Embracing What Makes Your Style Your Own

One of the greatest perqs of age is caring much less about what others think of you. And that includes dressing to please yourself. To develop and maintain personal style over 50, we often have to learn to tune out that voice that plants those “but what will THEY think?” seeds of doubt. Today’s outfit may be a little weird, but that’s how I like it. 😁

My personal style journey has gone through many phases through the decades. I’ve swung from thrift-store-quirky to corporate/conservative, and everything in between. But it was almost always tempered or steered by outside influences: family or significant others, dress codes, or trying to fit some idealized image. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to start tuning all that out, and letting my own tastes and intuition guide me.

Early attempts at personal style

I was in my early 20’s when I first experienced the freedom to dress how I liked. Much of what I could afford came from second-hand stores (which at the time were still full of goodies from the 1930’s-60’s). I had a lot fun with it. Someone’s cast off bowling team shirt?* Check. ✅ A brown velvet cape? Check. ✅ A leopard print terry cloth jacket? Check. ✅ Even the new items I found at the discount stores often had some fun elements, like a neon lime green pair of Reebok hi-tops, or tie-dyed “genie” pants. My small town radio station jobs had casual or no dress codes; so as long as the important bits were covered, I could mostly wear what I liked.

*Life in a small town: one day I went to the post office wearing my thrift-store-prize bowling shirt. When my turn came, the guy behind the window says (with some affront), “why are you wearing my wife’s bowling shirt?!”

Then, in my early 30’s, I decided it was time to get serious about my career. I moved to The Big City (Los Angeles) and began working in more corporate settings. I learned to tone down my style to fit in, and attempted to dress in a much more subdued and “professional” way. (Though I did often lean on my accessories to add some personality.)

Re-connecting with what makes style “personal”

It’s taken me a few years since leaving Corporate World to recalibrate my style, and let some of the weirdness/quirkiness back in. But I don’t want to look like I’ve just escaped from the circus. Or feel like I’m wearing a costume. So “just the right amount of wrong,” or weirdness as a seasoning rather than the main dish is what I aim for.

Susan B. takes a mirror selfie wearing a green sweater, leopard print belt, barrel leg jeans, brown patent square toe mules.

“Weirdness” may not be your seasoning, and that’s OK. And I’m reasonably sure that many of you won’t like this outfit. That’s OK too. Personal style is personal, right? What I’m hoping you’ll take away is that certain styles or items appeal to us because they express some part of us. But if we’re stuck in other’s expectations, we’re missing out developing a truly personal style, whether after 50 or at any age.

Some of the expectations that I’ve run up against, and still have to shoo away are:

  • it has to be “figure flattering” (or create the illusion of a culturally acceptable body)
  • age-appropriate (almost meaningless these days…)
  • dressing to fit in with the group (don’t “show off”)
  • dressing to please a spouse, parent, children, or friend

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, IF they are style priorities you choose. (“Choose” being the operative word.) Some days I like to dial it down with a more subtle look, and others I need vibrant and bold. Or a little weird. 😉

Outfit notes:

The Murano glass bead necklace is vintage, from the 1950’s, and was a lovely gift from my friend Karen. Here’s one with a similar look, but Etsy or vintage stores might also yield some good ones.

The green cotton sweater is Weekend Max Mara, found on final clearance rack at the end of last year. This one is a similar style, available in several colors (though not green) in sizes XXS-3X.

These barrel leg jeans from Ruti are really comfortable, and I love the vibe. I’m wearing Petite size 1 (8). Also available in Regular lengths, size 00 (US 4) to 6 (US 18).

The mules are Tibi, here. Very weird, but I absolutely LOVE them, and yes they are comfortable to walk in. This pre-loved pair in crinkle blue metallic are just waiting for someone who’s size 7 to snap them up. And here’s another style in black patent leather, size 10.5.

My friend Karen (who has great personal style herself!) has always encouraged my love of “jolie-laide” (or funky) shoes. They suit my Gamine style personality. Even if the rest of my outfit is simple, a quirky shoe can add just the right amount of wrong to make it feel like my own.

Socks are cotton from Falke. And they come in lots of colors.

Many of you have mentioned that you can’t/don’t wear mules; here are some slingback and loafer styles that have a similar vibe.

With age comes style freedom?

What do you think? Have you felt freer to dress how you like over 50? What “seasonings” have you added to your personal style that make it feel uniquely your own?

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  1. Thank you for the reminder to dress in a manner that represents our personality. It’s so hard to get rid of that little voice in your mind saying “What will others think”. For me it’s quite the opposite of you, as far as dressing loud or quirky. Where I live, the style is very bright and patterned. While on the other hand I like quiet, polished, with a little edge. I also to tend to dress up more than most in my area when I’m out and about. As strange as it sounds I tend to be the one who sticks out like a sore thumb. But.. I’m learning to lean more into what is me and so what if I don’t fit in.

    1. Hi Robyn, the older I get, the more I realize that “fitting in” is overrated. 😉 And thank you!

  2. What a fun outfit! I love to match my bright sweaters with matching socks and I’m a diehard Birkenstocks fan. Your barrel jeans and mules are perfect too and your quirky glass jewelry is the icing on the cake!

