When I go to concerts these days, I wear shoes I can dance in, and clothes that are comfortable and washable, so that I can sweat in them. Because I will be dancing, and if I dance, I will sweat a lot. It's a sad fact of my life, although it apparently reflects a healthy metabolism. My hair will be up, or I'll wear one of my newsboy hats (see: sweat).

    This shows that I can learn! In my teens and early twenties, I'd go with wild hair and plenty of black eye makeup, which I'd be wearing in my bosom by the end of the night, and my favourite fancy clothes, which someone with a cigarette would probably burn a hole through. (At least people aren't allowed to smoke indoors here any more.)

    Maybe I do look like somebody's mom, or a cougar who isn't putting the effort in. That's okay. I'm not responsible for their judgements. Last concert I went to, I wore a long white T-shirt over a sports bra, a looped black vest, pleather leggings, and my ancient Steve Madden boots which are the most comfortable shoes I own, and also merge nicely with the pleather leggings. It was comfortable, and I danced all night and laundered the lot the next day.

  • Brickhouse

    Well, of course I love this. Every outfit you've posted here, in fact. This is pretty much the way I dress to go to work each day. Not sure what that says about me, though, lol!

  • Audi

    You've nailed it with these outfits, Sal. I tend to go more casual to shows than I did when I was younger, and in particular I strive for comfort. Hours of standing is not so easy as it was when I was 25! I find that a great pair of boots, some form-fitting jeans, and layers on top (you never know how warm or cold it'll be in a music venue!) is an easy formula. If I show a lot of skin it's usually my shoulders and arms, because it sets me apart from younger women in the chocha-bearing dresses and skirts. The last thing I want is to look like I'm trying to dress younger than I am; I feel it's undignified.