Reader Request: Young Clothes, Old Clothes

young clothes old clothes2

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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
  • Rompers
  • 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
  • Tweed
  • 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?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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15 Responses to “Reader Request: Young Clothes, Old Clothes”

  1. Jocelyn

    I think the context in which you’re wearing the garment plays a big part. At work in a professional office, a tulle skirt, peter pan collar, or leggings will skew young and inexperienced regardless of age. But on the weekend, it may appear appropriate and perfect. A high stance jacket may look appropriate at the office, but would skew old and stodgy on the weekend. I noticed in your list that the “young” items were more casual clothes and the “old” items were more formal. Of couse, like you said, the number one thing is comfort. Wear what makes you comfortable, assuming it meets any dress code you may have to adhere to.

    • Sally McGraw

      Oh gosh, Jane, that should probably be a whole other post! The main things that stand out are design details – most dress pants (for office wear) are now flat-fronted, pleat-free, and either wide- or straight-legged. Blazer details above and here: Pumps are generally low-vamp with a tapered (not block) heel. Though, frustratingly, many of these “dated” details are also fringe trends right now! I’ll think more and do a full post when I can. If you have questions about specific items, please shoot me an email!

      • janejetson

        Thanks. I appreciate the 101 help. Love the term fringe trends. You can see all the past and current fringe trends if you watch dome Friends episodes. Jennifer Aniston wears them all.

  2. Ginger

    I agree that how you style things makes a difference, but there are some styles that are not the friend of a 60 y/o woman.
    How’s a woman gonna wear a bra under that white dress? Even the best looking 60 y/o woman is going to have neck and chest skin that says, “I’m 60 years old.” Instead of pointing it would with an unstructured dress that displays a lot, I think it’s better to set a youthful tone in garments that don’t put your undeniable physical attributes of age on display.

    • crtfly


      Respectfully, I need to argue about the white dress a little. I think it suits a slender, small-chested woman. A young woman that has a large chest wouldn’t look her best in that dress without a bra – even if she is 19.

      On the other hand, a 60 year old woman who always stayed out of the sun would have smooth skin on her chest and plastic surgery could take care of the neck. If she were slender and small-chested too and styled it the way Sally, suggested, I think it would look great.

      I think this points up what Sally is talking about. It depends and there are always exceptions.

      I’ve always been big and tall so I didn’t look good in those frothy, frilly, super-feminine dresses even when I was a ‘little’ (young) girl.


      • greendoc

        I’m 53, I have avoided the sun a lot, and I have plenty of wrinkles on my neck. I suspect Sally wrote this post for suggestions on looking good without going the plastic surgery route.

  3. Dust. Wind. Bun.

    I find that I really only think about it in terms of what makes *me* look young or old. I’m short, chubby, and busty, with a baby face (less so now that I’m past 30, but still). So I don’t wear Peter Pan collars, twinsets, short-sleeved blazers, blazers with a high stance that aren’t Mandarin collars (so no shirt-cut jackets), full skirts (unless the flare starts at low hip rather than pleated from the waistband). The ‘young’ things make me look (IMO) too young, in a bad way, like, where is your mother little girl, and the ‘old’ things make me look like a kid playing dress-up. But I see others wearing them and think it suits them no problem. I think it really only makes sense as a personal opinion. It’s been really hard to articulate how I feel about certain looks, and I’ve typed and erased about 4 other paragraphs before settling on this!

  4. BBoo60

    You’ve no doubt heard the real estate maxim, “Location, location, location?” Well for me, when it comes to fashion styling, the inevitable bottom line always comes back to fabric and quality. Double-check those seams; make sure those buttons are sewn on well, and that you have been given extras. Be careful of color (hold the garment up to your complexion in natural light, not fluorescent), and if it’s made primarily of polyester, kick it to the curb!

  5. Maggie

    Interesting note about the jean styled jackets being old. I have 2. One is from Chico’s and the other from Torrid. I’m pretty sure Chico’s is genrally for more mature women while Torrid is usually for younger ones.


  6. Anna Jensen

    i appreciate this post. i’m a mother of two and just turned 30, so i’m trying to figure out what things from my ‘youth’ (ha) i am still comfortable wearing and what things, if any, i should change to suit my more adult-feeling status. i want to seem up-to-date, but not like i’m just chasing trends (not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 ). but i hardly know what to wear anymore! it’s been confusing for me to see all of these 90s trends coming back; i think i was coming into awareness of fashion just as they were going out so they are all ‘ugly’ and old-fashioned looking to me. stuff my mom wore in the 80s and early 90s. but some people look so good in them! it blows my mind. still, i don’t think i will ever be able to buy a pair of tapered yet loose-fitting, high-waisted draw-string pants however many times they put them in the windows at H&M.

  7. Thursday

    This is so subjective, I find. There are things that I wear which make me feel like my mother, but on others they suit perfectly. I have to be very wary of pearls, block heels, blazers, traditional collars and Peter Pans. Surface embellishment can go either way – some embroidery and beading can be very vintage, or it can be very dowdy. I avoid sequins at all costs – partly because they can add years but mostly because they read tacky to me personally.

    I don’t think I aim to “dress my age”, because I know I could read more youthful by dressing according to trends. Adopting the sort of vintage look I favour (mostly structured and tailored pieces for the office, but still sundresses and soft separates at the weekend) likely make me seem older to the untrained eye, it doesn’t worry me.


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