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

Guest post by Amy Leblanc

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.

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

  1. Thank you for this post. As yet another pair of jeans disintegrates i keep thinking that i need to have a Proper Sort-out of my wardrobe, get rid of the old stuff and replace it with new things that are more me (and less full of holes. I’m 26, I’m not the person i was when i was 16, though i still own some of those clothes. I have drawers full of shirts and dresses that i bought and wore whilst i was still trying to figure out what my style was. They fit, and they look decent on my body, but they’re not ‘me’. They or the Sophie from back then. The Sophie who was insecure and trying to find her place in the world. I could carry on dressing like 20 years old Sophie, but that’s just another form of insecurity. When i am in my 40s my style and confidence may have changed again. I would rather dress in the clothes i like then than try to cling on to the life i had in my 20s. It’s all about personal comfort. Of course, if in my mid 40s i still feel comfortable in the same clothes and they still feel like ‘me’ then there is no problem with me continuing to wear them. But time for a good clear out. Now if only i could get over my fear of actually commiting to buy something new!

  2. If you’ve bridged the gap between high school and real life, for the love of God, get rid of your high school clothes! You are doing yourself a disservice to be clinging to clothing items that are 10+ years old!

    When I was in high school my whole wardrobe consisted of raver pants and heavy metal band T-shirts. I am 29 years old now and if I still dressed like this, I would HOPE that someone would have thrown me on an episode of “What not to wear” by now. The few “dressy” items I had were from the “millenium” era of fashion, which consisted of SPARKLES ON EVERYTHING. Not a good look in 2011. This is what they mean by inappropriate. It was fine and cool when I was 16 and 17, now it would be ridiculous and out of fashion.

    • You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re hanging onto clothing that’s ten years old, *if* it doesn’t fit your style, lifestyle, body, etc. Lots of women from Advanced Style have clothes from a decade ago that still looks fabulous. 😉

  3. I didn’t even start to feel confident and sexy until my late twenties. Now I like to dress up and when I became fit I started to show off my figure more. I still mostly wear jeans and t-shirts on a daily bases but I prefer a good flattering cut over fashion.

  4. omg i wish i’d known sooner what a clothing swap was and that they’re so popular in the bay area!! now i’m moving away again! anyone know if these go on in the phx, arizona area?? geez and i thought i’d found gold when i discovered freecycle!

  5. I didnt read all the comments, but i am 24yrs old and find myself wondering what the ef to wear!?! I do alot of jeans, tshirts, and sneakers at work because i have to blend in… (I work loss prevention) but i feel like its a little juvinile, its extra hard being plus size.

    So i am def lost as far as style, what is appropriate for my age and size… Lol i feel like jeans and a t is so uninspiring and boring but idk what to do lol

    • Finding a GOOD pair of jeans makes all the difference. For me it’s Levi’s Curve ID — I have three pairs. Two in my size and one a size bigger for working and getting messy. I LOVE THEM. But anyway — they fit me well and so I always feel like my bottom half is taken care of. It’s a LOT easier to find tops that make you feel good.

      • I have to agree that a good pair of jeans makes all the difference. Maybe you could add some colorful jeans, or a colorful pant that’s not denim, in the mix. Rather than all t-shirts, you could find some blouses in prints that still look young, or throw a cute blazer over your tees with that great pair of jeans. If you still feel that’s all too juvenile, start jotting down words that you feel describe your style, or what you want your style to be, and search for those words + “style” on the net. Pinterest is a great resource for figuring out your personal style!

  6. See cat, im the opposite, ive found jeans that i love in my size, it tends to be the tops i have trouble with… Being a 38DDD i love my big boobies but its hard to find a shirt that fits them and doesnt show them to the whole world (for work at least) lol

  7. This was a timely article for me, although I’m late in reading it. I turned 35 this year and am starting to question my twirling hippie clothes that I’ve had since the ‘teen years…

  8. I’m the type of person who wears sensible shoes. Sigh. My feet are really messed up so I have to wear orthodic inserts and (shudder) orthodic shoes. It’s really hard to feel young and fashionable when you’re wearing such frumpy shoes. Also, since they’re so expensive, I only have three pairs >_< If anyone wants to start making fashionable orthodic shoes, that would be super! ~_^

