Walking The Line

 

Personal style has often felt to me like more of a balancing act than anything. We have to find and walk that fine line between too dressy and too casual, too conservative and too trendy, too loose and too tight, too somber and too bright, too “done” and too “laissez-faire,” among other considerations. And the line shifts with our life circumstances, geography, budget, and philosophy.

But the line that seems to demand increased attention, especially as applied to les femmes d’un certain age is that line between “trying too hard” and “letting oneself go.” Crossing this line in either direction garners sharp cultural disdain. It’s about more than appearance; it’s also about enforcing cultural norms and behaviors. That said, we still have to live work and function within our own cultures, workplaces, communities, and while I’m not advocating mindless conformity, most of us who are interested in style as personal expression want our message to be understood.

Last week Lisa at Privilege wrote a beautiful post (but her posts are always beautiful) about, in part, walking that line, as manifested by her long grey hair and flare leg jeans. I love what she says here,

One could also, however interpret “letting oneself go,” to mean letting oneself go – forward.


That right there, that’s the crux of it, that true north to help us find and walk that line between “letting oneself go” and “trying too hard.” Is our style moving forward with us? Because life doesn’t go backward. Trying to dress to recapture who we were in the past, that’s where we tend to veer into “trying too hard” territory. (My own style journey has been sidetracked at times by nostalgia, wanting to recreate an adult elegance as perceived through a child’s eyes.)  Are we dressing, wearing our hair, making choices based on who we are and how we live our lives today, and moving into the future?

I’ve always asserted that my goal isn’t to look *young* but rather to look *current.* I’m fine with looking my age; I just want to look vital, engaged, vibrant, my best self at whatever age. That doesn’t mean following every trend, but rather selectively incorporating those larger shifts in style that seem to occur every few years, while at the same time retaining the roots of what make my style my own. So sometimes a trend piques my interest, and I’m willing to give it a try if I believe it might jibe with my taste and style. As Lisa said, “I’m the boss of what 55 means.” We’re all the boss of what our age means. But you can’t be the boss of 55 or 65 or 75 if you’re trying to pretend you’re 25.

We can’t continue to hone our own style by trying to be someone else, or trying to be someone we once were. I say, embrace your age, be the boss of it and dress for it, whatever that means to you.
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63 Comments

  1. December 7, 2011 / 11:56 am

    Oh My God I LOVE this.

    I too am the boss of what a 39 year old new mother wears (Gold Missoni kaftan last night, leopard print arrangement today).

    I once got a comment on my blog asking why I dressed like a 50 year old. I don’t know? Because I can?

    People used to have all these crazy rules- cut your locks at a certain age etc but I think those days are over.

    We can all march to the beat of our Individual Fashion Drums.

    Hooray for Options.

  2. December 7, 2011 / 12:12 pm

    Amen, I’m in sweats for the third day in a row, I’m cosy and comfy and I get things done in sweats, i don’t care if I look like a down and out!

  3. December 7, 2011 / 12:12 pm

    Amen, I’m in sweats for the third day in a row, I’m cosy and comfy and I get things done in sweats, i don’t care if I look like a down and out!

  4. December 7, 2011 / 12:12 pm

    Hee hee – Faux Fuchsia and I are polar opposites!

  5. December 7, 2011 / 12:12 pm

    Hee hee – Faux Fuchsia and I are polar opposites!

  6. December 7, 2011 / 12:31 pm

    Wonderful post, Pseu! I am walking the line with you, enjoying all the changes while trying to refine and define my own style more as I go.

  7. December 7, 2011 / 2:01 pm

    “I just want to look vital, engaged, vibrant, my best self at whatever age. “

    Nuggets like this is why I, in my late 20s, read this blog.

    I remember Mom telling me about a coworker who lamented turning 30 because that meant she had to cut her hair. I was a pre-teen at the time and that didn’t make any sense to me. If she didn’t want to cut it, then she shouldn’t cut it, I thought. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but now I understand better how following “rules” can help people feel more secure.

    If you follow the rules and something doesn’t work out, you can say, “That’s life. I did what I was supposed to.”

    If you follow your own desires and something doesn’t work out, you might begin to wonder, “If I had followed the rules, I might be unhappy, but at least this embarrassment wouldn’t have happened. What’s wrong with me that I make such bad decisions?”

    Rules might be stifling, but at least they offer security. It takes courage to make one’s own decisions.

