One expression that pops up frequently when it comes to age inappropriate style is “mutton dressed as lamb,” often applied to us old broads when someone feels we aren’t following the rules for our age group, whatever they might be at the time. As offensive as I generally find that expression, I do believe there is such a thing as age-appropriate dressing, and that “age-appropriate” can still leave a lot of room for individual style, for flair and creativity, for elegance, and even for a bit of understated sexiness.
I used to participate in the occasional focus group, and one I did many years ago for face cream introduced me to the phrase, “down-aging,” meaning that women are looking and acting ten years younger at 40, 50, 60 than they did a generation ago. While I think it’s great that we no longer are forced by convention to follow arbitrary dictates once there are a certain number of candles on the cake, tossing the rulebook out the window always results in some floundering.
In our youth-obsessed culture, it’s just assumed that we all want to look 25 years old. It seems to une femme that women who have a large part of their identity tied up in being conventionally attractive seem to have the toughest time letting go of styles that worked for them in their youth. In my humble opinion, there is a point where hanging onto the fashions that worked in our 20’s starts to backfire, and makes us look not only older, but sometimes even ridiculous. (The exception seems to be those fortunate women who develop a unique and timless style early in life, and hang onto it through the decades.) Even if our weight remains constant, our bodies and faces change with time, and what was flattering for us a couple of decades ago may no longer be so. Too much skin, too much “flounce” (ruffles, lace, eyelet, cutesy details), too much makeup, too many trends worn simultaneously…all of these are traps for the not-so-young woman.
But on the other hand, throwing aside all concern for contemporary style can result in looking dated, frumpy and disengaged, which for women (and men) working in a corporate environment is an economic risk when outsourcing, downsizing, realigning and streamlining means we’re often in competition for jobs with recent college grads.
How does one walk that fine line between dressing “too young” and looking like a member of the Sunny Acres Shuffleboard Team? Sherrie Matheison’s book, Forever Cool: How to Achieve Ageless, Youthful and Modern Personal Style has some great pointers. Matheison stresses simple, clean lines, choosing colors carefully (she’s thumbs down on jewel tones, thumbs up on brights and earth tones), keeping accessories clean and current, and not being afraid of bold jewelry. What I like most about this book is that it’s packed full of before-and-after photos of real women of different sizes and doesn’t try to squeeze everyone into a single, boring, cookie cutter style. There’s also a section for men, and shopping suggestions. While her “after” ensembles aren’t universally appealing to me, there’s enough variety to get some general ideas that can be adopted to suit one’s indivdual preferences. This isn’t a book for serious fashionistas, but I think it is one of the more practical style guides out there for lesfemmes d’un certain age.
These are a couple examples of “after” work looks that appealed to me.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve at times been tempted to hire a stylist, if only for an afternoon to help me go through my closet and figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. While I know what appeals to me when I see it on a hanger, I’m not always the greatest judge of how well certain styles look on me, though I am good with colors. It’s probably a good idea for us all to get the benefit of a discerning but unbiased eye from time to time to help assess whether updates are needed. While looking like a sweet young thing may no longer be in the cards, looking smart, fresh and contemporary is a real confidence booster. And we’re never too old for that.
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