Posts Tagged: style

Age-appropriateness and Trusting Your Gut

age appropriate dressing

I don’t believe in hard and fast rules when it comes to age-appropriateness. I’ve written about how I believe it’s up to each individual woman to assess her situation, preferences, and comfort levels and make her own determinations.

But I’ll tell you something I’m starting to puzzle out for myself: In many cases, if you look at something and feel like it might be age-inappropriate, it probably is. For you as an individual anyway. Those gut feelings bubble to the surface for a reason, and you should feel free to trust them if age-appropriate dressing is a priority for you. Arbitrary rules laid down by style experts and magazine writers only apply if they resonate with you, and the opinions of friends and peers are worth considering but they are never gospel. How you feel about what you do and don’t want to wear is important and valid at all times. Including times when you’re sussing out which styles feel right for you to wear at a specific age or stage of life.

Now, following your instincts and jettisoning items that feel wrong for age-related reasons doesn’t mean that you can never wear anything fun again! It just means that if fit-and-flare dresses suddenly feel too young (like this one, which has bold pattern, bright colored accents, a short hem, and pronounced pleats), you can consider seeking out a variation on the shape/look that feels more toned-down and sophisticated (like this one, which is solid colored, in a dusty shade, has a longer hem, and has the same nipped shaping minus the pleats). When you come across an item that makes you wonder about age-appropriateness, try to identify the traits or features of a particular item that read as young* (pleats, stripes, etc.) and set your sights on a variation that lacks those traits.

I remember very clearly the day I opened up a drawer, looked at my blazing pink tights and thought, “I think I’m too old for those now.” No one had made fun of me for wearing them, and I would never have said or thought, “Everyone over the age of X is tool old for blazing pink tights.” But I knew in my gut it was true for me. And I haven’t longed to wear them since.

Are you pondering the age-appropriateness of any items in your wardrobe? Care to share which ones and why you feel they’re toeing the line?

*Or old. Age-appropriateness can swing both ways.

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Bra Politics

 

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A while back, I worked with a client who didn’t own a bra. OK, to be fair, she owned several soft, relatively shapeless sports bras, none of which gave her breasts any support or shape. Her goal for the consult was to look more polished and professional for upcoming speaking gigs and press appearances, and when I saw how her clothes looked minus brassieres I knew this had to change. With some gentle nudging, she agreed to be fitted by a lingerie expert.

I left the consult feeling triumphant, and when we went on a personal shopping excursion a week later I could see a marked difference in her silhouette. As she tried on new clothes, she looked taller, more balanced, more like that hourglass shape that so many women strive for.

But thinking back, I realized how utterly hypocritical my thinking had been. I’ve been doing one-on-one style consults for more than six years, and this gal was one of a select few I’ve worked with who loved her body. Totally and completely. She had some fairly traditional figure flattery priorities, but there was nothing she wanted to downplay, mask, or hide and she was fabulously confident in her figure. She’d been doing just fine in her sports bras until I came along. To be fair, she agreed that traditional bras were something she should explore and potentially invest in, and she actually texted me after her fitting because she was so excited to finally have “grown-up lady bras.” She agreed that the change furthered her goal of looking more professional, and I never twisted her arm. But I did force her into conforming to a social dressing standard she’d shunned successfully for ages.

I also thought back to my reactions as we worked through the consult. Seeing relatively support-free breasts underneath clingy knits and form-fitting dresses struck me as “messy.” That’s the word that resonated: Messy. And how screwed-up is THAT?!? Braless breasts are breasts in their natural state. There’s nothing “messy” about them. Nothing that needs fixing or tidying. And yet, there I was eager to tidy up my client’s lovely figure.

In the end, I foisted some of the blame onto the clothes themselves. It’s certainly true that we’ve been socially conditioned to expect breasts to be lifted, supported, high, and facing forward. It’s also true that style experts and laypeople alike feel free to criticize women whose breasts don’t behave in these ways, regardless of figure, size, personal preferences, or circumstances. But clothing designers are reinforcing it all. My client’s clothes – especially her garments with defined bodices – expected her breasts to be inside a bra. They were designed to work with a body that included breasts, but those breasts needed to be lifted, supported, high, and facing forward. No question. And when that expectation wasn’t met, the clothes failed to look their best. And so did my client.

Hopefully, most of you know that early feminists didn’t run around torching their bras throughout the 1960s and 70s. But bras have been cited as instruments of oppression again and again because women in nearly all Western cultures are expected to wear them any time they’re seen in public. And because there is no equivalent figure-moulding garment that men are required to don. And for countless other reasons linked to discomfort, sex and sexuality, the patriarchy, and other forces too numerous and varied to list here. Breasts are controversial, but bras are downright political.

