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Can I wear this? What is age-appropriate fashion anymore?
I asked Google what "fashion over 50" is and the results were dismal
Middle-aged and skinny jeans
I once wrote a post years ago on my blog wondering whether middle-aged women can wear skinny jeans. This seems especially funny to me now because I was in my late 30s and would barely call that middle-aged from where I’m currently sitting. Did I really question and debate whether or not I was too old to wear a new trend? Apparently so! That post generated so many comments and threads from others who were also wondering whether they were too old to wear low-rise skinny jeans that it’s funny to think that this was some sort of big decision that we deliberated over.
I can’t remember the last time I had such an internal (or public) debate about any clothing trend since, and that feels like progress. I mean, you won’t catch me in midriff baring crop tops that every Gen Z kid including mine are wearing these days, but it isn’t unusual if my kids and I are dressed in similar outfits or have borrowed each other’s clothes. The more recent acquisition of theirs from our closet is not actually from me, but from their dad. They both like to wear his old cargo shorts which are many sizes too big, but they wear it belted and baggy with fitted cropped tanks. It looks cute and it feels like a throwback to the early 90s.
The fashion of my youth recycled by the next generation
Years ago, our older child happily discovered flannels and started wearing them almost daily. This was in middle school when she still had long hair and was wearing jeans and converse sneakers. Basically, she dressed like Mark in the early 90s, and he and I used to joke that from behind, she was the spitting image of him in college when he too had long hair. Mark wasn’t going for any kind of look in those days; everyone growing up or living in the Pacific Northwest in the late 80s and 90s more or less wore some variation of the same thing. If you’re Gen X, then you know that grunge wasn’t a thing in fashion until magazines and brands co-opted it and started featuring it in editorial spreads even though it was rooted in anti-establishment and consumerism. The irony.
My kids were never that interested in clothes until middle school, and even then they weren’t really picky about what they wore until 8th grade. After spending her middle school years living in what she self-professed as normcore fashion, I enjoy how my younger one experiments now with different styles and the creativity that she expresses through clothes.
Clothes shopping, especially thrift and vintage, became a bonding activity for us as soon as she became interested in fashion after 9th grade, which incidentally, is when remote learning was over for good. I haven’t had a shopping companion for years; I’ve preferred shopping alone for awhile now and let’s be real here—most of my shopping these days is done online. But I remember how fun it was to spend an afternoon shopping and getting lunch with friends, and so I’m enjoying this new activity with my teens. Luckily, they’re not embarrassed to go shopping with their mom!
Fashion comes around in cycles and I see flashes of every incarnation of my younger self in some of the outfits that my kids put together. On any given day depending on how they dress, I’m taken back to my high school goth days and new wave looks, my short-lived boho phase in college, and my 90s self when I layered everything and wore it with combat boots. They get super creative when putting together anime-inspired outfits and I’ve learned a few things about new trends (Desertcore? Never heard of it either until recently).
I laugh whenever I see the kids dressed in exact same outfits that I wore in the past. I think about articles of clothing that I’ve owned that are long gone that they would have loved—a specific pleated red plaid skirt or a forest green suede jacket. I wish that I would have saved it all in a box somewhere in my parents’ basement so that they could rummage through my clothes the way I did in my mom’s closet when I was a teen. They groan when I answer that I have no idea where those clothes went and lament over the vintage fashions that could have been theirs.
As a high schooler heavily into sewing and making my own clothes, I cut and repurposed my mother’s beautiful dresses she had custom made when she first got married and my grandmother’s amazing hanboks that she brought over from Korea. You just don’t see these fabrics in clothes much anymore: satins in bright colors with detailed embroidery, flocked velvets in jewel colors, chartreuse and melon chiffons with hand sewn appliqués.
The craftsmanship and tailoring on these clothes and traditional dresses were truly something special and I sometimes mourn with so much regret that I butchered them with scissors as a teen. Without any foresight on what I was doing, I irreverently cut up these vintage clothes that could have been family heirlooms. But then again, maybe turning them into things that I actually wore for a spell was better than collecting dust and never seeing the light of day tucked away in an attic dresser.
Is age appropriate fashion still a thing?
While there’s a huge difference between the way my mom and I dress, there isn’t a noticeable one between me and my kids even though our age spread is bigger. Sometimes I wonder, “is this okay??” Is it weird that I don’t dress that differently from my teenagers? And if it’s passable now, when does it become not okay? Because I haven’t really strayed too far off from what I used to wear 20 years ago and I can’t imagine that it would change all that much in the next 10 years either. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Is the industry finally catching on?
I appreciate how some brands have crossed generational lines with universal appeal. My mom, kids, and I all own some clothing from Everlane, for example. On the other end of this spectrum, my 16 year old wears a brown cardigan from Talbots of all things that she thrifted, and I had to suppress a chuckle because I told her that Talbots is typically a brand for older women. She didn’t care. I laugh at myself because I still have such a visceral reaction to any label that I think is dowdy even though I am exactly the age they are designing for.
I searched for “fashion over 50” and here’s what I got
So have we moved away from boxing ourselves by age? Have we shaken free from the shackles of what is considered age-appropriate clothing? Or maybe it’s me who needs some inspiration and a wardrobe shakeup. I searched “fashion for women over 50” on Google, just to see what it would spit back at me.
Here’s Google AI’s response:
Also not relating at all to the image results:
I rarely seek out fashion advice from the internet and I won’t be starting anytime soon. Search results for fashion for middle-aged women are dismal. Seems like a lot of the “advice” is common sense and generic and I don’t really like the narrative I’m getting fed that “mature” style icons older than 50 are overwhelmingly white women. The general overtone that most middle-aged woman suddenly stop caring about style and choose to give up is also tired. The worst for me is not seeing diversity of any kind. We already know that there is racial bias in AI. So Google either needs to look at their algorithms or this is an indication that there’s an opportunity in the influencer space for women of color over 50 to step in because the results weren’t very relatable.
I love fashion. If I had lots of discretionary money to spend, I would buy so many coveted things. My fantasy dream that will never happen is having a spare bedroom in a spacious NYC apartment as my very own walk-in closet. Since this is far from my reality, I cull and donate every season at least two bags to edit down my wardrobe; my small walk-in closet is barely big enough to hold clothes for two. It forces me to pare down and rethink all that I own.
I never prescribed to the Marie Kondo philosophy of minimal living, though I am ruthless with purging—so much so that sometimes there’s regret when I’ve given something away on a whim. I don’t have a capsule wardrobe and I don’t particularly stick to a uniform. I have a few too many items that I love that I have nowhere to wear to anymore, but I hold on to them just in case. I still don’t have a clue what middle-aged women should wear, but I don’t really care. I’m not sure why I had some kind of existential crises about how to dress myself at age 38, but at 53 I don’t.