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Apr 1, 2010

"Age Appropriate" Dressing

I made a kind of off-handed joke last Sunday about the saying that goes, "if you were old enough to wear it the first time around, you're too old to wear it the second time around."  (I think this originally applied to mini skirts.)

Yesterday, a few of you pointed out that my 1941 dress pattern was a rather matronly design.  While I recognize it's not particularly youthful, it doesn't exactly scream dowager either.

Then I read an article Gertie linked to recently, about prom dresses too mature for the teens who (want to) wear them.

Do most of us still make distinctions like these today?  I happen to think that -- at least here in America -- we do not, or not so much.  We seem to be living in a sort of "anything goes" period style-wise, where sixty-year-olds routinely dress like teenagers and teenagers routinely dress like streetwalkers.  Personally, I do not have a problem with this -- but then again, I'm not a parent.

Clothing choices are obviously complicated and their meanings can be so subjective it's hard to make sense of them any longer.   Not that many years ago, the display of a woman's ankles was considered provocative.  Today, I think we've lost our ability to be shocked; we've seen it all -- literally.

While I'm of the "whatever floats your boat" persuasion, it does bother me that so many styles today seem to be derived from pornography (e.g., hooker-wear) and prison (e.g., sagger pants). 

It's not that I think there's anything intrinsically wrong with the garments themselves -- loose pants and short-shorts are literally meaningless -- but within the context of our society, I see them as indicators of a coarsened and degraded culture that openly romanticizes prostitution and violence.

I think most of us (we'll see if I'm right about this) are of the "if you still got it, go for it" school, i.e, if you can still pull off a look and you feel comfortable in it, that's all that matters -- or should matter.  We admire (or are told to admire) people like Cher, who in another era would have been put out to pasture or been relegated to Marie Dressler roles.  Good for her! we think (or do we?).  Too bad Cher is also the poster girl for plastic surgery.

There is something so refreshing about seeing an old (whatever we consider old today) person dressing in a way that looks unmistakeably adult.  It's an acknowledgment that we aren't always young and needn't try to look young.  We can look nice at any age.  (I don't like the word "attractive" because it suggests that we must always be thinking about attracting others.  At a certain point, enough already!)

The alternative to this -- while I may admire the commitment and discipline required -- exhausts me.

So I ask you, readers:  Does "age appropriate" mean anything anymore?  Are there things you won't wear, not because they don't fit well, but rather because they look either too youthful or too mature?   If so, upon what do you base your decision: a family member's judgement, a book on style, or just your own sense of what looks right to you?

Do you think this applies to men too or just to women?

Are we better off in this "freer" time or rather under more pressure to maintain the illusion of youth longer?

Dig in!


  1. I recently wore a polka dot dress to work, and a colleague said "You look really cute." Aaargh! I'll never wear it again. At 57, I am *over* looking cute.

  2. There are a few things that I personally wouldn't wear now, but I've no objection to what other adults choose to dress in. Where would the fun be if there were no more oh my giddy aunt, did you see that??? situations walking down the street?

  3. Excellent post! I think that women in particular are guilty of youth chasing - and why is this? To some extent, older women are invisible in our society. I recently turned 30, and I got a lot of really unwelcome commentary about how unhappy I must be (for the record: I'm not.) Do you read the "Advanced Style" blog? I love it!

    I don't think age appropriateness means much anymore, and I'm not sure it should... you should dress in a way that makes you happy. However, I would really like to see some idea of class come back - I aim to be a classy dresser (um, and I hope a classy person, but that's a work in progress,) and honestly I sometimes feel all alone in that.

    I liked that 1940s dress you posted - I do like to raise the hemline just a bit on those, but it's all in the fabric selection I think.

  4. I read a really interesting comment about dressing for "older" women -- I am thinking a designer said this, but I can't remember her name -- and she said there wasn't anything taboo for older women; but that young women can get away with really atrocious and/or unflattering clothes just because they're young. (Sort of like how Heidi Klum still looks good no matter what on earth she wears.) And that older women sometimes forget that these unflattering looks can still look good on young women because of their age, and then they wear them and well, don't look so good. Other than that, she thought women should wear whatever they like. I thought it was a really good way of putting it.

    Also, I just have to say that the trend that I hate the most, for the record, is pajamas as clothing. And I'm not talking about Michael wearing those lounge pants out, I mean, being at the bank behind a woman wearing pink flannel pajama pants with little puppies on them.

