Does Dressing For Your Age Still Exist?

Jane Fonda posing in a long fuchsia gown on the red carpet

We've all read "What To Wear For Your Age" stories, from "Things You Should No Longer Wear When You're in Your 30s"-type pieces to Harper's Bazaar's iconic "Fabulous at Every Age" monthly feature. We exist in a world in which we are told to wear certain things at a certain age and—in turn—to avoid wearing certain things because of it. But does that theory still hold water in 2017? As people take better care of themselves and our life expectancy increases, our 40s and 50s and even decades beyond no longer look like they used to. Grandmas can be as chic as women in their 20s and 30s (sometimes more so).

Above image and homepage image courtesy of Getty Images

I was raised by a woman who is always dressed to the nines. Whether she is running to the grocery store or heading to the airport to board a flight, my mother is perfectly appointed and accessorized. She is also very interested in fashion. Sometime she tells me—a fashion journalist—what I simply must invest in this season. At 71, she cares very much about the new denim trends, the latest in heel shapes and the hottest silhouettes of the season. So, who better to ask about this very subject than the woman known among her friends as the "Queen of Accessories"?

"I have always loved quality classic and simple styles with great lines, so I would say my style really hasn't changed much at all," she says of how her clothing choices have evolved over the years. "In my 40s, I probably bought more trendy pieces, which I only do very carefully now. I think a 70ish woman should wear whatever she looks good in and not even think about her age." To her, being appropriately dressed is about being happy in what you're wearing. "I do not think there should be such a thing as dressing for your age," she says. "How does a 70-year-old dress? That is just too depressing. I think you should wear what makes you feel good about yourself and what looks great on you. I also think you should look put together and neat when you are a little older. Accessories are a must for the pulled-together look." And while she forgoes the concept of dressing for one's age, she does believe there is such a thing as age-appropriateness. "The only two absolute nos would be very short skirts and any top that is revealing." Noted.

For perspective from the other end of the age spectrum, I turned to my former intern—a 23-year-old recent college graduate—and asked her how her style has evolved since entering the workforce. Some 50 years apart, she and my mother's ideas about fashion are surprisingly similar, harkening back to a desire for classic pieces. "I think when I entered the working world, my style definitely changed," she says. "It became more minimal, and I started to invest in quality clothing over quantity. I still like to shop at fast-fashion brands, but I am no longer chasing trends like I used to, and I'm sticking to a more classic look."

Ironically, despite the fact that my intern is young—or perhaps because of it—she does feel there is such a thing as dressing for your age. "I think there are certain things you can get away with when you're young that you should not carry over as you get older," she explains. "It's important to be self-aware when it comes to fashion and dress for your age and your body type, while also dressing in a way that makes you feel beautiful and confident.” Hmmm. While differing on the larger matter at hand, it seems we are all in agreement on no short skirts or too-revealing tops past a certain age. Point taken.

Still undecided as to where we stand as a fashion community on the issue of dressing for your age, I turned to the 30something editorial director of this very site. The tiebreaker, if you will? Her fashion mantra aligns with my mom's. "If you love your legs, show them off—whether you are 22 or 62," she says. "I think it's more important to spend the time figuring out what flatters your body and fits your lifestyle than worrying if you are dressing your age."

But she, too, cautions to be honest about the types of pieces that no longer serve you. "As someone who loves having fun with clothes, it takes a lot for me to close the door on something, but I admit I can no longer pull off a romper or a Peter Pan collar minidress,” she says. "They look like a costume now."

All of this got me thinking about where I—a just-turned-40-year-old woman—stand on the issue. I, too, know enough to have sold all of my rompers and yet will wear short denim cutoffs on a hot summer day, so who's to say what's appropriate? Sure, I have looked at more than one photo from my late 20s or early 30s and cringed, seriously wondering if I owned a mirror at the time, but that doesn't mean there still aren't plenty of things from those decades I wear proudly. And while I love following trends, I'll admit I feel much less of a need to even attempt the ones I don't think will flatter my body anymore. More than anything, I want nice, classic investment pieces that defy seasonal whims.

All of that said, I have to believe that with all the ways women and even the aging process have changed and progressed, it's ridiculous to think a 70-year-old woman shouldn't be allowed to care about trends or that a 20something doesn't need to consider what's appropriate. In my opinion, dressing for your age is as much a thing of the past as the cold-shoulder trend is bound to be any day now. Dressing for your body and for what feels good on you? Now that's timeless.