Cleaning out the closet: looking at the concept of age appropriate clothing

Guestpost by Amy Leblanc on Nov 16th

I don't want to look younger. I want to look as great as I can at any age. -Joyce, as featured on Advanced Style

Organizing. For anyone living on their own and out of college, after a few years it gets a little overwhelming how much time Organizing Your Stuff can take. There are entire stores devoted to Organizing. Why do we have so much stuff? Why do we keep it? How can we determine what is useful to keep, and what is better recycled? These are perennial topics of the Adult American Homeowner.

But let us focus here on closets. Particularly, clothing closets. Here in the Bay Area, we have a wonderful community of Clothing Swappers, and about once a quarter someone sends me an invite to one. (Clothing swaps, for the unfamiliar, are social events where people offer up the clothes they don't want to others, usually before taking them off to the Goodwill. Kind of like a free garage sale.) While it's totally cool to show up with nothing and just take, I use every invite as an opportunity to go through my closet and sort through my things. One more time.

As a person who swaps a lot and thrifts a lot and also tries to keep up with style trends, my wardrobe cycles quickly, so usually there are a few items that are immediately in the swap pile: things I got at the last swap that didn't quite fit, things that I've been meaning to mend but haven't but someone else could do in five minutes, things I thrifted but never wore. Out!

But then there are the things that get considered EVERY TIME, and never let go. Let's call them Sentimental Pieces. Those crazy vintage psychedelic pants I used to wear on Phish tour. The phat pants from my early raver days. Those slinky dresses from my early 20s…..

Not only will I never wear these things again, but I dare say it would not even be APPROPRIATE now that I am 35. My body is different. And even if the things still fit, and my friends shriek "Why are you giving this away?! It's so cool!!," a lot of the time I just can't wear the thing again because it is just too Me From Ten Years Ago. And perhaps this is a specific demographic I'm speaking to right now — maybe the change from 35 to 45 won't be so dramatic, but for a lot of us, 25 to 35 sure can be. Even five years ago seems a world away in terms of my personal style.

Let's define for a second: Fashion is what's trendy and changes multiple times a year. Style is personal. Style is an expression of your personal self, the use of clothing and accessories to make a statement, and changes as you grow. Style is not static, but above all it should always accentuate your best features. Stylish women do not wear trendy clothes that don't flatter them. Stylish women do not try to look like something they are not or used to be (e.g. 25).

I resist using this turn of phrase that every woman cringes to hear… "age-appropriate clothing." It immediately conjures up clashing images of older women in tweenage midriff tops vs. Mom Jeans and whatever "sensible shoes" are. Unfortunately, we currently live in a culture of clinging to the idea of eternal youth, where on the one hand 14-year-old runway models are dolled up to look 21, and at the other end of the spectrum Hollywood starlets claim their days are numbered once they get over 30 and so go to extreme measures to continue looking 25 well into their 40s. Everyone wants to look 25! Forever! And unfortunately some fashion trends reflect this.

But women used to do this thing called "Aging Gracefully," and I think we need to bring that back. This does NOT mean that as you grow older, you start dressing "boring" and once you're over 35 you should trade in all your "fun" or "sexy" clothes for high-waisted pants and cardigan sweater sets. Heavens, no! Check out the ladies on Advanced Style. These women have really honed in on who they are, what makes them look good, and how to express themselves stylishly at any age.

And yes, I know that the majority of Offbeat Home readers are younger than these fine senior citizens. But their example is something every woman needs to start considering if your wardrobe feels trapped somewhere between Twenty-Something and Boring Middle-Aged Mom.

But hold on — what's this got to do with closets? Cleaning out your closet is as much about organizing and creating space as it is about redefining your wardrobe as you get older to fit your body, your lifestyle, and your personality, without sacrificing STYLE. The next time you have an opportunity to clean out your closet and are tempted to hold onto those Sentimental Pieces, think for a minute: Unless it is a valuable piece (vintage Chanel or something that would be worth hanging on to), would it even be appropriate for you to wear this item? Most importantly, does it reflect who you are, NOW? If not, find someone to hand if off to (a Niece? a friend's child?), and maybe consider replacing it with an updated version that reflects the current you, not the you from 10 years ago. Style is about looking forward, not back.

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About Amy Leblanc

Amy is a blogger and sustainable-fashionista (but not a Fashion Blogger, although the two sometimes intermix) from Oakland, CA and was featured on the cover of Reconstructing Clothing for Dummies. When not reading or writing about cultural events, art, fashion and social issues she is either working her day job, sleeping, dancing, wandering aimlessly around town or at the gym.