A few days ago, I was sitting in the dental chair of my dentist’s office waiting to have my molars grinded down and filled (they’re too deep, apparently.) I decided to dress up since I rarely have any real occasions to do so in my post-college pre-good job life, so I wore my sheer chiffon leopard tunic with a red velvet blazer over top, skinny jeans, and my knee-high boots. One of the dental assistants commented that she liked the outfit, but said that she’s too much of an “old fuddy-duddy” now to wear something like it. She was probably in her late twenties at most, and yet she called herself an old fuddy-duddy? I wanted to tell her she could wear whatever she wanted, but by that point my mouth was full of dental equipment. I started thinking about my own age. Will I be too old for my clothes in five or six years? What a scary thought…
This is a question that has been on my mind for a long time. Can a person age out of of their style? Should we have to abandon our styles as we get older, in favor of arbitrary “age appropriate” ones? My heart wants to say no. But, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.
Last year, I wrote a rhetoric essay on the implications that make-over shows like “What Not to Wear” place on clothing and appearance. In the essay, I discussed the way the hosts Stacy and Clinton present clothing as a kind of undeniable social marker. If someone dresses sloppy, society will equate them as sloppy, you get the drift. The show stresses the need for clothing to match the person, in terms of age, gender, and career status. Women in their thirties are chastized for wearing tight-fitting mini-skirts and “club” clothes because those things aren’t “age appropriate.” To me, that kind of takes a lot of the fun out of fashion. Yes, we wear clothing primarily out of nesessity – for warmth and protection from the elements, but if you have to wear something, and you have the means, have fun with it! Dress in a way that makes you happy, don’t dress to please others.
I think that these make-over shows have greatly influenced our outlook on fashion and age. If you look at old family photos or watch old movies, people were still wearing polka-dots, cat-eye glasses, silk circle skirts, and kitten heels well into their thirties, forties, and fifties. Your life doesn’t end when you get older.
Sometimes certain styles are inappropriate.
Now, there certainly are situations where we need to fit into the “What Not to Wear” rules. Never, never, NEVER walk into a job interview for an exectutive position wearing a pair of dirty sweatpants. There are times when dressing “richly” and “professionally” can benefit us. Society (as in the job interviewers) will likely view you as more professional when you wear tailored slacks and a crisp white button up blouse, as opposed to the dirty sweatpants (yes, no shirt).
So outside of work-related situations and other scenarios where your clothing can make a difference, why can’t a twenty-two year old dress like a Japanese gothic lolita from Harajuku street? Is twenty-two really that old? (I happen to be twenty-two right now!) Here is my observation and point of contingency with this whole dressing appropriately theory: From the time we are born to the last moment of being underage (of-age being 18 or possibly 21) we are subject to the clothing guidelines of our parents and guardians, and are expected not to dress in a way that is too adult, so nothing too sexy or vulgar. But, ironically, dressing seductively has become so quintesentially “teenaged.” Now that I am above age, and legally an adult in every way, I want to finally wear what I want to wear, so I do, but I have my grandmother and the voices of Stacey and Clinton haunting me about “dressing appropriately.”
For work situations, I aim for classy but chic business attire. Nothing with too much excitement but enough to catch a potential employer’s attention in a positive way. I don’t bring a huge amount of my personal style into this. Now, I feel that a person should make clear distinctions between work and non-work life. So, work aside, shouldn’t I be able to dress how I want during my free time? Even my boyfriend made a comment that I looked “too much like a teenager” on one occasion. That irked me. Teenage fashion greatly mimics what’s hot in adult fashion. It’s what’s marketable to teenagers, because they want to be adults. (I suppose in some areas of the market, it works the other way around as well, but shush with that.)
The point I am trying to make here is that as long as the style in question isn’t hurting a person’s chance at advancing in her career, then have at it! How we dress in our free time is our business. Now, that’s not to say that dressing like a giant baby isn’t creepy, but hey, it’s none of my business.
Have fun with fashion!
Betsey Johnson (pictured at right) is in her sixties and she’s still dressing like a sixteen year old. Ugh, I can hear Stacey and Clinton haunting me with their words again. They would say that people like fashion designers and rock stars are allowed to dress crazily because of their careers. Yeah, they can get away with it without catching as much flack as you or I would, but why should they have all the fun? Break the fashion rules! Wear white after labor day! Mix brown with black! Pair plaid with stripes! Dress “young,” and “old”! Have fun, because our time in this existence (at least in our current forms) is limited. I think that dressing like a crazy maniac adds to the fun.
If your style does change as you age, it should be a natural progression and evolution of your personal taste. Women over sixty shouldn’t have to ditch their beloved style in favor of short, permed hair cuts and pastel polyester slacks. And, seriously, the argument of “wouldn’t you feel silly being an old lady and dressing like a young person?” doesn’t fly. Old people are already silly.
So, what are your thoughts? What styles should be limited to “young” people? Comment, tweet, digg!
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