    I think I’m rambling now; I can’t seem to concisely connect what I’m thinking.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the post.

  8. Priscilla
    December 7, 2011 / 2:35 pm

    I’m 42 and prefer classic clothes, but I tend to worry whether I am dressing too “old” or “conservative” even though I *feel* comfortable. I try to mix things up a bit, but I’m petite so I worry about looking twee or like I’m trying too hard when I go the other direction. I want to be comfortable and stylish and sexy and classic all at the same time, but I have yet to figure out how to pull it off.

    Quite frankly, it annoys the hell out of me that I have to think about it at all. Men don’t have to think about changing what they wear as they age. They wear the same things their whole lives–and we’re supposed to pay attention to the person inside the clothes, to his intelligence and accomplishments. For us, it’s still all about what to do with our legs, butts, boobs and faces–and the hair! Can you imagine the time we would have if we didn’t have to think about it all? Yet I refuse to NOT think about it, because to me that means giving up.

    Sorry…I guess this touched a nerve!

  9. Luna
    December 7, 2011 / 2:36 pm

    Pseu, many who chat on the 12Blueprints FB are also assessing their Kibbe style. Not easy as his book is a bit outdated and does not have enough photos to illustrate the different styles, but those who get there seem to arrive at Nirvana. I am having a revelation of sorts myself. His approach combines body shape/proportion/facial structure and features/style personality all in one. You may find second-hand copies of his book “Methamorphosis” on Amazon.

  10. Luna
    December 7, 2011 / 2:39 pm

    “Metamorphosis” — the perils of English as a second language…

  11. December 7, 2011 / 3:18 pm

    Pseu, thank you very much for listening. It is so nice to hear your graceful, warm, intelligent voice pick up the discussion. You’ve inspired me. I am thinking now about how much our physical presence, as women, is owned by the larger culture. So many turns in society have been accompanied by a change in women’s wear, the corset, the bra, the miniskirt, the bikini. We are, I suppose, the body politic. At 50, may we please have it back? Can we regain ownership, please?

  12. December 7, 2011 / 3:26 pm

    There is a lady at church who blessherheart must be at least 80. She dresses nicely and is always very carefully made up – but with bright colors to go with her jet-black hair. I do admire her determination to look nice – at least she is not wearing shorts and Crocs to church – but she would look even nicer with soft makeup and her natural hair.

    I look at her and think, “It’s time to develop my going-gray strategy.” You are correct: it is possible to be current and be elegantly at one’s age.

  13. December 7, 2011 / 3:49 pm

    Trust you to so helpfully and succinctly take Lisa’s wisdom and extend the conversation. Well said.

  14. December 7, 2011 / 3:50 pm

    Words of wisdom in the world of fashion.
    letting oneself go is like giving up,
    letting oneself go forward sounds much better!

    I feel that I need to fit into my peer group at school maintaining a professional presence while adding some fun, a smattering of colour so the students don’t think I am boring and comfort when moving about.

    How about a pve for the Hostess, bear in mind I am nudging 57!

  15. Luciana
    December 7, 2011 / 4:21 pm

    I get so much inspiration from looking at blogs like this, and also from people I encounter in the “real world” and also in the media. I would like to see a post on personal style icons over 35+….and a discussion which compares and contrasts the differences and strengths/weaknesses of the different styles.

    My most recent inspiration was an amazingly sixtyish art history professor who was guiding a tour in Tuscany. She had bobbed hair that was naturally graying and her clothes and accessories, particulary her use of color, were AMAZING.

    On television I really admire Patricia Wettig’s character Holly Harper in “Brothers and Sisters.” She wears her hair as long amd as blonde as she did when she played Nancy in Thirtysomething but it looks even better, in my opinion, and she does NOT look like she is trying too hard. She just looks natural and SOOOOO beautiful. I am still trying to figure out how she works this magic when so many others would look ridiculous!

  16. December 7, 2011 / 4:46 pm

    Very thoughtful post. Times of transition present unique opportunities for change in all areas, including style. However, for me, I cannot see myself without a hat as I ‘let myself go!’

  17. December 7, 2011 / 6:43 pm

    I’m not sure what “trying too hard” means…I guess you’re specifically talking about trying to look like something you’re not? Because I enjoy people who clearly put a helluva lot of effort in: Lady Gaga, Daphne Guinness, Iris Apfel, just to name the obvious ones.