  5. I think we generally know what suits us, what fits us well, what feels right and what is 'age-appropriate' wear. For me, I don't feel comfortable in plunging tops and short skirts, which at a younger ago, could/would have been fine. I don't think there should be a line drawn that says: "Now you've hit 40 you can no longer wear sleeveless tops, slits in your skirt, a short skirt or skinny leg jeans". How we feel in clothes is so personal and I think being guided by style books is okay, provided we aren't slavish to them and sometimes a good friend can help by being truly honest about how we look.
    You do see some women who try to look like the sister of their daughters, by wearing the same type make-up, same hair style and same clothes. Somehow it just doesn't look right, to me. There is massive pressure from advertising, the fashion industry and so on to look young and that to stay looking young for as long as possible is womens personal goal. Somehow the women who wants to age gracefully is pushed to the side and is lost in all this. How many women have you seen that don't colour/dye their hair?
    There are a lot of things I would no longer desire to wear, as being age-inappropriate for me ... lol. Also, your childhood upbringing can have an affect on what you choose or don't choose to wear.
    For me, thigh-high leather boots, really short skirts, tops with lots of ruffles, skinny leg jeans and skin tight lycra/jersey knit dresses/tops worn as dresses are things I would choose not to wear at my age now. That said, I do think that small elements of styles we wouldn't wear could be incorporated into something we do wear.
    Trends I don't like are low-waisted jeans made for the thin teenage girl's body that should never be worn by middle-aged women! They just don't fit properly, they are made for a teenage girl's body shape not a mature woman's body. I see it a lot at the shopping centre near to where I live. And ugg boots worn as footwear, they should be worn at home, inside only.

  6. There are certain things that I no longer wear at 32 and the reason I don't wear them is because I would feel ridiculous if something had, for example, Hello Kitty on it. It also seems kind of pathetic to me when older women, women my mother’s age, try to look like teenagers. It's sad really, that they can't seem to move on. My mom always says "There is a time and a place for everything" and I try to live by this motto. I don't see anything wrong with dressing stylishly, but to do anything to draw attention to ones self, I don't understand it. I much rather be subtly chic than glaringly trendy, though this is certainly a matter of taste. I just wouldn't feel comfortable if I had the feeling people were thinking OMG! What is she wearing? My Great Grandmother used to say that when the body is no longer beautiful and flattering, at least the clothing you wear should be. However I'm pretty sure she didn't mean a micro mini on a 60 year old.

  7. I just saw an older woman on the train dressed up as a school girl + black heeled boots. I don't think she was actually intending to look like a stripper. I think she just didn't realize she could pull that off at her age.

    Just as you stop wearing onesies when you become a toddler, you stop wearing mini skirts after a certain age, especially if it's a pleated plaid one.

    It seems strange that "sexy" or "beautiful" is often limited to styles for younger women. There are so many ways to be 30, 40, 50 years old or even older and still be stylish. Sure it may be different from what a twenty-something would wear, but that's it. It's just different, not bad or better.

  8. Just on the subject of the baggy jeans, I don't think it's entirely meaningless - there's a strong theory that it began in prison, where prisoners had belts withheld, causing their trousers (pants?) to sag... so it's a reflection of prison culture. Is that a bit worrying, that young men (I haven't seen many women doing it...) emulate those in prison? I can't make my mind up....

  9. Another really thoughtful post, Peter. Your points about how certain styles romanticize very troubling aspects of human societies/human nature (porn, prison) are well-taken. Like nearly all vintage lovers, I am always struck by just how nice people uniformly look in old photos. That's what inspires me.

  10. With the saggy-baggy pants, I think there is a middle man that isn't mentioned. My students don't dress that way to emulate prison, but they do emulate rappers (middle man), who may possibly be emulating the "thug life". For the girls, I think it's an age old issue of wanting to be beautiful, wanting to get boys to look at them, so they wear revealing clothing. Where the parents are that buy this stuff or let them leave the house this way, I do not know...

  11. I don't wear pants. I don't like the way my behind looks in them. I stopped wearing skirts/dresses that show my knees. My knees just don't look good. I am nice and healthy yet people are always surprised that I am as fashionable as I am. It is because I know what is appropriate and what flatters me. If you know that, you will always be stylish.

  12. A fashion journalist here once said "If you wonder at all that your outfit looks probably does". I enjoy being able to look like a grownup, stylish or casual or whatever the situation or mood dictates. Grownup doesn't have to mean Chanel style suits either, just dressing with a bit of care.
    My pet hate is fortyish women still holding on to their favourite teenage look (eg bangs and leather)and thinking they look good when they absolutely don't. They may still have the body for it but don't realise how incongruous it all gets.
    Another fashion writer here suggests that a bit of 'trendy' can be age appropriate if the rest of the outfit stays classic.
    I guess it's all in how it is done.

  13. The british call it "mutton dressed as lamb", which is a nice way to put it. I have an acquaintance - over fifty - who wears unbelievably innappropritate clothing. Dresses that look like T-shirts, short shorts, lacy fishnet type hose. She still has a good body, she takes care of herself, she is divorced and looking for male attention - which she gets. Apparently she is clueless, or if she has friends who have suggested she dresses too young, she has chosen to dismiss their comments as jealousy and ignore them. She would look so much better if she dressed sexy, but age appropriate.
    What you wear is a statement about who you are that people will see and understand, even if you never meet them or open your mouth. Like a policemen in a uniform, or the CEO of a company in expensive suits, or custom made shoes. Young people dismiss this, and say "you shouldn't judge anyone on what they wear". Because they are young and naive, that kind of thinking is cute, but like my friend the mutton - at some point you have to realize that is just the way it is. If you dress like a gangster, it is illogical to get upset if people treat you like a gangster. You've made the statement about who you are by what you are wearing.

