In a comment on this post about clothing details that read as young or old, reader Jane asked for some tips on how to avoid looking dated. Datedness is a social construct, of course, reinforced by a fashion industry that sells us new clothing based on our desire to look “current.” This means it is, in essence, bunk. But the same could be said of any dressing mores: They allow us to be expressive and visually communicative, but they’re all rooted in capitalism. It shouldn’t matter one whit if you’re wearing a blazer that was made 20 years ago, so long as it fits and is in good condition … but because of the value we place on youth and staying up-to-date on everything, it does matter. In some cases, it matters several whits.
So I’m definitely not saying that concern over looking dated is inconsequential. I think about it, as do most of my clients. Keeping your looks contemporary is a great way to feel stylish even if actual trends mean nothing to you. I just couldn’t resist pointing out that datedness is of manufactured importance.
And, sadly, avoiding dated looks will take some work. Here are some steps you can take.
Consume fashion media
Since you are a reader of this blog, you are likely doing this already. But consider focusing some of your consumption on studying shapes and design details on new iterations of wardrobe staples like dress pants, jeans, and blouses. Also pay attention to how they are worn and styled. Fashion magazines will be of limited use since most editorials focus on designer items styled in unwearable ways. The exception would be People StyleWatch, which showcases casual celebrity style alongside advice on re-creating those looks on a budget. Otherwise it’s helpful to follow a few style blogs run by women whose aesthetics are close to your own, and note shapes, design details, and styling choices. It can also be helpful receive catalogs from brands you buy and wear, since retail styling is generally more accessible than editorial. On a related note …
Most of us window shop to gather information about items we might want to purchase and wear, but this activity can serve as contemporary styling reconnaissance. Just as you do with online and printed media, cruise through the mall and note shapes and design details. How do the dresses differ from the ones in your closet, if at all? Are you seeing different types or sizes of prints than you’re used to wearing? Do the blouse collars look large or small to your eye? Don’t forget to scope out the mannequins for styling choices: Merchandisers generally keep abreast of trends, and get additional input from corporate offices about how to group new items. What do the layers look like? How is jewelry used? Where are belts placed? Are tops tucked or untucked? How are colors combined within outfits, and more specifically how are neutrals utilized and distributed? You don’t need to spend a dime to get a lesson in modern style from retail stores.
Know which items date quickly
Both this post and the post on clothing that reads as young or old feature photos of blazers. Suiting and blazers are common culprits when it comes to datedness, mainly because they are fairly durable pieces that don’t need frequent replacement. Black blazers are also on a bajillion “must-have” lists, and many of us think, “Totally have a black blazer. I’m set,” even if said black blazer was made in the late 80s. Here are a few dated items I’ve noticed lurking in client closets:
- Pumps and boots: Toebox shape and heel shape are the main details to watch. If your nude-to-your-skintone pumps have a square toe and block heel, they won’t look modern.
- Blazers and suiting: Note stance, number of buttons, length, lapel shape, shoulder shape, and overall fitted-ness in blazers and suit jackets. Note leg shape, leg width, pocket placement, and hem length in suit pants. Note shape and hem length in suit skirts.
- Leather jackets: The classic moto will always be around, but leather blazers and styles with quilting and/or gobs of hardware will look dated within the next five years. Pay attention to collar shape, zipper placement, and shoulder design.
- Actually, all jackets: Both outerwear and items like utility and denim jackets that can be worn in place of blazers.
- Jeans: Not as crucial as it once was in terms of design and construction, since various rises and shapes are always available now. (BLESS.) Do note hem length, leg style, and wash, especially on fashionable women whose style/aesthetic is similar to your own. Also pay attention to styling – cuffs, tucking, shoe pairings. etc.
Follow trends in dressing, skip trendy items
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Trendy items will date you, but trends in dressing can help you look your best. So, for instance, maybe don’t buy a pair of culottes or a fringed suede jacket, but consider incorporating trendy colors like yellow and marsala. Create your own interpretation of sporty minimalism or incorporate more black and white prints into your outfits.
I have to say that I find the typical “stick to the classics” advice to be relatively useless. Most classic items undergo design transformations if enough years go by, so although a classic item will date more slowly, it will eventually date. Naturally, items that are labeled as trendy right out of the gate will date faster, but you can’t build a date-proof wardrobe by keeping to button-fronts, bootcut jeans, and v-necked sweaters. Subtle shifts in shapes, design details, and styling will seep in over time, and those pieces will need to be updated, too.
I say “need” somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since wearing an outdated shirt or sweater will absolutely never cause you to break out in an itchy rash.
What are your feelings about dated clothing and looks? Do you worry about looking dated yourself? What tests or points of comparison do you use? Other tips for making sure your wardrobe and outfits look contemporary and modern?
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