Style, Age and Adaptation

Francoise-Hardy_with text

Francoise Hardy, my current style crush

As I wrote in my first contributor post here at Already Pretty, I’ve come to believe that there’s no universal standard of “age appropriate” style. Lifestyle, budget, and especially personality are more determinants of style than age. Still, I must confess that age and some of the attendant physical changes have played a part in the evolution of my own style in recent years, yet in ways that support rather than hinder. I’ve ultimately been able to become more discriminating with my own choices in a way that doesn’t feel limited or limiting.

Comfort has become non-negotiable for me. I will no longer consider any item of clothing that binds, pinches, squeezes, cuts me in half, makes me itch or otherwise causes physical discomfort. One common effect of menopause is that we get thicker and softer through the middle (even if our weight stays the same) which means that some articles of clothing now need to be cut with more ease through the waist to maintain comfort. I’ve also mostly shifted away from tops that cling to my midsection, looking instead for pieces that skim (darts and princess seaming are our friends, too). There’s physical comfort and then there’s emotional comfort. I need both, and have never felt right in clothing that’s too tight or revealing, and that’s still true.

Yet on the flip side, I’ve learned to avoid baggy, oversized clothing. The voluminous look may be edgy and au courant on someone in their twenties or thirties, but someone my age wearing oversized clothing is often too readily perceived as having given up.

Unlike many women my age, I tend to run cold rather than warm. Even in the warmest months, I’ll keep a lightweight sweater handy, and sometimes even a scarf. I’ve developed a bit of arthritis in my neck, and a cold blast from an air conditioning vent on the back of my neck seems to exacerbate it. A scarf of lightweight jacket or sweater with a collar helps.

“Infrastructure” has become more important than ever, and I make sure to get re-fitted for bras annually, and replace those that have become stretched out. As we age, breast tissue becomes softer, the shape of breasts may change, and we may need to try different styles or cuts of bras than those we’ve usually worn. Having the right bra (or not) makes such a huge difference in how our clothing fits and looks, and I consider bras one of my most important wardrobe investments.

Footwear is no exception when it comes to my Must Be Comfortable rule. As we age, we often lose padding on the bottoms of our feet, arches may drop and ligaments become less resilient. Those 3-inch heels that I could “walk all day” in when I was in my 30′s and even 40′s, are now “walk from the car to the restaurant” shoes, if that. Heels of 2 inches or less are as much as I can manage on a daily basis. I also refuse to wear shoes that rub, bind or pinch. If I need to, I’ll go a half or even whole size up for comfort. Totally flat shoes are no longer comfortable either without some arch support. I’ll slip orthotics into my Converse sneakers and tend to find a low heel more comfortable than a totally flat sole.

While I’ve learned to appreciate a wide variety of styles on women of all ages, age has certainly distilled my own style somewhat. I’ve become more confident in my choices, and more discriminating about what works for me. This feels freeing ultimately; and there’s little I miss about the broader style options of my past.

OK, maybe the heels, just a bit….

Has your style changed as you’ve aged? Do you feel freer or more constrained now?

Photo source: here.

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Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-six, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, Une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.

  • http://www.over50feeling40.com Pam@over50feeling40

    I do feel freer at 60 years of age!! I am more confident and have a better sense of who I am…fashion wise I am having the most fun I ever have! Excellent post!

  • http://Facebook Janice

    Great article. I so agree with you.

  • http://www.earthdailynews.blogspot.com Judy Carpenter

    I keep seeing the ads for orthotics. I have spinal stenosis and I should probably get some additional support since I wear flats most of the time. I’m glad that such a stylish woman mentioned it. Now if I could just be a little more like her in self-acceptance.

    • Susan In Boston

      Judy,

      Get the orthotics. And if you can find a good podiatrist to make them custom for you, do that. I’ve got two pairs. One is a hard plastic and I can slip it in all of my flats.

