The other day, I read an article called “We’ve forgotten how to dress like adults.” I found it really interesting. The main idea from the article is that fashion designers used to know how to design for and dress older bodies, and that young women looked forward to dressing more sophisticatedly as they got older. But, starting in the 1960s with the baby boomers, there came a worship of youth culture, and the knowledge of designing for older women wasn’t handed down; the new generations of designers don’t have access to those skills anymore. An excerpt:
“That lack of education appears today on the show Project Runway. The fashion designers shiver in their sleek boots whenever Tim Gunn describes their work-in-progress with the “M word” for “matronly.” This means “suitable for an older married woman” in the dictionary, but on the show, it means frumpy and uncool. A matronly, dignified dress with an empowering design might be exactly what’s missing from stores. With an expanded cultural understanding of what old age can be, including self-possessed and badass, we might begin to find racks of matronly dresses that shoppers have been sorely missing.”
The article also introduced me to Mrs. Exeter, who I’d never heard of before:
“Introduced in the late 1940s, Mrs. Exeter taught older women how to dress. “Mrs. Exeter knows what she likes — result of a thorough knowledge of herself,” wrote Vogue in the October/November 1958 issue. Her advanced age gave her an edge over flighty younger women who hadn’t zeroed in on their sense of self.”
The article was compelling to me. I agree that most of our current women’s magazines don’t depict anything to look forward to after age 25. And as someone who thinks excellent and smart design can solve so many problems, the idea of fashion design specifically made to complement older ages, instead of trying to hide the age, made a lot of sense to me.
I shared the article on Facebook and it got a big reaction. But not the one I was expecting. I don’t know how many commenters read the actual article, but the general response was a rejection of dressing differently at different ages. Just the mention of “dressing like an adult” was bothersome to people, as if they were being forced into a category against their will. You can read the FB comments if you like.
In general, I discard any thesis that claims we need to go back to how things were in the middle of the last century. I think the nostalgia is often misplaced and that we zero in one small positive aspect of the 50’s while discounting the rampant racism and sexism of the decade. That said, the idea of being able to dress as an older, sophisticated woman sounds wonderful to me, but according to the article, those clothes are no longer being made. I’m not even sure I can picture what they are.
If you get a chance to read the article, I would love your take on dressing like an adult. Have you changed how you dress as you’ve gotten older? In my case, I know I’m not a teenager and am not interested in looking like one, but many of the clothes in my closet overlap with what my teenagers wear — Converse and skinny jeans and current tshirts and a vintage piece here and there. How about you?
Credits: Photo: ACP/Trunk Archive
67 thoughts on “Dressing Like An Adult: Have We Forgotten How?”
Wondering why the author felt she had to resort to crass language to make a point. I don’t think fashion will ever return to days of yore. Most older women have come to value comfort after decades of casual wear at the home and the office. To me, a woman over 40 wearing ripped jeans, crop tops, mini-skirts, or tops that reveal their underwear just look silly. These sartorial statements advertise the wearer’s adamant refusal to accept aging with grace.
Re: the crass language. I did find the placement a bit odd — no cussing at all until the very last paragraph. But I didn’t mind it. I think it stands out to us mostly because it was at the end and is the last thing we read.
Also: I’m over 40 and wear ripped jeans. But I don’t own a mini-skirt or a crop top.
I’m 63 years old and I consider myself youthful. When I graduated from college in the 80’s I looked forward to dressing in business suits. I found dressier suits for church. I like a more polished look for work. I’m not a fan of mini skirts at this age. Racks continue to be filled with dresses and skirts that are too short for me. I prefer more of a midi length for work.
My son is 30 and he encourages me to get separates to mix and match.
I prefer classic styles that can endure for seasons to come.
I would like to see more variety as I mature. Updated and fun, but give me some thing below the knees
Agree. Big turn off about the language. Here I was, reading about women being refined and elegant and then…expletives.
I read a book called The Lost Art of Dress a few years ago that deals with the same topic. She focuses on how the older styles were more flattering (although I’d hate to have to wear the 1920s silhouettes) and how they took more time to create and more material but people had much fewer clothing and took care of it well rather than our fast fashion world. Anyway it was a fascinating read on what was lost with 1960s fashion changes as well as some practical tips for dressing well today.
