What, Exactly, Is "Age Appropriate" Clothing?

We are a society that bases everything on age: our rights, our behaviors, our health habits, our family priorities, our looks: all of these things are centered around the number of years we've been alive.

It's an understandable yet flawed system: we want to protect minors from things that we don't feel they are ready for, developmentally, and we want to protect ourselves from the effects of time, as our bodies are, as Fiona says, extraordinary machines—machines that require care and maintenance and that have, whether we like it or not, a breaking point. Being aware of one's age, in terms of health issues and developmental issues, seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to ask of people. But what about those "rules" that are supposed to apply to everyone based only on numbers that really don't have anything to do with health or maturity?

There's a shot in the opening credits of What Not To Wear that declares "No Mini Skirts After 35," a sign that plays into the notion that women should cover up once they hit that number, as if a 34-year-old can rock a miniskirt like nobody's business, only to turn into a hideous freak the day she turns 35. On the other hand, we have celebrities like Gwen Stefani, 39, who wear whatever the hell they want, because they can, and why shouldn't they? When it comes to "age appropriate" clothing, perhaps it's not so much about numbers as it is about one's own confidence and ability to pull off trends and styles without looking like they are trying to be anything but themselves.

Shane Watson of the Times of London takes on the shady ground of "age appropriate" clothing, noting that magazines praise women over 40 who make the attempt to be trendy and shrug off old "rules," such as Michelle Obama and Helen Mirren, who wear gorgeous, skin-baring ensembles instead of, oh, I don't know, Quacker Factory sweaters or whatever the hell it is that people think women over 35 should wear. However, Watson notes, the old "rules" are still stuck in the minds of many women, who feel that they can't do certain things, like show their arms, because it's not considered appropriate after a certain age. "We still fall back on the same old mantras: fortysomethings shouldn't wear short skirts; bikinis are undignified past 38," Watson writes, "Every time we open a magazine, we see confirmation that what counts is not age but body shape and confidence. But still those rules that applied to the pre-Pilates-and-sushi generation keep sucking us back to what is and isn't age-appropriate."

I have seen my mother struggle with these rules when she puts outfits together for special occasions. "I can't wear that," she'll sigh, looking at a beautiful gown, "I'm too old." Bullshit, Mom. You can wear it and you should. Unfortunately, my mother, like many other women, has internalized these old rules, and instead of buying clothing that makes her feel beautiful (and that looks great, too) she plays it safe, for fear of offending anyone.

There's a flip side to this, however: too often, we see 15 year old girls dressed like 25 year olds. The age appropriate factor comes into play here, as well: the trick, I suppose, is finding a balance between trendy and too much. It's a tough spot for most women (and girls), as the trends aren't often aimed at people above or below a certain age, yet that's what all of the clothing manufacturers offer. So how can one be trendy and still be "age appropriate?"

Watson presents her readers with a guide to dressing age-appropriately without looking dowdy or like they are trying too hard. Overall, the list emphasizes tailoring, fit, and how confident one feels. I'd guess that for young girls, it's more about dressing fun, as opposed to overtly sexual. It's a weird world we live in, where women are being pushed to look younger, younger, younger and young girls are being pushed to look older, older, older. Perhaps instead of pushing people to dress older or dress younger, we can finally figure out a way to make "age appropriateness" something that inspires confidence and creativity, as opposed to dread and a feeling that one's stylish days are over as soon as a certain number appears on their birthday cake.

Breaking The Fashion Rules [Times Of London]