  14. Peter, my chief question as I look around me on the street and in the mall is "When did they stop putting mirrors in dressing rooms?" As far as I am concerned, anything goes as long as it FITS!. And people have asked me, how can I tell if it fits? Which, of course, brings me to why I sew, besides the pleasure of it. I once saw a "dress code" in a corporation that said "Please consider your age, size and position and dress appropriately." Makes sense to me. My pet peeve is thong sandals in the workplace. I really don't want to see your toes. -- San Antonio Sue

  15. I cannot understand the clothes today in the stores. That is why I prefer to sew when I can. Having an 8 year old girl I am loathe to dress her as a hooker or a groupie as some of the clothes are. Even those that are "appropriate" are awful in quality and color combinations, screen prints, etc. So I buy basics (t-shirts, jeans) and make her the cute tops myself in more appropriate styles, prints, etc. I also make her Sunday dresses, usually simple styles out of seersucker for summer and jumpers for winter. With being over 40, I, too, cannot wear most of what I see in stores, either too tight or just plain ugly. I stick to buying basics for me and also make the knit tops for myself. Some one said it nicely above about there being no cut-off age, just dressing "nicely" even if it is simple or basic. I wear alot of jeans, capris, knit tops, face it, I am a stay at home mom of 4, and have a 2 year old and a handicapped 6 year old to wrestle with plus the other two. My life needs to be simple... :)

  16. Dressing age appropriate is a huge concern for me because I am so short. People assume I am a teenager, and I am 33. I used to be a high school teacher, and I had to really think about what I wore to be taken seriously by the students. Every other Friday was casual Friday, and staff were allowed to wear jeans. I never, ever took advantage of that, because at my size, my only options for jeans that fit were the teenage low rise styles. I did not want my 15 year old students seeing me in those because I figured it would slowly erode my authority. As long as I tried to dress like an adult, I could convey to them that I was not one of them, even if I was the same size as them (well, technically smaller).

    I used to wear a lot of plaid pleated skirts. I preferred them because they were sort of retro; and I typically wore them knee length so that they weren't too stripper-like. The problem with those was that they made me look really young.

    After I started sewing my own stuff, I started trying to put together outfits that make me look like an adult, and it really does a lot for my image and self esteem.

  17. I have looked occasionally at Advanced Style - - but admit that some of the looks seem costumey or a little over the top to me. (But that's probably because I live in the Midwest, honestly.)

    Style is such a personal issue - but when you wear something that makes you feel good (because it fits well, the color complements the skin tone, the fabric feels good against the skin), you straighten up and glow a little more, your charisma radiates, you're confident and maybe a little bit happier. It almost doesn't matter what it is being worn, although (as a traditionalist), I have preferences about how much skin is too much, etc.

  18. I believe in some age appropriate wear. I see 'toddler beauty paegents' wear the parent has put so much makeup on the child she looks like a very short 20year old. That is very inappropriate. Depending on the child, and family, teen agers can start wearing makeup and look appropriate. Hooker wear on young children is inappropriate in my eyes. I can only see it and think of all the pedifiles.

    Other than that, it is more important to dress apropriate to the situation, rather than the age. You may not look as good as you think in it, but it is a free country. As long as you are not showing any parts of the body the law says should not be shown (for their may be children present) go ahead. Express yourself.
    If you wear mini's to work, or church, or possibly your parents or grandparents house (depending on how they react) that may be inappropriate. It is a matter of respect, for the situation or the people.

    I love your blog (I tried to post this before, but computer messed up, so if it is a duplicate, I appologize)

  19. Great comments, everybody!

    I often ask myself, when I see someone who looks like they're dressing too "young" -- What button does it push in me? Why do I care?

    I want role models of graceful aging (we are all aging, after all) rather than what looks like a desperate attempt to hold back the passage of time, as if there were something shameful about looking like an old person. I think if we venerated the old more -- as many other cultures do -- there'd be less anxiety about looking (and therefore dressing) in a way that doesn't seek to simulate youth.

  20. In the gay male community this is a big issue. I think there's tremendous fear of being left behind, feeling invisible or unwanted, if you're no longer what passes for sexually desireable by mainstream culture. If we've been taught that looks are what counts, it's understandable that we'd be afraid of losing this source of power.

  21. Great post Peter and timely for me as well.
    Tuesday evening I went to my 1st grade grandson's Spring Program. The 1, 2 & 3 graders performed.
    Most of the dresses worn by the girls were adorable and age appropriate, but a few of them bugged me. A few of them were maybe appropriate for a junior high girl, but were worn by girls way too young for that look. Also, I noticed that most of the 3rd grade girls wore heels. Not stiletto's, but shoes with a definite heels, maybe 1" to 1-1/2". That really annoyed me.
    For myself, I'm 57 and really don't want to appear to try to dress like a 21 year old and I don't, but sometimes the line between trying too hard to look young and looking matronly is a thin one. Neither look is a good one.