I TOTALLY agree! This article struck a nerve with me because of the backlash that currently comes against anything traditional and aging is such a triggering issue for lots of people. I think the grace and class that comes with age and maturity are priceless yet undervalued. As a woman in her mind thirties I’m learning to walk the fine line between lovingly remembering my past (weight, shape, ability) as well as really looking forward to my stylish future.
Yes, the backlash against aging is so fascinating to me. We say “thirties are the new twenties” or “fifties are the new forties”, which maybe says that we’re all dressing as if we’re younger. Or maybe it just means we’re healthier now and feel younger and have more energy than previous generations.
But I really don’t know anyone, myself included, that is looking forward to looking older or being older. According to the article people used to look forward to mature ages. Is it really true? I have no idea. It’s honestly hard for me to imagine.
While “looking forward” might not quite be the way to say it, my two wonderful 90+ grandmothers and my lovely mom have made me utterly unafraid of aging. They are all pulled together, funny, wise and philosophical — I won’t be sad to follow their lead. I’m 44 and have a pinterest board for When I Grow Up, not that I don’t feel or behave like a grown up now, because I do, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a there out there to enjoy.
I know a few women who looked forward to aging, but due to the fact that at the time they had no access to birth control and/or it was against their religion that they were devoted to…they welcomed getting out of their child bearing years because they didn’t want more babies. So hard to imagine feeling no control over reproduction!
Your comment really made me think of times gone by. My grandmothers had 8 and 12 children each because birth control was not available. All natural childbirths at home too!!! And I recall reading an article that discussed how in old Europe, many wives turned a blind eye to their husbands having mistresses simply because they didn’t want to bear more children. Birth control has really given women freedom…thank you Margaret Sanger and friends!!
Margaret Sanger was a racist who advocsted eugenicist policies. She advocated eliminating minorities and others she deemed undesirable.
This is about so much more than we wear. It is about the rejection of everything that is real and beautiful about women. The linked article discusses how women’s fashion sought boyish shapes. We are not boys and many of us do not want to look like we are trying to seduce anyone.
I think a lot of it has to do with what you do for a living. I dress like “an adult” for work everyday. I work in government at a fairly high level, and sometimes wear suits, but mostly I wear trousers, blouses, blazers, cashmere sweaters, dresses, nice jewelry, etc.
I remember as a child (I’m 42 now), watching my mom get ready for church. She had a great sense of style, but was pretty casual in her everyday dress. But for church, she would get out her beautiful dresses and heels. She dressed like an adult for the right occasion and I think people do that now too. Our everyday clothes are certainly more casual and youthful than they were in the 50’s though–I certainly agree with that.
I don’t know where you would find “adult” clothes in terms of expensive designers, but I can easily find clothes like that at any mall. Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and some J. Crew come to mind. Definitely preppy, but fits for my job.
I think our move to cheaper disposable clothing has a lot to do with this as well. We can change our style without breaking the bank now. But my style definitely overlaps with my teen/young adult girls as well. I used to worry about dressing too youthful and wore things I didn’t really enjoy trying to fit what I thought I was supposed to look like in my 30’s. Now I embrace my own sense of style and enjoy what I love and looks good on me. I wear boho flowy dresses and pencil skirts and baseball tees, skinny jeans and Converse/Toms. I get compliments almost every day on some item of clothing I wear, so I figure it’s working :)
I feel like as a teenager my only interests were in wearing clothes from Abercrombie and AMerican Eagle, because where I grew up thats just what you did and what you wore. As an adult (25), I have zero interests in wearing clothes from those stores and find myself gravitating more towards blouses and skinny jeans with flats or ankle boots on a regular basis. I think my style has really evolved into the phase of life that I’m in right now.
Dressing more “maturely” for me has mostly meant moving to higher quality items. When I was 20, I did not own real leather boots, real wool socks, real wool sweaters, etc. I owned cheap stuff that looked cheap and wore out quickly.
But now I look for cotton, linen, silk, wool, and leather – things that will gain patina alongside me as we age together, instead of falling apart.
Such a good observation. I totally relate.
Agree with this. As you get older, you invest more in fewer pieces. In my case, that means lots of neutrals and understated pieces that can be popped with jewelry, scarves, and shoes. I was shocked to realize an Eileen Fisher blazer that I splurged on 20 years ago is still in rotation!
AGREE! I have some vintage frye boots that I got off of Ebay from the 70’s. They will never go out of style. The classic stuff doesn’t, and I’m more interested in buying quality items that will stand the test of time. And obscene amounts of workout clothes.
