Many style rules rankle me because they seem subjective, arbitrary, and confining. And now that I’m 35 and can see 40 on the horizon, I’m thinking more and more about age-related dressing maxims, and find them to be just as subjective, arbitrary, and confining as the rest. I’ve penned a post on age-appropriate dressing, and outlined some loose style guidelines for women over 40, but can’t say I’m happy with either piece. Even loaded with caveats, those ideas still reinforce the notion that older women need to watch what they wear more carefully than younger women do. That, after a certain point, wearing certain items will make you look foolish no matter your personality, style, figure, or profession.
The main message I get is that, after “a certain age,” you’re just plain too old to have fun with fashion. Your prime directive should be looking sophisticated, classic, elegant, refined. You need to avoid looking like you WANT to be younger, while also doing several costly, time-consuming, sneaky things to make yourself APPEAR younger. You must stop playing with clothes and be serious, damn it. Fun time is over. You’ve got wrinkles now. Style will be a deadly serious business for the rest of your life, whether you like it or not.
Of course, there’s eccentricity. The gal in the photo at the beginning of this post has likely gone that route with her duotone hair and avant-garde earrings. At a certain point in your life and style evolution, having fun with your dressing choices ceases to be “mutton dressed as lamb” and begins to be “zany.” I fully intend to be zany when I’m in my 80s: Loud, proud, and an embarrassment to my relatives. But some of us would like a middle ground between classic and eccentric. Especially since sartorial eccentricity is generally more accepted in women over 70, less so in younger women.
As I’ve said before, I think clothing’s ideal main function is emotional: Clothing should make you feel good. When you look good in your clothing, it’s easier to feel good in that same clothing. But it’s the feeling, the emotions, the swell of pride or jolt of confidence that really matters. And the style rules I read for women over 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 seem to focus exclusively on looks. You don’t get to feel creative or nostalgic or cutting-edge if you’re an older woman. You get to feel stately and composed, worldly and wise. Small, controlled emotions that befit your chronological age even if they grate against your internal age.
I get dignity. I get that dressing in sophisticated, grown-up, classic pieces as an older women reflects a certain dignity, and that it could be seen as a way of saying, “I know I’m not a girl anymore, and I’m just fine with that.” In our youth-obsessed culture, loving yourself as you age is a praiseworthy accomplishment. But I just can’t get behind the idea that any woman over 40 who wants to wear leather shorts is wrong no matter how great her gams or how perfectly she styles them. I can’t believe that any woman in her 50s who dares to wear an above-the-knee skirt is foolish, or that any woman pushing 70 should confine her palette to subdued neutrals.
Wear what makes you feel great, and feel free to tone down the colors and alter the hemlines if that’s what works best for you. But remember: You’re never too old to have fun with fashion.
Image courtesy Advanced Style.