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Readers, have you ever heard the expression that goes, “If you were old enough to wear it the first time around, you’re too old to wear it the second time around”? (I think this originally applied to mini skirts.) Not very affirming, is it?

Do you think this truism still applies today? I believe that — at least here in the USA — it does not. We are living in an “anything goes” period fashion-wise, where sixty-year-olds routinely dress like teens and teens routinely dress like…well, you decide.

Pictured above: Mamie Van Doren and the late Brooke Astor

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Miley Cyrus

Personally, I do not have a problem with exposed skin — but then again, I’m not a parent. It wasn’t that many years ago that daughters wanted to dress like their mothers (and boys like their fathers), not the other way around.

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Clothing choices are obviously complicated and their meanings can be so subjective it’s hard to make sense of them any longer. A century ago the display of a woman’s ankles was considered provocative. Today, I think we’ve lost our ability to be shocked; we’ve seen it all — literally. It’s also true that historically, women’s bodies and clothing choices were the ones being scrutinized and judged, not men’s. Shouldn’t everybody get to wear whatever they want?

I’m of the “whatever floats your boat” persuasion, but it bothers me that so many styles today seem to be derived from pornography (e.g., hooker-fashion) and prison (e.g., sagger pants). It’s not that I think there’s anything objectively wrong with the garments themselves — super-loose pants and short-shorts in this case — but within the context of our society, I see them as indicators of a coarsened culture, one that romanticizes prostitution (think Pretty Woman) and violence (every action movie). Do I sound like a scold?

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I suspect most of us are of the “if you still got it, go for it” school, i.e, if you can still pull off a look and you feel comfortable in it, that’s all that matters — or should matter. We admire (or are told to admire) performers like Cher, who in another era would have been considered “over-the-hill.” Good for her! we think. Or do we?

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There is something refreshing about seeing an older person dressing formally and perhaps more modestly. It’s an acknowledgment that a) we aren’t young and firm-fleshed forever, and b) we needn’t try to look that way. Style needn’t diminish with advancing age, and fashion doesn’t equal youth.

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Italian gentleman (via Sartorialist), actresses Patricia Neal and Arlene Dahl

So I ask you, readers: Does “age appropriate” mean anything to you?

Are there things you won’t wear, not because they don’t fit well, but rather because they look either too youthful or too mature? If so, upon what do you base your decision: a family member’s judgment, a book on style, or just your own sense of what looks right to you?

Do you think this applies to men too, or just to women?

Are we better off in this “freer” time or rather under more pressure to maintain the illusion of youth longer?

What do you think?

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

48 Comments

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    May 20, 2011, 11.30 AMby miss-g

    Speaking of age appropriate dressing, did anyone see how gorgeous Jane Fonda looked in a Marios Schwab black lace panel long sleeve dress and an equally beautiful Emilio Pucci dress on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival? Not your average 73 year old!

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    May 19, 2011, 08.50 PMby nellyvdb

    I am a more conservative person generally speaking, and some of the modern clothes are not only “too youthful” as you put it, but equally unflattering for my current body shape (need to excercise, I know). I do however, admire someone who defies conventions and wears whatever they feel like, regardless of “age appropriateness”, those people are usually free spirits and world changers, mostly in a good way.

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    May 19, 2011, 06.41 PMby thesnakeships

    This just reminds me that I hate clothes shopping with a unrivaled passion.

    Nearly everything is either for 16-year-olds or 60-year-olds. Apparently, women in the middle are stuck with either Anthropologie or sixteen tons of bland knitwear.

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    May 18, 2011, 01.20 AMby Paula Lucas

    This is really a hard one for me. I have a 26 year old son, and on occasion, am mistaken for his girlfriend rather than his mother. “They” say I look much younger than my 48 yrs. I think if a person is comfortable in whatever style they choose to wear, then why not wear it? That said, I believe you have to take into consideration where you are wearing what. I may be able to comfortably pull off a short skirt and plunging neckline to hear my son’s band play, but if I am going to spend the day with Mom and Dad I would feel self-conscious in that same outfit.

