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Jan 11, 2013

Fashion on the Far Side of Fifty

Juicy topic today, friends, but first, a little business:

It is with supreme disappointment that I must announce that my latest YouTube puppet video, which I attempted to post here yesterday, was declared in violation of EMI's copyrights or some such thing.

It seems you can no longer share home videos of yourself lipsynching to any artist, dead or alive, who ever had a recording contract with a major recording label.  Upon reflection, I can see how this could hurt EMI, since so many of my readers would be able to enjoy the obscure recording in question for free and might forever associate it with a man in a ratty blonde wig.  I guess I'll have to find a new hobby.


It seems that lately almost every time I leave a comment on a WordPress blog, it disappears.  I don't know if it's me or WordPress, but in one case, my comment was sent directly to Spam.  Any ideas?

And now, for today's topic.

If there's one thing that can be said for men's fashion, it's that it doesn't make men look in the mirror and wonder if they're too old to be wearing it.  We'll wear anything no matter how it looks on us.

But I was trolling Etsy the other day -- as I am wont to do when I am sick, healthy, and everything in between -- and I stumbled upon a well-priced pattern that I thought might make a lovely Cathy gown.

But I wondered if maybe it wasn't a little too virginal, too Jane Powell in A Date With Judy. Then, since I'm given to self-examination, I wondered what it was about it that made me feel that way.

I think excessive frills, ruffles, and anything evoking a Disney princess read as dainty.  And dainty isn't really Cathy's strong suit. 

While there are certainly patterns today that -- mainly by the envelope art/photograph -- target the "mature" customer, in the old days, it was very obvious:  the models are built like Eleanor Roosevelt, they're rarely smiling (what's left to smile about?), and they just look...matronly.

Contrast this with the obviously youthful styles, where the models are laughing, flirting -- all ribbons and bows, ruffles, and roses.

Obviously this age-appropriate thing is not solely about skin exposure, or hem length, or (in most cases) fit.  It's something else...but what?  Puffy sleeves?  Flowers?

Maybe it has less to do with age and more to do with a person's "essense."  Take my mother (--please).  Seriously, Sonia is eighty-two-and-a-half but she's still "cute," do you know what I mean?   When my grandmother was eighty-two, she was wearing sensible shoes and house dresses; my mother wears stretch denim!

Movie star (and mother) Joan Crawford projected steeliness, which suited her as she got older.  A sharply tailored suit was perfect for her.

Claudette Colbert projected sophistication but postwar fashion pushed more homespun styles.  Does this frilly outfit suit her: yes, no?

It's all very confusing and clearly very subjective.

Readers, if you're on the far side of fifty -- and even if you're not --

Are there fabrics or looks that might have suited you once but, in your opinion, no longer work for you? 

Do you think suitable styles have more to do with a person's essence, i.e., what they project (innocence, sultriness and sophistication, etc.) than their age?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. SO sad about the parrot video. Lucy and I were really looking forward to it (she loved the last one so much, and still mentions it now and then). If she ever met you, she'd no doubt ask for a reprisal.

    1. It lives on my computer, so if you ever come over, I'll show it to you!

  2. What a drag about the video!

    Hmm, I'm not sure that pink ponies and Hello Kitty flatter anyone with a double digit age. But I do agree with you that, at least in part, demeanor/essence is a big factor in wearing a style with aplomb. My mom (a youthful 64) tends to be drawn to wild prints, which actually suit her very well. Maybe this is because she doesn't push the envelope in all directions, favoring more conservative neck and hem lines? So, there's some balance there.

    1. I think that pink ponies can work for someone with a double digit age. I didn't think this until recently, but gertie's pinky pie dress changed my mind.

  3. Some styles are arguably better suited for younger people than older (and vice versa), but the wearer's personal style should dictate what they wear more than trends. I mean, for me, at 30, I wear much different clothing than I did at 15, so I'm guessing at 45 I'll be wearing different styles, too, although the outfits will all still read as "me" (hopefully). Your mom is SO cute!

  4. SeamsterEast@aol.comJanuary 11, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    Almost all of the "dowager" patterns have the woman looking down her nose, and with no smile. Most also looked like the model had a 1x6 pine board across her shoulders and under her dress. Almost all had short hair. Clothing covered the body with no accents, no "look-at-me-here" fitting. NO softness, NO invitation to approach.

