Why you should wear what you want – whatever your age
Earlier this week, Catherine posted a link on Facebook to this article on 24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After Age 30 (which she herself had found via Patti.) and before I’d even clicked on the link, a rant was starting to form in my head.
Then I actually read it, and although the post itself is from last year, it looks like that rant is going to come out anyway, because the idea that women of “a certain age” should basically become invisible is still very current, and honestly, it makes my blood boil. Particularly this part:
“Do 30-year-olds even fit into A&F clothes?”
Because, yeah, 30-year-olds are, like, sooooooo old and fat and, like, totally tragic, OMG! How do they, like, even BUY clothes?
This is a joke, right? I’m asking that in all seriousness: I couldn’t find any evidence that the site that published this is supposed to be satirical, but it’s got to at least be some kind of comment-bait, yes? I mean, please tell me there aren’t actually people out there who think that the second a woman hits 30 she instantly triples in size and trots obediently off to find some nice elastic-waisted “slacks” to wear? Are there? Do these people really exist? And if there are, can I be there on their 30 birthdays, to personally take away all of their “young people” clothes and replace them with the shapeless sacks and sensible beige items that befit their new station in life?
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t shop in A&F (and not JUST because you have to be able to see in the dark to shop in their stores, and I can’t…), and with the notable exception of over-sized sunglasses (Just TRY and stop me wearing them, by the way: I dare you…) I don’t really wear many of the other things on this list either. That’s not because I think I’m “too old”, and that those things are now “forbidden” to me, I hasten to add – it’s because they’re just not my style. If I woke up tomorrow morning as my 18-year-old self, for instance, I wouldn’t think, “Awesome, I can wear mini skirts again!” No, I’d just think, “Seriously? I have to go through my twenties AGAIN? But things were just getting good!”
And this is the thing that seems so unfair to me: the idea that the very age at which you finally start to feel comfortable in your own skin, and to develop a style that’s truly your own, is the same age at which you’re expected to stop having fun with fashion, and just slink off to become appropriately anonymous. Maybe it’s not like that for everyone, but for me my 30s have been the decade in which I’ve felt most confident about my style: the decade in which I finally stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me, and started to just enjoy clothes. It took me a long time to reach that stage, though. I remember when I turned 30, I felt like I needed to change everything about myself: to grow up and start “acting my age” – even although I didn’t really know how to go about it, and still felt about 15-years-old inside my head.
Clothes were a part of that, of course. Up until then, I’d always just bought whatever I liked, without giving much thought to it; now I started questioning everything I owned, wondering if it was “too young” and would make me look like mutton dressed as lamb. I remember once, not long after my 30th birthday, I ordered a dress which hit maybe an inch and half above the knee – not even remotely “mini”, obviously, and the kind of length I wouldn’t have thought twice about wearing when I was 29-and-11-months old. Now that I was 30, however, I wondered if I could “get away” with this dress. I knew it fit me, and I thought it looked fine on me: I looked exactly the same as I had six months earlier, after all, so logically, there was no reason why a dress I’d happily have worn when I was 29 would all-of-a-sudden be inappropriate now that I was 30. But I still wasn’t sure.
I asked Terry… which was a mistake, because Terry has a somewhat stereotypically male view on dress lengths, and doesn’t think there even IS such a thing as “too short”. So I asked my mum… who rolled her eyes and told me not to be stupid, and that I would never be this young ever again, so if I couldn’t wear the things I liked now, I never would. I knew she was right, but I still sent it back: I’d read too many articles with titles like ’24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After Age 30′, and they’d really done a number on convincing me there were things I just shouldn’t wear now.
I was annoyed, though. At 30, I’d finally found the confidence to break away from the fashion “rules” that had governed my teens and 20s, and now here I was, being expected to obey a set of new ones – and these rules were ones which defined me entirely by my age, eliminating all possibility of personal style, of experimentation, of fun. According to these rules, I should no longer choose clothes simply because they made me feel good; I should choose them because they made me invisible. At the very moment that the world of fashion had finally opened up to me, the doors were being slammed firmly in my face. I was too old, was the message I was hearing – fashion was only for the young (and for the slim, for the beautiful – more messages designed to limit our choices and keep us all firmly in our place.), and I wasn’t allowed to be part of this world that I’d only just started to really enjoy.
Well, to hell with that, basically: to hell with ALL of that. I hate the idea that only certain people should be “allowed” to wear certain things, just as I hate anything that attempts to define people by their age, or their weight, or the colour of their skin. I might not wear many of the things on this particular list, but that’s purely because they’re not my style – and if I DID want to wear them, no amount of lists like this would convince me not to. I hope the article that sparked this rant doesn’t convince anyone else that there are things they shouldn’t wear either: because when I look back now, I’m not glad that I sent back that dress – I’m just sad that I missed out on wearing something I loved, and I’d hate to see other people convince themselves that they should limit themselves in the same way.
As for me, these days there are definitely some things I won’t wear, and I certainly don’t believe that all things look good on all people. I do, however, believe that the answer to the question “how old is too old to wear X?” will always be, “when you no longer feel good in it, and not a moment before.” I think it’s only good manners to wear clothes that are appropriate for the situation (So I wouldn’t wear jeans to a wedding, say, or hotpants to a business meeting), and that you should always respect dress codes and cultural sensitivities, but as long as you’re doing that, and your clothes aren’t actively offending anyone, then the only person who’s really affected by your choice of outfit is you. When you look at it like that, it seems pretty silly to actively avoid the things you like just because of the date on your birth certificate.
I did eventually get over my own paranoia – but not before I’d missed out on the opportunity to wear a lot of things I know I’d have loved – and isn’t life too short for those kind of regrets? I know it’s definitely too short to avoid wearing graphic tees, or sparkly pants just because they appeared on some silly list: and it’s ALWAYS a good time to wear leopard print shoes. Buy the shoes. Wear the sparkly pants. Don’t listen to people who want to define you entirely by your age – or your weight, or anything else – because one of the great things about being an adult is that YOU get to decide what’s appropriate for YOU.
Oh, and it’s not just “women over 30” who should be allowed to wear whatever the hell they want, by the way – it’s women of ANY age.