  9. I’m in San Francisco, how do I get in on these clothing swaps??? Truthfully, I have a few pieces of clothing I’ve owned since HS and still wear, mainly casual tank tops, and one “timeless” black dress. I’m very guilty of hanging onto clothes (such as tiny, skimpy dresses) that in all likelihood I’ll never wear again because I *might*.
    With me, as a new 30 year old, I haven’t yet found myself thinking about “age-appropriateness” (maybe I should), as much as how to dress for my profession. Being an opera singer, image is, for better or for worse, part of what you sell, and the business has definitely become more influenced by Hollywood, making looks more and more important. I feel like I’m still figuring out how to dress, especially for auditions (I think I have concert attire down), in a way that looks like a strong, sophisticated, beautiful diva, but still feels like *me* someone who is those things, but also quirky, unconventional, etc etc.

    • Check online in your area! Chances are, there may be some swaps going on, but you’ve never heard about them. If not, then start your own! I hosted a huge one at our church a couple of years ago that did well, and then donated what was left. It was some work, but still really fun. 🙂

  10. I have the fortune and disfortune, so to speak, to be in a job in the medical field where scrubs are the uniform – as long as the scrubs and my tennis shoes are clean and wrinkle-free, I’m good. I basically wear pajamas to work.

    But I’ve had issues with my downtime clothes – which used to reflect high school me very much, but fourteen years later, I’m just not that comfortable showing off that much arm or leg – maybe it’s the two full term pregnancies under my belt. Maybe I’m older, maybe I’m more modest…. whatever.

    I donate clothes that I bought on a whim and will never wear. Some were hard: “But I look hoooot”. Yeah, but you bought that two years ago (yes, I know it was on sale) and you NEVER WORE IT ONCE. It’s out. That has cleared up room in and of itself.

  11. Ohhhh boy do I need a massive kick up the ass to go and clean out my closet (or wardrobe as we call them in Aus). I’ve become a bit of a clothing hoarder, and what with pregnancy (+30kgs) and then breastfeeding and running after a toddler (-35kg) I’ve got size runs in some items! I also need to learn to buy clothes because I LOVE them and not because I think they fit someone elses ideals. 24 and married with a kid and I’m only just learning to dress for me. I guess all I can do is encourage my daughter to develop her own style and OWN it.

    I find it hilarious that 25 is the ideal. I actually turn 25 on Sunday, and found my first gray hair last week. I’ve had the year from hell with loads of stress and I’m fairly sure taken its toll on my physical appearance. I honestly look haggard and have been realising that I can’t get away with no make up/tinted moisturiser and still look refreshed. Advanced Style FTW!

  12. Great and timely post for me. I have no closet in my house and switch between summer and winter clothes twice a year (summer went in the attic today). This gives me two times per year to update my wardrobe. I still love wearing my skater jeans from high school out and about, but not to work or when teaching.

    My biggest “wardrobe” issues is now this: I teach nationally and internationally about hippotherapy (medical treatment using horses to help people) and have trouble finding ME clothes for these assignments. I mostly teach with lovely women in their 50’s and 60’s who look great in slacks and vests, but that’s not me and not me in my 30’s.

    Any ideas for professional presentation wear that can take you from the classroom to the barn in one day?

  13. I LOVE Advanced Style. I like fashion, but more as artistic expression, so I really admire women over a certain age who embrace themselves, their bodies, and their tastes. My goal is to begin dressing that way now, so that by the time I’ve reached that certain age, I’ve mastered dressing for myself, and defining my style.

  14. I totally had that moment of :{ about 3 years ago when I found my black Kik Girl super-low rise phat pants with red stitching and corduroy panels, was like “Hell yea!”, put them on, then thought “I feel like an asshat…but these pants are so cool! Why???” They reflect a 15 year old gothic kid who liked AFI and wanted to go to raves but was never allowed; not a 25 year old IT-technician-cum-black-metal-songwriter. I won’t go out in pajamas, but coordinating an extravagant outfit isn’t in my top priorities. My staples are: plain tees (mostly black, some white, one burgundy), black jeggings, black pointy heels/Docs/canvas slip-ons, aviators. It’s not fancy, but I never look BAD. I’ve been also focusing on appearance enhancements that are there when I go to bed and there when I wake up: colored hair in good condition, piercings, keeping my skin in good condition, staying in shape.