    Almost all of the more interesting patterns (including the picture of your mother) had the woman looking out the tops of their eyes and with a warm smile, and almost all (including your mother) with longer hair. Most of the interesting patterns showed lots of skin on arms or shoulders or bodice, and most clothing had accents and filly things pointing at "look-at-me-here's". Even Mom had pushed one sleeve up her arm a bit, her other hand on her knee.

    Once upon a time, after WWII and before feminism took off big time in the early 70's it was considered unseemly for a woman over age 35 to wear long hair and/or show bare arms.

  5. My mom is one of those women that can pull of trendy clothes even though she's almost fifty. She's always threatening us that she's going to start dressing matronly because she feels too old. I told her that as long as she feels good and likes the clothing, she can wear it and look good. She does keep her hair short to balance out how she feels.
    I think a lot of people feel trapped by the age restrictions we place on clothes. Teens can wear wild colors and patterns but once we hit out twenties we need to become more sophisticated and more muted. If you can pull it off, then wear it. You can only please one person at a time. it may as well be you.

  6. I am on the far side of 50 (not too far) and this is something I've thought about for years. I've worked hard to keep my weight down and stay fit, and I could, technically, buy clothes in the junior department, but that doesn't mean I should. An excess of rufffles is not my style anyway, but I would avoid anything too trendy. I'd rather err on the elegant/minimalist side than look silly. One thing I have not worn for years, because it just feels so childish, is T-shirts with writing on them.

  7. I am on the far side of 50 and I do find that I need to be more careful of the styles, fabrics, etc. that I wear. When I was younger I could wear any style I wanted. It helped that I was very slim and young. Now, I am not heavy, but not svelt as I once was. Let's face it, 58 year old skin is not the site we are taught to enjoy or be free to expose. I really like the vintage fashion, but I'm afraid alot of it makes me look frumpy, not "retro". I also find that after 50 a woman seems to "disappear". Less people notice your appearance and less people notice your existance. This is not something that I was aware of or even knew existed before I turned 50, but now that I'm on the other side, I see it all the time. I don't think I dress like an old lady, but definately not as fashion forward as I did when I was younger.

    1. I've noticed that, too. (I'm 52.) Isn't it odd? Women in our society do seem to become less and less visible the older we get. I used to try to get by with cute. Now I feel a need to be more polished and put together. I'm not sure that this makes much difference; maybe it does. It makes me feel better, anyway. I do think that in the past, women didn't feel so much pressure to look younger. Unless they were very fashionable, it seems they accepted the matronly look as befitting a, well, matron. Whether they found this freeing or constricting, I've no idea. Perhaps it depended on the woman. But as others have noted in previous posts, people used to want to look like adults. Now they want to look younger.

    2. So true, no one told me you get magical powers at 50 - you become invisible! But try wearing age inappropriate clothes, and you magically appear again! (not in a good way). And no matter what you do, you just don't keep the same shape. I certainly don't have the waist I once did. So I prefer to think that at any age there is class, and there is crass. Wearing your kids clothes does NOT make you look young

  8. I've noticed most comments you leave on my (Wordpress!)blog do end up in spam. It's not just you, there are a few other people who end up in there pretty consistently. I'm not sure why! It has made me very vigilant about checking my spam every few days (and as a bonus, I get to read all the awesome spam comments that make NO SENSE haha).

    As far as your main question... I don't have much stock in this since I'm not even 30 yet, but I don't forsee my style changing much as I get older except for what's a personal preference. Some of the styles/prints I wear now are probably considered too "young" for someone in their late 20s, but I don't really care... and I doubt I'll care in 20+ years, either.

    Your mom is SUPER cute, by the way!

  9. I'm in my early 40's and have never been a ruffles and frills gal but still don't want to look too old. Constant balance between stylish/youthful and ridiculous.

    By the way, anyone else notice that the 12th pattern down - the pink/lavender dress - looks exactly like Ariel's prom dress from Footloose? If that didn't date me, nothing will.

  10. Don't know about fashion & age, but you find the coolest patterns ...

    Well, fwiw, there seems to be a lot of people like what they are used to. I look at the bustles of the Victorian era & am just grateful those days are gone & I am not expected to wear that stuff. It was consider the height of fashion 150 years ago though.


