How old is "too old"?

This question came up in comments on Tuesday’s post about motorcycle boots, when a few commenters wondered how old is “too old” to wear them?  Which begs the question, how old is “too old” to wear a leather jacket or a mini skirt or a Balenciaga bag or skull jewelry?  How old is “too old” to enjoy another fling with a current trend, or get a tattoo, or dress in mid-century vintage head-to-toe?  At what point do we need to hang up looks we’ve always worn and loved?

Even before I began blogging in earnest three and a half years ago, I’d been anxiously trying to suss out some consistent and unequivocal standard of age-appropriateness to use as a guideline for my own style.  I failed miserably, and good thing too.

While we all make judgements about others’ appearances based on our own tastes and sensibilities, ultimately what I think or some self-appointed arbiter of Style Correctness thinks doesn’t matter (except in situations like job interviews, but we’re not going there now). There will always be someone out there ready to tear apart our appearance, no matter how carefully we’ve strategized and tried to follow the rules, or as the old saying goes, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” What matters ultimately, is how does what you wear make you feel

If you feel that those over-the-knee boots are too young for you, you’ll be self-conscious wearing them, and project an image of uncertainty. If you choose an item because you think it will make you look younger, you’ll come across as trying too hard. If you have to talk yourself into something, chances are it’s not the right choice for you. But if wearing those boots or that skirt sets you right into a “damn the torpedos, full steam ahead!” frame of mind then wear it and own the look.  You’re the only one who can decide if or when it’s time to pass on a particular style or skirt length.  Trust yourself, you’ll know.

So don’t let the Fashion Police cramp your style.  If an item sings to you (and fits), chances are you’ll feel and look fabulous wearing it.  Let’s retire some of those tired old tropes about what’s “age appropriate” and rewrite the rules to suit ourselves.

Photo at top is grand-mère Lucille (right) and her best friend Peg Crane (left).

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  1. So well said! My mother, maternal grandmother, and mother-in-law have long been my style icons. And as I head into my forties, I don’t see that changing!

    In case I’ve not said it of late, I love your blog.

  2. ” If you have to talk yourself into something, chances are it’s not the right choice for you.”

    I’m not sure I always agree with this statement. I used to dress extremely conservatively, my wardrobe was boring. Talking myself into adding a different or more risky item to my look has been good for me.

    Sometimes I feel self concious the first time I go out in a new look such as a narrow jean for example. But when nobody recoils in horror, or makes a snide remark (at least to my face!) I generally get over it.

    Style blogs like yours have been great inspiration, but I still need to convince myself to make the purchase and put it on to really have the benefit for my style.

  3. I think most style rules were made to put someone in their place. That said, I also believe in the social contract. When you want to push any social limits, you’ve always got to be sure you have understood the calculus, and that you know the sensibilities you will offend aren’t as important as the expression you grant yourself.

  4. I could agree more. And I agree that most style “rules” are designed to categorize people and put them into preconceived roles. There is no problem with challenging those rules if you are true to yourself, and you have perhaps a small bit of wisdom under your belt; if anything self-awareness and acceptance gives one a panache that is often lacking in the young.

    Aside: it never occurred to me that motorcycle boots could be considered “too young” although they might offend certain sensibilities.

  5. While I agree with you, I think a lot of women can’t walk the walk when they dress in ways that may get them pegged as “trying too hard to look young/sexy/hip.”

    So along with LPC’s “you better be able to handle any pushback/punishment/exclusion” [paraphrasing!] I think a woman needs to be VERY secure in herself when she doesn’t get the reaction she may very well be looking for, consciously or otherwise.

    My nearly 70 y.o. friend [aka The Gilded Lily] is a very over-the-top, trend-hunter type, but she’s not in denial about how she comes across — she says, “my dress of choice is so young that I look like a contrast of opposites…a grape and a prune.”

    Though she loves it when she gets positive feedback, she REALLY doesn’t give a damn if people thinks she looks too [fill in blank] for her age. Which I love.

    I really believe the interior needs to match the exterior front/attitude; IMO a woman who’s all hat and no cattle puts herself in a vulnerable place.

  6. You know that I think “too old” is bullshit if you love something. I mean, really, it’s not like motorcycle boots expose your ass cheeks. They’re just boots! Look at Iris Apfel and tell her she’s too old to dress like she dresses. Awesome anecdote from Vix about her friend.