  18. Jill Ann
    December 7, 2011 / 6:49 pm

    For several months I’ve been attending a weekly meeting (Weight Watchers) populated mostly by middle aged women. I’ve been observing middle-aged-woman hairstyles with particular interest lately. So many of these women do color their hair, but then they very often wear it in the short, layered, shaved-neck style, usually with shortish bangs. TERRIBLY frumpy IMO. There are two women with beautiful silver hair, who also have more stylish cuts; one with a short bob, one with kind of a shaggy layered short cut. I think the silver color may make them look older, but the style makes them look way more “with it” than the brown-haired frumpy cut ladies. I color my hair and will probably do so until I’m 80! As I get grayer I’m also getting blonder; I realize that’s the cliche’ thing to do, but as I was a blond toddler I feel that I have the coloring for it. I’m wearing a chin length bob with bangs, because my hair looks better at this length. It’s curly, so I’ve tried to find a style that lets it be curly without looking like a perm! Straightening the bangs and smoothing out a few side pieces seems to do the trick. How much time (both physical and mental) we would have if we didn’t have to “do” our hair!

  19. December 7, 2011 / 7:07 pm

    I read that post about to grey or not to grey – and I think you’ve captured this balancing act perfectly. Trying – but not too hard – whatever that may mean. And knowing that whatever that is, it will evolve as our styles have evolved throughout our lives – by choice, and circumstance.

  20. December 7, 2011 / 8:12 pm

    Well said. I interpret ‘trying too hard’ as having a high-maintenance image that requires a lot of work – and would rather look effortlessly stylish than overdone. And I agree about those shifts in style that suddenly make a wardrobe look dated, it’s important to make small tweaks and changes, to continue to look modern.

  21. Pam @ over50feeling40
    December 7, 2011 / 3:03 pm

    Love this post and the discussion. It has helped me so much to decide what I want to Communicate with my style and then stick to those guidelines. I really believe it has resulted in Pam-style at 58!! I had let myself go which in a sense led me to a place of realization where I eventually found myself and new confidence and joy! I hope that makes sense…it does to me!!

  22. Chicatanyage
    December 7, 2011 / 3:14 pm

    Excellent philosophy. I am looking for a knee length winter coat at the moment and am not having much luck. They are either too short and trendy or a bit staid and boring. Where is the balance?

  23. Ms. M
    December 7, 2011 / 3:55 pm

    I’ve always been interested in personal style, but never really acted on it until a few years ago, when I looked at a picture of myself and realized I was in a rut and looked older than I felt.

    I was dressing “nicely”, i.e., not too casual; and I didn’t want to look like a 20-year old; but the cut and color of my clothing was not flattering and didn’t reflect my personality. And my makeup, which I’d “simplified” over the years, was outdated because I’d just kept buying and using the same products over and over.

    After some experimentation, I’m now starting to settle into a new look with my wardrobe and makeup. My clothes are not “youthful” but they fit me better and make me look more vibrant. I plan to keep my makeup simple and will surely do some paring down; but this time, I’ll avoid falling into a rut.

    I’ve learned that, no matter how simple or defined my look is, I will always need to keep trying new things. Yesterday’s pink lipstick is not the same as tomorrow’s. And that “classic” shoe I wore and loved in college won’t necessarily look so great on my middle-aged self. And all v-neck sweaters are not created equal.

  24. Priscilla
    December 8, 2011 / 12:10 am

    @PriscillaJust as clarification, I meant “trying too hard” as in, trying too hard to look much younger. At least here in Atlanta, I see a lot of women my age and older who are dressing the same as their teenage daughters, and it looks ridiculous. And in response to Wendy B’s comment below–I don’t think any of those women she listed are trying too hard. They have a unique persona based on who they are. I suppose that theory could also go for the “mall moms” around here, but there are too many of them to be considered unique.

  25. Anonymous
    December 8, 2011 / 2:54 am

    Why, why??? do women of a certain age wear their hair in that short frumpy style? I’m seriously asking!
    I’m 54 btw

  26. Susan Tiner
    December 7, 2011 / 8:10 pm

    I loved Lisa’s post and enjoyed reading your follow up post and discussion. Personal style does seem like a balancing act. Your rubric of looking “vibrant, engaged, vibrant, my best self at whatever age” resonates with me. As for balancing letting oneself go and trying too hard, I was definitely erring on the side of former and appreciate the results of engaging in a personal style quest. I feel better. On the other hand, I sense the tension of “trying too hard” or at least what that means to me. It doesn’t mean trying to look like someone I’m not (although I suppose it’s possible I could get lost on a track like that) it has more to do with keeping my life simple and prioritizing the way I spend my time and money. I’ve been noodling about these thoughts and will likely devote a post to it early January.