  22. Peter - it's not just in the gay male community. In America, youth appears to be all that there IS, which is really sort of interesting when you consider who actually has the most money to spent on stuff, etc. But part of this now, I feel, is the 'boomer generation' issue: The number of people who cling to whatever they wore, however they looked when they were 22 is amazing to me. I agree that people in their 50s and 60s looked far older than people in that same age group today. A lot of that is sheer health care and the fact that the people we knew when we were young who were 50-60 were people who'd gone through the Great Depression and had grown up in many cases with very poor nutrition and no medical care. So, they looked OLD when we knew them. But that generation of people had a theme - 'Hope I die before I get old,' and have pursued youth ever since. But it's time for people to get un-stuck; it really is a lot more interesting and fun to be 55 than it is to be 25, at least for me.

  23. I hope that by the time I am old (by my own label, of course) that I have learned what is appropriate for me (and not for anyone else). That I know my body and what looks good on it and what I feel good in. The classy people, of any age, know these things.
    On a similar note I was walking to the bus yesterday and thinking how horrible it is that most people dress for fashion trends instead of what looks good on them. All the vintage 40's and 50's books and video clips stress flattering your own figure. I think we have lost some of that today because everyone is trying to be too trendy or is too conscious of the number inside their clothes (that no one can see) instead of what fits properly and what flatters the figure they have. When you do that I think you look good no matter what.

  24. To my mind, "dressing appropriately" isn't so much about age as it is about being tasteful. All people, of any age, can dress in clothes that flatter their bodies, make them look "put together" and have some sophistication (which doesn't necessarily mean lacking in humor or whimsy or surprise, either). Most people I see of all ages (around here at least) seem to fall into two general categories of style: sex worker and frump. (I personally think this is because if you choose to not go for the sex worker look, you're left with little in the way of RTW clothing choices from department stores and also little in the way of fit choice... hence, the frump. I also think that many women who don't want to go with the sex worker look feel perhaps there's no other choice then but to give up and just wear whatever comes to hand.)

    There are some very notable exceptions of course, especially among the very wealthy women my mother hangs out with, who wear elegant, fun, non-nipple-or-butt-crack-showing clothes and they always look fabulous. But they're also very very rich and can afford to be discriminating about what they purchase.

    I think the whole eight-year-olds dressed like hookers thing is pretty horrifying (a VERY common look here). Apparently people are pretty happy to have their eight-year-olds look like they're interested in sex. This is a concept I don't get. At all.

  25. This is a great post and I was one who commented that the pattern envelope seemed intentionally styled to appear a bit on the matronly side--I didn't mean that as a dig, only in relation to you asking "is this pattern VINTAGE or OLD?"

    And clothing styles are tangled up in so much more than personal expression or fit or age-appropriateness! They also signify allegiances/belonging to a variety of subcultures, social groups, ethnic groups... they can be tied up with class... (um, yes, I majored in social anthropology)...

    Oh, and baggy pants are certainly not necessarily prison-inspired--though they may appear that way to some--they've been around for a long time now and are more just an urban hip-hop style, I'd say.

    As for age, I hate all those magazine articles that say "20 year olds should wear this, 30 year olds should wear that, 40 year olds should, 50 year olds should..." ... And yet, as I am about to turn 30, I definitely find myself sometimes looking at some styles I might have worn in my teens and earlier twenties (midriff-baring shirts?) and thinking "oh, that's too young/cute for me"!

    But of course I believe that anyone can be stylish at any age, and shouldn't feel they have to rock the designated "matronly" look once they hit a certain year. My mother is in her late 50s and is way more stylish/funky/put together than most 20-something Brooklynite hipsters, and she doesn't look like she's trying to look a different age either--she just is great with playing with color/style/cut/fit/pattern and mixing things from a variety of stores aimed at a variety of demographics.

  26. Age appropriate absolutely does mean something but to a dwindling minority it seems. And yes men and women.

    Just because you can, does not mean you should:

    I find something highly undignified about an older woman dressed like a teenager or tween. She looks out of touch, desperate or just plain stupid. The cliche is mutton dressed as a lamb. Add the "cougar" stereotype (which I detest) and she may be classed as a sexual predator of sorts as well.

    Yes, I am nearly 50 and yes I am a RTW size 2. Thanks to genetics, people think I am a lot younger than I am so technically I could "get away" with a lot. However, I would much rather people look at me and assume intelligence, class and competence than what I previously described.

    I also work with women my age (and older) on the other end of the spectrum. Heavy into very, very dowdy pants outfits and hacked off short hair that screams "I have given up". Matronly is complimenting some of them highly.

    They also serve as good example of what not to wear.

    (To the little old grandpa with the popped polo shirt collar at Trader Joe's: FAIL.)