  3. Hi Susan
    I’m 83 years old and would happily wear that outfit except for the mules – they are too flat for me; I need a heel to be able to walk comfortably

  4. I love the outfit–it’s absolutely perfect! My friends and I have noted that something happens after 60–you stop worrying about what other people think of you. Do we still care about looking stylish? Sure, but it’s because we want to, not because others tell us to follow a trend. Like you, I am most comfortable in more simple sweaters and pants–one pop of color somewhere, maybe a stripe, but almost never a floral. All about “seasoning” with jewelry, shoes or a scarf.

  5. I absolutely love your style! Dressing to reflect your personal style was a great reminder for me today, so I appreciate you. Have a great day. 🙂

  6. I don’t think your outfit is weird at all. I love it and think it suits you well, especially after hearing about your fashion journey to get to this point. It is hard to figure out what you like at any age, especially with all of the outside forces trying to put you in your place. I’m still trying to put together a wardrobe that suits me, but I’m enjoying the journey, too. Thanks for your inspiration. And I love the bowling shirt story!

  7. Hi Susan,
    I love the green sweater and socks!!!! You posted something a few weeks ago about socks being so fashionable in Paris, and seeing you wear these cute green ones has me thinking about trying this.
    Have to admit..I’m not a fan of barrel pants…but they look cute on you.
    Love your fashion sense and style. Keep the hits coming!

  8. You look fab, Susan, and are a woman after my own heart. I LOVE a zhuzh of funk and originality, always have, always will. So glad you have recovered your true funkiness post-corporate. Love the outfit colorways. I’m sure you have featured them before, but can you share info about the earrings? Have a lovely week!xx

  9. Oh, I love this post! It’s so fun to think about our personal style and the idea of ‘seasoning’ is perfection! Thanks for the inspiration

  10. Your outfit today is FUN and interesting. Love the socks matching the sweater and the pants shape. The outfit has interest, points of humor, and overall color appeal. Good for you!

  11. What a wonderful post and inspirational message. Thank you for all you do and for your wisdom. You look great and the green is so perfect for Spring. Love your style and how it expresses you.

  12. Thank you thank you thank you. You are knocking your posts right “outta the park” these days. (the six points of interests was a game changer for me). I needed to see this. And next, I need to go get out several pairs of shoes which could only be found these days following a deep excavation on Ebay. Thanks again!

  13. I know this is ancient, but I still think the rule that you get dressed and take one thing off before going out has value. My hair has gone, in my stylists words “natural”, and I like to clip it back with a headband or barrette to show off my natural highlights. My glasses that turn dark in the sun have a pattern on the frame. If I have something going on with my hair, and wear those glasses I go with barely there earrings, and think twice about a scarf or necklace. It is easy to edge into costume, particularly when you aren’t going out all the time and find yourself dressing up a little for times when you are going out.
    Your look is good. You have glasses but the frames are solid, your earrings are not minimal but they aren’t dangling or patterned, the necklace isn’t huge.
    It’s best not to do everything all at once!

    1. Hi Rose, it sounds like you’ve worked out some guidelines that reflect your tastes and style. Brava! And thank you!

  14. I am sooooo pleased that you are talking about dressing to please oneself. I have been overwhelmed with all the “wear this, not that” information and it’s so refreshing to read “try this, maybe that” and “you do you”. You have helped me to reintroduce my wardrobe to my spring colors (versus the neutral palette of late). You are also helping me be more creative with my outfits. I really appreciate your empowering messages!

    1. Hi Lisa, it does get overwhelming, doesn’t it? And so much of it is contradictory. Thanks very much!

  15. susan, love your weirdness, it’s my style too. Thanks for giving us permission to be our true stylish selves. let’s go bowling, ha!

  16. Great outfit Susan! Wonderful recounting of your style journey through your lifetime as well! I love that you’re embracing your own style–certainly what we all aspire to! I found myself in EF in Mill Valley yesterday choosing items that I liked and felt comfortable in rather than adhering to guidelines ‘offered to me’. This feels like a good balance for me. I particularly like your Ruti pants–you have 2 pair now, I think and they are very cute. Very gamine. Ruti looks like a good company. I’d try those jeans but I’m already maxed out on denim right now. 😉 Thank you again for your thoughtful blog.

    1. Thanks so much, Sally! Ruti also makes some nice non-denim pants in similar shapes you might want to try.

  17. It’s the colorful socks that ‘make’ this outfit! I never would have thought to do that, but I LOVE it! Thank you, as always, for the inspiration, Susan!

  18. Susan, your writing is so very inspiring. I really enjoy reading about and seeing photos of your style journey. I have written before that your style comes through as so authentic and I thank you for continuing to write about it. I am making note of the “expectations”. So often I have changed my mind about wearing something in my closet because of “expectations”. I am copying your words as a reminder to myself to wear what I like and what makes me feel good.

