Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Age-Appropriate Dressing

Since filming has commenced on the new "Sex and the City" movie, images of Sarah Jessica Parker's outfits have flooded the Internet. It's no surprise that the show's fans are fascinated by glimpses of Patricia Fields' costumes, since Carrie Bradshaw's famously kooky wardrobe sparked as much discussion and adoration as the show itself. From the photos I've seen thus far, it appears that the crazy outfits of the movie may top anything we saw in the six seasons of the TV show, and frankly, there's a whole lot of ugly going on.

Sarah Jessica Parker is a beautiful woman with an amazing body that can pull off just about any style, but when I look at these pictures, I find myself focusing on the sheer inappropriateness of the outfit for any woman over the age of 25. Sure, this would look pretty terrible on anyone, but it really comes off as trying too hard on a 40-something. And shouldn't a middle-aged woman know better than to dress like she fell into the dumpster behind Forever 21?

Before all of my older readers start furiously typing angry comments, I'd like to say a few things. First, I'm not advocating that when women hit 40, they should replace their wardrobe with a closet-full of Chico's, covering themselves head to toe in neutral colored linens lest they show any hint of sensuality. I think women of any age can and should be beautiful and sexy (Helen Mirren is one of my fashion idols). But there are styles and trends that are undoubtedly more acceptable for certain age groups, with good reason. As I discussed in my previous post "When Did 40 Become the New 15?" it never looks good when a middle-aged woman adopts such teeny-bopper trends as flouncy cotton bubble mini-skirts. We can forgive teenagers for wearing Uggs and Crocs and Juicy sweatsuits because they're young and silly and don't know any better. But adult women (and by adult, I include anyone over college-age) most definitely should.


Some of the benefits of age are an increase in maturity and confidence, two very sexy qualities in a woman. There's an expectation that by the time you hit your 40's, you have a personal style, and there's no need to cover yourself in the latest trends head to toe in order to feel like you look your best. Incorporating trends is one thing, but when your clothing begins to represent a costume (as SJP's do here), it's no longer attractive. I know that these are costumes, but walk around New York and you'll see women who actually dress like this. I don't care if they're 21 or 81, it doesn't look good.

I see so many women of all ages who look like walking billboards screaming "Notice me! I'm young and sexy and trendy and I'm trying really, really hard for you to look at me and like me!" It comes off as desperation, which is the most un-sexy quality you can have. And then I think of someone like French Vogue editor in chief Carine Roitfeld, who is one of the most fashionable women on the planet and oozes rock and roll sexiness everywhere she goes. She's not dressing her age (51) or any other age, she's just dressing as herself. While most of us don't have access to a closet full of couture every morning, she's a good role model for dressing for oneself and not for the acceptance of others.

While I know it turns a lot of people off, I find the issue of age-appropriateness to be fascinating. So much of it comes down to the attitude of the person wearing the clothes, and not the clothes themselves. But an egregiously bad choice of clothes, no matter your attitude, can convey a negative message about you.

21 comments:

MLH said...

I agree with everything you wrote except one thing... SJP is beautiful?

Kelly said...

In response to MLH's question "SJP is beautiful?"...

I'm sick of people giving SJP flack for not giving into the Hollywood ideal of beauty (i.e Getting a nose job). So she has a big nose. Big deal. I respect her more for being such a successful woman in Hollywood while staying true to her appearance.

As for your post, I agree with age appropriateness when it comes to fashion. However, a lot of it has to do with what looks flattering on you -- at any age. Some people, young or old, pick clothes that are unflattering to their shape. If you're 40 and can pull off a mini-skirt, I say by all means, do so. I believe I've seen a picture of Helen Mirren wearing a mini-skirt, and she wore tights with it...it was very tasteful.

Elle said...

I find the issue of age-appropriateness to be fascinating, too - especially as I get older. ;-) I'm same age as Sarah Jessica Parker, and I work with young people - I'm a university professor - and while I'm interested in fashion and want to look good, I do not want to look like my students. I suppose what I have is a "contemporary" look - I don't wear trendy pieces, but I look up-to-date. (I hope!)

The flip side of age-appropriate is middle-aged and older women who cling to the styles of their youth, rather than trying to appropriate the fashions of today's young women. Probably more of an issue with hairstyles than clothing. Wish there was a diplomatic way to say something to that 60-year-old colleague of mine with the long hair parted straight down the middle, exactly how she wore it in high school in 1965. A side part, a chin length bob, maybe even some long bangs slightly to side (and a hairbrush) would be so much more flattering for her.

Ah, but we're academics. We live the life of the mind - we're not supposed to care about how we look!

Kelly said...

Agreed that age appropriate fashion doesn't have to be frumpy/boring/Talbots. Just last year I finally got my mom into wearing boot cut jeans. However, SJP is another story. I understand it's for a movie, but I've polled my girlfriends more than once and we've all agreed that none of us want to be like the women in SaTC! It's too outrageous to be relateable anymore, and frankly unattractive. I also have to agree with Family Guy on this sentiment: SJP's face looks like a foot.