  27. Tiffany
    December 7, 2011 / 8:39 pm

    I guess it’s about figuring out what works for oneself. Trouble is, I change my mind all the time – sometimes I want my whole wardrobe to be classic; other times I get so bored I just have to go out and buy red jeans. I worry that I look boring; then I worry that I’m MDAL …

  28. Paula
    December 7, 2011 / 11:52 pm

    I can’t let go of that shallow saying “50 is the new 30”. 50 does not look anything like 50 used to look like these days. At least not in my working environment. I guess 50 really is the new 30?

    In my opinion, many young girls try too hard. They wear their mum’s clothes, their mum’s purses and the hairstyle is what I can only describe as conservative. What happened to the girls? They seem neither vibrant nor engaged. Just boring. All that counts is long hair and skinny jeans. Boooring! Ok, this is not nice to say. But I am not taking it back. *send* 🙂

  29. Debbi@SheAccessorizesWell
    December 8, 2011 / 1:39 am

    You are such an excellent writer. I love reading your posts because they make me think in ways I might not have otherwise. I think I am still trying to figure out my style. I certainly enjoy trying!

  30. metscan
    December 8, 2011 / 7:29 am

    Hi, I agree on much you wrote and nod my head.
    However, I am interested in fashion, as I am interested in other things too.
    By no means am I a fashion blogger; I only write on clothes, if I happen to see ( in magazines ) or buy ( for myself ) something I am interested in.
    I am not following trends, I choose clothes from what is available per time.
    However in fashion, as in interior decoration, and as in every other thing as well, I only update my possessions from time to time. This is ok for me, this is enough for me : )

  31. coffeeaddict
    December 8, 2011 / 8:26 am

    Beautifully written, it does feel like a balance most of the times. I seriously debated not writing a comment because right now I’m so tired of fashion. More annoyed really. The blogosphere is buzzing with daily pics of who wore what mixed with scanned images from fashion magazines.
    It’s all just flash no substance.
    I love the personal aspect of this dialogue: what Lisa wrote and your post. Style is an outward expression of our personality and everything you wrote about. Let’s not make it about labels please! Like Lisa wrote, can we please regain ownership?

  32. Ann
    December 8, 2011 / 4:35 pm

    Very thought-provoking post as usual, but what caught my eye is the Light Summer palette on the right side of your blog. I had remembered you saying you were a soft autumn — your story must be interesting to make such a change in seasons.

  33. December 8, 2011 / 5:07 pm

    @Bourbon&Pearls Sometimes a girl just needs to be cosy and comfy. I’m a big believer in Whatever Works.

  34. December 8, 2011 / 5:09 pm

    @Nethwen Thanks so much! I think you have a good point about why we tend to cling to rules about style and what’s “age appropriate.”

  35. December 8, 2011 / 5:15 pm

    @Priscilla I’ve always preferred more classic clothes as well, and it’s challenging sometimes to keep “classic” looking “modern.” I’ve come to enjoy exploring style, but agree that we should be judged on our accomplishments and character too.

  36. December 8, 2011 / 5:17 pm

    @Luna I’ve been looking at the Kibbe stuff online, and am pretty sure I’d fall into “Soft Gamine” category, based on the answers to the questionnaire. I may have to look at the book. Thanks!

  37. December 8, 2011 / 5:25 pm

    @Chicatanyage I hear you! Sometimes there’s not much middle ground between drab and over-the-top.

  38. December 8, 2011 / 5:27 pm

    @LPC Thank you so much, and for the inspiration as well. I do think we are slowly wresting back that ownership, one flared-leg step at a time…

  39. December 8, 2011 / 5:29 pm

    @Class factotum I’ve started looking more closely at my roots to try to determine whether that day is here, and I’m saying, not yet. But I do want to start to transition to softer, lighter, color, and start getting used to moving in that direction. God Bless some of those raven-haired, red-lipped ladies, though. They can be as strong as their look.