    Paula

    http://www.learnhowtosewnow.com

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    May 17, 2011, 11.35 PMby mrsblankenship

    I definitely think dressing for your age is important, but that doesn’t mean women need to start wearing denim jumpers as soon as they have kids. I’m about to be 31, and I’ve decided that if a skirt is shorter than where my fingertips hit my thighs, it’s too short. My husband, similarly, believes that a man’s collection of screen-printed tshirts should diminish in proportion to his older age. As we mature as people, our wardrobe should likewise mature. Our style should become more defined and flattering to our changing bodies, highlighting our best features and camouflaging our poorer ones. A 20-something woman can get away with much more random experimentation with her clothes than a 40- or 60-something woman. I hope that when I’m in my 40s and beyond I exude much more grace and poise than I currently possess. And I’m not going to get there by ignoring my body type or caring too much about what fashion magazines say is popular this month. I know now that orange looks terrible on me, velour looks cheap, and bias-cut dresses DO NOT flatter my hips, but I didn’t know that 10 years ago. And I’m sure that in a year or 5 years I’ll have a host of new revelations about what constitutes good style. I’m a lot smarter now than I was 10 years ago, even 2 years ago, and I certainly hope that I dress like it.

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    May 17, 2011, 07.54 PMby denise2003

    I have always dressed for comfort, and I have never been fashionable. I like a lot of things that don’t look good on me at all (and never did) and a lot of things that used to look good on me but I won’t wear it anymore. I just sigh and move on. I think my attitude about fashion developed because when I was young it was impossible for me to be fashionable (my build prevented it, but I’ve had a breast reduction since then).

    I think that the revealing fashions that are so popular these days are a problem. It’s not because many of the people who wear them don’t look good in them (although I admit that’s so), but because it sends a message that we should avoid sending— that sexuality is the measure of a person and that sex is the focus of our lives. I like to tell the girls that you shouldn’t put a price tag on it if it’s not for sale. The boys don’t even see what you’re wearing— they see what you’re not wearing. That is true whether it looks good on you or not. We really should keep our children’s wardrobes under control, as well as our own.

    Of course, there’s a cultural element to be considered here. We can’t all run around covered from chin to toes, it just wouldn’t work for us. We can try to reverse a trend that is getting to the point of being downright distressing, though. We can reject what we see happening and vote with our wallets.

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    May 17, 2011, 04.05 PMby bamasurvivalsupply

    A lot of the flash of youthful dressing is trying to create the presence or character mass that age and experience naturally imbue. So when I see a highly styled MILF type or someone over 40 shopping in the junior’s department without a tween, I think that person has not matured past the phase of “LOOKIT ME! LOOKIT ME!” True, most of these women look better in the clothes than the younger set, having spent fortunes of time and money to do so, but I really hope at a point that the prize of the lustful male gaze or the jealous female gaze (as opposed to the admiring versions of both) loses its novelty once you see a bit more of the world…

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    May 17, 2011, 03.38 PMby madebymeg

    as someone who often has to manage people her own age at work, i often try to dress a little older, but to me this means just more professionally, I like crisp shirts and wide-legged trousers for work versus the skinny jeans the kids at the middle school where i work are rocking. with such a small age gap between the kids and also my college volunteers, i definitely try to distinguish myself fashion-wise.

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    May 17, 2011, 03.31 PMby tinybows

    I think it all boils down to what suits your personality and your your body type.

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    May 17, 2011, 03.16 PMby ichigogirl

    Trinny and Susanna made an episode about style at an older age where they let elderly ladies shop in “young” shops. The ladies all turned out fabulously age appropriate and very stylish, but not at all boring or “old lady”-style. I don’t really think age is the main factor, it’s about finding what suits you. Too small or too big clothes (both regarding coverage and size) aren’t good on anyone, regardless of age. Style is ageless but I guess we’re supposed to learn what suits us when we get older. The not age-appropriate ones may simply be the ones who never learned what suits them!

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    May 17, 2011, 02.25 AMby barbaralenore

    I think people should wear what they like, but please, please check it out in a full length mirror, rear view also, before going out the door. You may not like what you have on once you give it a good honest look.