  11. Dare I admit that I turned 50 last week? Well, I guess I just did...
    Anyway, I think it's mainly down to personality plus paying some regard to one's figure. Personally I can never get comfortable in puff sleeves, although I live in tea dresses and bias-cut skirts. Denim sends me screaming into the distance, although I happily wore (& was complimented on) silk habotai bloomers and a black pvc corset to a burlesque evening.
    Or perhaps I simply have no shame?

  12. I'm quite a bit over 50 which I find remarkable and unbelievable, so here goes. Take the first pattern, 2227, and make the left hand version complete with peplum out of a fabric like a dark lace or jewel toned satin and matching lace and anyone who still has a waist could wear it. It has just enough coverage for the arms and shoulders to hide bra straps, too.

    1736 is a housedress or do the errands dress. blech

    1730, beige version, could be rescued by a good fabric (shantung?) in a flattering colour, a large rhinestone brooch, bracelets, and a decent hat.

    BTW, it's only the 40s patterns that have military style shoulders.

    5736 looks very much like one of the most popular patterns of last/year before last. Think it was Vogue, and it had a ruched bodice above the fitted waist.

    I don't wear as much red as I used to a bright colours wash me out. I need the next step down, but definitely *not* pastel now as my skin is lighter, or as those who are cruel say, faded. Flat circular ruffles are OK; ruched ruffles, not so much unless they're small and applied to the cuff and vent of a jacket.

    To me, it's all about interpretation and what suits. I look falling down laughing funny in ruffles now and when I was young, but give me a severe radical cut, and I'm fine.

  13. I was born in the late 1950's. I was struck immediately with the word "marriage" - blasting at me when I looked through your pattern comparison.

    Mothers had a huge influence on their daughters and the number one goal was to secure a suitable husband. The womens movement was not out there yet and there was little for a daughter to learn on her own through books or magazines. Mothers would have been steering their daughters towards fashion that looked like fantasy disney princesses with slivers of exposed skin. I remember this contrast well - I was supposed to act like a very innocent girl but she worked to dress me like I was being sold to the highest bidder - in things I didn't understand the subtle meaning of but a male 10 years older would immediately read as exciting and available. On the surface they were little -girl-like, fantasy sweet and pretty, but there were small details that were in contrast. The instant the marriage deal was sealed - now the daughter is cautioned and tsk-tsked for anything in her clothing that reads available. Above all, the daughter had to be faithful to her husband and sexless in public so she can keep the new social status that has been worked for. I think those patterns show it very well.

    I suppose this wasn't true with all socio-economic households but there were families who were up and coming to the new American middle class lifestyle. They were looking for ways to shed their poverty upbringing and be accepted by traditionally well off families in their community.

    I'm going to post as anonymous today! TMI!

    1. Wow, I'd love to hear more -- fascinating!

    2. Anonymous--I'm a few years younger than you, but I can really identify with your comment. My mother wanted her daughters (she had 3) to be Miss America. For whatever reason, she thought I had the best chance, although I was radically against beauty pageants because I considered them the oppression of the patriarchy! I drove her crazy when I was a teenager in the late '70s and refused to wear anything other than jeans and t-shirts. She told me I'd never get married if I dressed like a boy.
      She was so happy the day I got married (despite my less-than feminine wardrobe) because I was marrying a good man who would take care of me. It never impressed her that I had a master's degree in electrical engineering and a high paying job and could easily support myself.

  14. I think it does have a lot to do with an "essence" which means that a person will look best in the clothes they are most comfortable in (Claudette Colbert does NOT look comfortable in that pic you've posted). For some women owning a look means wearing a tailored suit and for others that means ruffles and bows. The other part to that is the advertising/fashion industry and cultural norms that have pushed the idea that ruffles and a simpering smile = suitable for young maidens, and tailored suits are ideal for a woman "of a certain age" (try finding one of those vintage ruffled gown patterns in a size 20 1/2). Now if someone is currently 50+, they may have grown up w/ a more rigid interpretation of what is "suitable" and might not be comfortable wearing something that they've grown up being told is "too young." Then again, looking at patterns from the 80's/early 90's, it looks like there was at least a decade of experimentation in the idea of ruffles and frills for everyone that wasn't always successful. In the case of Princess Diana, she managed to look the part of the glamorous princess. For a lot of other people, I think they ended up probably looking more like Princess Vespa from Spaceballs. Maybe some things are better left to those of a younger age, where they can look back and say "I only wore it because I was too young to know any better." But what do I know? I'm only 31. Maybe when I'm 50+, I'll have learned which style "rules" I can most successfully break and which are better left to my daughter to show me how it's done.