That is an excellent point, and Tamara made an excellent point upthread about the connection between shifts in fashion for young people and the rise of disposable clothing. When I was a kid, I looked forward to being older and getting to be a “fancy lady”; when I was in college, I coveted the ease of my female professors–intelligent, capable women in their 40s and 50s, who dressed in a way that highlighted their sense of self, regardless of their aesthetics (deeply compelling for an anxious undergrad lacking in confidence). Now that I’m in my late 20s and really getting into my career, I take pride and pleasure in having clothing that is well-made and appropriate for the situation I’m in. I like having slacks and sweaters for going into work, or flirty dresses for cocktail nights, or broken-in jeans and comfy tops for running errands on the weekends. I finally feel like the adult I wanted to be, and my clothes are a reflection of that.
I think this is such a fascinating topic! The article really resonated with me. I remember my great grandmother was always dressed in clothes that were so classic and elegant. It wasn’t a matter of dressing up or dressing down – she could do either and still somehow own her age. And in that she had sort of a sense of being ageless.
I do think that we have lost something in this transition. While I’m totally not interested in going back to some of the more formal, constricting ways of dressing older, I do sometimes wish that I didn’t feel like I need to fit into the same clothes as my teens. I sometimes wish that I didn’t feel pressure to look the way that they do in those clothes. (I’m looking at you, skinny jeans. Side note: I hate seeing grown, adult women, hike up their skinny jeans everywhere I look.) I wish that as a woman well into middle age, I had fashion that was just made for me and the woman I will be in thirty years!
Finally, I think designers and the whole clothing industry are missing out as well. What do they have to lose by clothing a huge portion of the population well?
Thank you for linking to the article. I enjoyed it, and I think the salty words at the end are an effective way for the author to further drive the point that, as the author says, infantilizing the way women dress, does not match certain women’s self-expression.
Having been 110 lbs most all my adult life, I wore clothes that were youthful because fitting in (sorry/not sorry for the pun) was easy. I came to accept the idea of comfortably fitting, matronly clothes when I was pregnant with my son 5 years ago. A round belly, and 20 excessive pounds later, a socially accepted look-book of better tailored, draping fabrics for grown up women, would surely add some luxe to the closet of this aspiring 42 year old.
“I think the salty words at the end are an effective way for the author to further drive the point that, as the author says, infantilizing the way women dress, does not match certain women’s self-expression.”
Very well put.
This is an interesting topic…I think of clothes from brands like Chico’s, Brooks Brothers, and Ann Taylor as being “adult.” I also think of my friend’s 90+ year old grandmother who rocks jeans with embellished pockets(!) and my 65 year-old aunt who loves chunky jewelry and knows how to dress perfectly for her body type.
Perhaps one major issue is not having as many models in older age brackets, so it is difficult to visualize how clothing would work for older people, as models tend to all be young. For example, many of the items on Brooks Brothers’ website look really adult, but their female models all appear to be 40 or younger (seriously, go look! I was shocked at how young their models are!!).
The idea that appeals to me most about “dressing like an adult” is knowing and being 100% confident in your personal style…a sense of rootedness that is conveyed in how you dress rather than a particular style of clothing.
I agree about not having older models. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but J.Crew used a grey-haired model for several years and I always appreciated it.
Your concept of dressing like an adult and being confident in your personal style is also really appealing.
When I read the title, the first thing to pop into my head was the image of you, Gabrielle, looking fabulous in that red tuxedo! It was stylish and fun, but definitely elegantly adult.
I wonder if “dressing as an adult” is, at least in part, just dressing more formally. “Dressing as an adult” makes me think of dressier, more tailored clothing in lovely fabrics. At age 56, I find I almost always wear jeans, if I’m not in my work uniform. My lifestyle is very casual. I struggle to find appropriate clothes in my closet for the rare wedding or funeral, sometimes even for a nice dinner in a restaurant.
Thank you, Wendy. I adore that suit!
Thank you for the article, it was very interesting. My mom is (still) a woman of very good taste, and she had mastered the art of dressing well without overdressing or spending too much money. For most of my life, I was skinny and had a boyish body that looked best in skinny jeans and T-Shirts, for work with an added blazer and some nice flats. I am now 47, 20 lbs heavier thanks to medication, having gone through some serious health challenges in the last few years and “forced” menopause, so I am adjusting to dressing more grown-up, and I am beginning to like it. Adult does not have to mean frumpy, but I love now “nicer” clothing in better quality that nevertheless looks pretty. I am also discovering jewelry (especially big colorful jewelry) to give my look it’s own style. I think middle-range chains that sell what I like these days are J Crew, Banana Republic, Everlane. Might be boring, but their clothes can be brought up a notch with fun jewelry (from Etsy or flea markets for me).