    Tabitha, I have my eye on knee wrinkles. I find I worry about them less when I stop looking at them though 😉

  7. neki desu – thanks!

    That’s Not My Age – thanks so much!

    Tabitha – thank you. I’m a big fan of 3/4 sleeves myself.

    Make Do Style – thank you!

    Nancy K – yes, I hate to think that women are giving up something they love and that makes them feel good just because of an arbitrary number of candles on the cake!

  8. A-Dubs – thanks so much! How wonderful that you have those women in your family to inspire you.

    unribl – thanks!

    The Style Crone – love your handle! Thanks for stopping by.

    Belle – me too.

    hostess of the humble bungalow – I agree, it is all about attitude. When we wear what we love, it’s also a natural attitude booster!

  9. janavi – yes, leggings are another style I don’t think we should “have to” stop wearing if we love them.

    northmoon – I think there’s a fine line between “I love xyz style and would like to get comfortable wearing it” and “if I want to look current I need to be wearing abc”. Sometimes that line can get blurry too. Trial and error!

    LPC – oh, I agree. I think we have to be conscious of potential consequences and decide if we’re ready to accept them. I think I’m in a place of realizing that some of the consequences I imagined as being intolerable really aren’t.

  10. NancyDaQ – glad you enjoyed, thanks!

    Mardel – exactly, you’ve said it so well and succinctly!

    Vix – oh yes, absolutely. Whatever style dictums we decide to flaunt, it works best when it’s in alignment with our personality and self-image. If it’s done just for effect or rebellion, or to prove we’ve still “got it”, it can come across trying too hard (and I think that’s true regardless of age). But I figure that someone will always criticize no matter *what* we wear, so why not wear what inspires us?

    WendyB – your tagline “Wear What You Want” has definitely been one of my inspirations.

  11. I am really torn about this subject. On the one hand I think anyone should be able to wear anything that they want to. On the other hand – I think Iris Apfel looks silly most of the time, not stylish! I tend more toward the Audrey Hepburn/Lauren Bacall look. If you’re in your 20’s and wearing the boots with, say, a cute short dress, you could carry it off. But I’m afraid that they don’t look good to me on older women. To me they look like the women are trying too hard not to look their age. Sigh … I guess I miss the golden age when women got to dress in a more sophisticate fashion the older they got!

  12. I am really torn about this subject. On the one hand I think anyone should be able to wear anything that they want to. On the other hand – I think Iris Apfel looks silly most of the time, not stylish! I tend more toward the Audrey Hepburn/Lauren Bacall look. If you’re in your 20’s and wearing the boots with, say, a cute short dress, you could carry it off. But I’m afraid that they don’t look good to me on older women. To me they look like the women are trying too hard not to look their age. Sigh … I guess I miss the golden age when women got to dress in a more sophisticate fashion the older they got!

  13. Love your blog, love this post and all the comments !! Very timely for me as I have been mulling this over and around, having recently purged a ton of stuff from my closet, some of which I did deem “too young,” but, ironically, I never dressed like that when I WAS younger LOL !!!
    Lots of good stuff :)))

  14. There was an 80 year old women that used to come to dance class with a cute little mini-skirt over her leotards. She looked great! Not a cheesy, mini-skirt–a dirdle type. I want to be her.

  15. My only rule is that if a trend didn’t look great on me the first trend around, it’s not likely to look that better now. (After all, I haven’t suddenly got a different body.)

    Otherwise, I trust my gut — if it makes me feel great, I wear it. If not, I put it back on the rack (or send it back in the mail).

  16. Thanks for the great photo. I have one of my Grandma and her sister in a similar “get up.” I was proud of her and well dressed she was until she died at age 80 despite having very little money.

    Keep up the great posts–I need the encouragement.

  17. Have been reading here but not commenting. Time to correct that.

    I agree with LPC. In addition, as an older (than most of you) woman one of the mistakes I often see is a woman who from the back looks like she might be 30 and from the front is obviously more like 60. It can be a shock and definately says her clothing style is too young I think.

    As for Arpel, I like her because she’s an original. I don’t care much for her copy cats and think they have made those huge round signature Arpel glasses a code for OLD.


  18. I think the one exception is head to toe vintage after you are out of your 20s-30s. It either winds up looking costumey – or it ages you as there is a matronliness to many older womens garments that can be counteracted by a genuine youthful appearance, but add years past say 35.

