Is Age Appropriate Dressing All In Your Head?

Of all the questions my readers send me, the one I seem to get the most is a variation on the theme of age-appropriate dressing: “Can I wear short skirts/low-cut tops/bikinis/etc. at my age?”;“Does this make me look like I’m trying hard to be young?”; “Does this make me look old?”

I call it the Goldilocks question: “Is this outfit too young, too old, or just right?”

Age appropriate dressing

photo by: Cue Ozop

I recently came across  an  article featuring a series of photos that dramatically demonstrated why dressing “age appropriately” may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. The first half of each of the seven images, by the photographer Cue Qozop, captures parents and their children wearing generationally appropriate clothes; in the second half however, parents and offspring swap outfits. The parents, in essence, are decidedly not dressing age appropriately. And do you know what? They look fantastic!! (Their kids don’t look half-bad either when they are wearing their parents’ clothes, BTW.)

I love these photos because they are proof-positive that fashion can still be fun as we get older, that we don’t have to be burdened by the yoke of “age appropriate”. Heck, what does that even mean, anyway?

I’ve always felt that the best way to achieve ageless chic after 40 is by incorporating “sporty elements” into your look. I’m talking about doing things like pushing up your sleeves, playing with layering, wearing your hair just a little messy (helmet hair is a huge ager).

If you have always gravitated more towards a personal style that ‘s fine, subdued and elegant, try adding some sportiness in the way of bright colors or fun, on-trend accessories to the neutrals you likely favor.  These little touches will make you look a little more energetic and energetic = youthful. (Want more tips? Here are few extra ideas on how you can dress sportier to look  youthful.)

What does “age appropriate” mean to you and is it overrated? What do you think of Qozop’s photos? Do they make you want to raid the closet of the nearest 20 year-old – or maybe just steal one piece of their jewelry – or did some of you already figure this out ages ago?

 



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Comments, Feedback, & Opinions:

  1. I need help, I am attending the wedding of my niece in November on the beach in Pun-ta Con ta, in the Dominic Republic, I am 64 and I do not know what to wear… Please help.

  2. Debbie Hipkiss says:

    There may be some truth in dressing age appropriate. Most of us have seen photos of older women wearing bikinis or dressing too sexy and think “Ewwwww!” but may have a different reaction if that same outfit was on a younger woman. Age appropriate doesn’t mean you give up style or trends, but that you refine that style or trend for your age and body shape so it’s appropriate. I think that’s what Deborah does so well in her articles.

  3. karen wilson says:

    I have thrown out all of the rules concerning my wardrobe. Now, I wear what I want to wear. “Age appropriate” is age discrimination.

  4. I think a lot of age appropriate is in our heads, a lot of it is societally programmed. Since we expect older people or younger people to dress a certain way, we perceive that’s the way it “should be” and we are confused when older or younger people take it upon themselves to step outside of that. I am one who believes more in body-appropriate than age appropriate, and obviously those two things can overlap, but not always. For instance, cellulite and varicose veins often come with age and I suppose that’s why we have this “rule” about not wearing short skirts – however, not every older woman has those problems and some younger women might. I also believe a lot of wearing more youthful clothes comes down to styling as this blog so aptly demonstrates.

  5. I loved the way the parents looked in their children’s clothes. Some things can look silly on older adults — or on adults, period — but there is no reason to stay away from whole categories. I was surprised to read in the Huffington post article you referenced that the photographer of these photos said that older people don’t wear skinny jeans. I am in my 60’s and own several pairs. My favorite two are the ones my daughter (late 20’s) gave me because they were too short for her. I wore a pair with a mini dress subbing for a tunic to a wine tasting party and got tons of compliments. Both items were from a really inexpensive chain store, so no need to spend lots.

  6. Great topic! When shopping/styling myself, I try to balance elegance with vivaciousness, and so can walk the line of appropriateness. Fashion now is so much fun and can be tempered with some judicious selections. Peplum, yes; peplum with studs, no. No to anything “baby doll” as I left baby doll 50 years ago. No to neon, yes to brights. Run from bedazzling. And as Lizzie said above, I cover what is not as pretty as it was at one time: thighs, arms with skin showing some (ahem) failure, even the upper chest/decollete. I do inwardly shudder when I see a fellow “almost senior” lady like me in embroidered jeans or a skirt revealing cottage cheese-like legs; on the other hand, I also flinch at the “almost senior” in elastic-waist baggy polyester pants and muddy-floral baggy blouse. Maybe ask yourself, “would Sophia Loren wear this?”

