I’ll admit it. Clothes can be confusing.
Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before. When I was 12, back in the 1980s (yes, I am that old… thanks for not noticing!) I found a plaid power suit in Vogue and begged my immensely talented mom to make one for my 50-pound body. I wanted the total look: the shoulders, the hair, and most of all, the hips. I wanted the curves and the swagger of a woman twice my age.
The curves never did come. The age, however, has arrived.
Today, I no longer want to look older, but I don’t want to look 12 again either, or even 22. I want my apparent age to fall into that vague, undefined period between grad student and grandma. Okay, maybe that’s too broad. Let’s just say I no longer aspire to look like I’m in my 20s, but I’d like to look like I am 30-something pretty much forever.
And to do that, I’m going to need the right clothes.
Before I go on, let me just state for the record that if you are a young mom in your 20s, you can wear pretty much anything you want. Anything. And if you’re in your early 30s and look like you’re 20-something, you can still wear pretty much anything you want. After that, the rules change a little. I covered a few of them here, and here’s a follow-up. Fortunately, learning how not to dress old is simpler than you think!
Let me illustrate. First up, this silky mustard-colored Thakoon blouse.
This blouse may look innocent enough, but it should come with a warning label.
And so should this blouse:
And this suit:
These are all examples of old clothes.
In your 20s, they’re IRONIC.
In your 40s, they’re AGING.
In your 70s, they’re ELEGANT. (Except for that middle blouse. No redeeming value there.)
The difference (and forgive me if I repeat myself) is in the details. Cut, color, and fabric all play a part in making an item look too-something.
Here, a few more examples:
This is an understated version of the mom jean, and because it’s a little bad and not deliberately bad, like the faded, super-high-waisted trendy mom jeans that are so hot right now, it’s instantly aging. Another word about mom jeans. If you’re a mom, or old enough to be a mom, don’t wear them. The irony is lost, in my opinion, and no one needs to look shorter or lumpier than they are.
Notice the jeans that I dubbed “just right” are still youthful and fresh and a little edgy. Some of you may find them too trendy, but in my opinion, this is an acceptable level of trendiness without veering into frumpy category. (Another note about hip jeans. You’ve probably heard me go on and on—I do like to hear myself talk!—about the absolute need for every single woman over the age of 20 to own one sleek, slim/skinny/straight pair of clean jeans with no rips, tears, fading or whiskering in a dark, even denim wash. They can be dressed up and down and are oh so flattering, yada yada. I favor the perennially popular AG Stilt, but after you invest in these basics, a more relaxed, slightly distressed boyfriend style is next.)
And now, a word about dresses. Some dresses are instantly aging and awful in an obvious way, like these:
Others are not so obvious. Check out these examples:
Don’t let the snazzy styling fool you. Taken separately the details (classic sheath in powder blue, high-necked jacket) are questionable but not catastrophic. Together, they are instantly aging.
Too many trends, all at once, in a shape that is entirely too sweet, make this dress a disaster for anyone over the age of 21.
A bold color, flattering length, and contemporary cut all add up to great style for a woman in her 30s, 40s, and 50s. After 60, if the bold color and dramatic sleeves suit your style, go for it, or choose a classic silhouette in a bold color (or this trendy style in a classic color).
Still confused? Here’s a little trick: Pick the right brand, and then choose a silhouette that is right for your body type, and you can’t go wrong. What are the right brands? Here, a cheat sheet.
Alfred Dunner, Albert Nipon, J. Jill, Lauren Ralph Lauren, and Joan Vass are all geared towards an older customer, but other brands, like Eileen Fisher, Chaus, Chico’s, Donna Morgan, Talbots, and Lane Bryant have been updated and now offer a wider array of styles, so when in doubt, refer to the guidelines above!
These will come as no surprise, for the most part, but stores like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Arden B, Bebe, Windsor, Abercrombie, Hollister, Aeropostale and any of the inexpensive trend stores (DOTS, Rainbow) all cater to very young women, and are the age equivalent of the Juniors’ section of a department store. Other stores, like Uniqlo, Topshop, H&M, Old Navy, and Target, appeal to a wider demographic, so the distinction isn’t as clear. Refer to the pointers above. 🙂
Just Right Brands
Anything in the “contemporary” department usually falls into this category, as well as specialty retailers like J. Crew, Loft, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Zara, Anthropologie, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch. Above guidelines still apply. 🙂
Still confused? Let me wrap it up this way: Shop the right brands at the right stores, and avoid extremes (too short, too tight, too trendy), and you’ll make the right choice every time! Did I miss the mark on any of these? I’d love to hear your thoughts!