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    May 16, 2011, 04.20 PMby candroid007

    by candroid007

    I agree with *jadedwish -if your legs show signs of age -varicose veins, cottage cheese, sagging skin -mini skirts & short shorts will mos def not be your best option. If you’re 50 and have the great gams -why let anything stop you?

    I live in dry, hot desert where most women take it as a license to barely cover up and by barely I mean it sometimes looks like 1970’s roller disco porno flick just going to the supermarket.

    The old saying “If you got it, flaunt it…” – there’s a lot more to say about mysterium.

    I also feel what *jaded wish was saying about “personality doesn’t fit what a 30 year should wear.” -I’m also 30 years old and I don’t see why I need to be shopping at Talbots or Anne Taylor or even Macy’s (blahhhh). There is a reason however for the term “Mutton dressed as a lamb” -and you got to be true to yourself about some of your choices. If it feels right and you know you can pull it off, do it. If there is a slight shred of doubt where you feel you might just look slightly ridiculous… its your body, your embarrassment (and the company you’re with). The fastest track to Mutton Dressed as Lamb is by dressing by whatever the current instyle for a teenager is… just because its in style and MTV says so… or shopping at Forever21 -for a sure, safe score. Its not a safe, score and there is nothing more boring then doing the safe, sexy bet. You’ve got to respect there is a time for everything. But again this law is flexible for a select few.

    We do live in an age where @nyTh!nG goes and its an awesome, wonderful and a very lucky time to live in.

    There is something ironically cool about young people wearing grandma/grandpa clothing even more so when its cross gender. And seriously is there anything hotter than a young woman pulling off a classy, cool Grace Kelly look in your workplace -that would be someone to contend with on many levels IMHO.

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      May 17, 2011, 02.08 AMby samcam

      oh no… i just had a thought… My face is showing signs of age so should I cover it up too? I guess ‘appropriate’ and ‘age appropriate’ are relative and dependent on context.

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    May 16, 2011, 02.31 PMby artemis-ivorywings

    I wonder if it’s even a question about “age-appropriate” anymore than it is just plain “appropriate.” I’m 20 years old and I do not wear mini-skirts, hooker heels, plunging necklines, or anything of the sort.

    I will admit that lots of this has to do with my religious beliefs and my upbringing. I was raised that it just wasn’t mannerly to dress like that.

    But besides that, I have to admit from a purely objective stance not even many teens-and-twenties can pull off a lot of these looks and still look good. (the main exception would be one of my friends who seriously would look hot in anything at 25. i really mean anything.) It just isn’t flattering. And why wouldn’t you want to look your best?

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    May 16, 2011, 01.21 PMby dmaurice1964

    I want to dress in a way that makes me feel good about myself. Style really has little to do with fashion if you ask me. Style transcends fashion. The really good pieces in my wardrobe I’ve had for a long time, because they are timeless. I’m nearly 50, and I look pretty good for my age, a little overweight, but that’s all. I like jeans, but worn with a tailored jacket, a vintage hat and scarf, and trendy boots. I also love the tunic dress, but at my age always with opaque tights and boots. I never show much cleavage anymore, but my legs are good, so I don’t mind above the knee, but only with tights. Suits are great, summer is skirts and blouses. I think you have to feel good and confident, love yourself, and find your style, know your colours. There really is nothing worse than someone dressed out of time, in my view. When I’ve watched those make over shows they always look 10 years younger, or even more when they are dressed age-appropriate, so I guess the proof’s in the pudding. Dominique :)

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    May 16, 2011, 07.30 AMby loulourosa

    I think that everybody should wear what he or she wants, but,….there are limitations. If it doesn’t look good on you, don’t wear it! Not every body can wear the same clothes. I see 16 year old girls wearing jeans that are too tight, so the fat on their waist bulks out above their waistband. I also see women of my age (I’m 41) wearing miniskirts the size of a belt, and miniature tops, to show their false breasts and their trained muscular legs. Then I ask myself, how do they shop? Don’t they have someone who tells them these clothes don’t fit or dont look good on them? That other people aren’t interested in their (ugly) naked flesh?

