"Don't wear this over 50": Did I say that?

In a summer exchange with an old friend, C., she mentioned that I had at some point listed "things women should never wear after age 50" on this blog and included "denim of any kind".

C. may have a better memory than mine, but it didn't feel like something I'd write. A search of posts by key words turned up nothing. I found only one about "what not to wear after 50", a 2011 list from Inès de La Fressange's book.

I found a shot of my studded denim skirt in another 2011 post—when I was already past 60—so there's more reason for me to doubt that I proscribed it:

In 2014, I posted on shopping for jeans; there is no single item (that you can see, anyway) that I wear more often.

The don'ts out there

I searched the Net for such articles (and thought I might turn up my own). Typically-banned items: clothes that read 'too young' (whiskered, ripped denim; tube tops) or 'too old' (elastic-waistband trousers; baggy cuts). Then there were idiosyncratic nominees: fleece, gold buttons, ethnic prints.

Divisive candidates included leather motos, leggings, Crocs, maxi dresses, florals, sweatpants, brooches.

If I issued such a list, I take it back, because I've have seen women in the Passage look splendid in everything from Japanese avant-garde to English country tweeds.

As I told C., there are only two items I don't like for age 50+ women: first, dolman sleeves, which depress one's posture and display the apparel industry's abdication of construction quality.

My costume necklace
Second, over 50, your jewellery should be real. Not precious, but real—this post explains why, and also shows my own exceptions.

Beyond the list

I have, however, written about generational markers and their contribution to looking current (not "age-appropriate"). For women who grew up in North America in the '60s and '70s, these include hyper-matchy coordination, and precise, carefully-coiffed hair.  If, when I say "Villager", you think of an a-line skirt, flowered blouse and grosgrain-trimmed cardigan, all matched, you were there, and had the knee socks to prove it.

We were imprinted like ducklings, so later choices became reflexive. Today, colour may be handled like this:

Photo: The Sartorialist
The woman in Scott Schuman's photo (above) is fashion illustrator (and his fiancée) Jenny Walton. When I was her age, 27, I would have found her outfit jarring—what's with that checked bag?— now, I like it.

A woman in the Passage should wear what pleases her, and keep an eye on the culture; however, she need not adopt every tic of the times. Walton's colour mashup may not be for you; the shirt half-tuck is not for me; I look interrupted while dressing.

Your evolution?

Few women buy into a firm age boundary, but stop wearing some things, and adopt others. For me, the last attempt at (moderate) high heels lasted for two hours, four years ago.

I wonder about you!

Has the passage of ten or so years affected your choices of what you wear? Are there things you have abandoned, or now embrace?  


Madame Là-bas said…
I looked back at your 2011 links and thought about the changes time has brought. At age 67, I have no waist so I don't tuck in. The half tuck would just look messy on me and draw the eyes to the middle. I owned the Parisian Chic book when it came out because I was planning my 6 months in Paris. As a plump petite woman, I have little in common with Ines so I wouldn't wear a too tight velvet jacket. I don't wear very much print now or jersey but I do enjoy a statement piece of jewelry. My wardrobe is much more casual after years of retirement. Comfortable clothing with accessories seem to be my favourites now. Denim in possible for all!
Bunny said…
Villager shirtwaists were our warm weather school uniform back in the day! At least that was far better than the wool houndstooth check box pleated looooong skirts that were part of our uniform the rest of the year! We are similar ages and I haven't given up much but I weigh what I did when I was back in the day myself. The weight has shifted but in a positive manner for my figure so I can wear things an exaggerated hourglass, which no longer exists, would not let me back then. I think the only thing I have given up are heels of any sort. I just cannot tolerate the discomfort although I wish I could. They do make the legs look lovelier. What have I taken on new in my late stage wardrobe? Denim, lots, skirts, rompers, jackets, things I never wore in my sheltered youth. Scarves are another. I never was big on accessories way back. Sports bras are recent and will stay with me. I love them and their comfort and the correct ones are very supportive and do not uniboob. Natural hair, no coloring, yay! I also insist on clothes that fit well in my dotage. Bad fit, extra years! Makeup definitely continues. I feel we all sort loose our faces as we get up there and mine is not going quietly into that good night! I don't do a lot but I do want to cover age spots and fill in brows. Makes a difference. And I wear socks, lots of socks!
gelinda said…
I was definitely imprinted "like a duckling."