  15. I can talk from the other side here: clothing that makes me look very young or way older than I am. I've learnt to avoid certain things because they make me look like a toddler or a spinster, and sometimes a crazy mix of the two. So no plaid, puffy sleeves and high necklines or collars for me... I've also stepped away from the very vintage look because I felt like it aged me too much. At 23, looking like a school teacher isn't really the idea.

  16. I love the tunic, leggings and ugg boot look but at 58 I still have the legs for it but not the face alas. I wear a version of it with an above the knee short jeans skirt. Will admit that it cheered me up immensely when I went downtown to a workshop at unemployment in this get up and heard a loud wolf whistle not once but twice as I went up the escalator - like my late mom I have never worn anything low cut but go into leg showcasing instead. Used to have shorter skirts than these but at least the legs are still intact.

  17. Since AARP decided to recognize me a few birthdays ago (when did 50 become "senior" citizen?), I qualify for 50+.

    I agree with those who say that personal style determines what you wear and is appropriate for you more often than not, regardless of age.

    I've seen women in their 60s and 70s wearing fitted garments, showing quite a bit of skin and looking terrific and those who are younger looking awful in the same styles. And the opposite. A lot of appearance is personal confidence.

    Unfortunately, regardless of age, I'm one of those women who has to be careful about style and volume due to body type and lack of height. Not to mention being a charter member of the burn, peel and freckle club, which hasn't changed with age. *sigh* Despite my age and obviously mature figure, I tend to look like a little girl dressed in her mother's clothing if a style is too sophisticated because of my coloring and height. Conversely, I look like I'm wearing a tent--or just incredibly sloppy--if clothing isn't reasonably fitted. I love--and wear--jewel tones and black, with a few other neutrals tossed in for variety, and styles that are a bit classical with a contemporary touch.

    Dressing for actual or aspired social class/status still was very much of the American culture in the 50s and 60s, as "Anonymous" for the day noted. Girls were steered toward marriage, possibly with a brief stint as a teacher, nurse or secretary. Thankfully, I'm first-generation American and my parents idea of the American dream was that I could be anything I chose as long as I worked for it. They were right! :)


  18. I think it's important to remember not that long ago women were kind of stuck with the "fashion of the day" and had to follow some pretty rigid rules for what to wear when. That started to change when women (especially in the US) rebelled against the midiskirt, which really didn't suit anyone.

    Since I'm short, big flowy anything is a disaster. As Peggy Sagers put it in one of her webcasts "Dolly Parton in a muumuu". Proportion and fit are half the battle.

    Claudette's dress would look better without the white ruffle stuff. The look on her face suggests it's not a dress she would buy for herself! :)

  19. Cathy would kill you if she heard you refer to her as 'matronly!' I love Advance 5736 for Cathy - she'd look fabulous!

    With regard to pattern pictures, I guess pattern companies must think that you have to be young to be carefree and happy. Bah!

  20. Aren't all but one of the patterns with ruffles teen sizes? I think that pretty much says it all.

    While it's been said that you're only as old as you feel, I think that (as others have pointed out) there comes a time when you have to stop and assess what looks good on you. Bunnykins said ruched ruffles don't suit her but circular ones do, so maybe it's all about interpretation, scale/proportion and nuance/interpretation and just knowing what looks good on you. My mother is 68 and she wears stretch denim - but she doesn't wear her jeans skin tight, as I'm sure yours doesn't. She also avoids anything low-rise and generally doesn't wear bright-colored denim. She also keeps her skirts around knee-length because she doesn't have the legs she had when she was younger. She'd never wear a bikini at her age. Most people peg her age as somewhere in her late 50's. Contrast that with my aunt, a dancer, yoga practitioner and vegetarian, and the most petite thing ever, who has kept her figure young and slim. She wears a bikini in the summer and has gone topless at the beach in Greece. She lives in the Netherlands and a few years ago she went skating with her daughter and grandkids. A teenage boy grabbed her from behind, thinking she was a girl his age, based on my aunt's figure - she said she had on stretch jeans so that she could have more movement for skating. When she turned around he was supremely embarrassed. My aunt said, "Yes, from the back you think "gymnasium" (high school). From the front you think "museum". Her real age? 66.