Agreeing that just adding a bangle on my wrist and some bling around my neck elevates the whole outfit. Swap out a nicer pair of shoes and you’re in!
Oh yes, I agree about the shoes. I have problem feet (now …), and when I buy shoes, I buy nice, leather ones with a little bit of a heel that can make a whole outfit pop. I work in a business casual environment (legal), but sometimes have to dress up at the spur of a moment. So I keep a nice blazer behind my door, which also elevates any outfit.
I do find that people have forgotten how to dress like an adult. While I appreciate the more comfortable clothing allowed in an office environment or even a golf club I sometimes wonder what people are thinking when they show up at work in leggings with a crop top, or grocery shop in fleece pj pants or get on a plane dressed as if they just fell out of bed. I think putting in some effort into your clothing at work or when going out in public should be valued, it doesn’t need to be expensive or designer, but going to work in the same outfit you wear on a Sunday to the beach doesn’t seem right. BUT, I also think that applies to our kids as well. I never would have been allowed to go to a dinner in my sweat pants and a sports T, or show up at school in ripped jeans, or show up at a theater dressed the same as showing up at football game sidelines.
I couldn’t agree more. I appreciate the move towards less formality and more comfort. Who wants to be forced to wear gloves or high heels all the time? However I concur that there is a loss in situational appropriateness. It brings to mind the hoopla when members of a college women’s volleyball team showed up to meet the President in the White House in flip flops.
Exactly! I may not have the ‘perfect’ outfit, but I’d sure as heck wear the best thing I had!
Oh this article touched a nerve for me. I have long vacillated between the desire for elegance and my natural instinct to be a slob. I have always gone through phases where I try, and then don’t try so much. For the last decade, I’ve tried to ignore the fact that I am officially a grown up. The fact that I own a house, am married, have two kids (and one on the way), and my business have not in any way changed that vision of myself. But now that I am no longer carded at the bars (in my late 30s), it is sinking in. No one sees me as young any more. I do want to dress in a more elegant and age-appropriate way. My idol at this moment is Mimi Thorisson from Manger who is always elegant and grown up. She is absolutely age-appropriate. Sometimes I think that I will start to buy nice dresses and ballet flats, which would probably be more appropriate for my profession than the jeans I’m wearing now. But fundamentally the problem for me is that I don’t *feel* like I’m a grown-up. I don’t *feel* like I’m in my late 30s. My 20s and 30s went so fast that I still feel like I’m 22. And it’s hard to dress the age on my driver’s license when I feel like a recent college grad.
Oh yes, Mimi! She is the perfect example of an elegant, age-appropriate, classy lady! My favorite blog and her books are to die for too. And just so you know, Christie, no one ever “feels” their older age. I’ve worked with folks in their 80s who still “feel” 25. I love your honesty that your natural instinct is toward being a slob. I bet you clean up real well.
I remember my grandmother telling me when she was 95 “I feel like I’ve been swallowed whole by an old woman! Inside, when I think or have an idea I feel the same as when I was 23. Now this woman ate me up and I am trapped in her thing frail body, unable to dance or swim or make a coherent statement. She stole my eyes and my ears, and I hope to God she never finds my brain!”
Since when did it become okay to use vulgar language in writing. I read the whole article and thought it was really good. However we’ll go language is completely unacceptable. And if we think it’s okay then we need to rethink who we are. It just lowers and degrades us as individuals. And that’s what the whole article was supposed to be against.
I disagree. I don’t think we can simply classify all cussing as vulgar. I think there’s a difference between vulgar language and strong language. And I think writers have been using strong language (which can include cussing) for the entire history of writing. In this case, I didn’t mind it and I don’t believe that means I’m degraded as an individual.
YES! Thank you for saying this (more than once!). Also, I’d love to read a post about how you deal with teaching your kids that sometimes ‘crass’ words can be used to prove a point. Also, do you buy the E versions of music? (Full Disclosure, My 6 year old knows the original, uncensored, soundtrack to Hamilton backwards and forewords. I am determined that my girls not be afraid of any words.)
“I am determined that my girls not be afraid of any words.”
