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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, September 30, 2010

On "age appropriate"dressing

My friend Robin from A little sewing on the side asked me a good question a few days ago, and all through this busy week I have been considering it.

Robin asked if I would wear a long tunic with tights and boots. At the heart of responding to that question is the larger one of do you ever decide you are too old for a certain look?

Well Robin I will certainly wear a tunic with tights if I decides it suits me.

The rule I have made for myself is not to dress as if I was 25, but not to wear anything now that I wouldn't be caught dead in at 25. This, making sure you don't dress too old, is far, far more important in my opinion than dressing too young.

You see when I was 25 I had my eyes opened while living in Montreal. If you really want to see how ordinary North American women, on ordinary incomes, at any age, look stylish, go to Montreal. I read recently too that Tim Gunn calls Montreal his favourite city for style. Just being on the street gives you ideas.

The things you notice are accessories - things any woman can do. One visit I was impressed by all the huge shawls wrapped over every winter coat on visit in February, in Montreal I first saw brooches pinned up high nearly at the shoulder. I once saw a woman in Montreal walking her dog in boots with a fur trim that perfectly matched her dog. What you see are outfits put together not just clothes, you see thought and effort as much as cash or fashion. They take their chances with accessories more than clothes.

I am thinking about this today as yesterday our wonderful, stylish Governor-General Michaelle Jean retired to become the Canadian ambassador to Haiti, the country where she was born. Look at these pictures of her and you can see, I hope, what women from Montreal look like in their middle age, at my age:

In Montreal you see women who are every bit as interested in fashion at 85 as 25.

Which makes me wonder why in many areas of North America we seem to have some idea that there is an age where you retire from fashion, when you move to the "classics." I see a lot of that around here, where I live now in Nova Scotia (think Maine if you are in the US) as if, once you have a family, or for sure grandchildren, that it is inappropriate to care what you wear.

I didn't wear too short, too tight, or too sparkly, when I was 25 so I don't worry too much about that but I also didn't wear old lady clothes either and so I am not going to start that now.

Look I am a person who worried I was too young to wear a black dress and a single strand of pearls when I was 50 so I didn't.

That's the only time I remember thinking about age when I dress, and that's going to be the last time. It is enough work thinking about fit, about what suits me, about what new styles are going to give me a lift.

What about you? What do you wear or not wear these days? And what are your own rules for age appropriate dressing?


Elle C said...

This is something I have been struggling with for some time now. I am 52, and am afraid of looking ridiculous. Where I live (Kelowna, BC) we have the highest rate of plastic surgery in Canada, and everywhere I go I see women with fake hair, tans, nails, teeth, boobs trying unsuccessfully to look like their teenage daughters. My friends and I call them Barbies. I am not sure I agree with your rule about not dressing young being more important than not dressing too old, but I like your rule:

"The rule I have made for myself is not to dress as if I was 25, but not to wear anything now that I wouldn't be caught dead in at 25. This, making sure you don't dress too old, is far, far more important in my opinion than dressing too young."

Your post has given me something to think about, thank you.

Barbara said...

Thanks Elle, IMO perhaps the problem is that their daughters don't have taste. And I do think that trying to dress well and trying to change your body and who you are are different things. I agree with you on the plastic surgery.

Rita said...

This is something I am just starting to think about since I am now closer to 50 than 40. What is inappropriate at this developing age. I very much agree with what you have decided for yourself.

I have always dressed in a rather classic style since I used to work in a very conservative profession. So do I really need to change the way I dress. My decision is no. Though now that I have retired from the conservative profession, I am actually starting to experiment with clothing and patterns like never before.

Obviously, what works for one person may not work for another. However, just because a woman is a certain age it should not mean that style has to go out the window.

Thanks for such an thought provoking topic.

judidarling said...

My eighty year old aunt showed up to her birthday party in an ankle length leather skirt and a hand-woven multi-earth toned tunic. She looked smashing! I say, wear what makes you smile, what puts a swagger in your step, what makes you shout "Yes!" And, enjoy your eightieth,hundreth,... as much as my aunt did.

a little sewing on the side said...

Thanks for the wonderful pictures of Governor-General Michaelle Jean! She looks fabulous. Your post makes me want to visit Montreal, too. I just wore a brooch on my shoulder for the first time, too, and I saw it on Michelle Obama.
When I was young, I vowed I would never get stuck in a fashion rut - for example continuing a hairstyle long past it's expiration date. I am just a little surprised now that a fashion rut can sneak up on a person. It takes effort to keep an open mind!

RuthieK said...

You ladies are my inspiration. Please keep on sharing your tips so I can learn from you.

nommh said...

That's a great post, and I like your rule. My problem with that is that I would not know what my 25 year old self would not have been seen dead in.
And then I hail from northern Europe, not North-America. But we also have people in 'practical' anoraks etc. so I have plenty visual cues of what to avoid.
And having just experienced the Self-Stitched-September, my new fashion goal is: Anything to relieve the boredom.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

I've been thinking on your post for a couple of days...

To me it's about having your own style...and not fashion...even though I adore fashion...I try not to be a slave to it. Since developing my "style" I can weed out of fashion what works with my style and continues to let me be me. So I never have to ask the question, is this appropriate for my age...because it's appropriate for me and my lifestyle.

I think what's missing with the Barbies (love that term from one of the earlier posters) and the ones that slavishly follow fashion is that they haven't bothered to develop their own style. And your own style looks good on you whether you're 25, 35, 55 or 85!