Age-appropriateness and Trusting Your Gut

age appropriate dressing

I don’t believe in hard and fast rules when it comes to age-appropriateness. I’ve written about how I believe it’s up to each individual woman to assess her situation, preferences, and comfort levels and make her own determinations.

But I’ll tell you something I’m starting to puzzle out for myself: In many cases, if you look at something and feel like it might be age-inappropriate, it probably is. For you as an individual anyway. Those gut feelings bubble to the surface for a reason, and you should feel free to trust them if age-appropriate dressing is a priority for you. Arbitrary rules laid down by style experts and magazine writers only apply if they resonate with you, and the opinions of friends and peers are worth considering but they are never gospel. How you feel about what you do and don’t want to wear is important and valid at all times. Including times when you’re sussing out which styles feel right for you to wear at a specific age or stage of life.

Now, following your instincts and jettisoning items that feel wrong for age-related reasons doesn’t mean that you can never wear anything fun again! It just means that if fit-and-flare dresses suddenly feel too young (like this one, which has bold pattern, bright colored accents, a short hem, and pronounced pleats), you can consider seeking out a variation on the shape/look that feels more toned-down and sophisticated (like this one, which is solid colored, in a dusty shade, has a longer hem, and has the same nipped shaping minus the pleats). When you come across an item that makes you wonder about age-appropriateness, try to identify the traits or features of a particular item that read as young* (pleats, stripes, etc.) and set your sights on a variation that lacks those traits.

I remember very clearly the day I opened up a drawer, looked at my blazing pink tights and thought, “I think I’m too old for those now.” No one had made fun of me for wearing them, and I would never have said or thought, “Everyone over the age of X is tool old for blazing pink tights.” But I knew in my gut it was true for me. And I haven’t longed to wear them since.

Are you pondering the age-appropriateness of any items in your wardrobe? Care to share which ones and why you feel they’re toeing the line?

*Or old. Age-appropriateness can swing both ways.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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16 Responses to “Age-appropriateness and Trusting Your Gut”

  1. Gretchen

    I’m on the edge with blazers. They have to fit me in a very specific way or they just don’t look right. My husband agreed that they don’t look right on me and he said it’s because they make me look old. Boxy sweaters do the same thing to me. At 31 years old, I have a fear of looking like I’m dressing from the Juniors section which results in me dressing like I’m 50 (no offense to those to are 50!). I desparately need to figure out what is age appropriate!

    • loubeelou

      I’m 33 and totally right with you. I’ve definitely gotten some gentle teasing from friends about my style skewing a little “old” at times, especially with the blazers that have been compared to couch upholstery. I think Lucille Bluth (of Arrested Development) is a good bellweather for me. A super-classy dresser, but if I find myself thinking my outfit seems like something she’d wear, I do re-assess. Lol. I’m trying to think of who my bellweather on the young end would be. Hmm…

      • Gretchen

        I had to look up Lucille Bluth and then laughed out loud at the fear that I dress like that! My style icon is Duchess Katherine, but sometimes I miss the mark a bit.

      • Jennifer

        Zooey Deschanel? She’s 35 and wears tons of fit-and-flare dresses, short flare skirts, polka dots, bows, cardigans, etc. I’m 30 and I like her aesthetic, but I only choose one of the Zooey type items per outfit. Otherwise, I look like I’m trying to channel a 20-something sorority girl.

        I recently got rid of some screenprinted/beaded tees and long-sleeves that had European scenes or phrases. I still can’t figure out if they were too young- or old-looking. A few years ago, I got rid of star and heart print tops. I kind of miss wearing crazy prints, but I feel juvenile wearing most of them. I updated to animal print, stripes, some polka dots and florals, and abstracts.

        • loubeelou

          Yes! Spot on with Zooey. She totally pulls it off, but in real life, she’s one to perhaps draw inspiration from but not outright copy.

  2. Suzanne Carillo

    I still adore my fit and flare dresses. I also have coloured tights but haven’t worn them in ages. I don’t want to get rid of them yet though. I find that as my style evolves I sometimes like to go back to things I never thought I’d wear again. I’ve learned to “never say never” when it comes to my fashion sense. My style zigs and zags all over the place depending on my weight, self confidence, mood and station in life. I cannot tell where it is going to go next. The only thing I hope is that I don’t become predictable and boring. That would be for me, a true sign of aging.


  3. Accidental Icon

    I have to say so much is dependent on how a woman’s body is aging and how she feels about it Someone who is small with some creative styling (like elbow length gloves) could do the fit and flare. I am with Suzanne on this issue. I think that if we are thinking this is not age appropriate, rather than is this something that I feel comfortable in, fits my mood and the place I am going, we have internalized oppressive stereotypes about age. There are things that i was very clear I would not wear when I was 20 because it just did not suit me. I bring the same attitude to clothing choice now. Thanks for getting us thinking about a very important issue!

    Accidental Icon

  4. RubyJoy

    Once when I was 31 I was wearing a plaid skirt and cardigan. A little girl came up to me with a confused expression and said “where do you go to school?” I said I didn’t, I was a grown-up and she said “then why are dressed like a girl?” (she thought it was a Catholic school uniform). Lol! Haven’t work that outfit since. I don’t like wearing flared dresses with higher waists, that always feels too young to me.

  5. what not

    I think it also depends on how you’re wearing a piece. I’m 34 and own some very young, trendy items like tight crop tops. I don’t wear them with floral leggings or high-waisted shorts like I see on 20-year-olds (or did a year or two ago, anyway), I layer them under tanks and slouchy tops so the layered straps are visible, which fits in with my arty-edgy-flowy-neutrals style. It might look a little young, but more than that it looks like me.

  6. Estherline

    I saw the CUTEST knit dress with cats (only on the skirt, is that better?) on it this past weekend, and I COVETED it. Did not buy. I told myself if I was an elementary school teacher, I could’ve gotten away with it (I’m 44).

  7. Amy Blankenship

    I’m in my 40’s and I can afford all the things. Due to karate, I feel better about my body than I ever have, so if I want to wear it, I wear it, age appropriate or not. While I aspire to look like Lana Parilla, my actual style tastes seem to be a little silly.

  8. Janet

    For some reason wearing jeans at work seems too young now. I am in a casual environment but I am unable to style it with a “comfort” shoe/boot to make the outfit look smart anymore. I used to wear more blazers and jackets too, but I think they need to be less structured, shorter or softer as I age.

  9. Lisa

    At 58, I only run into the realities of my midriff, and my upper arms, and think, “Hmm, do I want to share those?” Otherwise, I let myself choose as I will.

  10. Emmy

    Closing in on my 50s, I recently decided to stop wearing tights, even my opaque black ones. I still have the legs to pull off tights worn a relatively short skirt or dress, but I feel like a student again when I see myself in the mirror. I also discovered a much more modern alternative to tights + skirt/dress: leggings and a tunic. I find that leggings in general are way more versatile than tights, as they can be worn in any kind of weather.

  11. Wendy Bird

    I’m sad that you felt you had to give up those pink tights because you thought they were too young for you. I don’t see colors as having expiration dates. Our personal style evolves and that’s natural and right, but I can’t think of a garment or color I would give up solely because I’ve turned 61. Yes, my upper arms are not as pretty as they were twenty years ago but I’m not giving up sleeveless shirts in summer because of it. Everyone is different. I haven’t worn shorts or short skirts for years because the broken capillaries on my legs make me feel self-conscious. I’ll wear tights when it’s not too hot for them forever for the same reason. But I wouldn’t wear leggings as pants at any age, unless they were under a dress or very long tunic. I feel the same way about skinny jeans.