This is what I tell my son and daughter.
Yes to Karin’s comment! When explaining curse words to our 4 year old, we tell her that ANY word can be crass when it’s used to demean, insult, or intentionally hurt someone. Whether language is vulgar or not is entirely dependent on the context and the intent as well as the person interpreting it.
Her use of language in the article didn’t bother me at all.
You are probably too young but do you remember when the Gap had every color of sweatshirt and sweatpants? I miss those days. My friend had a pair of sweatpants in mint. I wonder when I will grow up and be in one style.
I think we’ve lost manners in place of fear that we are “elitist” or “exclusive”. If *I* wear a something nice to a wedding, then do I make *you* feel bad because you chose to wear shorts and a tee? I don’t want to upset you so I’ll dress down as well. I’ve seen “adults” at funerals in Jack Daniels tank tops, Daisy Dukes, and flip flops. It’s like everyone has decided that there are no set rules anymore, and even if they are hinted at or expressly requested, “Who died and made them the Queen?” seems to be the number one question.
My husband’s co worker lost his job because he refused to dress for his newly acquired position. Both had gone from being in the ditch construction workers to executive positions which placed them in front of congressmen, senators, and other important persons wherein business suits were required. His co-worker (his words) “came from white trash and made himself, why should I change just because I’m somebody now?” Well, because your job requests that, and there is a respect required for those with whom you are now associating with and *for those you are now representing*. Be an adult. Dress like an adult. Or, as in his case, lose your job once you made it clear this would not be an acceptable option. He felt that by his following the “code” he was betraying his birth status instead of elevating it, and himself.
I’m not insisting that everyone become a snob, however the author’s use of language is another form of the letting go of social protocols -currently we live in a society where this kind of language isn’t just “ok” it is almost needed in order for a person to be taken seriously about any topic or concern. No one cares that their grade school kid may hear the f-bomb in a movie anymore “Because they’re hearing worse on the playground!”- that’s like saying it’s ok to eat around that live bug you just saw crawling across your salad, because it hasn’t crawled over each and every vegetable on the plate. Do I think strong language is needed now and then, yes I do, because when I have addressed someone as politely as possible, I am often ignored. And there’s the shame.
The culture of “I just can’t adult today!” is lunacy to me. Not being able to get it together for three hours and dress up or down as occasion suggests shouldn’t be that much of a hardship. Don’t have a fancy black suit to wear to the funeral? OK Just wear the best thing you *do* have and make sure it doesn’t advertise something. Show respect for others efforts as well as your own.
Style can be your own, and every budget can be elevated by dressing as well as possible, using what our mothers taught us as manners, and just plain making an effort once in awhile.
We spent last week in Orlando, on a whirlwind tour of Theme Parks. And I must say this was an ongoing conversation between my husband and I was the shock we felt at the clothes being worn around us. I’d say 80% or more of the adults in the parks were wearing sloppy elastic waist clothing and t shirts. There was nary an ‘outfit’ in the place. So yeah, I do think it’s true, we grown ups should dress like grown ups. and while I do think relaxing the dress code has been positive for our culture in some ways, I value fashion. And I have great admiration for folks who take the time to figure out what works for their body and their sense of style. Fashion is a very beautiful thing. (and just as I typed this, in the coffee shop by my house, a man walked by in elastic waisted shorts and a t shirt and raised his arms up above his hands, giving me a great view of hairy belly. We can do better!)
Oh my gosh-I feel the same way. We’re in Washington DC this week for spring break. I was just commenting to my husband that I could not believe the number of people touring the museums and monuments in exercise wear. It was mind boggling. Really-you can’t put on real pants or shorts?
I have a significant medical condition that makes my stomach stick OUT as if I were midway through a pregnancy. I’m wearing elastic pants because they are the only way to wear bottoms that don’t fall to my ankles. Take your pick: elastic waistband or a full view of my bum.
This reminds me of a comment I read by a Parisian who wondered why American tourists dressed like they were going to mow the lawn or clean out the basement.
Liss: I don’t think Karin has an issue with elastic waisted pants per se. There are nice pants out there with elastic waists. I think she’s referring to the sloppy, stained, frayed ones most likely. You know the kind that should have been donated a couple years ago? Sorry about your medical condition.
