Are You Dressing Your Age or Your Shoe Size?

I recently came across a post on Jezebel.com about dressing for your age and I thought it made sense. I have this discussion every day in my store. I will recommend a beautiful dress and the customer will say, “This is too sexy for me" or "I am too old for this.”  Which is just nonsense because you are only as old as you feel.  Why shouldn’t you look good and even sexy if you can? The only things that should matter to you are the fit and style of the clothing you are trying on, and most of all how you feel in it. I don’t let anyone walk out with something that makes them feel uncomfortable. If you don’t want to show your arms we can put you in a shrug or a bolero. We can even pick a nice modal or jersey fabric in a color that will go perfectly with several different sleeveless dresses.

Now you ask: What do I tell a woman who won’t try on a dress because it makes her look too “young” or too “sexy?” I just tell her to step out of the box that people put her in, including the one she puts herself in because of her own anxieties and issues. I have many mother and daughter shopping teams who come in together. Usually the daughter has heard of us or passed by the store and they want to bring their mom in to get some fashion forward clothing. So, the daughter becomes her biggest confidence-booster. She works hard at getting mom to try something that is different than what she is usually wearing.

As the article so correctly points out, age appropriate attire is a double edged sword. Some women are dressing much too matronly when they have the curves and the ability to spice up their wardrobe. There are some very fashionable pieces that are much more fitted than the moo-moo or the “mom” jeans that they are used to wearing. But, there are also the girls who don’t want to act their age. They go too much to the other extreme and try on clothes that are wildly inappropriate for their age. You see, a muffin top has an expiration date. So, I try to steer them to clothing that is appropriate but still stylish.

For example the Lola Maxi Dresses from Olivia Harper (available exclusively at Lee Lee's Valise) are in vibrant fabrics that look great on almost everyone who tries them on. Maxi-dresses are hot this summer and maybe mom hasn’t worn one since the seventies. That is exactly what they say when I show one to them. Well, sometimes it’s back to the future!

With a long necklace you can add balance. You'll look so much younger and in style while still being age appropriate. The prints like the green marble or the 70’s swirl are perfect for a weekend shopping spree or  out to dinner... just add a cute sandal or wedge. You can look stylish and support your feet at the same time.

I spoke to Kendall Farr, author of Style Evolution, and she agrees. Here is what she has to say about balancing style, comfort and dressing appropriately:

"In Style Evolution" I devote an entire chapter to how to wear trends when you are over 40. Too old? Too young? Who cares? Take age out of the equation all together and develop a style strategy that looks ageless. Should a mid-life woman revisit a trend she has worn before? Yes!  But only in the most modern and subtle incarnation. People immediately suss out one another based on what they are wearing. When your clothes look current and modern the visual message is that you pay attention and that you are plugged-in to all kinds of cultural currents."

Kendall goes on to say, ”I hate edicts. I feel as if we spend too much time on 'age appropriate' rules when what we should really be talking about is body flattering rules.

So here are a few of mine:

  • Always, always dress your to flatter your body first (something none of us did in our twenties when we just had to wear whatever was hot at the moment). Choose the most current interpretations of your best shapes, lengths, and best colors of what is 'new'.
  • The softer our bodies get the more structure we need in our clothes to create a great line on the body (at any size).
  • Every woman knows when her arms and knees have 'gone'. If yours look toned then go sleeveless and wear your hemline a few inches above your knee. If not, don't. Wearing skimpy gear to look 'young' shouldn't expose skin that does not.
  • In every stylish, grownup woman's outfit there should be a point-counterpoint relationship between clothes and accessories. Point means streamlined clothing shapes with a clean, subtle nod to trends. Counterpoint means  accessories that are unmistakably of the moment. 
  • Shoes are more important than any other accessory. A shoe with some presence makes otherwise modern classic clothes look hip. Just split the difference between the avant garde 'orthotic' looks on the runway and the soft porn intimations of a 6 inch stiletto. Not being able to walk in your shoes will 'age ' your look!  A cool wedge heel will save the day."


Walking down the street in Manhattan, I did see exactly what Kendall is referring to: a woman in her late fifties wearing leggings, a shorter tunic than she should have been wearing and heels that she blatantly couldn’t walk in. This woman looked like a stereotypical older woman trying to dress young. She could of chosen a classic elegant style and turned heads instead of stomachs.

The key is that you should have some sense of what is age appropriate for you without being afraid to try something different or trendy. If you follow some of the simple tips that Kendall laid out for us you can build a look that is age appropriate and still flaunt your personal sense of style.

Do you dress in an age appropriate manner?

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