      The other is a very firm, yet soft rubber/plastic/foam, sort like a thick piece of an exercise mat. This one fits only in sneakers and clogs (Merrill) and similarly flat and chunky styles, but I wear it most of the time. The support is fabulous, which stops the chain reaction of stress along my leg; my hips and knees don’t hurt, and I can walk for miles. I take them with me when I try new shoes because sometimes they do fit in something more stylish.

      This is not a cheap option, at least not here in Boston, where everything is expensive. The hard pair runs around $400 and the soft pair, which I need to replace every couple of years, are $200–about the price of some designer shoes that look great and hurt like hell. (You’ve got a pair of those, right? ;-) ) But they’re worth every penny to me. At this stage in the game, life really is too short to be miserable.

    • cecile

      I had spinal stenosis. The pain literally paralized me. I just wasn’t able to walk. Emergency surgery. No heels except for a little while and low ones at that.

      • Maggie

        I would note that I too have custom orthotics but check the recently available information that store bought orthotics are often as good as custom orthotics:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/22/fashion/thursdaystyles/22Fitness.html?pagewanted=print
        (I am sure I don’t know how to paste links)
        Naturally, it depends on the issues which create the apparent need for foot stability and realignment.
        Same information on related topic: recent information suggests that people who pronate or the opposite do not benefit from shoes allegedly particular to that problem but that people should choose the most comfortable athletic shoe.
        I wish you the best in working out a plan for less pain and more fashion options!

  • LinB

    That thing about “shape shifting”? It not only occurs over the decades, as our vertebrae slowly sink together, and all our internal organs have to accommodate themselves to less vertical space, making our middles softer and thicker. It can occur and recur over the course of a day. The process of digestion can make my middle swell and shrink so much over the course of a day that I might as well change trousers forth-and-back six times. In the morning? I can slip into and out of my jeans without undoing the waist button or zipper. By midday? I have to undo the button just to be able to breathe. Best to have elastic waistbands AND a belt, and possibly also suspenders. Sigh.

    • Denise

      Ugh, LinB, this is a problem for me. I don’t usually wear elastic waists, but woven fabric with spandex is my friend! It’s almost gotten to the point where I buy basics (pants and skirts) that I really like in 2 sizes to accommodate these day-to-day fluctuations in my mid-section. I cannot tolerate waistbands that are too tight and they are unflattering on me anyway. I should probably try some core exercises and stabilize my sugar cravings! Thanks so much for your post, Une Femme – you are right on target, as usual.

  • LIz

    Wonderful post. I’m in my mid-sixties now and have been having a lot of fun–perhaps the most in my life–with my clothes since I entered my fifties.
    I’m probably a slow learner compared to other women, but I’ve finally figured out what looks best on me: stylish flats (with orthotics), structured clothes–especially straight-cut trousers–white shirts that frame my face, and big jewelry. I love jewelry and have been collecting it for a long time so I have lots of unique pieces that are truly me.
    I agree–the older you are, the more your clothes (including handbags, in my opinion) generally need some kind of structure or else you look too large/dowdy or like you’ve given up on yourself.
    Regarding the stomach issues most of us have–the problem is largely the softening of the transverse abdominal muscles. There are exercises for the core which target this and will help greatly, although not get rid of the issue entirely, of course.
    The core exercises will help the rest of the body feel and function better, too, and that seems to include digestion (for me, at least).
    I learned this while working with a physical therapist for back and neck problems–clouds can have silver linings!
    Love it that this blog treats everyone’s style issues seriously. A lot of the blogs I’ve read that are aimed at older women either talk about pastels and elasticized waists or stray into style caricature territory. Thanks again!

    • Susan In Boston

      Liz,

      My line on the “stomach issues” is that I now have a shelf for my boobs.

      • LIz

        Love it. I use my buddha belly as an armrest. :-)

        • LinB

          HAHAHAHA! I never thought of it that way before. Brilliant, both of you.