  27. Yesterday, in a restaurant, I spotted the following ensembles: scrubs, pajamas, classic trucker, landscaper, strip pole dancer, female "I give up" (sweats, short hair, slippers on feet) and male "I give up" (identical to female).

    And every ten years, ladies, try changing your hair style. And what is wrong with going naturally grey. Bottle blonde only makes you look older.

  28. Thank goodness I can sew my own clothes! What they have in the stores is horrific -- cheap and garish. I agree with what an anonymous poster above said: Dress should be appropriate for the occasion rather than the age. But I do think some older women (I'm 49) dress way too young. Right now, I'm having a hard time resisting a lot of the patterns/fabrics I am drawn to because, frankly, they are too cute for someone my age. It saddens me a bit, but I had my day. In the 80s, I had FANTASTIC clothes -- Vogue's designer patterns were really great back then. >sigh<

    It's a balancing act, for sure. Whenever I put something on and think, "Wow, this looks pretty good!" I just have to stop and think what it is about it that stands above other things I own and then strive for that look. But sometimes it's not easy, I admit.

    My pet peeves? I don't think there is enough room on the internet for that! Ugg boots, pajama-style pants worn in public, visible underwear, baby-doll tops on women who have adult children, cropped pants (on anyone). But my number one would have to be low-waisted dress slacks with dress shirts tucked in. I think that looks REALLY strange and is not attractive to me at all. Don't tuck in your shirt, man!

    This is an excellent post. I'm loving the comments!

  29. I remember a 40s vintage Vogue evening gown pattern featured on a blog which divided opinions between those who found it chic and others who thought it 'matronly'. As it's a pattern I'd recently acquired and really liked, I was put out by the idea that it might be anything other than drop dead sophisticated. After the initial huff, I had to bring myself to accept that, actually I'm 40 and matronly is probably age appropriate...

    I haven't yet been tempted to make it though. Maybe when I'm 50...

  30. What a lively topic today! Whenever I think of the ultimate of "age appropriate" and "style" I think of Helen Mirren. I want to look like that when I am her age! I think that she captures class, beauty and sexuality at 65. Granted, we all don't have stylists and designers throwing gowns at us, but she would be my ideal.

    I think people just don't want to take the time anymore. Why, when they can just go to the store in whatever they want. Bathing suit and t-shirt? Sure! Pajamas? Why not! We've all seen it and since I work around food (specialty grocery store), I see this a lot. Too much, actually. It is shocking what some people will shop in. I don't believe that we should tell someone what they should or should not wear, but seriously, some people out there seem to have no clue. How did we get to this point? Is it a lack of self-respect or the opposite, that we feel entitled to do/say/wear anything we want? Or am I digging too deep?

  31. Very interesting post!
    And I agree, if you're old enough to remember it - you're too old to wear it!

    I think age appropriate clothing is important for both men and women.

    My 48 year old brother has a new 48 year old girlfriend. She's in great shape and very attractive. However, she showed up to visit my mother in the hospital in a short, low cut V neck jersey dress more appropriate for her 21 year old daughter. It wasn't age appropriate and I thought she looked ridiculous! She dresses my brother in trendy jeans and I think he looks ridiculous also.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to look fashionable.
    Trying to dress half your age is always a mistake.

  32. I guess the question is, who determines whether someone is dressing half their age (i.e., in a not-age-appropriate way) or not?

  33. Apparently dressing age-appropriately is like aggressive driving; everyone recognizes it and frowns on it some other person - not themselves.
    Would a friend listen to you if you had the courage to tell him (or her) that they could look so much better if they just wore something fit, or wasn't so low cut, or so old? I doubt many people would take the chance with their friendships, and they don't care enough about their acquaintances to mention it.

  34. Very interesting topic, Peter. I do think there is such a thing as age appropriate dressing, and most of us know it when we see it. Unlike Mikhaela, I think magazine articles that suggest what you wear in different "decades" of your life are useful if you use them as suggestions. I find that the older I get (I'm 50), the clothes that make me look classic and sophisticated vs. too trendy or too matronly are expensive. The trendy/matronly mass produced stuff is cheap. Which is why I've returned to the world of garment sewing.

  35. I'm a woman of, ahem, a "certain age" who wants to dress age appropriately, yet look stylish. The fact that I haven't determined "my style" yet is unimportant. However, examples of stylish, mature dressing, such as the wonderful picture at the beginning of your post today, are rare. For example, I live a casual lifestyle since I'm retired, so I rarely wear heels--I usually wear flats. However, finding a pair of plain, non-teenager flats without buckles, zippers or flowers on the toes that scream teenager or young woman is difficult.

    Where, oh where, did that woman find her clothes? Never mind. Obviously she shops at Neiman Marcus or some such place, which most of us can't afford to do. So the mature among us are left to wear either inappropriately young clothing or frumpy, great-grandmotherly (I won't say grandmotherly, since I am one.)clothes.