Pat said...

I am one of your older readers (47) and I couldn't agree with you more. There are many ways to dress sexy at our age without trying to look younger than we are.

And yes, SJP is beautiful. I got to shake her hand, speak with her briefly and get her autograph at a promotional apprearance for Lovely fragrance in 2005, and I can vouch for the fact that she is absolutely stunning in person. Very sweet and gracious, too.

Deja Pseu said...

As a 50-year-old who isn't ready to be invisible yet, I'm chiming in to say that "age appropriate" seems also to be in the eye of the beholder. Plus, it's tough sometimes to find stylish, affordable clothes that hit the middle ground between being designed for 20-somethings and Grandma's cruisewear. No retailer seems to have stepped up to fill the void left by the untimely demise of Forth & Towne.

kristine said...

Y'all, I don't think SJP's attractiveness is nearly the point of this post.

I agree with Meg on age-appropriate dressing, except I veer off on one point: I have been disgusted with the range of selection for my "age group" (well, now it's the mid-20s) since I was a teen. Everything either infantilized girls or made us appear ten years older and sexier. For me, it's not about "age" appropriateness as much as it's about plain old APPROPRIATENESS and the message that your clothing gives off.

This isn't supposed to give rise to a rant about how "your clothing says you're asking for it" or whatever. What I mean is: when you dress like a teen, you get treated like a teen. When you dress like an adult who understands the current trends but doesn't get sucked into the trends which shouldn't have been designated for your age group (ex: the bubble skirts Meg mentioned), you win at the age-appropriate game!

Allie said...

I think the most important thing you wrote is how by time one is in her 40s she should have a sense of her style. Carine carries it off because she totally knows herself, embraces herself and works with it. These costumes on SJP for this film are exactly that - they are not clothing, they are not an extention of the character's personality but they are more like Halloween costumes.

Yes the character of Carrie did wear some offbeat (meaning no way in HELL would I wear that) looks on the SATC show, but they always fit her mood, her lifestyle, her personality. Now I haven't seen the movie, but I feel that some of these outfits that are leaking out in photos... they don't fit Carrie. It makes me wonder what midlife crisis Pat Field is going through and expressing it through the wardrobe of the movie.

Excellent post!

tak said...

Great post.

All these Carrie outfits that have leaked in photos are beyond hideous- they look so bad that it's reached self-parody. Luckily, Carrie isn't real, otherwise we'd have to deal with her ridiculously obnoxious column. I also definitely don't think that SJP is beautiful, though I agree that's not the point of the post. I sorta think that calling her beautiful is more of a strike at the showbiz concept of beauty (which I can respect) than anything else.

And while I'm on the subject, how BAD does the SATC movie look!? The people are all way too old, they're just in it for the money, and SATC, although it's only been off the air for a few years, feels so dated and irrelevant whenever I see it in reruns.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in elle's comments because I too, am an academic; I'm a grad student who's going on the job market this year. As a TA, I used to just wear jeans and regular tops like long-sleeved T's or sweaters, but now I wonder whether I sacrificed some of my authority by not dressing up more. Or would it have been pretentious to dress up? When I taught my own class as a visiting instructor last year, because I was the professor, I definitely stepped it up, wearing dress pants and skirts with dressier tops. I think it's hard to find clothing that suits my age (early 30s) without making me look as young as a college student. Sure, I could just buy my entire work wardrobe from Banana Republic or J. Crew, but my students probably shop there too!

RachelH said...

Dressing age appropriate is definitely a tricky issue. I can sort of relate to the position that "anonymous" (at 1:07pm) is in. I'm a twenty-something working in an office where the average age is late thirties/early forties. I've worked there for 4 years now, and since I've started I've had to try and figure out what was both appropriate for (and true to) me, and what would be appropriate for my office, and would help my colleagues respect me.

I'll be the first to admit that that sometimes led to outrageously over-aged outfits (they were easy, and inexpensive, but it still makes me cringe to see those pictures). That said, I'd like to think that over time I've managed to split the difference - realizing that I'll never be able to camouflage the fact that I'm younger and my coworkers should know me well enough to not judge me on it, and also realizing I can still dress professionally without sacrificing personal style.

lisa said...

I definitely agree with some of the other commenters that the quesiton of what is age-appropriate depends on the combination of a person's age, attitude, personality, and figure.

As for the photos of SJP's wardrobe, all I can think of is one episode of SaTC where Carrie admonishes Samantha for wanting to dress her in a froufrou nightie for her book cover, saying something along the lines of, "Women our age should be dressing like it!" How ironic.

Arlene said...

There ought to be clothes that fit adult women of normal size (which I believe is an average of 5'4" and 138 pounds) who have an aspirational age between approximately 25 and 65 -- and a life.

Unfortunately, in most malls, we find three basic looks:

1)"Go camping" (take your pick--Abercrombie, Eddie Bauer, et al)

2) "Go vamping." Extremely young and/or inappropriate for most grown-up activities, such as work.