    I think the problem is that people don’t have “culture” anymore, they just buy what’s in the shops. My generation is used to wear “confection”, there is no reference. The shopkeepers and staff also have no knowledge of fitting, they just sell and put clothes on hangers all day,… they don’t help the customers with their choise or look if the clothes fit or not.

    As for myself, I see that the the things I’m wearing now are different from what I was wearing when I was 25. Miniskirts and tanktops don’t look good anymore on me, so the seams of my skirts are lower now. My style didn’t realy change, I still wear bright colours. I also buy not as much clothes as I did then, but the clothes I buy now are of better quality. + I have to make some more effort to look good…;-)

    Then there is also the issue of little girls wear,… My daughter is 8 now, and a lot of clothes in her size are copies of clothes for adults. Or the clothes are dull and boring, or they make my daughter look like a prostitute. It is very hard to find clothes that aren’t in these categories. I’m lucky to have sewing skills, so I can make real childrens clothes, but the other mothers at the schoolgate complain about this evolution.

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    May 16, 2011, 01.10 AMby harrietbazley

    The older you are, the more you benefit from well-tailored clothing; really expensive tailoring (at least for men) used to be about flattering the client’s figure and obscuring any deficiencies, and it remains the case that most people, particularly past a certain age, look better with their clothes on. (There’s a reason for fishnet tights versus bare legs, for example.)

    When you’re young you can get away with wearing unstructured clothing, or even minimal clothing. When you get old is the time to wear clothes with structure and shape, if only to supply the shape your own figure may be lacking!

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    May 15, 2011, 06.56 PMby gedwoods

    I find the question of age-appropriate fashion is mixed up with the question of having a good sense of fashion. If everyone was “clued in” to what looks good and was focused on putting on clothes to their own advantage, the way we answered this question would be very different. There are a lot of “bad dressers” out there, unfortunately. Perhaps not so much those on BurdaStyle – we’re all sensitive to dress and fashion, but when I watch people in the street there are a certain number who are not (among women, the number is not so high… maybe 10 to 20%, but among men it is quite a lot higher). I’m trying not to be judgemental about this – I think for many years I may have been one of those men! Oblivious to the impact of clothes on one’s image and interactions!

    Of course, we may disagree on what is “good fashion” or a good sense of dress – my 10% who are bad dressers may be among someone else’s acceptable… But being aware of how what one wears affects how other people see us is a major element in good dressing.

    So if we remove the oblivious from the sample, and then ask about age-appropriate fashion, the question is more subtle. Here again, I am closer to your provocative suggestion, Peter, than other points of view. I don’t think “anything goes”, but I think that “anything that suits who you are” is appropriate, once one recognizes that “who you are” is also negociable with other people. I’m reminded of the contraversy about one young woman colleague who wore her blouses very decolleté – I heard lots of people complain, but I always felt she was entitled to wear these things, as she was aware of their provocation. In other ways she was always thoughtful towards the people around her, so it was a kind of “rebellion” or “shadow expression” of another side of her personality. It was very much her. Will she wear these things later on in life – I think it is likely she will!

    But as one ages, one changes… and so it is likely that these changes will be reflected in our clothing choices. I know my clothing choices are more flamboyant, although more focused towards a narrower range of clothing styles than in my youth. So I think there is an expectation that clothes will change as one ages.

    Not a complete answer to your question, Peter, but you ask hard questions!

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    May 15, 2011, 06.18 PMby lclausewitz

    You know what? I’m barely in my mid-twenties but I want to be able to pull an impression of this dashing old chap . Quite a tall order, I know….

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    May 15, 2011, 12.50 PMby redjul31

    Unfortunately we moved to a suburb north of Dallas, TX four years ago. Coming from Chicago, the fashion cultureshock is amazing. All these overly zealous, adamantly religious, must have plastic surgery when I’m 25 types wear ultra tight tops (the more glitter the better) or bejeweled jeans with so many jewels you wonder if there is any denim. Evening wear is similar, tight, midriff baring, glittery.