    The comfortable in your own skin thing is exactly right – whatever your age.

  19. Here is how I roll. At any time where I work, there could be a lab evacuation via a toxic gas alarm. Usually these alarms are false, but I still dress to evacuate, which includes cargo shorts, to hold all of my things,all “leather” shoes to protect against chemical spills, and a big loose camp shirt, with pockets to hold my usb drives. Fashion fail, but I really don’t care. Really, I don’t care. but I totally agree with Pseu that it shouldn’t matter what other people think. Life Is Short. enjoy (and I love that photo of grand mere and her BFF and “traveling companion”. : ))

  20. Wonderful post!! I noticed a woman last weekend who was probably in her early 60s, wearing a pair of jersey harem pants – and, much as I don’t like the pants in theory – she looked AMAZING. She clearly cared deeply about her style, and oozed confidence. It was a joy to watch her.

  21. I think if it’s something that you’ve always worn or similar to something you’ve always worn, be it motorcycle boot, bikini, animal skin coat, sky-high heels, short skirt, or whatever then you will never be too old.

    Just make sure it fits.

  22. Where I live (Montréal) there would be nothing strange about women of any age wearing the boots shown in the previous post.

    I do find some of the people in the “Advanced Style” blog look absurd, but they would look aburd if they were 20.

    And since I ride my bicycle everywhere most of the year, I certainly wear leggings under skirts on chilly days.

  23. Thank you for a good post! I think that if you are healthy and have a sane mind, you know what to wear when, where and how,

  24. vicki archer – so true!

    Fritnancy – thank you, so do I. It’s one of my favorites.

    Cindy – thank you, and I’m glad it helped!

    Lillian – we all have our own preferences and ideas about what’s appropriate and looks good. I think the most important thing is to dress in accordance with those preferences, rather than trying to dress based on what someone else says we should wear or not wear. Though I appreciate what Iris Apfel does with her amazing wardrobe, it isn’t a look I’d try to emulate, and I too am more in the Audrey/Lauren “simplicity” camp. Thanks for your comment!

    see you there! – thanks for commenting! I think when some women try too hard to look and dress Young, that’s when the look gets jarring. I see women who own their age, but are able to carry off edgier looks precisely because they’re not trying to look like teenagers. I agree about the round glasses, haven’t seen anyone else who can carry them off the way IA does!

    Elizabeth – I think you’ve hit on something there. While we may modify styles as we age, I think there are just certain looks that didn’t work then and don’t work now. It’s not an age thing, it’s a style thing! 😉

  25. NewMe – merci!

    zenartist – I love being inspired like that!

    Tiffany – yes, that’s it. Confidence and feeling like you *belong* in whatever you’re wearing.

    Rubiatonta – that’s true. I think as we get older we develop self-knowledge and better filters to know what works or doesn’t. Back then I’d beat up on myself because my body didn’t look good in certain styles. Now I know that it’s just that the style is wrong for me; I’m not wrong for the style.

    Ms Maven – thanks, glad you enjoyed the photo! My grandmother was always well put-together. I love looking at these old photos of her.

  26. materfamilias – thank you and ooh, looking forward to seeing it!

    RoseAG – yes, fit is key.

    hollarback – maybe so. But maybe there are women out there who are just theatrical enough to make it work without looking like they’ve stepped out of a time warp.

    citizen spot – You crack me up. You’ve always rolled the way that works for you. Bravo to you!

    metscan – yes, exactly!

    lagatta – yes, not everyone at Advanced Style is to my taste, but you’re exactly right that we wouldn’t like those looks on 20 year olds either. I think some of the things Sartorialist posts are goofy, but I can appreciate the bravura. I’ve begun wearing skirts again, thanks to leggings and tights.

  27. I’m late to this party! The problem is, what I may still feel good in can be habit, or I just lose my sense of perspective. So while I agree about rules, I’ve found another set of eyes, either those of a professional (without vested interest) or a very discerning friend who will be honest is essential.

    Sometimes one can have all the attitude in the world and still look getupy.

  28. Another fantastic and wise post, pseu! And great wisdom in the comments as well. Completely agree that it’s all about confidence and not worrying about what others think (and accepting the consequences for that). One of the advantages of getting older is that it gets much easier to stop caring about what anyone else has to say about you, you’ve lived long enough to know it doesn’t matter.