    I think this is a female problem, since clothing that is suitable for all but the youngest men/boys are readily available to mature men. When you're fifty it's pretty easy to avoid the ripped jeans and pants that hang around the butt.

    I use as a guide my own hunches about what looks appropriate. I start squirming when something I'm wearing feels too gaudy, too young or too frumpy. However, I have a tendency to err on the side of frumpy, I'm afraid.

    I don't think we're in a "freer" time. I think we're under more pressure than ever to maintain an artificially young appearance. Witness Joan River's face, the plethora of plastic surgeons hawking various procedures and the dentists' aversion to referring to plain ol' dental care, but instead purporting to be all about "smiles"--young smiles, that is.

  36. I may be the wrong person to ask because one of my sewing obsessions is making age-appropriate clothing for my almost two-year-old niece. My brother, mom, and sister-in-law are in agreement with me--the baby needs to look like a baby, not a streetwalker. So I sew classic, timeless styles of clothing for her that some might say are vintage inspired. Most of the time, she wears jeans and t-shirts, but a big chunk of her dresses and such are things I've made for her. (Not at the moment, though... she's grown out of the last batch, and I'm working on sewing a mini spring/summer wardrobe. (I'm currently working on the pinafore for her Easter dress now.)

    For myself, it's also not a matter of age appropriateness, but a matter of modesty and comfort. Though, at times, I'm strongly tempted to turn people into What Not To Wear.

  37. Why do you associate baggy pants with prisons? Actual prison garb seems to be jumpsuits, which render baggy pants moot.

  38. Peter said...I guess the question is, who determines whether someone is dressing half their age (i.e., in a not-age-appropriate way) or not?

    Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, ultimately the individual decides whether they're dressing appropriately for their age.

    What I deem as an appropriate outfit for someone my age, may seem a little conservative to someone else my age with different taste (or a lack there of).

    It's all a matter of personal opinion.

    With clothing brands that are clearly geared towards a specific age demographic, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, I think it's easier to argue whether or not the clothing is age appropriate or not - because the brand has put a face to it's target audience.

  39. Great post, Peter. I share your concerns about hooker and prison-inspired fashion.... I'm a parent, but I felt the same way before that.

    I think there's good design and bad design, and that includes designing a sense of style of one's own. Body type, personality type, colouring... ummmm... ergonomics....all have to be considered. If these are right, I think age-appropriateness will fall into place.

    I think some older people are good designers of their own personal style and others seem to have missed a few stages in the design process... I just hope that I'm one of the oldies who get it right!!?

  40. Baggy Pants - hate them. It's gang wear, handy for hiding what not. So Peter is right, it's an emulation of popularized violence, or, worn by gang members. So, I live near an upscale area and saw this student at a convenince store one late night in all his baggy gear dragging on the ground - belted below his butt cheeks. You could see everything, shorts, cleavage the works - ackk. I literally had to go to the end of the line to forestall the urge to pull those things down. Come on, these guys have to walk around holding their pants up they're so vast. It's gone past a fashion statement to a safety hazard and possible health code violation.

    On the other stuff? Mutton as lamb? - not in the street where it will scare the horses. I had some crazy club wear back in the day but there it stays, back in the day, back in the club, where it belongs. We have all raised our eyebrows, cleared our throats or worse regarding the wardrobe choices of others. There but for the grace of God go I - or if I do, let me be firmly seated in dementia.

  41. Just to clarify: baggy pants have been around for eons, SAGGY jeans, i.e., jeans falling so low that one's backside is revealed, comes from prison-culture (or so I've read) where one is not allowed to wear a belt. I'm not sure what they're wearing in prison these days, to be honest.

    The top picture is the late Brooke Astor, so I'm pretty sure those clothes are custom-made. They're certainly not from Macy's.

    The other older women are actresses Patricia Neal and Arlene Dahl. The blonde is Mamie van Doren, still "working it" today, at nearly 78 -- va va voom!

  42. This is a question I ask myself frequently. At 56 years old I am fortunate to weigh the same as I did in my 20s. I do have to catch myself sometimes I forget that maybe there are just some things I shouldn't do. Like I am debating whether I really should still wear a bikini anywhere besides my back deck.

  43. Please give a reference for low pants and prison culture. I've seen the no-belt theory twice in the comments but am unable to dig up any references by searching. I have to admit, this stereotype is really bothering me. I really believe it stems from fear of black men. Please see this post for more context.

  44. Hi, Monica. I Googled "sagger pants prison" and found many references to this. Here's one:

    Where I live I see it on kids -- and adults! -- of many different racial and ethnic groups. I think most people picked it up from hip hop videos.

  45. Skip the age part--how about appropriateness in general? We were at Sam's yesterday, and I kid you not, we saw a woman dressed in a leopard print nightshirt and flip flops in the parking lot.

