The Style Hump: Age Appropriate

In a few posts I’ve alluded to “age appropriateness”. I’ve let a couple readers know it was something I was going to touch on, but it proved to be a struggle. I have decided that that “age appropriateness” is very much like porn.

Wait… what?

Sounds strange, I know, but it is! Whether-or-not something is age appropriate isn’t something I can necessarily (or easily) say “yes” or “no” to. It’s something that, in the vast majority of cases, I know when I see it. And that’s especially true when it comes to my own style. I’m at the point where I know whether or not I can pull something off, or when it’s just… not working. (And I say that as a graphic designer who can usually pull off “weird”,”funky”, or “edgy” stuff.)

Now, sure, I wasn’t always at the point I’m at now. There was an awkward couple years after college where I didn’t quite know where I fit in the fashion world, and I had to redefine my style because what I’d been wearing in college (which was very similar, but a bit more feminine, to what I wore in high school) just wasn’t appropriate for the “professional, working adult” that I’d become. Don’t get me wrong, getting to where I’m at now took a lot of work, a lot of parting with stuff I once loved, and a lot of wardrobe revamping, along with some harsh criticism from friends, family, and even coworkers, but largely, I’m happy with the place I’m at fashion-wise, and the knowledge I’ve developed along the way.

Sure, sometimes, finding age appropriate stuff is still a challenge, being nearly 30. There are times where going into the junior’s department and looking around makes me feel like I should be there with my daughter–neon zebra print, micro-mini skirts, and t-shirts that say things like “born in the 90’s” are definitely not age appropriate. And yet, when I walk through the women’s department, I feel like I should be shopping for my grandma. That “in between” is a hard place to find sometimes. Quite often, finding the right pieces takes trips into various stores targeted at various audiences, and getting over the fact that in a store that targets juniors, a size “large” may actually be what fits the best.

So, how do you actually gauge what’s “age appropriate” and what’s not? If it’s like porn, in the sense that you’ll “know it when you see it”, how do you know what stores to go into, or shop online at all? In some cases, it’s hard to really gauge whether or not something will work on you until you’ve got it on. In other cases, you get to a point where you know that certain things just don’t work.

For example, I’m a firm believer that once you’ve graduated college (or reached that age), certain items of clothing should never be worn in public again. Printed pajama pants are a perfect example. Sure, they can be cute, but at 23 and beyond, they’re really only cute when you’re lounging around the house. It’s not about not looking cute though. It’s more about looking like a grown up. Yea yea, groan all you want, but at a certain point, you have to grow up and keep the cartoon characters tucked away, sad as it may be. Reality is, at 23-24, society views you as a mature, working adult who can make decisions and pretty much do anything (spare maybe renting a car) without the guidance of an adult. You are, by all definitions, an adult. And at that point, it’s time to dress like one.

Dressing like an adult doesn’t mean you can’t interject your own style into things. If you’re a big Disney fan, instead of wearing PJ pants with Tinkerbell all over them, see if you can find a classic leather-band watch with Tinkerbell on the face. If you’re into neon colors and animal print, separate the two and wear them in moderation–go for, say, a neon manicure and a leopard-print scarf, instead of a neon pink leopard-print minidress. If you dig graphic T’s, wear one under a blazer with skinny jeans and classic pumps, or tucked into a pencil skirt with a nice cardigan over it, instead of with cutoff jean shorts and Ugg boots. You can make almost anything age appropriate, and even sophisticated, if you style it right.

There are plenty of other things to be mindful of when looking at an outfit’s age appropriateness. Hemlines should be taken into account. Generally, super-short skirts and shorts, as well as cropped tops, should be left to the younger crowd. The same goes for the ultra-tight stuff, with the exception (perhaps) of a dark-colored, properly fitting, body-con dress (if you’re confident enough to wear it and pull it off). You should be mindful of fit, and when it comes down to it, err on the side of “too big” instead of “too small”–it’s better to have to take something in than to have every undergarment line and roll showing. Colors, designs, patterns and embellishments need to be watched as well, but these largely fall into the “you know it when you see it” category.

And always remember: Just because you fit into a size in a store doesn’t mean you have to wear it. If you feel uncomfortable in it, don’t buy it. If you’re not sure, text a pic or two to a trusted friend and ask their opinion, or put it on hold and bring a friend back later. Make sure you can return something if you decide it’s not for you (especially if buying online). You get the idea, right?

So what do you think? Is age appropriateness something you can put a definitive label on, or is it something that you just know when you see? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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3 comments for “The Style Hump: Age Appropriate

  1. March 1, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    I think when it comes to age appropriateness, there is very fine line between dressing up to look young or dressing up LIKE a youngster! I mean the truth is everybody wants to dress up to look younger than they actually are. But for me there are certain looks only a certain age people can pull off- as you said the printed pajamas!, Cutoff with the pockets hanging out, babydoll dresses etc don’t look good after say 40, even if you have the looks and body to pull it off, but as you said – like porn, you will know when you see it!!:-) Great post!! Hope you are having a wonderful day!
    -Jyoti
    Style-Delights Blog

  2. March 7, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Personally, I don’t think pajama pants in public are ever okay, but college students are definitely more obliged to wear them than adults, especially if they live on campus and are ONLY wearing them to class and back to the dorms.

    I love your point about it being like porn: you know it when you see it. That’s so true. I myself have always gravitated toward the more sophisticated stuff like blazers, so now that I’m 23 it’s nice to finally not feel like a girl playing dress up when I wear things like that.

    • Rachel Jay
      March 7, 2012 at 4:18 PM

      Yea I’ve never been a fan of PJ pants in public either, but sometimes, it’s unavoidable (like a 3A emergency run to Walmart to get Draino–but who’s going to see me anyway?).

      And thanks 🙂 I thought long and hard about putting it that way, but it was the best fit! I totally know what you mean about feeling like you’re playing dress up though. I remember feeling that way when I had to war suits for interviews, and it’s just as awkward feeling as dressing too young when you get older. Funny, isn’t it?

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