    Fashion isn’t necessarily about age. It is all about the undefinable – as the supreme court once said about pornography, “I can’t necessarily define it, but I know it when I see it.” A twenty something friend that had a boob job failed to ever work out, so the size 4 shorts she insisted on stuffing into gave a muffin top effect with some jiggly cellulite out the bottom. Sure the v-neck looked great with the 34G boobs, but the overall effect is really sad. Another in her late 50s always has on the latest in simple jeans, layered tee with scarf or drapey sweater, cute but not too high heels. She always looks fashionable. From the back she could pass for twenty and even from the front, only 30-40. She’s one of the few who embrace some smile lines, otherwise her age would be indeterminable.

    Mini skirts??? Well, it all depends on the presentation. A simple wool with opaque black tights, cable sweater and suede boots – looks great as long as it fits well and suits the wearer, regardless of age. I don’t know that there is age related dressing, I think it all about body and attitude. Find a style that fits (for ex., I love ruffles, I don’t look good in them – EVER so I wear fitted, straighter lines) and stick with the basics of that style. At 43, I’ve finally lost almost all the baby weight and my body is back to wear it was at 27. I still look good in short skirts, straight dresses, simple tops, tees and jeans. I love color so I wear it. I ooh and aahh over the ruffly dresses and shirts, sometimes I try them on, then I get the giggles in the fitting room and send a few texts about how I look like a stuffed ruffly sausage. I end up in an ultra simple Calvin Klein dress that looks fantastic. Not a frill on it. I make a point of buying a pair of pink sandals every year, I’m not planning to stop until I die. Fashion should be what makes you comfortable, fits well and looks good. Not based on what someone else says you should wear for your age. Good heavens, imagine how God awful everyone over 50 would look if they shopped according to JCPenneys or Sears presentations of clothes for the older crowd!

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    May 15, 2011, 10.50 AMby Ruth Brown

    I’m 55 & I don’t want to dress like my grandmother. I am, however, afraid that if I dress “too young”, I’ll be a laughing stock. Ever search for fashion tips for the over 50 crowd? It’s laughable. I’d love to dress hip & modern…and I love vintage…but I just don’t know where to draw the line.

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      May 15, 2011, 06.35 PMby gedwoods

      Hi Ruth, I don’t think you’re alone. There’s a lot of room for innovation in fashions in the “over 50 crowd”. And I love your flavor “hip & modern”!

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    May 14, 2011, 10.37 AMby laha5822

    I observe people while sitting outside at bars and restaurants in my city and have decided that the mini skirt does more harm than good. If you have a backside at all, it becomes exposed as you walk. Leggings instead of pants? They become sheer in the back. And the distinctive waddle of someone in super baggy pants can be picked out of a crowd a mile away. I live in a college town and I’m sure most of these kids are of the age to wear this stuff but honestly, it is just inappropriate. No age modifier necessary. I am much happier wearing neat, classic styles myself. It let’s my personality do the talking, not my clothes.

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    May 14, 2011, 06.42 AMby hukilaulei

    As always an incredible blog. It reminded me of something someone else said to me last year about the increasing “skirting” of modesty and I think you struck a similar chord but without sounding too “judge-y” anyway, he said, “With fashion trends going the way they are it really makes you wonder what the prostitutes will have left to wear.”. That being said, IMHO a lot more should be said about those who manage to find a good balance between modesty and tasteful fashion. While the trends keep saying “the more shocking the better” I have noticed that this really only speaks to the teens and their grandmothers. Speaking of which that photo of Mamie seriously looks like my auntie from last Cinco. And yes I feel that this rule applies to young men as well. Bow ties are cool and so are sweater vests. A button down shirt should be pressed along with well fitting slacks and I think all men young and old alike are adorable in a set of suspenders. ;)

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    May 13, 2011, 10.15 PMby lila-1

    I think older women can show flesh and still look good. But they have to be VERY careful about it and be brutally honest with themselves about how good that part of their body looks (Chests are generally a bad idea on most women over a certain age). Im thinking of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, she wore several fairly revealing garments and still looked the height of chic. On the other hand I have NEVER seen an exposed stomach look anything but cheap on anyone of any age. This definitely also applies to men. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that Hair is a big mutton-going-for-lamb faux pas for men… really sticks out and makes an ordinary, probably nice guy look rather sleazy…

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