  • http://pvedesign.com pve

    As I advance, it seems easier to edit and just know how lucky I am to wake up each day and to radiate light, love and smile.
    pve

  • http://over60andoverhere.blogspot.com.es/ Sue

    I love being over 60, retired, and not having to worry about office dress codes any more! My real difference though now that I’m older is my desire for comfortable shoes, especially as we walk everywhere. Anyone have any recommendations for comfortable and STYLISH shoes? Just because I no longer wear high heels, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want great looking shoes!

    • Helen

      I am 52, have to dress professionally, love shoes and have problem feet. I refuse to buy old lady orthopedic shoes. Dansko, Jambu and Merrell are my go to shoes. They are expensive but if you check the websites for sales, you can find them cheap. http://www.6pm.com and http://www.planetshoes.com have the best deals. I bought a pair of Dansko boots last year for $22.00. Just bought a pair of Jambu sandals for $40 and have a pair of Merrell Everas on the way for about $60. All of these retailed for $120 or more and I can walk in all of them all day. I am 5′ 11′ don’t need heels but I actually find heels and a platform to be the most comfortable. Good luck!! Style and comfort can coexist.

  • Annabeth

    So with you on the baggy, oversized clothing. I decided some years ago to stop looking at “comfortable” and “stylish” as opposites and to only wear clothing that could fulfill both requirements. Best choice I ever made!

    I also find that I am more comfortable with lower hemlines (at least, to shortly above the knee). It has less to do with being embarrassed/ashamed of my older legs — which, thanks to my more active lifestyle now, are actually better than they were when I was in my 20s — and more because short-shorts and miniskirts just feel like an attempt to play younger than I am, which I have no desire to do. I don’t feel like that is a universal standard; I see other women my age and older in shorter skirts and think they often look great. But for me, it doesn’t work.

    • cecile

      I wear no skirts anymore. They cut my figure in thirds.. I have great legs, mind you! So I will wear shorts in the Summer, and a nice top, but no skirts!!!

      Cécile

  • http://www.thecitizenrosebud.com Bella Q

    What a marvelous and honest post- I love how you have to know yourself and your body, and accept them to keep from giving up. Style still breathes in your 40s,50s and 60s, it just is more tuned to the present body than the idealized one. Brava!

  • http://www.sheilaephemera.blogspot.com Sheila

    Excellently and eloquently said! I feel my style is becoming more honed in: I wear what I love and feel good in, and comfort is of utmost importance. I have always enjoyed being expressive through my clothes and I’m excited to see what my evolution brings as I age.

  • cecile

    Ok. I am on the same page all the way!!! My shoes being the MOST crucial part, because I had major lumbar surgery. It’s abny God’s grace I am walking. So heels for a little while at my granddaughters baptism. Rest of the time flats… Which Orthontics are you talking about? Dr. Scholl’s?
    I hadn’t thought about it, but the idea of the O’s inside the Converse is sheer genius!!!!!!!!! I am wearing them to the America’s Cup and my concern was my arches… No more!! Thanks to you!!! :-) :-) kiss!

    • LIz

      Cecile, you might want to look at this website for orthotics if you if cutom-made ones don’t fit into your budget:
      http://www.orthaheelusa.com
      They have all different kinds of orthotics (for men and women) meant for different kinds of shoes.
      You have my sympathy for your back

      • LIz

        I should never compose at night! I meant to say, “if custom-made ones don’t fit into your budget.”
        Sorry for the repeats and typos!!

  • cecile

    This post has ben so, so very enlightening!! I cannot thank you enough!!!!! I thought I was unique in pants/trouser issues and middle thickness. It never occurred to me that less vertical space all has to be crunched together!! You have made my day!! Beliebe it or not, dietint will be easier now that frustration is no longer the ruler!!!!!! Love you Susan and Sally!!!! S & S of Style of a Certain Age!!!
    xoxoxoxoxoxox

    Cécile

  • Monica H

    It may be worth an entire future post (hint hint), but I would love to hear more about how you are working your style around low heels. It does seem to be a popular topic, and one I’ve struggled with as well. I can’t do (and don’t particularly like) flats. All the things I want to wear seem to pair with heels, and the shorter ones just seem to look … dowdy? And yet I know I am not doing good things for my feet. I’m looking for compromises and finding scant few of them.