As a 70 yr old who is very short, overweight and very busty I have essentially given up finding anything beyond an occasional knit top online or in stores. Now that I can afford it, I've located some possible dressmaker options.

The styles and shapes that appeal the most to me and are the most flattering to my difficult shape are the simple A-line dresses, sleek suits, constructed pieces of the 60s and 70s. Think Jackie O, though our figures are very different.

The dilemma is how to design outfits that have those shapes but are updated.I'm not a vintage wearer. I want the elegance of the styles without looking like a TV rerun.
Lynn said…
I had not thought of Villager in years, but the term certainly brought back memories. No wonder I struggle against matching! I'm pickier about color and cut, find myself moving toward more subtle prints, insist on comfort -- no heels, love knits, and absolutely nothing that I have to fuss with during the day. If I have to keep adjusting off it goes. I love the look of scarves, but they never stay put. I'm trying to wear my jewelry more instead of saving it for "good" but not sure how to pair jeans with pearls or antique jade. Suggestions are welcome!
LauraH said…
Not sure if my changes are due to being older or being retired - maybe some of both. I am hooked on lipstick/lipgloss just to add some colour to my rather pale face. Scarves and/or jewellery are now worn every day, not saved for 'good'. Clothes are comfortable and good fabric - cashmere, bamboo, linen. Shapes are casual with what I hope is a good fit. And I've gained a lot of confidence in the colours I choose. All in all, I feel better about the way I look now than ever before.
Roberta said…
I loved a faceful of slap back when I didn't really need it, and now that my face would benefit from complete (if subtle) makeup, my skin is too dry and sensitive to handle more than tinted moisturizer and mascara. My hemline has gotten longer and my heels lower. But now I wear with pleasure mixed prints, a wide range of colors, and scarves. :-)

What hasn't changed is my love of funky shoes and changing my hair frequently.
Duchesse said…
Mme Là-bas: Oh the two-sizes-too-small blazer recommendation; I always wondered if that was serious.

Bunny: That's a wonderfully-specific list, and the rompers were a definite surprise!

grlinda: The look you are aiming for sounds like Céline and Alatzurra but their sizing is so restrictive; now I hope you can find someone to interpret it for you.

Lynn: I'll work up a post, but in brief, treat jeans just like trousers but wear ankle boots or shoes, really anything except running shoes. Add a simple top. More to come on this. Antique jade, ohhhh.

Laura H: What a wonderful place to be in. And with you on not 'saving for good'.

Roberta: I was in an underground mall last week and saw a woman well over 60 in a leopard print midi skirt, royal blue satin blouse and vertiginous heeled sandals. She stopped me in my tracks! I loved the audacity of the outfit but wondered how she worked all day in those shoes. They are not good for feet, knees, back... so bring on the funky lower heeled shoes!

I find at 63 I sometimes look in the mirror and think “I was wearing this exact same combo in 1974 when I graduated from high school.” That look would be flip flops, jeans and a Mexican peasant shirt. Perfect weekend attire.
I thought rompers were clothing for toddlers that could contain nappies...

As for the Villager and similar looks, I associate them with older and straighter cousins. Clothing changed dramatically in that brief period, and I certainly didn't want to be associated with straights. At the time that did not denote heterosexuals.

I rarely wore real high heels, except some stacked slightly mid-high ones.

One thing that greatly annoys me about the admonishments to women of a certain age is the assumption that they all have the means to buy good jewellery. I've worked for years in a community association here, and frankly it isn't so for many, especially for those who have had to make their lives over. Many are just thrilled to be done with abuse.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I have regularly defined « real » to include wood, paper and glass, and featured such pieces, as well as those made from costlier materials.
Duchesse said…
Nancie N Bartley: A half-century of a great look!
Dana said…
Enjoy your posts as I often feel more comfortable in classic well-made, well-tailored clothes. Several of my favorites are vintage DVF wrap dresses, old but well made classic cashmere sweaters (even twin sets), and well fitting jeans.

