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 Oz

A couple of years ago I 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. It’s still relevant. so  I have decided to repost it for you to think about as we begin 2019.

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, and wearing your hair just a little loose.

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.

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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19 thoughts on “Is Age Appropriate Dressing All In Your Head?

  1. I need help; I am attending my niece’s wedding 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. 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 outfit was on a younger woman. Age appropriate doesn’t mean you give up style or trends, but you refine that style or direction for your age and body shape, so it’s right. I then the s that Deborah does so well in her articles.

  3. 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 or younger people to dress a certain way, we perceive that’s how it “should be,” and we are confused when older or younger people take it upon themselves to step outside. I believe more in body-appropriate than age-appropriate; 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 the 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. In the Huffington Post article you referenced, I was surprised 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 20s) gave me because they were too short for her. I wore a team with a mini dress subbing for a tunic to a wine-tasting party and got tons of compliments. Both items were from an inexpensive chain store, so there was no need to spend lots.

  6. Great topic! When shopping/styling myself, I try to balance elegance with vivaciousness so I can walk the line of appropriateness. Fashion 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 cringe 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 love, but as I get closer and closer to 40, I sometimes wonder if the clothes I have chosen are too “young.” But after reading your article, I will not worry about it and stick 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” is 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 with a great fit will look appropriate and 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 do the clothes resulting in garments that look professional and take years/pounds off!

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

  10. I 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, I’m not ballsy enough to fight back.

  11. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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. As we get older, we realize that wearing teenage styles or fads is out for us – but that isn’t necessarily “dressing our age” as much as it is aware of what suits us better. As women, we should encourage 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 genuinely confident woman does not need to tear any other woman down; she’s too busy building them up.

    1. Lovely comments and I especially like your last line. As a fit woman who just turned 45, I often find other women who subtly criticize me yet do nothing to change their appearance. It is an unmistakable 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 looks good, even though I am conscious enough to stray from 80s 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 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. Style has to be comfortable for me. Thus I think it falls into a 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 them as they did in my 20s & 30s. So I’m not going to wear the short shorts that the 20-somethings wear. I’m more comfortable in capris or “peddle-pushers.” The same goes with my arms; I tend to like 3/4 length sleeves or tees, not camisoles that many younger women might wear. Having said this, GO FOR IT if you’re comfortable and confident in the short-shorts and camisoles, and your 50-60-or even 70!

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