    I can’t say that my style has evolved a whole lot as I’ve aged, but then again I’ve always trended toward conservative and classy anyway. However, I do feel a lot more free to wear clothing that I would have considered “too sexy” when I was younger, which I suppose is contrary to the conventional wisdom. Thinking about why this is, it seems there are a lot of factors at play. Fashion generally has trended to things like skinny jeans and tight, slim pants recently, so these things are more ‘normal’ than they used to be. Also I’m a lot more confident in myself and about my body, which doesn’t hurt either. But I think I also have a sense that what looks way too overt and tempting on a 21 year old, doesn’t quite have the same impact worn by a 40-something married lady. :)

  • http://fool4fabric.blogspot.com Margy Houtz

    This is an outstanding post! I resonate with so many of your observations.
    Like several of the commenters, I am having the most fun of my life with fashion right now…and I’m 73. I think part of the reason is I started a fashion blog two years ago, and I’ve been amazed and heartened how many women “of a certain age” have been interested and responded. It is wonderful that so many of us are having a dialog and learning from each other. Brava!

  • Chelsea

    This post and all the lovely commenters are making me look forward to my more mature years! Quite a contrast of the usual depiction of aging women. Thank you.

  • Janet

    Yes, yes! Low heel love! A great post topic. Shoes are a royal pain. Everything fashionable I can work around to make it work. But shoes? I need to wear low heeled shoes, really low…..And I still want to look groovy!

  • Carol

    Une Femme, I love your blog!

    I’m 58, quickly closing in on 59, and as I’ve gotten older I think my style has changed in the sense that I feel more confident in just being myself and wearing what I like, rather than what others may think I should wear.
    Physical comfort is a must, and I will go up a size or get pants with a discreet partial elastic waist in order not to feel bisected. I will also not tolerate any pinching, rubbing or other shoe problems. I only wear flats or very low heels, and have for many years. I’ve always tended towards a casual style, and since I work in an academic laboratory even on my most casual days I tend to look dressed up compared to most of my young coworkers. I almost always wear pants, usually black or other dark colored jeans, and a good quality plain tee (no crazy logos!) with an unstructured jacket or a nice cardigan. Today I’m wearing dark wash jeans with a lovely sort of 60′s style peach gauze top and a matching cami (and a bra, no going braless at this age!). Perfectly appropriate and it makes me feel quite attractive. My wardrobe still needs some work, but my approach has become to buy only things that I like and that make me feel, and look, wonderful.

  • Debbie

    Being in my mid 50′s I agree with everything you said about comfort. Shoes with the right heel height are the hardest thing to find. I detest flats (they shorten the leg IMHO) and want some sort of heel in the range of 1 1/2″-2″. Most anything in that range looks like something my grandmother would wear and she’s in her 90′s! When I do find something comfortable with the right heel I’ve bought a second pair for when the first pair wears out plus any other colors that would work with my wardrobe.

  • RosieB

    Wonderful blog. I am almost 70. All my life I’ve lived in fright of my body. I am short, a bit heavy, now very healthy. I have a severely disfigured face. Some time back I decided to work with what I’ve got, grow my hair grey, cut it short, exercise for health, wear what I like, what feels comfortable. I have never felt so in tune with life or so accepted. It is a revelation to me that honesty and acceptance feel so good.

  • http://www.onewomansstyleeevolution.com Natasha

    This is such a great post!!! My ankles have already “collapsed” and I am only 40. I still have my heels for when I know that I will be taking short strides in between places where I will be sitting but for the most part “comfort shoes” has become my thing. Because most of us are aiming for comfort it doesn’t mean that we have to look like we have “given up” though. There are actually a lot great, stylish choices out there if you know where to look.