    I also, though, have to occasionally talk myself into something if I don’t want to stagnate. I look at it as experimentation…

  29. Nancy K – cool! Ariat makes some nice boots.

    Ava – yes, no need to retire them if you still love them.

    Duchesse – a trusted friend to provide a second set of eyes can definitely be helpful. I try to limit myself to one potentially envelope-pushing item at a time.

    Veuve – thank you! I probably should have expanded on the “talk yourself into it” concept. I’m in favor of trying new things, definitely. And there’s often some initial discomfort with that.

    Miss Janey – thanks!

  30. My legs are my best asset, and while I would not think of wearing a mini with bare legs, tights and a short (but not vulgar) skirt are a winter mainstay for me. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the way you feel in an outfit is the most telling point…if I feel like a million bucks, it is going to project!

  31. I’ve been having this debate with myself about nail polish colors. I love many of the newer dark colors favored by a younger crowd. I like the dark blue-nearly black shades as well as the deep purples. Not exactly the expected colors for a 61 year old. I’ve asked myself if I should give in to the more “professional” soft colors and came to a decision. If I were very young and hadn’t yet built a body of work, someone might question whether I understood the need to appear professional. Perhaps it would seem that I didn’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not. At this age, I clearly know the difference and have made a choice to indulge myself. If my skills and abilities don’t speak for themselves at this age, they never will. If I can be judged by my nail color, I’m in the wrong group or I’m clearly not as sharp a cookie as I thought. 😉 Age gives you some advantages in determining your own style and your own persona!

  32. I saw a woman who had to be in her 70’s in a jaunty black fisherman cap, cropped jeans paired with boots and a leather jacket. She looked so amazingly cool, hip far more than I was in my grubby mom jeans and over sized tshirt. She looked far younger than I did.

  33. Maravonda – yes! You’ve found a way to wear what you love and feel comfortable with it, well done.

    Anonymous – I’ve found too that once people are familiar with something unexpected that may be a “signature” look (edgy polish in your case) that it becomes part of the whole and doesn’t detract from how you’re perceived professionally (provided you’re not working in investment banking or some other profession that demands a conservative and conformist appearance).

    jilly – she sounds so cool! I love seeing women who have such defined personal style!

  34. Just saw this amazing British grandmother on ABC News. Mammy DJ drinks tea like a proper grandmum by day, DJs globally at night. Check out the wraparound shades!

  35. Well because of you I’m now the proud owner of two pairs of Fluevog’s so I guess you know where I stand on this subject! I’m also lucky to have two stylish teenage daughters and I can always rely on them for fashion truth.

  36. Ava – oh, isn’t she cool?? I think That’s Not My Age featured her a few months back.

    CoudreMODE – don’t you love those Fluevogs and the instant attitude boost they provide? Stylish teenage daughters are a great asset as well!

  37. LOVE THAT! Fully agree. At our age we can still have fun with fashion. In fact I feel a whole lot more daring now than I was when i was still ‘allowed’ to wear all those hip clothes.

  38. I’m a bit late on the comment here, but I have come lately to the realization that too many older women, moms and such, try to look sexy and young whenthey are 35-55 and dress like they are 25. There used ot be a difference in how respectable women, prostitutes ,am young womena and older women dress. Now who in the heck knows who anyone is and why everyone has to look ‘ sexy’ all the time. I wrote a post about women of all ages showing WAY too much cleavage of late, it is getting worse, and women will eventually bear the brunt of our dumb, misguided desire to be sexy at all ages at whatever costs. Let me jump off my soapbox or I will be on here all night. take care, Gina

  39. Dress to suit yourself and sticking to classic always works, but have fun with accessories. I thought I’d be wearing purple and sensible (translate “ugly”) shoes in my 60s but I’m enjoying fashion as much as my daughter. Fit is most important; get a tailor or a sewing machine and make the needed alterations. Slim down those flared pants/jeans to update for a few more seasons, shorten a sleeve…

  40. I used to feel as a woman of a certain age I looked great.

    That was before breakdown, bipolar I diagnose, Lamictical and other weight gain meds and the wonderful feeling of imaging everyone in our small university town is pointing.

    “That’s the woman that had the shoe/accessory shop! I haven’t seen her for ages. What happened to her? God, she got fat!

    Yes, I know they probably have better things to do than that. But there’s Schadenfreude out there too.

    I’m working on it but it’s f”ing tough.