Reader Request: Style Maturation and Individuality

mature style

K emailed me this question:

At least for me (I guess all of us dealing with the time continuum), we are all getting older so many of the style shifts coincide with wondering if what I need now is a more mature style, but not wanting to lose the youth we still still feel, no matter our age, but wanting to dress appropriately for our bodies, career positions, and body size and shape in a kind, gentle way. Sometimes I feel this fear that I can’t identify about my shifting style-wanting to hold on to the old me yet let it go, and worry that I won’t get it back when the unknown new style is an unknown thing. Then I just throw on some jeans and a cardigan (my default) and I’m OK. However, after a stint in a more formal work environment I find myself wanting a blazer instead of a cardigan…I somehow feel older (jaded?) in a way I wasn’t expecting that makes me both sad and happy.

I remember the day I yanked open my bottom drawer and realized I was never gonna wear those bright pink tights again. I was just too old. It wasn’t my birthday, no one had made fun of me for having blazing pink legs, it was just an internal shift that took place overnight. And, like K, I felt a bit sad and worried that episodes like this would become more and more frequent until I’d lost everything fun and unique about my style. But I didn’t let that happen, and K doesn’t need to either. Here are some actions to consider and paths to ponder.

Don’t donate, store

I have experienced donator’s remorse fairly recently, so I’ll admit that I don’t always stick to this one. But when I went through my massive wardrobe purge, I did remove a number of items from my closet and stash them in the basement instead of actually getting rid of them. This allowed me to live without them for a while and see if they were actively missed. They weren’t. Not a one. But it still felt less overwhelming to know that they weren’t permanently gone, and that I had the option to work them into my revised style if I wanted. And this technique will be helpful regardless of the motivation. In this case, if you want to move toward a more mature, sophisticated style, you can stash your quirkiest garments out-of-closet, dress without them for a few weeks, and see how you feel. If you miss them desperately, it’s worth finding ways to keep them in rotation. And speaking of …

Wear one personality piece at a time

Eye-catching, funky garments and accessories can be made more subdued when they’re worn one to an outfit. So if you used to do a large-print cardigan AND leopard booties, try just doing one of those and making the rest of the outfit solid or neutral or otherwise quiet. A single unusual, conversation-starting element will make you look interesting while the rest of your ensemble helps you appear professional.

There may be some pieces that just won’t pass this test: For instance, tulle skirts and novelty prints will be hard to work into outfits that feel buttoned-up and über-professional. That doesn’t mean they should be nixed or that women over a certain age can’t wear and own them. Just that they aren’t stellar candidates for featuring in more formal groupings.

Lean on your fun accessories

If garments from your former style feel too disconnected from the style you’re moving toward, keeping a few accessories in the mix can be a great way to preserve your visual personality. Necklaces and belts, scarves and earrings in unusual shapes and bright colors can be worn in otherwise conservative mixes without disturbing the overall aesthetic too much. And even if no one else actively notices them, they’ll remind you that you haven’t completely jettisoned your old style.

In terms of the emotional part of this question, I think it is natural to conclude that your style needs to grow and mature, and it is natural to mourn that transition. Our society has taught us to fear aging, and feeling too old for bright pink tights is a very concrete reminder that YOU are aging. But continuing to dress in a more youthful way that no longer aligns with your desired aesthetic won’t stop you from aging, just as creating outfits with fewer funky items won’t make you a dullard.

I do believe it’s true that once you let go of a previous style, it’s incredibly difficult to revert back to it. But that’s a good thing. Style should evolve. And if you find that you miss aspects of a previous incarnation, think about how you can revamp and revisit them in the context of your current style. Some people say you should never wear a trend the second time it comes around, but others say just wear it differently. Tweak it, shape it, make it as new as it is old. That will feel more like progress anyway.

Anyone else mid-transition and feeling apprehensive? How are you hanging on to aspects of your old style while still moving toward a new one? Have you ever opened a drawer and thought, “I am officially too old to wear [some item] ever again”?

Images courtesy Boden

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16 Responses to “Reader Request: Style Maturation and Individuality”

  1. Carolyn @ At Least I Will

    This is a windmill I’ve been fighting lately, too. The one thing piece of advice I could offer is look for the older, more mature pieces that still feel like you. I know that’s kind of vague, but for me, when I started wearing blazers, the only ones I could bring myself to wear were made from thinner, more comfortable fabrics and had younger cuts to them. There’s no need to go from jeans and cardigans to power suits overnight.

  2. Pretty pink

    I am a doctoral student moving towards increased professionalization.. I love my casual pretty dresses in prints and colors.. I love bows and hints of glitter among other girly details and this obviously draws a sharp divide between what I love to wear and what I can wear in professional settings. My clothes are carefully divided now for work and fun.. unfortunately they rarely overlap.. It would be great to find ways to integrate some fun girly items into my work setting without looking too casual, airy or excessively girly

  3. Shawna McComber

    I feel like I have been stuck in a transition for years now. There were some big life transitions and that trickled down into clothing. Finding what I wanted to wear, what suited my lifestyle, my body, my colouring, my particular likes and dislikes, separating out what I liked the look of but didn’t like actually wearing, trying to find the balance between simplicity and variety, have all been a deliberate journey these past few years. I feel ready for that to slow down a bit now and I have definitely figured a lot of things out through experimenting but my biggest obstacle is lifestyle. I don’t need to wear anything other than jeans and a tee shirt or sweater. I work from home, rarely go out except maybe to get groceries and value warmth and comfort. But I enjoy clothing and fear the boredom and stagnancy of a jeans and sweaters only wardrobe. I have found I do not really like to wear accessories around home so I can’t perk up an outfit that way either, and of course there are no shoes on my feet when I am home and I LOVE shoes.