  46. Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the link. This post and the next one bring up a lot of things for me. First, I want to say that I love the humor and enthusiasm you bring to your sewing. It's really inspiring to a beginning sewist like me! However, having grown up in a conservative town, I feel certain that some of my old neighbors would view your cousin Cathy as "inappropriate" at best. I say, screw them! As long as something is worn with pride and makes the wearer happy, what's wrong with it? I think baggy/saggy pants and Paris Hilton outfits fall in this category, since they are deliberate choices to meet a certain aesthetic.

    If this isn't the case (Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears come to mind, as two women who are denigrated and demeaned over and over again for their clothing choices when there's clearly something more tragic going on), then pointing that out is kind of like pointing out a boil on a MRSA victim: cruelly unhelpful and missing the much larger problem.

    All this is a long-winded way of saying, there is way too much judgment based on personal appearance in this world, and I wish we would all be more understanding the next time someone's appearance triggers feelings of discomfort or contempt.

    Thanks again for writing such a great blog, and have a wonderful weekend.

  47. Great post indeed. My personal opinion: "age apropriate" dressing depends entirely on the person, not the clothes (with exceptions, some things really belong only to a certain period of one's life). What I mean is I have seen women wearing the same type of clothes, one of them looked great and the other ridicule. One was comfortable in her clothes, you could tell that was her personal style, she was not trying to draw attention, it looked natural. But the other one was following some trend, trying to look young and cool.
    If you are sincerely comfortable with what you are wearing, people can tell. We all know the feeling of being in a costume when wearing something we are not sure fits our style. So the same clothes can be age apropriate and inapropriate depending on the person wearing them.
    Found your blog through Burdastyle, and I like it!
    Isabel, pleased to meet you.

  48. I think the degeneration of appropriate dress comes from a general decline of public civic life. We all have a civic responsibility to dress in an appropriate and dignified way.

    The way we dress isn't just "all about me" but actually constitutes the culture of our families, our neighborhoods, our towns and cities. It makes up the civic backdrop of our community.

    Now, I don't want there to be a dress code or anything, I think freedom to wear what you want is a big and important political freedom, but along with freedom comes responsibility, in fashion no less than any other area of life.

    On a personal note, and I realize I'm probably in the minority here, I wish more people of all ages would wear sleeves. I think sleevelessness is reaching epidemic proportions among women at least, and I wish going sleeveless were relegated to weekend picnics, and other informal functions the beach, and playing certain sports, and formal events.

    Found you through Gertie, very thought-provoking.

  49. I think you the proverbial nail on the head whith this statement --

    "indicators of a coarsened and degraded culture that openly romanticizes prostitution and violence."

    And as another reader wrote, I find it disturbing. But also a strong indicator of the decline of our society. It shows a lack of self respect and respect for those around us.

    As I read a few other comments, I would LOVE to have the whole group over to sit around a table and discuss - it would be so interesting and while I know we could solve a lot of problems, convincing the rest of society to "drink the kool-aid" might be our biggest hurdle!!

    Peter - your interest in the Content or the Meaning of apparel - When I was in college, we had a course called "The Psycho-Socio Aspects of Clothing". It dealt with exactly what you have expressed an interest in. Just wish I still had the Syllabus for you! (and me to review)

    Thought you might like that $50 phrase! :)


  50. My first boyfriend had a phrase that has stuck with me --

    "There's no accounting for a lack of taste".

    Case in point, the e-mails that circulate with "the people of Wal-Mart" (or Hell Mart as it is not often enough referred to).

  51. I just found your blog and I love it. I am a twenty something and a huge advocate for dressing modestly. I feel like I am treated with the respect and class I deserve.

    My style tends to be more classic then mainstream for a reason. Not many stores sell clothes for people my age that are this style. Because of the media and openness of our culture (which arguably is pretty prudish compared to Europe) girls are told that slutty is more attractive then conservative. I loved your comments on that.

    Where's the mystery anymore? I will almost always go out of my way to cover up then show off, I don't want to fall into that category because that's not who I am. I really wish more girls would take a stand on covering their goods. Maybe then the boys would shape up and learn that ladies want a gentleman.

  52. Okay, well, here's the thing: Even in teenage years, kids and teens my age (16 going on 17), know what is appropriate and what isn't, but we still dress in a way that we are most comfortable. This could be in jeans and a t-shirt, shorts and a tank, or business attire-button-down and dress pants.

    For me, I don't go by what is "in", mostly because I can't afford to go out and buy a pair of leggings in every color, just like I did not go and buy a pair of UGG boots when they were considered fashionable.

    Today, I am most comfortable in a pair of jeans that hug me in my hips/butt, but are looser in my calves and are long enough to cover the top of my shoes. Depending on my mood, I usually like to wear generally business-like tops that button down. Cinch a belt around my waist and I'm done.

    However, I still like to be able to kick it at the movies or out to eat in a sweatshirt and jeans and flip-flops. :D

    As long as something looks good on the person wearing it, I don't think it matters weather the piece came from the 1970's or the 2000's. It only matters that that person is comfortable in their skin and in their clothing.

