Age is But a Number

Age is but a number.

Really people, it is. It’s not a euphemism that allows adults to wear Care Bear shirts and skip across the parking lot to Starbucks, but it isn’t a steadfast bar where you have to adjust your life to fit it.

I spent my lunch in Borders, pouring over fashion magazines while enjoying an iced coffee. Bazaar (which ya’ll know is one of my very favorite fashion magazines) had an article about Diane von Furstenberg (who is one of my very favorite designers).

Diane von Furstenberg is 60, beautiful, sexy and confident. She shows skin, wears her hair long, attends interviews with a face free of makeup and wears garments many would say should be reserved for her younger clients.

All of this, yet the woman exudes amazing style, confidence and class. Why? She isn’t adhering to a number, but to her self. She knows what works and what doesn’t by having a good relationship with her body and her mind. She doesn’t feel that since she hit a certain age bracket she now needs to dress in Chanel suits and sensible heels. Look at the pictures above - that is not "typical" attire for a woman in her 60s yet on von Furstenberg, it is perfect and stylish.

My friend is 29 and used to be a manager of a Talbots store. She was always amazed at the type of people who bought the different styles of clothing the company carried. It was as though once a woman hit 40, she felt as though she must own a pair of cropped capris with embroidered palm trees all over them. Pink polo shirts, quirky capris and uber-comfortable conservative slides and sandals seemed to be the expected uniform of that age, especially if she had children. She would suggest alternatives that seemed to fit the person’s figure and personality better – soft knits, shirtdresses, stronger colors but they usually refused, saying they were too old for anything but the standard conservative prep uniform.

Now for some, this look is cute and appropriate. However for most, it is stupid and well… corny. It’s the same with the over-50 set who feels she is now expected to dress completely in the Chico’s Travelers collection. The closet is full of slinky black pieces that drape all over, pulled together with an artistic and bold necklace or hip belt. Again, fabulous look on some, but totally wrong on many.

When my mom was growing up, she remembered very specific styles that every female HAD to have in her closet. A charcoal piped blazer, a circle skirt, a pencil skirt, a tucked in white blouse. All pieces that looked horrific on her petite curvy frame. Luckily, style is not so rigid anymore, and one can truly walk a mall (or surf the internet) and find pieces that fit one’s personal style AND figure.

Age-appropriate dressing usually has to do with how much skin you are exposing. The thing is, a 55-year old woman who is a marathon runner and yoga enthusiast can better carry off a little silk sundress and strappy heels than a 21-year old woman who has a few more curves. A curvy woman in her 20s often has firmer arms and décolletage than a woman in her 40s, and then can more easily carry off a strapless top with a plunging neckline. So it’s not as much about how much skin you are showing, but what type of skin you are showing.

In my 20s, I was less concerned with my torso showing and often wore tops that hit right at the waistband. However I was less comfortable with my upper body and chose short sleeves over straps and wore higher necklines so not to expose any cleavage. I wore looser pants feeling that my bum was too round, and never wore skirts for thinking my legs were too thick. Now in my 30s, I wear lower necklines to elongate my body and accentuate my curves; I love skirts and dresses because they show off my feminine shape and find that slimmer fitting jeans make me look smaller and taller. It’s not about changing my wardrobe because I hit a new decade in my life, but changing my wardrobe according to my relationship with my current body, my lifestyle, my career.

There are some style I am drawn to but choose not to wear because of my lifestyle and profession more than my age (gosh if I was independently wealthy I think I may get a Mohawk and re-pierce my nose) but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be worn by anyone. I have a former coworker who is in her 40s. She loves working out and has a great toned body, a short spiky black hairdo, wears a lot of eyeliner, sports a few tattoos and looks amazing in jeans and a ribbed tank. Because of her personality and her lifestyle (musician and makeup artist) it doesn’t look foolish, it doesn’t look as though she is attempting to be younger, she seems comfortable in her skin and expressing her personality. I have an old college friend who is the opposite. She is 30 years old, wears very conservative and subtle attire. She looks at home in knee-length tweed skirts, cashmere turtlenecks, conservative suits and clothes often associated with a teacher or librarian. She is never without her pearls or her classic style of Coach purse and always looks confident, feminine and chic. She works in a conservative field and even in college when we attended frat parties, she arrived in crisp khakis, a button-down shirt and loafers. No one mocked her because this is what made her… well her!

One can be in beautiful clothing yet still not be considered well dressed. One can dress appropriately for her age group, but still look inappropriate. The only way to truly achieve style is to know yourself. A good way is by answering the questions below, then reading them aloud. You may be surprised by your answers…

Who is your favorite artist?
Why?
Who is your favorite musician?

Why?

Looking at all the colors in a box of Crayola crayons, what color are you drawn to?

Why?

What wardrobe item from your past do you remember most fondly?
Why?
What female celebrity’s style do you admire most?

Why?
Where would you go for a dream vacation?
Why?

What color did you want to paint your childhood bedroom?
Your first residence when you moved out on your own?
What is your favorite movie or play?

Why?

If you had a free weekend, what would you do with it?

When you are in a meeting or seminar, do you ever doodle or write during the lecture?

If so, what?

What is your favorite holiday?

Why?

What is your favorite food?

What are the five most important things in your life (things being actual things, people, beliefs, anything)?

What item in your current wardrobe makes you feel:

Beautiful?

Fun?

Powerful?

Feminine?

Boring?

Uncomfortable?

You and your best friend could answer these questions and both have completely different answers. Your favorite shopping buddy, the one you always borrow clothes from will most likely have different answers from you. This is why though you may have similar frames and similar tastes, a dress will look great on her but not quite right on you. This is why a dress can seem slutty on one woman, and seem chic on another, even though they are the same age and size.

Take your answers and make them into a paragraph, a short story about you and only you. This is who you are, not who you are trying to portray, who you attempt to be at work, what your social groups expect from you.

Think about a woman you know who you think has great style. Why? Is it just because she accessorizes well, or is it what she accessorizes with? Is it the clothing, or the combination of clothing and her shape and personality? Often times, we are attracted to those who have style that is flattering to their figure, but also their personality. We admire the woman at church who always seems so feminine and pulled together. She wears soft colors and fabrics that match her sweet and gentle demeanor. We admire our hairdresser who wears combat boots, a vintage dress and a blue streak in her hair, yet walks down the street as though she is Grace Kelly. We notice the corporate powerhouse at the intersection on her Blackberry. Her perfect blonde highlights, the expertly tailored gray pantsuit accented by amazing snakeskin heels. Her whole demeanor exudes confidence and strength. Imagine what they would write in their short story, and think how your appearance is assisting you with your story.

Yes, one should respect social norms – don’t attend a wedding in a strapless bright red leather mini dress, don’t attend a cocktail party in cargo shorts, don’t go to a client meeting in flip flops and yoga pants. Also respect your personal beliefs – if you feel that as a woman you should and should not wear certain things, then by of course adhere to that – this is what makes up your personal story. But outside of that, respecting your figure, your lifestyle, your personality… those are the rules to having great style. Just ask Diane von Furstenberg!

Alison Gary is the author of Wardrobe Oxygen and Me & Emerson Elaine.

Recent Posts by wardrobe-oxygen

Comments

In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.