Since last week was an ode to growing up, I wanted to bring it back down to the art of getting dressed every day. Dressing age-appropriately is so lovely. There are a couple of things that make me sad: young girls dressing way too sexy in an attempt to grow up more quickly and older women trying to dress like teenagers in an attempt to never age. Both plans backfire. Your age is your age, no matter how badly you want to be a different age. So I think the first step to dressing for your age is accepting your age. And accepting is great, but rejoicing is even better. Rejoice in the years you have been given. Celebrate birthdays! Time is one of the greatest gifts, so don’t waste it.
Here are a few ideas for dressing well and graciously at any age.
I know it is popular to look “effortless” right now, but most good things require effort. In this fallen world, the only effortless thing is entropy. Without maintenance, things just fall apart. Even questionable style choices require some effort. That 28-year-old guy wandering around the chip aisle at the grocery store in a shark onesie still had to choose that particular onesie. And zip it up. And find socks and sandals to go with his onesie. It’s not much effort, but it still required some dodgy choices. Don’t be like that guy dressed as Left Shark. Make good choices.
Don’t be afraid to look like you made an effort. Will people notice? As somebody who dresses up on a pretty regular basis, I can assure you that people do notice effort. If I’m dressed nicely at the grocery store, I’m usually complimented by at least one or two old ladies, because old ladies enjoy pretty clothes. Small children usually let me know what they think as well. Little girls are the most ardent and outspoken admirers of pretty clothes. If how I dress meets the approval of grandmas and tiny girls, I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job. (To the mamas out there – your daughters notice everything. The way you dress and the way you handle body issues will inform how they dress as they grow up.)
There has been a fundamental shift in fashion – from dressing for other people to “dressing for yourself”. I thoroughly enjoy my clothes, but I don’t get dressed for myself. Dress to suit the occasion and dress to honor other people. It will automatically make your clothing choices more thoughtful and deliberate.
Effort is important, but it isn’t enough on its own. It is very possible to expend a whole lot of effort without good results to show for that effort. For example, if none of your clothes go together, you can spend a lot of time and energy putting together an outfit, but still fail to achieve the kind of outfit you want. Effort and strategy go hand in hand. Sometimes the effort is best spent being strategic about how to get ready quickly in the morning, whether that means showering and washing your hair the night before or planning out outfits for a week. Figure out the most important steps of your morning routine and focus on those when you are running late. On rushed mornings, I have a ranking of importance: clothes, brushed hair, contacts, makeup, earrings. If it’s a very busy morning, clothes are my focus – the simpler the better. (To be honest, I usually don’t wear earrings or other jewelry, because they are so far down on the list of importance.)
Fit Is Everything
In my opinion, fit is the most important aspect to dressing well at any age. Baggy, oversized silhouettes are everywhere right now, sometimes paired with something skin-tight. Huge sweatshirts over leggings, long blazers paired with spandex bike shorts (yes, it is a trend), sports bras worn under sheer oversized t-shirts, tiny, tight, body-con dresses or loose, flowy, low-cut maxi dresses – not much in the middle. That is because oversized clothes and stretchy clothes are easy to manufacture and they don’t need to fit correctly. Designing clothing that fits correctly is significantly more challenging.
Most trends are aimed to the very young. Crop tops for example. Even if I thought crop tops were cute, there is nowhere in my life where a crop top is appropriate. Even for a high schooler, I’m not sure where a crop top would be appropriate. Also, I’m so tired of leggings. To me, leggings are the height of designer laziness. Somebody got tired of trying to make trousers that fit correctly, so they just threw a bunch of spandex in and pretended that tight-fitting is the same as well-fitting. If I go to the store to try on jeans and see that the jeans come in small, medium, and large, I’m walking the other way, because there is no way they are going to fit correctly. Trousers shouldn’t come in coffee sizes.
To dress like a grown up, have high standards for fabric and fit. During middle school, I commandeered one of my dad’s wool sweaters and wore it almost every day. My family called it my “Ron Weasley sweater”. (An accurate description.) It came down almost to my knees and the sleeves were all bunched up and I could hide inside it. Looking back, I think the hiding was the point, because I was so painfully shy. It was a literal security blanket. Huge clothes can feel like a safe hiding place. The transition to clothes that actually fit came much later on for me. I’ve never been drawn to super tight clothing, but I understand the idea. Skin-tight clothes draw attention to the body underneath the clothes. Clothes that fit correctly showcase the whole person, rather than trying to deflect attention or scream for attention. There is a happy medium – a confident contentment. Confident contentment isn’t easy to achieve, but it is worth seeking after.
Another major step toward dressing like a grown up is recognizing patterns. At this point, I know what I like and what I don’t like. I also know the difference between the outfits I like on me and the outfits other people like on me. I know what I’m comfortable in and what I’m not (taking into account mental discomfort as well as physical discomfort). I know the time of the month I’m mostly likely to feel ugly. (Ah, hormones.) Recognizing patterns in your own behavior helps in all sorts of ways.
Do you know what you like? It sounds like a simple question, but it can be a hard thing to pin down. Here’s a great way to figure out what you are drawn to: organize your clothes by color, then look at the most dominant color. Or organize by types of clothes and count them up, to figure out what percentage of your clothes are tops, jeans, dresses, etc. I do this occasionally, usually at a season change, so I know what I already own. I have a weakness for cream-colored sweaters and tweedy blazers, so I already own plenty right now. It’s more helpful for me to look for colors and shapes that I don’t already own. All of my jeans are skinny jeans or straight leg jeans, so right now I’m looking for a good pair of wide-leg jeans or trousers. Buying something I already own is a waste of money, so I need to be honest with myself about what I need vs. what I want. If 80% of your clothes are black, you probably don’t need to buy more black, unless you are specifically replacing something. Going back to effort and strategy being best friends, being strategic about your clothing choices is very responsible and grown up.
Personality and Honesty
Your clothes tell a story to everybody who sees you. Sometimes we are the very worst at judging what our clothes are saying, because we are too close to the situation. If you aren’t sure what you clothes say about you and you really want to know, be brave and ask an honest friend. Your most brutally honest friend, not your sweetest friend. I’ve done social media experiments asking friends and strangers to describe my outfits before, and OH BOY was that ever nerve-wracking, hilarious, and humbling.
My goal is always to tell the truth. Telling the truth on this blog, in my conversations, in my clothes. Telling the truth to friends, family, strangers, and myself. It is so easy to lie, guys. Especially on Instagram. Instagram lying is practically a professional sport at this point.
When I was younger and still trying to figure myself out (not a fun stage), I tried on different personalities through different styles. One day I was retro, then I was trying unsuccessfully to be edgy (it just involved a lot of eyeliner, I think), then I was cutesy, etc. Now that I know what my personality is, my style is much more consistent, and at the same time, more creative. Once you are more settled, you can pick and choose trends that you like, instead of letting trends dictate your personality to you.
Thank you for reading! If you have any specific questions about this topic, please feel free to contact me via the comments. I love your questions and am always honored to be asked.