  21. I remember when I was about 18, my older brother asking when was I going to stop dressing like a 42 year old. I've always like "classic" style and at the time I was wearing a mid-calf length grey wool skirt-suit.
    These days anything purple is good, and if it has sparkles, well, all the better! I often wear sequins to my office job, even though many people think you should keep the sparkles for opening nights of musicals. (And funnily enough at Thursday night's opening night of Jersey Boys I didn't wear a single sequin!)

  22. I regret not having gotten to see that video. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't still send it to people ;) I disagree with you about men's fashion because of being exposed last year to the show Gilmore Girls. I don't care what anyone says, a backwards baseball cap on anyone who isn't missing their two front teeth looks juvenile and silly (in other words, I was not as enamored with Luke as the other girls watching the show). Even though I'm only 24 going on 25 I'm already starting to feel the draw of "mature styles". I like the idea of looking classic without having to be cute or sexy. Until I put it on that is! Then I think "meh" to myself, "I look like a sad sack." I think I'm destined to feel the need to be forever chic, like a Parisienne!
    P.S. My favorite are the pattern catalogs advertising mature styles. Their introduction writing to those pages in the catalogs is just too funny.

  23. Love photos of you with puppets - so funny!!!!!!!! I am 63, and have always exercised. I wore a bikini till 50. I adore clothes that are cheerful, funky, and dramatic/sporty. I had a good experience to-day. My VERY fashion and style conscious niece came to visit and wanted to see my sewing. She loved my 2 Empire dresses, in bright patterned rayons, and thought the colours were right for me. I do colour my hair a very bright dark red, and wear in a 20's Bob. Clothes are to express me. I am artistic and have a strong personality, so express the real me. Cathie, in Quebec.

  24. SeamsterEast@aol.comJanuary 11, 2013 at 7:21 PM

    "a backwards baseball cap on anyone who isn't missing their two front teeth looks juvenile and silly "

    A backwards baseball cap was sun protection for white, pink-skinned construction workers, i.e., "rednecks", in the days before SPF 50.

    Practical, yet defined the genre.

  25. Peter! Didja notice that the "selfish seamstress" is BACK?!!!

    I used to like to wear my skirts slung low (I was doing it LONG BEFORE anyone else did-but not so ridiculously low that one appeared about to LOSE one's skirt) I don't wear them like that any more now that I am in my fifties. Older women in clothes that are too "young" or 'sexy" look pathetic and 'cougar-like" to me,sorry! Leathery cleavage and wrinkly knees on display is just, well, UGH. The "sexiest" older women I have seen are those who retain their dignity" by not dressing like Generation Y teenagers!

    "Advanced Style" and "The Style Crone' are two blogs that demonstrate that it is entirely possible for older women to have serious fun with one's appearance and even to look sexy without making BIG FOOLS of themselves!

  26. One of the things I bemoan about current "do-what-cher-wanna-do" fashion and today's overemphasis on a youthful appearance at any cost is that the old are often thereby stripped of their dignity.

    In the '50s, my grandmother favored dark foulards, orthopedic oxfords, and that sine qua non of midcentury Atlanta fashion, rhinestone-embellished cat-eye glasses on a jeweled neckchain.

    She did not look hot. She did not look fashionable. She certainly didn't look young. But by God, she looked like someone to reckon with. As indeed she was.

    You don't get that from shaky raccoon circles of eyeliner on wrinkly eyelids, or blusher on raddled cheeks, or a rhinestone-studded sweatshirt saying, "I'm Not Fat, I'm Fluffy!" or Jacqueline Stallone cleavage that looks like a relief map of the Himalayas.

    I am glad that older people are not expected to dress any certain way nowadays, but I mourn the passing of personal dignity. You can look up-to-date and fashionable without looking like Barbara Bush went to a costume party dressed as a teenager. Carmen dell'Orifice is just one of many great examples.