  15. I’m really disappointed to find this here. The idea is great, talking about changes in self interpretation as one gets more fabulous, but the terminology and the fashion policing, not so much.
    As an Offbeat older plus sized Bride and now wife I cannot marry the wording used in this article and subsequent comments to the policies used on Offbeat Bride when it comes to embracing your body and your own unique self. Age should make no difference. Women are told endlessly what to wear. I think I’m with the poster who quoted Jenny Joseph’s, When I’m Old I Shall Wear Purple.
    I definitely recommend everyone watches Fabulous Fashionistas and banish the term “age appropriate” from your life.

    • Thanks for sharing this feedback… I interpreted this article quite differently than you did. I don’t see age appropriate as dictated by years,,, I interpreted Amy’s article as saying “Am I the same person at X as I was at X – 10 years? Will I be the same person in X + 10 years? If not, why would I express myself with the same clothing?”

      My interpretation was less “When you’re X, you shouldn’t wear Y” but more “Examine who you are at X, and make sure you’re wearing what feels X to you.” I see age as just a number (one that’s that’s not absolute)… but *AGING* is definitely absolute.

      That said, we’re all entitled to our different interpretations of this post… I just wanted to share my interpretation so that you’d understand why I feel the post fits with the Empire’s editorial “policies.” (Although I’d rather use the word values.)

  16. I really like this. I always admired my mother because she could rock a indie/poet/casual 90’s lady pretty well. She kept everything in base neutral colors. I always wanted to be sophisticated like that but after living with a grandmother that refused to let me pick my own clothes until i was almost a teenager…..well I got a little “wild” with clothing choices.
    I started living with my mom and decided that starting as a teenager I would wear whatever the hell I wanted. My mother had no qualms and my social peers thought I was amazing because one day I could show up in a gypsy styled ensemble and the next show up in my mother’s old military uniform. Like the WHOLE uniform, boots, hat, etc. lol. I dressed like every day was costume day and enjoyed every minute of it. By the time I got to my senior year and was looking for part-time jobs, though, I kind of felt I was “growing out of” the whole crazy costume style. I started wearing more mature items, trying to go with my mother’s style but I still felt it wasn’t “me”, so I just went with whatever looked good on me, mostly anything sexy to show off my nungas I loved so much. ^_^
    Then I met my now husband and since I felt more comfortable with myself and didn’t feel the need to “stand out” for someone to talk to me, I toned down the sexiness and went more casual and professional. Don’t think I don’t have a couple pretty colored pieces in my stock, I’m always revolving what I wear and since I pick quality clothes from clearance and name-brand stores…I have a limited space where I keep things and if I don’t wear it or my husband doesn’t remember me ever wearing it, we chunk it. Into a box that my sister-in-laws, mother-in-law, and nieces go through because I can toot my own horn and say I pick things that universally look good on people. Wrap shirts, classic tunic-styled blouses, classic dresses I doll-up with accessories, etc. By the time I get to donate, I end up with like a quarter of my stuff. hahaha.
    I love how the author just explains really well that we all evolve, whether we like to sit there and fight it tooth and nail…we all change. Clothes don’t. They become antiques of an older life. Maybe there are some people who go against the grain and do differently. Thats great, whatever works for them. But i don’t see anything wrong with advocating classy styles that send the message of “I-am-classy-like-Breakfast at Tiffany’s- classy.” Something must be said for women who do wear items that are just flattering for them and for others as well.

  17. I also disagree with the spirit of this article. I totally intend to wear my sparkly bachelorette party dress whether I’m 23 or 37; I don’t care if people think it’s inappropriate for my age. I definitely am of the “You’re never too old to trick-or-treat as long as you have a good costume” mind-set. And I save every single one of those costumes even though I may never wear them again. I don’t ever see myself buying “old lady clothes.” I look forward to streaking my silver hair with cherry and purple highlights when I’m 60 and wearing zebra print leggings.

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