I recently received the following cry for help: “Age-appropriate fashion: Does it/should it exist, what is it, when do we accept it, and what’s a healthy balance? I am having a fashion crisis!”
I’m here for you Laur, let’s get started!
First, I’d like to say that in my book there are very few hard and fast fashion rules, one of the things that I love about fashion is that it is an expression of who you are, a creative outlet. How can art have rules?
That being said, there are definitely some basic Do’s & Don’ts to keep in mind as you grow up and your style evolves. You don’t want to look dowdy and matronly at a young age and you don’t want to dress like your daughter once you’re, you know, old enough to have a daughter. There’s a happy medium to be found, but its going to be a little different for everyone.
One of my favorite magazines of all times is Harper’s Bazaar which contains a monthly segment called Fabulous at Every Age which features clothing and accessories, as well as a fashionable style icon, for each of the age brackets. I love this idea in theory, though sometimes I think they’re a bit too rigid in their rules. Yes, shorter hemlines, innovative fashion designs and tons of color are the hallmarks of youth, but as someone in their 20’s who prefers classic, structured pieces, I’m frequently drawn to the clothing and accessories picked out for women in their 30’s and 40’s. This led me to realize, early on in my personal style evolution, that I was never going to be one of those girls who followed the trends, or what magazines suggested, to the letter. I was going to take a little of what I wanted from everything that inspired me.
And that, my dear readers, is what I recommend for you all.
When Laur, who I might add is a psychology graduate student, approached me with this question it was about more than simply fashion. Her question was based on how a person’s inner self is expressed by what they choose to wear, how that evolves over time and how that is an outward reflection of their personal development. As a long time fan of the punk/rocker uniform of skinny jeans, converse and cute T’s, she was surprised to find that more “traditional” clothing are appealing to her now as she approaches 30. While I’m not here to answer the “what does this all mean” side of this question, I can offer some tip, ideas and inspiration for entering into a new fashion realm of grown up clothes. This is a common transition for women in their 20’s 7 30’s, they’re leaving school, getting jobs, starting serious relationships… Lots of change, lots of maturing, and lots of room for growth & experimentation sartorially.
Stay in your comfort zone:
Going from Chucks & torn jeans to floral tea-length dresses in a week would probably cause most people to slip into shock. The key is to find a way to shift your style to a look with more classic undertones without losing yourself or being uncomfortable in your own clothes. Used to skinnies and tennis shoes? Try slim Capri pants with a t-shirt and ballet flats a la Jackie O. You’ll be sticking with a tried and true silhouette that you’re comfortable in and that suits your figure (Laur, for example, is slim & petite) but making it more chic and a little more grown up.
A good wardrobe takes YEARS to put together (unless you have access to a trust fund and are on a first name basis with designers of course) so don’t panic if you don’t have everything that you need or want right this instant. Start by added the basics in a “you” inspired style. A blazer, a button down, good black pants, jeans etc (see Real Girls Need Real Closets & Real Girls Need Real Closets – Accessories Edition). Another good way to update your look is to add stripes, the right striped piece or accessory can add a chic touch to an outfit without making you feel completely out of your element – which something like florals could.
Remember – Age is juuust a number:
Don’t panic at the thought of having to throw away your motorcycle boots or never rocking a mini again. While you should keep your age and audience in mind while you’re shopping, there’s also no need to panic about absolutes. Where there’s will, there’s a way!
Do you love the low-key, punk look that Avril Lavigne has made famous? Try upgrading to a more refined, menswear-inspired look. Le smoking Suits, button downs, slacks, smoking flats, loafers… These can keep you in relaxed, effortless looking clothing, but allow you to express yourself in a more mature way than you can with pink hair and high tops.
Look for inspiration in the right places:
If you’re concerned about looking like you’re trying too hard or worried your look is too “young” I would turn to the masters for inspiration. We are lucky that not all of popular and famous celebrities are teeny boppers. There are some truly talented women out there who are stunning examples of how to age well. They know how to take care of their bodies and how to dress in a stylish, modern way, without looking like they’re competing with the girls who play their daughters on the big screen. Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchet, Tilda Swinton, Annette Benning, Helen Mirren, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Marisa Tomei, Uma Thurman, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Sandra Bullock… The list goes on and on. I mean, remember Jamie Lee Curtis’s little black dress in True Lies? She was 100% woman and 100% sexy. So when you’re looking for fashion inspiration, look to these beautiful ladies, not the cast of 90210, and you’ll rarely be led astray.
I’m not here to give you rules, just some ideas for how to approach your transformation. Should you never show mid-thigh or cleavage after a specific age? Certainly not! Jennifer Lopez’s Versace at the Grammy’s was shocking and unexpected, but we’re still talking about it all these years later so it clearly made an impact. And that’s what I want to leave you with. You want to be memorable and fashionable, you don’t want to leave people wondering what was she thinking? So find your personal style, update it and go for the occasional high-impact, statement look. And when in doubt, mix in some more timeless pieces with your regular wardrobe for a modern mix. A tailored blazer with a sequined mini and tights or a conservative suit sans blouse with statement jewelry.
Keep it interesting, keep it chic.