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Reader Kristin popped this one into the suggestion box:
If you haven’t done one before, maybe a post about what aspects of clothing are typically considered “young”, which ones are “old” and which ones can be variable? Sometimes I get confused when someone identifies something that I like or a store that I frequent as “old lady” or “twee” when I don’t see it that way at all. Then it makes me wonder if I’m managing to inadvertently age myself or look childlike by my wardrobe choices.
A tough and fascinating question. First off, I feel compelled to say that I don’t really believe in hard-and-fast age-appropriateness guidelines. Each woman needs to make her own decisions, individually, about what she loves wearing, feels comfortable wearing, and feels is a good match for her internal age, chronological age, or both. That said, there are features and designs that read as “young” or “old” due to trend cycles and socially reinforced preferences. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, avoid them, or embrace them, but it’s hard to deny that they exist. A pink tulle skirt will read young to most people, and a lace shawl will read old to most people. However, in many cases …
It depends how you style it
Both of these women are wearing garments with ruffles. The garments have some design features that set them apart from each other: The white dress is short and low cut, the blazer is high-necked and tweedy. But consider this: If a 60-year-old woman took that white dress, threw on a pair of leggings, a scarf, and a longline blazer, she’d look pretty sharp. And if a 20-year old tried that blazer unbuttoned with a graphic tee, boyfriend jeans, and heels … well, those bell cuffs might throw it all off a bit, but it’d come close to working. Most items that read as “young” or “old” can be styled to appear fairly neutral.
Also keep in mind that some items that feel “old” actually feel that way because they’re dated. Let’s look again at the images from the top of this post.
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The blue blazer has a high stance, Peter Pan-esque wide collar, and wide 3/4-length sleeves. Any one of these elements might work on a simple blazer, but mushed together like this they look a bit stodgy. The high stance is the real killer here. Contemporary blazers typically have no more than two buttons and a much lower stance. So if someone is wearing this blazer, they might look older because the piece itself is somewhat dated in design.
The pink blazer is a drapey knit with little shaping and tiny, stylized lapels. This piece will look dated someday, but right now it reads as “young” because it’s a fairly new, trendy shape and style. But while the dated blue blazer would be tough to update and transform into a younger-looking piece, the trendy pink blazer would be just fine on an older woman if styled to suit her.
Can you tell I’m a little reluctant to make a big list of traits that fall solidly into one camp or another? What I’ll do instead is offer up a few, and then turn it over to you to discuss. I know that this is an extremely subjective topic that will prompt different responses from women of different age groups and cultures, so I’d never say that my own picks here are carved in stone. But I’ll get the ball rolling.
- Distressed/torn anything
- Peter Pan collars
- Tulle skirts
- Babydoll/empire-waist dresses
- Cropped tops and sweaters
- Printed leggings
- Short shorts
- Pleated, tapered pants and jeans
- Applique sweatshirts and jean-style jackets
- High-stance jackets and blazers
- Twin sets
- Paisley print
- Collared sweatshirts
- Zip-front vests
- Crocheted sweaters and some crochet accents
Interesting to note that nearly everything on my “old” list is either a fringe trend right now (pleated, tapered pants) or something that hipsters have commandeered (tweed). And some items from my “young” list (Peter Pan collars) have “old” iterations. Just depends on the garment and how it’s styled. TRICKY, EH?
Another point of clarification: I don’t think of young as good and old as bad. And I don’t think it’s unacceptable for young women to wear tweed or for old women to wear Peter Pan collars. There’s no black and white in this issue, only shades of gray. Which means that even if some of the people in her life feel like Kristin is wearing clothes that are too old or young for her, that is merely their opinion.
Over to you: Are there certain garments or styles that read as inherently “old” or “young” to you? Do you agree that it can all come down to styling?
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