  53. Great post! Complicated subject. Yes, I do believe that age-aproppriate dress is important. But, I also wonder what happened to some people's sense of modesty.

  54. It is important to dress age appropriate. As a parent of an 8 and 6 year old I have stopped shopping a certain stores (Lululemon, Aritzia, American Eagle etc). I'm tired of buying clothes only to show up in the school yard and seeing the grade 7 & 8 girls wearing the same things! Now where these kids are getting the money for some of this stuff is beyond me. We look VERY different in the clothes, but I have to move on. I want to look stylish, be comfortable and elegant, which I am really struggling with. Most trips to the dreaded mall leave me empty handed. Most of stuff out there is not for me. I guess I better stop typing and start sewing.

  55. Very interesting comments. They emphasize what my take is on 'age-appropriate'. Basically, what you think is age appropriate has a lot to do with how you feel about yourself, and about aging. So anyone who dresses younger than you do is a slut, and anyone who dresses older is matronly. Kind of like the old adage 'too many cats is one more than you have'.

    To this I'd add that this has more to do with how young/old you see yourself than how old you are exactly. A 30 year old who feels over the hill is going to be judgmental about an older person who looks sexier than her, a 60 year old who feel good about herself is going to be appelled by a sloppy 40 year old housewife. Because the gap is between the self-image and the reality, no real person has a hope of satisfying everyone, the standards of appropriateness are different with every point of view.

    Clothes have always been used to put down other people. Whether the standard is class, age, or overt sexual availability, it's always possible to find something to look down on. Just read the above to see an almost universal outcry about how badly other people dress :-).

    I do second the people who talk about how much ahead you are when you sew. You have no hope of being appropriately dressed if you're a slave to what manufacturers think is appropriate, often while forgetting your age group exists entirely. I am not what Project Runway thinks I should be like, nor do I want to look like it.

    I think part of my dressing much better in old age has to do with paying more attention to showing how I truly am. I've gotten much better about making sure that I don't confuse people by the wrong signals, just because I'm in a mood to experiment. And since as most people my basic personality hasn't changed much, I've gotten better at it. For instance I never wore the ubiquitous navy blazer in the 80s because I wasn't a corporate person and wanted to emphasize that. It's still true, and I still don't wear real suits, but I now wear more professional clothing, like structured cardigans and tamer colors.

    But also my life has not followed a standard pattern. I didn't do the SUV and labrador thing, much less children and mortgages (yeah!). So I don't see why it's so awful for me to do the occasional forray to the grocery store in flannel pjs. I'm old enough to remember the 50s, and the way in which the old biddies commented if my mother went out of the house without looking like Grace Kelly (my mother was short and dark, incidentally). To hell with that! My life's been better because I've had more choices, I'm fine with that showing all over the place in all kinds of ways. Those who don't like the way I look can look elsewhere, as far as I'm concerned.


    1. Marie-Christine, your comment is the best and most in line with my own opinion.

  56. Yes, low-rider baggy pants were derived from prison wear. Prison inmates have their belts taken away from them for two reasons: 1. so that they can't hang themselves, and 2. because they're holding their pants up all the time, if they try to escape, they won't be able to get very far very fast.

  57. Thanks so much for that link, Judith and I love that article you wrote.

  58. Well I don't wear miniskirts (at least by my standards, my present short skirts are not minis) they are still short- at 57 I've still got the good legs indeed my mother died at 75 with "killer" legs- but then in college I wore Edwardian lawn tennis dresses with the petticoats etc to class barefoot and had some truly cool silk velvet sashes I wore as scarves-

    Personally I think it's an attitude thing you take the youth fashion as in college youth & modify it ie long sweater, jeans skirt tights &Ugg boots instead of sweater, tights & boots

    My girls as teenagers looked totally overexposed as they were imitating Britney Spears who wore micros, tube tops etc it drove me nuts, but then pictures of Britney turned up in People with her underwear showing etc so they started covering upmore

    Sarah C

  59. i wear my pants sagged and dress like the thugs around me. that make me a bad person?

  60. As a black female who is well aware of the sagging pants, your reference to an article from 2007 does nothing to acknowledge late 1980's early 1990's style or that it has nothing to do with prison or prison culture. It has everything to do with black culture and style in America. Period. And perpetuating this ignorant misnomer is just wrong. That's your opinion and you're entitled to one, but don't present it as fact when it isn't. Other than that, I like your site. I also like a few of your recommendations on sewing things more efficiently. But I can't stand people who condemn one style/fashion trend by trying to equate it to violence and then pretend to be liberal minded. If that's the case; then striped suits are violent, if every portrayal of 1940's mobsters are anything to go by. Perspective, use it. And for more perspective, kids in my generation used sagging as a protest for human rights, because we were policed for our style and skin color. It was a way to say you are still in control of your own body- who are you to tell me how to dress, what to say, what to wear - just like long hair, peace tee-shirt and bell bottoms in the 70's. SNAP

    1. You make some great points, Anna. Thanks for contributing to the (hopefully ongoing) conversation!


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