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Thursday, August 10, 2017

WITH FIFTY IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR: Even If You Can Get Into It, Should You Wear It?

Posted by R. Ann Siracusa
An issue to weigh in on.
THE BIG CONTROVERSY: Should older women dress age-appropriately?
Everyone who thinks about this issue has a different opinion. And there's as much controversy regarding what age group constitutes older women and what the word  appropriate means.
No surprise there!
Starting with the premise that most women want to look their best, regardless of age, let's take a gander at what some of the experts say.
This side of the argument has a lot to do with how others perceive a woman. In our society today, a woman trying to look too young, too "trendy," or thinner than she is, is a sure sign of a woman who lacks confidence, composure, and style. Not someone to be envied or trend-setting.

Dressing like your teenage daughter or pouring yourself into a too-tight dress is more likely to inspire criticism and laughter behind your back than it is to impress anyone. No one wants to be laughed at.
Another argument for dressing age appropriately is gravity. Ladies, gravity is not our friend. It takes its toll on all of us, some more, some less, depending on genes, diet, exercise and many other factors. But eventually, human beings begin to sag somewhere, and the "yes" side argues that sagging needs to be taken into account in the way we dress.
According to, the following styles are not appropriate for a women over fifty to wear in public. [I assume in your own home even fashionistas let you wear what you want.] I disagree with some of the following, but it's what many experts say. I'm certainly not an expert. 
While the quoted material and some of the photos below come from and article by Rachel Fischer Spalding on July 6, 2016, these general guidelines were found in numerous other articles about what not to wear over 50.

● Distressed denim 
"If it looks like it's been run over by a bus and bedazzled by a tween, it doesn't belong in your closet." This doesn't mean you shouldn't wear jeans, but they should fit and not be too glitzy, too distressed, too glitzy, too tight, or too anything (even if you can get into them).

● Cheap Chonies 
Buy good quality under garments to avoid lumps and bumps and to keep everything in place. When you're over fifty, that's more important than pink ruffles with black ribbons. Remember the gravity issue. Good under garments are always appropriate regardless of age.

●.Excessive Cleavage"A plunging neckline can come off as desperate or attention-seeking. Rule of thumb: Anything below mid-bustline is way too low."
But wait a minute! Let's take a look at two women who are over 60. Wow!
Christie Brinkley                                                  Mary Steenburger

Granted, these ladies are celebrities and can afford whatever it takes to keep their looks and bodies in good shape, but still ….  Besides, most women never looked as good as Christie Brinkley does at 61, even at eighteen or twenty. Sigh.

● "F"-me heels and other extreme footwear 
While these shoes and boots may be very trendy, they make your feet ache, among other things. For some reason, footwear sends a loud message.

● Crop tops, short shorts, and micro miniskirts 
"Micro-mini skirts tend to look exponentially trashy with age.” Unless you have the legs of a 20 year-old model, get rid of the short shorts and miniskirts at about 40.
By the way, the short-shorts rule should apply to men also.

Giant hobo bags"These oversized, slouchy, embellished bags hold a lot, but tend to be second-rate fabrics and distracting patterns. They don't make for a timeless look." 
Undershirt inspired Tank Tops 
"They may feel cool but come off sloppy and classless. Go to a scoop-neck T-shirt." 
● Taking Accessories from Teens
 "Arm candy, nail glitter and animal print anything are trendy traps that substantially age their victims rather than keep them looking young and hip....and can lead to to a gaudy disaster." Retire them at age 30.
● Peek-a-boo Bra Straps  "It’s UNDERwear, not outerwear. It’s not meant to be exposed." Once you reach your mid-twenties, ditch the exposed straps and have specialty bras for strapless, backless, plunging and unique necklines.

● Boastful Graphic T-shirts "Freedom of expression is great — until it’s obnoxiously splayed across your chest. The boasting comes across as simply juvenile." T-shirts, yes, but not ones that brag about the wearer, even the greatest grandmother.
● Color Coordinated Makeup 
Give this up at 16 and replace with subtle hues without lots of shimmer. They’ll make you look fresh and ready to seize the day. The more you age, the more delicately makeup should be applied." 

● Pajama bottoms outside the house. Retire at 16
● Mismatched socks
: Retire at 22 [That's too old, in my opinion.]
Scrunchies: Retire at 12
Tiaras: Retire at 5 -
Fashionista Jacquelyn Mitchard adds berets and fishnets to the list, although she didn't mention age.
Sleezy clubbing dresses: Retire at 28
Juicy sweatpants, shorts, or anything with writing on the backside, including Hollister [which is the name not just of a clothier but also of a company that makes colonic irrigation supplies]. Not at any age.
Purses with dogs in them. Not at any age.