I am over 40 and have about 6 pairs of Converse and a stack of American Eagle skinny jeans. I do go for a higher waist now and longer tops. That’s about the extent of my “adult” fashion. Of course I think we should all have the right to wear what we want. On the other hand I love the idea of quality clothes for older women. My mom kept some of her stuff from the fifties and sixties – great wool coats and cigarette pants – and I think they are amazing. And oh, the hairstyles! They put a lot of work into their hair!
I think the way you dress as you grow older has a lot to do with what was fashionable in your formative years. I saw that both with my grandmother and my mother, and what I think of as “matronly” when I think of for example the length of their dresses and skirts is what was regarded the norm when they were young women. The biggest exception for them is/was that women weren’t really wearing pants when they were young (in the 30s and early 60s), and that is something they adopted when it became the regular thing. Or think of the twin sets and the Chanel costumes – that was what was cool in the 60s, so it’s still happening in the 70-something crowd. You will never see me in one of those, but I am pretty sure whatever we will be wearing in 30 years will be regarded as matronly then as well…
Wow! Margaret Sanger wanted to eliminate the black race. She was not trying to set women free! Despite where you may fall on the issue, facts are facts! No one likes to talk about abortion and the black community. Talk about racism……
This is categorically untrue. I implore you to please read this very thoroughly researched article that uses Sanger’s own words to articulate her position on the matter. Sanger was, in fact, anti-abortion, but pro-birth control. She was a proponent of educating people about the wrongness of their racism, particularly white men. Please, please, please read this article, which contains actual, real facts, and not just anger-spurring talking points:
This speaks to me as a 32 year old who is in the midst of a transitioning closet. I’m getting rid of many pieces that all of a sudden seem too young, but I’m not entirely sure what my style is turning into. Along a similar line, I can’t recommend Betty Halbreich’s memoir, I’ll Drink to That highly enough. A fascinating look at her years (and years, and years) spent dressing the ladies of New York at Bergdorf’s. One of my all time favorite books.
Putting it on the list, thank you!
This conversation is really interesting. In my opinion, it is possible to be fashionable and well put-together at any age. I admire the older women in slim trousers and simple jewelry. They look classy and, consequently, classic.
Trends come and go (my teenage interest in JNCO jeans being a perfect example). While trends are fun, I hope to think that as a person with more experience, I will dress in a more classic way. For me, this is wearing a self-imposed uniform. Regardless of what we hope, our appearance does make a difference. Similar to the language we use, the way we dress sends a message about how we view ourselves.
I thoroughly enjoyed her article until the profanity at the end. All the dignity of aging? Let’s forget all that and curse like a frat girl to prove we actually ARE hip and young even if we spent an entire article saying that’s a stupid idea. Ugh. It makes me think she was merely commentating on a observation, rather than trying to advocate a change toward accepting maturity.
Anyhow, I am 45 and about 5 years ago realized I want to dress with more dignity and stop trying to pretend I’m 20 or 30 something. I DO NOT do “athleisure” wear unless I am actually exercising. I DO own a pair of metallic sneakers, as well as bright red and yellow ones. I DO own a pair of camouflage pants. But I try really hard to make sure I don’t wear any outfits that my teenage daughter would wear. I’m deciding it’s okay to dress like an adult, BECAUSE I AM ONE. I find that to be incredibly empowering! (It also means I don’t feel like I need to curse to make my point effectively)
In lieu of the word matronly, I tend to fall on the side of classic style – which I feel regardless of age can be timeless *like the EIleen Fisher blazer mentioned above). To that end I find it immensely frustrating that it is so difficult to find “classic” pieces at a reasonable cost that don’t fall in the category of disposable clothing. Between poorly made clothes, lack of proper tailoring (proportion) and low quality fabric – shopping has become an exercise in frustration.
And as an aside … I guess I’ll show my age and say that I am not sure why we have reached a point where young (and some not so young) adults feel they can tag poor decision making and procrastination on their inability to “adult today”. I’ve spent the last few years REALLY wanting to trade in my adult-card for about a 6-month sabbatical .. but there are just too many consequences so day after day I get up and do what needs to be done!
Apologies, but I didn’t read all the comments. I just wanted to add that what I think has been lost is formal vs informal dressing as opposed to young vs adult dressing. It bothers me to see people wearing jeans to the Nutcracker and track pants or yoga pants to the airport. Some things are meant to be worn on weekends and some to the gym and some to special occasions. It makes me a bit sad that that seems to be lost.