Agree with the comment above that women (of any age) should only wear "real" jewelry. I have always worked for a non-profit counseling the terminally ill. It is a low paying job but highly meaningful. I left an abusive husband 15 years ago and am so proud of my independence now. Believe me- the last thing on my mind is whether or not I am wearing "real" jewelry.
Duchesse said…
Dana: The link to my post on "real jewellery", provides my definition of 'real':
"Real" does not imply costly. When I say "real", I include •not only precious metals and gems, but also an array of organic elements, e.g., shells, wood, rock crystal, raffia, leather, an old bronze key on a silk cord•."


If a woman wears jewellery, I believe it is worth thinking about what she is buying. Fake jewellery is HORRIBLE for the environment for several reasons: the labour conditions (mass-produced by the fast fashion industry); it ends up in landfills and does not degrade, and it's terrible value because it looks bad so soon.

So shiny fake 'turquoise' from the fast-fashion store is going to break and then be non-degradable. But I am not saying, "only buy genuine turquoise". I AM saying, rather than buying the fake, buy the real, regardless of your budget.

"Real" is within reach even on very, very limited means, just like scouting for used furniture. I can give many examples of things I or friends bought at garage sales, charity sales, and thrifts. Examples: A pretty nautilus shell pendant on linen string (free, given when I bought a desk lamp), a hand-enamelled silver pendant,$4; a handsome 1940s stamped copper bracelet, $5; a 35-inch strand of real freshwater pearls (in perfect condition), $25.

From the "Free" box on the street or at the tail end of garage sales: rock crystal art deco earrings; a leather bracelet that only needed saddle soap; a Mexican onyx and silver pin.

Humans have created jewellery for millenia. I do not like it as a display of wealth. I view it as an art form and think it is at its best when expressed through authentic, organic materials.

Your comments made me think about why I add the "after 50" part. I do not like fake stuff on young women either, but they are still forming their ability to make choices in all realms and can be dazzled by sparkly effects. By 50, real materials, whether wood or diamond, are more satisfying to wear, and •you're• real, why not extend that to your personal effects?

Lynn said…
I would like to echo the Duchesse' statements that real does not mean expensive. When my mother was undergoing chemotherapy and too sick to do much, my father drove her to a bead store that carried beads from all over the world, new and old. None were more than a few dollars and most were a few cents. She spent hours stringing them into necklaces and bracelets for friends and family. After she died everyone wore her jewelry to the memorial. Twenty years later her 50 cent necklaces are still treasured.
Duchesse said…
Lynn: I appreciate your comment because it reminds us that jewellery can carry deep sentiment. (Or it can be merely decorative.) Sometimes we look at a piece as just a 'thing' and other times it has a potent emotional charge.

Besides advocating for real, I also advocate for knowing the artist who made the piece, when possible. Like any other item, handmade is differs from machine-made. Your mother took that to a very high level, using the time left to leave tokens of love. So moving.

One exception I might make is for beading - but glass beads, not plastic. In that case the handwork is the art - and indeed there is a lot of schlock that is either machine-made or slapdash assembly-line handmade.

Exceptionally beautiful late-summer light today.
RKG said…
I read what your friend read, wherever we read it (not here).

There is a list somewhere, maybe in a book, that lists what a woman over a certain age should never wear, and it definitely includes no-denim. It’s the kind of thing that once you read you can’t forget. It takes that long to unstick your eyebrows from your hairline.

It’s not that surprising that it was written. I came of age in the ‘70’s, when denim-off-the-farm was still so new to mainstream that you were always reading advice about who could wear it, when, and where.

A child who loved dresses, I didn’t own a pair of jeans until age 12. Maybe that was my coming of age. I rarely wear dresses and love my denim.

The list that bans denim on women over 50 is not nearly that old, or it would not have had much shock value. It was possibly in this century that I read it. The author probably came from the day of articles dictating when one could tastefully wear denim.
Duchesse said…
RKG: I recall that Elvis never wore denim once he wasThe King, calling it field clothes.
I have no doubt C. did see that somewhere, and it may well be the opinion of a person who formed his or her sense of style before jeans invaded our closets. Makes sense to me.
Dana said…
Just what to thank you for your reply. I have a better understanding now and wholeheartedly agree with your opinion. Love your blog and writing style.

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