  27. darling Peter: i find myself....(rethinking that intro)...i'm 67 and after 20 yrs wearing an extremely unflattering uniform, badge, SAM BROWN basketweave gunbelt and accoutrements, there are some looks that just don't work anymore, despite my multiple hours in the gym weekly. i had to give away those levi leggings; frills just don't work any more; i'm leaning toward the tailored look with luxe fabric...more silk and cashmere, straight lines and classic styles. Cathy, on the other hand, can carry off almost anything you put on her and MORE POWER TO HER, i say. Enjoy. glad you're feeling better.

  28. I'm far from fifty, but I think about this often. When I was a kid, I dressed like a middle-aged accountant (or Columbo). I wore trench coats and cardigans in very staid colors and my shoes were usually black or brown. I still use the wallet that I had when I was nine---a tartan and leather Ralph Lauren number. No fun. Now, I kind of want to wear peter pan collars and saddle shoes but realize that I am not Zooey Deschanel and cannot get away with it. I think that at any age some people can carry off certain looks and some people can't.

  29. I'm not yet that old but when I'm 50+ I may well be wearing looks that are considered inappropriate for my age :-) because I am still drawn to the same sorts of styles as I was when I was in my 20s. You know, hot pants and halter neck bikini tops (just joking!!!!!!!)

    Oh and I just had a thought - isn't Anna Dello Russo just over 50 now? She seems to wear whatever she wants...

    1. Yes, she does, doesn't she? But if she actually looked at how she looked she'd see someone who really really needs to can the miniskirts; just ONE look at those WRINKLY KNEES of hers should be enough to send her scurrying for the seam ripper, or to the yellow pages in search of an alterationist! (is that a word?) She could also use a postural adjustment; doesn't matter how much you paid for your wardrobe if one doesn't know how to STAND UP STRAIGHT.When you are young, bad posture is unflattering and makes one look about 10 lbs heavier; when one is older, it screams "dowager's hump"! "Mutton dressed as lamb" ALWAYS looks BAD; much better to simply accept the fact and tweak one's wardrobe accordingly! If a woman hasn't learned how to be sexy/attractive in ways OTHER than by merely showing a lot of skin by the time one is in one's forties, well, that demonstrates her own inner limitations, nothing more!

  30. For me its when details add up. I won't do puffy sleeves, plus ruffles, plus peter pan collar or any combination of the two. Other styles can look matronly at my age - certain types of lace, cat-eye glasses unless they're sunglasses. I'm a few years shy of 50.

  31. I'm old enough for Social Security and definitely not skinny. But I go with what Hillary said. I'm old enough to wear any darn thing I want. I go for cover, comfort and warmth. But I also believe in wearing good colors for me and color coordinating. I've started wearing jewelry again.

  32. Whaddya mean? the woman in 964 is obviously checking her Facebook newsfeed on her iPhone, and her companion is making droll observations. Now you CANNOT get more fashion forward than that for the 1940's!

  33. Ever so slightly more serious though, I also think one's lifestyle is a factor. I am 47, but not for much longer, and I dress any way I please, NOW. I wear flowers in my long hair. However, I also run my own business in the craft space. Now when I was an office wallah 10 months ago, I'd never have dressed like that. I had staff and needed to be taken seriously by senior management. DULL. The stuff I wore then that I thought was edgy, doesn't even make the rotation these days, too boring. It is so much fun too!

  34. Peter, your videos are modern day classics!

    Willy nipping at the parrot, wisps of blonde tucked behind one ear, and your facial expressions - these are the things which add to life.

  35. Really enjoying the comments! I remember going to a 50s themed party a few years ago - amongst the 50yr old bobby-soxers in poodle skirts and greasers, we were the couple in a tuxedo and a chic cocktail dress - after all, we were 40, and that is what we would have worn in the 50s! We didn't go dressed as teenagers. It was quite revealing, and very funny!Age appropriate isn't a slam to any particular age...just a way to dress the body you have now.It is less about the "rules" for your age than dressing for who you are, or have become.

  36. Sorry to be coming late to the comment party. I am 57, and I sew at least partly because much of what's available (and affordable by me) in the stores does not feel appropriate at my age. I want pants that come up to my waist, dagnab it!


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