  19. Love your entire ensemble and your return to a level of ‘quirk’. I came across a several-years old photo on Pinterest, head to toe in black, and your new/old look suits you much better.

    A practical question: I have a pair of loafer-style mules that I love but don’t wear because I don’t know how to keep them on my feet. I seldom wear socks which might make them even harder to keep on. Any tips?

    1. Hi Barb, thanks very much! A lot depends on your feet and the shoes. I find a higher vamp makes a mule easier to walk in. And if the top part fits more snugly over the foot, they’ll stay on better.

  20. Great post, and I love your look. I like colorful socks a lot and have found a brand (not Bombas, which is also a great company) that makes socks to support specific types of charities. I totally agree that we should dress to please ourselves: we’ll be confident and look great. I read a blog not long ago about dressing up in a feminine way to please ‘our boys” and thought I must have been beamed back to the 1950s. I find I’m more willing to experiment a little now.

  21. You hit a nerve with me today’s post! I turned 70 in January. I have always loved clothes and shoes. Also, I live in a community where the women dress very conservatively and don’t really care about fashion. This is the first time in my life I can remember not giving a flip about what others (including my husband) think about what I wear. They certainly don’t ask me if I like what they wear, yet they seem very eager to tell me that they don’t care for what I am wearing. For example, last week at a neighborhood ladies happy hour I wore my first pair of wide leg jeans. My husband said they were the most ridiculous things he had ever seen. Don’t care. Went to the happy hour. Quite a few of the ladies said I looked great, but there were a couple that just couldn’t stay quiet and said they didn’t like the wide leg jeans at all. For the first time I didn’t care. I said that’s ashamed, I really love them.

    1. @Nancy. wide leg jeans and pants look very stylish and modern much more so than a pair of daggy, ill fitting jeans. My wardrobe has several pairs of wide leg trousers and I bet you looked fabulous.

      Susan M (from down under)

    2. I’m so glad to hear you’re trying out and wearing what makes you happy! We will always have detractors, no matter what. By staying true to ourselves, we can inspire others to do so as well.

  22. Brilliant Susan. I enjoy seeing you do you. Feeling much freer to suit myself (no suits in my wardrobe!) in my 50s.
    Best wishes,
    Julie x

  23. When my child was very young, I wore a similar green sweater to his school on Halloween. “It’s Shrek!” The little ones cried. I was wearing a small pair of Shrek ears on a headband. They loved it. I loved their reaction. Other mothers muttered under their breath, “All she did was wear a pair of ears.” The children filled in the blanks with their imagination.

    I wore that sweater happily ever after, until it fell apart. It ain’t easy being green.

  24. Yes, “dressing to please yourself” – I love that! Thank you! For those of us over fifty, we have seen a lot of styles come and go, and some we were sorry to see move on. I have some older pieces in my closet that I love to bring out occasionally because they just make me happy. Current trends can be fickle – wear what you love and what brings you joy!

  25. I love how your style has evolved from when I started following you several years ago. Mine has been a struggle and put it down to wearing a uniform from the age of 5 (when I started school). This was followed by nursing, then the RAAF, and when not in uniform, the dress standards for officers was very high – no jeans at all in public . So my ‘casual’ wear was always upmarket(except as a teenager, when it was surfie chick chic). I find your blog and ideas great for me, as we are similar age and body shape – but not same hair and skin colour (brown hair and eyes, sallow skin). Admittedly, I very rarely wear jeans and have had two pairs since
    1990. I really love your blog.

  26. Susan,
    This is why your readers love you! You are by far the most thoughtful, grounded fashionista I read! Style IS very personal, and takes time to develop, and I find that having made 50+ trips around the sun has indeed freed me to wear pretty much whatever I want. I care far less about what’s in style now and more about what I think looks good on me, and is comfortable. Thanks for the shot of inspo. — I think I’ll go find something “funky” in my closet to add to my outfit today. 🙂

  27. As an addendum to this discussion, when I was a young teen, in the early 1950s, I read a movie magazine article about the Hollywood designer, Adrian. He apparently had to design a movie wardrobe for the actress Joan Crawford who had very broad shoulders. Rather than disguise this apparent flaw, he decided to enhance it and began adding shoulder pads to her costumes. Shoulder pads became the rage. Adrian said one should use clothes to enhance the wearer’s body and personality, not to hide them. I always remembered that comment….

  28. If I saw you out and about, I would probably approach you and tell you how much I love your outfit/style! I love it when people know how to put together an outfit with colors and accessories rather than the average fade into the background (myself included) but it takes a good eye to make it look so good. Bravo!

  29. I love quirky and am also a Spring…I don’t want to wear what everyone else is and if a sales person mentions, “this is trending or we can’t keep these in stock”, there’s no way I’m going to jump on the bandwagon! I prefer romantic, feminine style with a bit of something extra. Meyers Brigg ENFP personality and I believe our style radiates who we are….
    Thanks for sharing your inspiration; I love it!

  30. I ordered your bedroom rug this morning on Amazon…thankful that your other reader asked where you got it..Thank you Susan