This comment made me think of my current situation living in a very small “country” town. Our community has a ballet company and I took my family to the Nutcracker performance. I’ve grown “used to” the casual dressing of this country lifestyle enough to not be shocked by jeans and cowboy hats in the audience. However, when I saw a man come onto the stage dressed in dark, sloppy sweat pants, I thought he was a strange prop boy, not the actual *NUTCRACKER* which it turns out was his role! I could not believe my eyes!
This is a topic I think about often. There is such a strong backlash against older people. I’m tired of hearing about ageism in hiring, seeing the Kardashians interviewed in magazines (do they really have anything important to say?), and billboards of half naked models everywhere. I’d like to see people praised for their age and experience, hired because they’ve been around and are wise, and I’d like to read articles about older women who have some real, useful advice to dole out. I want to know how centenarians have lived their lives! Two things came to mind when I read this article. First, the wonderful book I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style with a Twist by Betty Halbreich. It’s a great read about the first stylist at Bergdorf Goodman’s. She has excellent style advice and lives a very stylish life. I adore this woman and highly recommend it to anyone wishing to reconnect with their stylish self. Next, the Op-Ed section of the NYT had a great article titled To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94 Year Old by Pagan Kennedy. She explains how our culture sees older people as boring and dull and unable to think of new ideas, but research proves the opposite. Wonderful article that I hope a lot of young people will read! Thank you for sharing this article and starting a conversation. It’s so important for us to feel stronger, better, stylish, and inventive when we’re older. We just need to be appreciated for it.
I loved your statement: “It’s so important for us to feel stronger, better, stylish, and inventive when we’re older.”
YES! This articulates what I’ve been feeling but couldn’t put into words. Thank you so much for the article and book recommendations — I can’t wait to read them both :)
I’m so glad, Val. I hope your enjoy the reading!
Whoa! I was just thinking about this topic. I was thinking about tastes in clothes and young hipsters and how standards for fashionably dressing are designed for the very young. Many of the styles are only flattering on very toned and very thin physiques. Often it seems like there is no style just body conscious dressing. I think women are in the stages of open revolt against norms that make aging criminal in older women.
An incredibly interesting article- and the comments here too! It’s really interesting that the article pointed out clothing would subtly point to being more experienced and knowledgeable. One thing though I didn’t apperciate was the connection the author kept trying to connect these midcentury looks to “dignity,” which is a subjective value, and also implies that older women don’t have that today, which isn’t true.
I see and know a lot of fashionable older women (I’d argue that my silver-haired mother is more fashionable in her late fifties than she was in her 30s and early 40s even). And they don’t wear the type of clothing that I think the author would phrase as “dignified” or “sophisticated.” Actually, I’m not sure that Iris Apfel, who the author uses an example, would characterize her style that way either. The fashionable older women I personally know-and Apfel- seem to own their style and use it as a way to express personality and have fun with things. I just had a baby and have been looking at clothes trying to figure out how my style fits with my evolving self; these women can be inspirational for that.
However, I do really agree that we put a lot of emphasis on youth, and, well, no one wins in that battle. Everyone ages. Fashion wise, I think it is also really fair to say that we put an emphasis on casual (which equates with youth, since youth are very casual). Like, very rarely do we see workplace clothing. Even workplace clothing I do see often in involves jeans, which is a bit baffling. I can’t be the only person who works somewhere where jeans are not considered work appropriate.
Great article and comments. As I approach 70, I am extremely mindful of dressing my age while still being “in fashion”. The one thing I find difficult to find at almost any price level is pants that don’t sit so low that you either feel the need to constantly pull them up or pull your shirt down to cover your exposed rear end. I’d love to know where women find pants that fit well, look nice and don’t expose too much without being “mom jeans” or worse. I really enjoy this blog for so many reasons but especially because it speaks to women of all ages on a variety of subjects.
I enjoyed this article, thank you for posting! It reminded me of The Thoughtful Dresser, by Linda Grant, which I also enjoyed. While I think it takes more effort to find quality pieces – in terms of construction and not being a fad – they are out there. And I don’t think wanting to dress in a more serious or “sophisticated” manner is necessarily only for women over a certain age. I’ve preferred to dress up for professional occasions since I was in college. I think the difference now is that casual is more the norm and dressing up is more unusual and 60 years ago, from what I read, that was switched.
The Sartorialist provides lots of inspiration whichever you prefer! I prefer photos of real people to a photo shoot, anyway.
When I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added-
checkbox and now every time a comment is added
I get 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service?
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