  40. December 8, 2011 / 5:33 pm

    @hostess of the humble bungalow Ooh, a Hostess Polyvore, that sounds like a fun endeavor. Most of us do have to make some concessions to our culture and environment, but you really do seem to have developed a signature style that’s both professional and fun.

  41. December 8, 2011 / 5:37 pm

    @Ms. M Thanks for sharing your style journey with us, and I’m so happy to hear you’ve found your groove! It’s true, we can have signature pieces, but need to reevaluate periodically whether they need updating.

  42. December 8, 2011 / 5:44 pm

    @Luciana Thanks so much. So many of my style icons these days are other bloggers! Some people really can hit on a good look that carries them through the decades. But I’d be interested to see whether that hair still works when she hits 65 or 70.

  43. December 8, 2011 / 5:47 pm

    @The Style Crone Thank you! I cannot see you without a hat either, as it’s such a cornerstone of your look.

  44. December 8, 2011 / 5:50 pm

    @WendyB I think “trying too hard” means being out of alignment with who you are. The women you mention all have a style that’s totally an expression of who they are, so I don’t consider them “trying too hard.”

  45. December 8, 2011 / 6:00 pm

    @Jill Ann I think I know what you mean, but disagree that short layered hair always means frumpy. It really just depends on a woman’s style and facial features (frankly, I look much frumpier with a bob, the same style that I admire on so many other women!) I do think more natural and less “done” hairstyles often look more modern, but they require women to make peace with their hair texture and find a cut/style that is in harmony. I know the women with curly hair really struggle with finding a good stylist and style; it’s not easy!

  46. December 8, 2011 / 6:06 pm

    @Tiffany I’m starting to make peace with that part of myself, and not get too hung up on consistency. I think our wardrobe has to have maneuvering room for moods and whims, which are also part of who we are. And your red jeans are NOT MDAL. I’ll bet you look great in them!

  47. December 8, 2011 / 6:09 pm

    @Paula Wouldn’t it be nice if we could let go of expectations about what a certain age ‘should’ be? I think there’s still a lot of pressure on young women to fit in, which breeds that conformity.

  48. December 8, 2011 / 6:17 pm

    @Anonymous I dunno, maybe because it’s easy? Or someone has told them “this is how you should wear your hair when you’re ___ years old/”? Or maybe the just don’t have time and money to invest?

  49. December 8, 2011 / 6:19 pm

    @metscan Mette, I see your very thoughtful and considered style decisions, and admire the level of consciousness and discipline you bring to it. And I see your style evolving too, in a good way.

  50. December 8, 2011 / 6:21 pm

    @coffeeaddict Thank you! And I’m in complete agreement, let’s make style about our lives and personalities, let’s take back ownership of our ages, our bodies, all of it.

  51. December 8, 2011 / 6:27 pm

    @Ann Hi Ann, thanks. I’d never been analyzed as a Soft Autumn, I’d just self-diagnosed based on what I believed about my skin tones and coloring. After really doing a lot more research online, and looking at pictures of color analysis of other people, and feeling like I couldn’t quite get my colors “right” I began thinking I might be a Light Spring. But I knew I needed to get a professional analysis done before I invested any more money in clothing. The big surprise was that my skin tone is neutral-to-cool rather than warm, but when you see the effects of the different colors during the analysis, there’s no question. I just wish my camera setup had been working, would have loved to have some pictures to show!

  52. December 9, 2011 / 1:11 am

    Hear, hear! Just bought about my 6th Ca va de soie fine merino v-neck in a green flecked with black. No one will know it is new. Fine with me.

    At the heart of it, for me, is whether I want my clothing tastes to be influenced by fear or by joy.

  53. fashion and frank
    December 13, 2011 / 7:44 pm

    What a great post – i find all the rules of age and what you should and shouldnt be doing quite stupid really – it is indeed about embracing who you are now and feeling good in it and i quite like being a bit older because i can embrace more elegant fashions that would have felt too old before and yes i cant always do the trendy cool things but i dont think i really want to anymore – it is all about expressing yourself and being happy and confident in what you wear whatever that might be – nothing more attractive xx

    http://fashionandfrank.blogspot.com/

    PS it was your post on the remote that inspired me to take it outside – i just need to learn to stand on the cross – some judicious cropping was necessary xx

  54. December 14, 2011 / 3:35 pm

    There are so many great re-quotes in this. As in I want to requote this entire post to so many dear friends who are either fighting the age, or have given up. Wonderful words for going forward. the Citizen Rosebud

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