See through tops and bottoms and Cut-Outs.
Apparently this doesn't apply to Hollywood celebrities over fifty.

On the "no" side, modern women [even those over fifty] don't want to be told what they can wear and don't want to cater to the dictates of others regarding style. Many are tired of being forced by designers and stores into uncomfortable clothing and shoes because that is what's proper, socially acceptable, or fashionable … particularly when men are making those decisions.

Remember pointed toes and "don't wear white before Easter"? 
Who has the right to tell you what styles and colors you can wear? Many women, whichever side of appropriate they believe in, don't want to be slaves to public opinion. If you don't like what I'm wearing, don't look!
Madonna (58) has been criticized a lot for the way she dresses. Someone wrote in an article after a recent event, “It’s time for her to stop trying so hard all the time to look young".

Considering that she's old enough to join AARP, do you
think it's okay to dress like this, even for a celebrity performer? How about the other lady in the photo below?
Other reasons for taking no side of the question "Should older women dress age-appropriately?"
● I don't want to be a slave to public opinion.
● If I still have it, I want to flaunt it.
● Others' opinions don't matter. Don't let those opinions make you uncomfortable or self-conscious.
● You can't make everyone else happy, so make yourself happy.
● Feeling comfortable is more important dressing a certain way. I don't want to give up comfort.
● I want to be unique and have my own style, make my own statement.

● I've always dressed this way. Why should I change? It's what I'm comfortable in.

● I don't like wearing dull drab clothing. 

Unfortunately, the clothing and shoes that some people believe to be age-appropriate for older women are plain dull colors and loose-fitting drab styles. Most women don’t want that either.

Fashion is all about breaking the rules. But first, you need to know the rules and why they exist, before you break them. Then you can break the rules in a manner that is a complement to your personal style and looks without causing people to make fun of you behind your back. Just because you're over fifty doesn't mean you have to give up colors and style.

The bottom line is that we are what we are in the    
world we live in.
Even if we wish to make fashion less to do with age and more about fit, tailoring, color, and the confidence and creativity of the individual, other people see and evaluate us based on their own beliefs and the general consensus about what is appropriate at the time and for the occasion.
Remember, stylish and trendy are two different things.While most women are pretty middle-of-the-road, each person tends to lean toward one or the other, but it helps to know the difference.  Trendy and fashionable can be bought; style can't.  Stylish means that you know what clothing styles and colors flatters your body, whether or not it's the latest fashion. Often times what's in fashion may not be what looks good on you. 

To achieve the ideal combination, whatever your age, requires repeated assessment of nuances and, as one fashionista writes, "… a degree of letting go." The objective is to regard letting go not as a loss but as a process of streamlining, simplification, and replacement. Timeless, well tailored pieces in flattering neutral colors mix and match easily with your favorite, flattering seasonal trends. A woman can be both stylist and trendy as well as showcase her own style and identity, and still be appropriately dressed.




Paris said...

I've always believed style is a personal choice. That said, fifty has been in the rear view mirror for quite some time, so I thought I'd weigh in with a view observations. While I don't think any woman wants to feel old, I think we have a tendency to look up one day and wonder why the same thing that worked yesterday, isn't working now. We all get into a rut and sometimes a new perspective can be fun but if it makes you unhappy, it might just defeat the new style you're trying to develop.

Some of the views I agree with (especially the ban on pj's outside--for any age!)Giant hobo bags never worked for me because I'm vertically challenged, but I do like the style with jeans, as long as it's on the small side. Proportion is everything!

With accessories, the old rule of looking in the mirror and taking off one piece (scarf, necklace, whatever) still works, but I've seen plenty of women in my age group pull off several bangles and bling and look smashing. Great style may be more about your personal comfort zone, and being confident enough to pull off a certain look than it is about any rule :)

Melissa Keir said...

It's so challenging to find something that works for you. I don't want to wear frumpy clothes even though I'm older than 50 but I do realize I can't wear what I used to wear (partly because the 80's are no more). Women like Christie Brinkley make me believe in growing old gracefully and I hope I'm able to keep doing it!

jean hart stewart said...

Interesting column, as always, Ann. Personally I don't follow anybody's rules but my own in dressing. Haven't worn a skirt in years, and I love jeans. Even though I know I'm an old lady I want to be me.

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