    With regards to age, well like everyone else I too am aging. I sometimes have to regretfully pass on a look that appeals to me because it just seems too young but neither do I want to look mature. The learning process never ends, really.

  4. Trystan L. Bass

    Maturity doesn’t have to mean ditching the pink tights or only wearing blazers not cardigans. Peruse through & you’ll find senior citizens with fantastic style who wear outrageous colors, garments of all shapes & sizes, tons of accessories, & more. The key is knowing your own style & going with it.

    • Shawna McComber

      I think it is their ‘advanced age’ that allows them to dress like that. They can afford the risk that some won’t take them seriously as they are not trying to establish a career. They can tap into that concept of ‘second childhood’ or at least know that some will chalk their style up to that. Some lifestyles or work-styles allow for a bit more personality and individuality to shine through than others do. 🙂

  5. Cindy Westfall

    As I get older (I’m just past the Big Four-Oh now) I find myself becoming more open to trying new looks, new colors. There are some things that are never gonna change (slightly gothic clothes? Retro shoes? Waist-nipping design? I’m in!) I am quite fortunate in that my work environment is not strictly conservative. I work in a jewelry studio so my day to day look is, I guess, ‘artsy professional?’
    But yeah, sometimes a new trend comes down the pike and I think ‘whoa, no, I’m too old for that.’ If I wore it in high school, I’m *probably* not going to go for it again. I try to keep in mind, though, that I can dress for my age without having to become someone I’m not, or fold myself away into the boring and statement-less.
    I own that grey-with-peacocks-all-over-it print up there, by the way, in a shell instead of a dress. I would have never considered it when I was younger – I lacked both the confidence and the budget; I would have passed it by as ‘too much.’ I wore it to work a couple weeks ago, with a peacock blue fitted cardigan, dark wash straight leg jeans, and grey ankle booties with buttons up the sides 🙂

  6. Heidi/FranticButFab

    Thoughts! I have so many thoughts about getting older and style transitions! But I’ll spare you a blog post in comment format 🙂 Instead, here are the things that pop up for me. Part of the reason our style changes as we age isn’t just about our chronological number advancing (the “too old to wear X” idea), but that we know ourselves better and our sense of who we are in the world has evolved. Then there’s the idea that of continuing to express the same style personality but in a way that makes sense for where we are in life. So if your youthful style was edgy and colorful, it doesn’t mean you have to start dressing somberly, but the items in your wardrobe that express that style may change. (Maybe leopard tights become leopard shoes.)

  7. Jessy

    I agree with Trystan, there doesn’t have to be an end-date for things like wildly-coloured tights. The big change I have noticed as I have got older is the shift to having less tolerance for really bad quality items. Whereas certainly in high-school but also through my twenties, I was prepared to wear something in a horrible feeling fabric just because I loved the print or the colour, once I was past thirty (& by then mother to three) I began to put much more care into not acquiring pieces whose quality really isn’t good. Luckily I have always been a second-hand shopper, so this is not reflected too much – or even at all – in prices. I also try to put more of an effort in to making sure I acquire only things I love, or that really fill a need perfectly, rather than things that will just ‘do’. I find I care more about fit, too; oversized needs to look intentionally oversized and no longer like I may have borrowed it from my Dad in a fix; too small is not to be put up with. But crazy? Bring it on!

  8. loveaslug

    I am 45, just finishing my PhD and I became a parent to teenage boys four years ago. My style evolved mostly out of those three major life shifts. The old me wore a lot of prints, vintage dresses and cardigans with cute shoes. The new me doesn’t have time for elaborate beauty routines or ironing, doesn’t like drycleaning and has painful, awful feet. The new me wears much more tomboyish clothes – dark jeans, fun sneakers and knit blazers – and has a short pixie haircut that suits those clothes. I thought I would mourn the old me more…I mean I held onto all my vintage dresses for three years and yet I didn’t miss them once. Turns out I am more confident in my style now than I ever was in my twenties and thirties. Yes, I look like an Eileen-Fisher-wearing-kind-of-hip-but-no-not-really mom but I feel like ME, maybe for the first time ever. I love 45 year old me!

  9. livi

    I’m 36 and definitely, mid-transition with my style, though mostly because I haven’t been able to replace all the old with the new. I am loving changing my style right now. I never really had a style before because I lacked the confidence and I tended to go for just blending in. I never wanted to call too much attention to my clothes or makeup. Now, I don’t give a fig what people think so I’m wearing more patterns, interesting hemlines and even bold lip color with abandon.

  10. Suzanne Carillo

    I agree with Trystan. Age appropriate is more about confidence than anything else. If you own it, it’ll look great. No matter the age. Look at Betsy Johnson. I know people that work in government jobs that dress very wild and crazy and no one says boo because it is part of their personality. And they are 40-50 years old.

    I like your idea about storing pieces. I have also had regrets after donating pieces.




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