This is not me coming out against bras. I am fortunate enough to wear an easy-to-find size, to have both of my breasts, and to be able to afford investing in quality bras. So I like them. I prefer my own figure when I’m wearing a bra, and know that the bras I have can transform my figure and silhouette. I also have sensitive breasts that change throughout my cycle, so there are times when it’s incredibly painful to go WITHOUT a bra.

And beyond myself, I have worked with and spoken to countless women who feel that bras make them look and – more importantly – feel better about their bodies. Much of that stems from social conditioning, it’s true, but I believe that dressing is a social act and that we enter into social agreements when we dress and go out in public. Some of those social agreements are insidious and harmful, some are relatively innocuous. And it helps to know which ones are doing what and why. But if we are to move about in public as clothed bodies, we must conform to some extent if we expect to be respected and accepted by our peers. Unless you are a celebrity who has been taped into a backless gown, you, as a woman, are expected to wear a bra in public. By other people and by the folks who have designed your clothes. You can certainly push back on that expectation – as my client did – and doing so can start conversations and promote awareness of the political nature of bras. Unquestionably, that has value. But you will find certain doors closed and certain opportunities unavailable to you. Is this fair? Not remotely. Is this likely to change anytime soon? Not unless there are some truly drastic shifts in human culture and gender politics.

I know that some of you loathe bras, and others are lingerie devotees. How do you feel about going braless in public? Do you feel like your clothes fit differently with or without a bra? Can anyone think of an equivalent garment-wearing expectation for men? Specifically one that will make people look askance at them if they push back on it?

Image via The Mary Sue.

This is a revised and refreshed post from the archive.

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Observe and Reserve Judgment

Hi everyone. Sometimes Disqus closes comments on brand new posts and I don’t realize it until someone speaks up. If you ever see a brand new post with closed comments, PLEASE email me! I’ll re-post and get it going again. Thanks.

PSW 2

There are magazine columns, websites, and television shows built around the practice of examining fashion choices and making fun of them. They focus mainly on celebrities, but regular people get caught in the crossfire, too, occasionally. And while constructive criticism is an important tool for learning, most of these people and outlets aren’t interested in teaching style lessons.* They’re interested in generating clicks and gaining viewership by tearing down people who aren’t present to explain their choices or join the discussion. And at this point, judging others for their clothing choices has become such a commonplace activity that it seldom registers as anything other than normal. If it is normal, it shouldn’t be.

I have said here – and in many other venues – that comportment, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention. And I stand by that assertion. However, I don’t condone the blanket assumption that anyone whose appearance doesn’t meet your personal standards of stylishness is fair game for scorn. Here’s why.

Everyone has different standards

If you see a woman whose dress looks out-of-date to you or whose handbag is scuffed up or whose shirt is too tight, you are seeing her through the unique lens of your own perspective. Any judgment you pass is based on your own tastes, experiences, and preferences. And that means what you think is unlikely to be universally agreed-upon. Just because you believe certain things about her choices doesn’t make them fundamentally true. The rest of the world may look at the same woman and have completely different thoughts and opinions. And more importantly, she may look at herself and have completely different thoughts and opinions.

You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life

If someone looks disheveled or odd to your eye that’s bound to register, but to then leap to negative judgment means making vast assumptions. While dressing is a social act and can be used to communicate our tastes and preferences, it is also something we have to do to keep from getting arrested when we go out in public. You cannot tell from looking at someone if she is miserable or ill or scared or stressed or mourning or battling demons too varied to name. She may be dressed a certain way because wearing anything else hurts or because she hasn’t been able to do laundry in three weeks or because her heart is broken. She may be dressed a certain way because she’s got an interview or a date or an audition. You may never know, so you have no real information about her dressing choices, just your own opinions.

It’s 100% unproductive

What do you gain by judging others for their clothing choices? A momentary feeling of superiority? Are you going to find some diplomatic way to convey your critiques to others so that they can learn and “do better” next time? (Not recommended, especially with strangers.) How would you feel if you overheard someone making fun of your outfit? Talking with your sister about trying a different style of pants or talking with an employee about sticking to dress code can be productive. Snarking on a stranger or celebrity’s style choices never will be.

Humans observe the world around us, and it’s natural to draw conclusions about the things and people and occurrences we see. But when it comes to the style choices that others have made, I’d encourage you to be curious, not judgmental. It’s a big, wide world and there’s room in it for people who dress like you and people who dress a little like you and people who will never dress anything like you. Style is not a hierarchy or a contest to be won, so you don’t get points for ragging on someone else. Live and let live. Observe and reserve judgment.

*Tim Gunn’s “People Style Watch” column, pictured, rides the line, in my opinion. It aims to use visual illustrations to teach readers basic figure-flattery practices, but the text is so minimal. It doesn’t convey much information, yet still manages to sound exasperated and snippy much of the time.

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