  • http://contrarykiwi.blogspot.com contrary kiwi

    Ha! I’m 22 and adhere by the same rules that you do, although I do enjoy tight skinny jeans if they’re high-waisted enough not to cut in. But the rest of it completely described me. I run cold so I always have to have warm clothes to hand, I can’t wear flats or heels (need my orthotics which don’t fit in flats due to my high and wide feet) and I wear well-fitting bras and comfortable underwear – no thongs for me! Looks like I’ll be well set to reach my 50s comfortably.

  • http://www.tragicsandwich.com Tragic Sandwich

    My style has definitely changed. Some of that is due to parenthood. Some of it is due to my own tastes changing. I have always tended to adopt a uniform of sorts, although that uniform has changed over the years. I tend to mix and match separates, so when I shop, I am always thinking about what will work with the things I already own. I don’t like to wear low necklines or short skirts, although I’m fine with sleeveless styles regardless of whether my arms are in shape (I tend to run warm rather than cool).

    Comfort and simplicity are key for me; I’ve always been more comfortable in simple, classic styles rather than in trends. My biggest challenge is jeans and other pants, because my short rise means that, for most of my life, the waistbands have hit me at the ribcage. Finding lower-rise styles that avoid exposure can be tricky.

    And I always wear flats. I love the look of heels, but they hurt.

  • http:stylecassentials.blogspot.com Cassie

    I’m 35, and my style has definitely changed from my 20s. I’m starting to opt more for comfort too. I still wear high heels, but not quite as high. I have gained a lot of weight since my 20s, and while I have become much more body confident, I prefer blouses that skim through the waist and over the mama belly to the tight fitting tops of my 20s. I’m also learning to hone in on my personal style a bit and am slowly developing more of a signature style.

    Cassie
    http://stylecassentials.blogspot.com

  • http://DecorateMEAge-MaZingby3DecoratingDivas Maureen

    Thank You.. Good article….I Decorate Boomer Divas like”ME”. We all have our own Wonderful sometimes we just need a little inspiration to make it shine. Maureen

  • Chris

    Tried pumps when I was 19. I spent a whole day shopping and walking all over in those things. Decided then and there those instruments of torture were not for me. That was decades ago and I don’t regret my decision.

    Although high heels can look nice, I don’t think they’re so great for your feet, spine, and posture. I have always worn athletic shoes, hiking boots, or if I have to dress up, a nice looking 1 1/2 – 2 in wedge. I’ve always been more concerned about foot health, comfort, and support. I’m not that concerned about how the shoes look. I have no arch or foot problems now. I think I can, in large part, attribute that to my choices in footwear over the years.

    I have also been fortunate in always working in fields that have very casual dress codes.

    Chris

  • Flora

    I love this post AND all the comments! I am almost 58 and I already had bad foot problems – metatarsus adductus that was never corrected at birth left my foot bones looking like the Mark of Zorro and I MUST wear comfortable shoes – a challenge when they must also be extra wide. Even more of a challenge is that I am also now losing the padding on the bottom of my feet so many shoes I used to wear are no longer tolerable. My current best brands are New Balance, Propet and P.J. Minor, and it take a lot of searching to find anything with style with my limitations.

    I actually think about style more now than when I was younger – I used to think that oversized was the answer for hiding my weight, but now I buy clothes that actually fit, thanks to many watchings of “What Not To Wear” – that show really opened my eyes as to how to make the most of what I have at any age. I guess I am a late bloomer – I wear dresses now, and wild horses could not have dragged me to the point of showing my legs before. They are not “good” legs but heck, they work just fine, and they are what I have! And I have even gone sleeveless in the summer, batwings and all, and no one else was harmed. ;-)

    The really great thing about being older is you stop worrying about what people think about you – it’s none of their business anyway, and you realize just how little people think about what you do – I never obsess over how other people are running their lives, so why do we (mostly women) think that we are being judged even when we are not around the others who are supposedly judging us? Let them do it if they want but I have stopped caring! :-)