  7. I love this article! Thank you for sharing. I have always thought that we should wear what we absolutely love, but as I am getting closer and closer to 40, I sometimes wonder if the clothes I have chosen are to “young.” But after reading your article, I am not going to worry about it and sticking with my original idea of wearing what I love and what makes me feel good. Cheers and thank you!

  8. I believe the term “age appropriate” in incorrect. It should be SHAPE appropriate! No matter what age a person is an ill fitting garment will not flatter regardless of style. Showing all the lumps and bumps a person has with a skin tight dress is inappropriate if you are 18 or 80 whereas a well tailored outfit that has a great fit will look appropriate as well polished on anyone. I teach fashion design and my motto is there is no such thing as an imperfect body only imperfect clothes! So I teach my students to make garments that fit the body not try to make the body fit the clothes resulting in garments that look professional and take years/pounds off!

  9. Chioma Iyke-Ani says:

    I think I now have a second opinion about age appropriate dressing. Fashion or rather style is subjective, it’s a personal thing and so there should be no standard rules for or against. I wear what I’m comfortable and confident in, and especially what I like which spells ME – MY STYLE.

  10. Loved this, and the article that inspired it. Those photos are fantastic. I’ll be 50 this year and there’s so much clothes-wise that I no longer feel is appropriate for me. I can fit in it and look fine, but I feel ridiculous. I don’t have the confidence to pull it off, and worry that others would look at me and say I should’ve left that in my daughter’s closet, so I don’t even try. This whole dressing-your-age business, and having age-appropriate hair, is annoying. Like old age is being forced on us before we’re ready, but I’m not ballsy enough to fight back.

  11. Debra Sluis says:

    It is NOT your imagination!!!!!! NO it is not. I had a granddaughter who once thought I should dress “more faddish” and one day while out shopping- I SHOWED her why I should not. I put on the low-rise jeans she wanted me to get AND the skin-tight T-shirt with it. She took one look and said.. “oh”.. LOLOLOL
    There is such a thing as age–appropriate!!! YES there is. I do NOT show my knees in a dress anymore! I do not wear tight clothes or let my belly hang over my pants! I do NOT show cleavage!

    • Hope Varnedoe says:

      dressing modestly is different than dressing “age-appropriate” as women. if you choose to dress very modestly that is your choice but it has no bearing on your age.

  12. Hope Varnedoe says:

    I think women should wear what makes them feel fabulous. If you love what you are wearing and feel beautiful in it, you will shine with confidence and there is nothing more beautiful than a confident woman. I think as we get older, we of course realize that wearing teenage styles or fads are out for us – but that isn’t necessarily “dressing our age” as much as it is being cognizant of what suits us better. I think as women we should be encouraging other women to be themselves and do what makes them happy as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Criticizing how another woman dresses or thinking anyone has the right to judge them, is rooted in insecurity. A truly confident women has no need to tear any other woman down, she’s too busy building them up.

    • Wonderful comments, and I especially like your last line. As a fit woman who just turned 45, often times I find other women who subtly criticize me yet they do nothing to change their appearance. It is an obvious expression of their insecurity so I let it go by turning it around to compliment them on ‘something’. I like wearing what feels good and also looks good-even though I am conscious enough to stray from 80’s trends that have been revived! Thinking ‘classy’ and not ‘sexy’ when I wear outfits keeps me age appropriate in my opinion and as Maria C. wrote I do wear clothes that fit my body-but I work for it and that is how I can reward myself.

  13. Fashion is subjective and personal. Fashion has to be comfortable for me, thus I think it falls into line that it tends to be age appropriate. I’m not comfortable in clothes that show my legs because I don’t have the tone in the them like they did in my 20’s & 30’s. So I’m not going to wear short-shorts that the 20 somethings are wearing. I’m more comfortable in capris or “peddle-pushers”. Same goes with my arms, I tend to like 3/4 length sleeves or tees, not camisoles that many of the younger women might wear. Having said this, if you’re comfortable and confident in the short-shorts and camisoles, and your 50-60-or even 70, GO FOR IT!