3) "Golden Girls" Purple velour tracksuits or gingham polyester embroidered with various cartoons of flowers, kittens, etc.

There is NO reason shopping for a real life has to be so hard. If we can vote with our credit cards we had better do it every chance we get.

Anonymous said...

My situation is different. Growing up I was a real tomboy, hated skirts and shopping at the mall.

When I was mid 20's and had a baby, money was tight, and I had to shop at thrift stores for many years, so I basically looked pretty shabby but it didn't bother me because I still didn't care about clothes and had low self esteem.

Now that I've left a painful breakup behind and I'm feeling truly happy and liberated, I've finally embraced my femininity and I absolutely love today's fashions! I can see where I've missed out on all the fun all these years. Having a teenage daughter helps with shopping too!

I'm fit, look years younger and I want to have the choice to wear today's trends if I wish. When I'm older I'll try and be more classic, but right now, I'm rocking nice (not low cut or tacky)but figure hugging clothes that I should have been wearing all along, but I didn't have the confidence.

I always try and make sure I'm not dressing like my 16 year old, but I'm also making up for lost time, as who knows how long we have here on earth, and if I'm proud of who I am and want to flaunt it, that's my choice. I made enough sacrifices in the past, and taking care of myself and feeling good about myself are priorities for me now. I think I'm setting a good example for my daughter too.

Corey B said...

I've never been a big fan of Carrie's wardrobe in SATC but she worked it somehow (mostly). I'd take Charlotte's closet anyday though. I understand that's part of who Carrie is - the quirky clothing - but my god... the outfits I've seen so far are beyond quirk, they are bury-in-the-dirt! Here's hoping the movie is better!

Rapunzel said...

Yeah, Carrie's outfits can definitely be over the top. That first one is just ridiculous. But part of Carrie's character is that she IS a little over the top, and can even be a little trashy at times. Granted, she's also fabulous, beautiful in her own right, and one of the bet characters ever, but she's a sex writer and has a very alternative take on style. That's just her. IF her style suddenly changed, we'd all be writing on how they're only changing her outfits because she's getting older, blah blah blah, and the situation would be reversed, but the conversation would be the same.

On th other hand, in the last season of the show when she was dating "the Russian" her wardrobe became so much more sophisticated and classic (and drool worthy). I wish she had stuck with outfits in that same grain, but oh well.

In general though, There are some really great points about dressing apropriately. Why any self respecting woman who has reached adulthood would want to clad herself in overly trendy unflattering attire is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

It is a fascinating subject, age appropriateness in dress, isn’t it? Frankly, you can look like an idiot dressing in “age-appropriate” attire as dressing in Forever 21 attire. Diane Keaton case and point. Bai Ling and Juliette Lewis, need I say more. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Clothes don’t have age tags. Blanket pronouncements about what women should wear at what age are ridiculous because no one person in any age group is alike. Tina Turner flagrantly flouted the age rules of dressing, but hey, she is Tina Turner and she looked fabulous. I also flout the age rules, but I’m me, I am petite a size 6 and look 10 years younger than I actually am. I do not dress like a teenager, but I do wear youngish clothes like the latest jeans, sleeveless tops, bright colors, etc. My style mainly consists of jeans most of the time, boots, jackets and up-to-date accessories. I also love hoodies, halter tops, and any top that shows off the arms I work so hard to keep toned. I just think we should move the discussion away from age and toward body appropriateness and situation appropriateness. These are the real issues. SJP outfits are artsy and outrageous and maybe she should know better as a grown-a** woman. But what about Diane Keaton? She looks just as crazy though she’s wearing “age appropriate” (covers up everything) clothes. Being old enough to be SJP Mom, shouldn’t she know better? Some people whatever just don’t have any fashion sense or sense of what to wear when. This is not an age issue.

Pattykate said...

I agree with this completely. I think one of the women's fashion magazines--Harper's Bazaar, I think--does a feature that shows how a particular style can be done for women in their 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's. If there is one thing I hate to see is a women in her 40's or 50's trying to look like someone in their 20's. It looks forced and makes them actually look older. I always say, everyone should look in a full-length mirror before they leave in the morning...and be realistic!!!

Anonymous said...

Coveting organic fabrics right now, comfortable shoes that won't lead to foot surgery later, cosmetics (if I wear them at all) that haven't been tested on animals and don't have toxic things in them, and things made in the U.S.A.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent post, I think the most important thing for any woman of any age is to know what suits her. So nice mini skirts are fine at any age if you have the figure to carry them off. But bizarre fashion trends don't look good on anyone and as you say only those too young to know better can get away with them!

Anonymous said...

Who the BLEEP cares?? Wear whatever you want! Whether you are Carrie, SJP, Tina, Diane, Halle, Catherine Deneuve, or ME! haha I don't care about rules anymore. Um, "What's Rules Got to Do Wit' It??"