Reader Lisa submitted one of the most fascinating and challenging reader requests to date:
I think it would be very interesting to get guest posters from different age ranges (20s, 30s, 40s, etc.) to discuss style and style evolution, body image evolution, how they address trends, what they find work appropriate, etc. At 37, I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m infinitely more confident and have style that I never had in my 20s.
So I called upon my friends to contribute. I asked style bloggers because I know these women think about body image and fashion on a daily basis. I asked non-style bloggers because I know these women are astute and articulate. I asked non-bloggers because not everyone keeps an online journal, but everyone has a body and gets dressed.
I asked my amazing friends to summarize their feelings about how their body images and styles have changed, and asked them to do so in 200 words or less. This was a tough assignment, but as you’ll see, they stepped up and gave me some varied, moving, and unique insights into what it means to be aware of your body and style at every stage of adulthood. I hope you’ll enjoy their writings as much as I did.
from Saturday Jane
23 year olds are supposed to be all about sex appeal, I guess. We have income! We are educated! We have nubile bodies that look nice on magazine covers and entice available males to buy expensive body sprays. We youngins are always being told to take advantage of our youth with the latest fashions. All like, “Buy these leggings! Now! In five years, your legs will be hideous. Like fatty old sausages with the skin shriveling off. Buy our leggings and wear them, before the inevitable onset of Fatty Sausage Leg!”
Okay, leggings are all well and good for … well, people that like leggings, but I resent being told what to do. When I am told that my body now is the best that it’s going to get, I get uppity, and when I’m told that I’m not taking advantage of its youthfulness by stuffing it into $300 shirt-dresses, I get positively peeved. My astronaut t-shirt is just as hip and sexy as your skinny jeans, thankyew! Maybe my man-shorts and sneakers aren’t typical of what a 23-year-old should be, but they’re typical of what a 23-year-old is. Namely, broke, busy, and ready to make do with what works.
Besides, I’m 22.
from Daddy Likey
In seventh grade my language arts teacher had the entire class write letters to our future selves. I remember writing an angry and demanding diatribe to my adult self, insisting she be a rich magazine writer living New York City who wore bright purple pumps every single day and never had dandruff.
I will be 25 in a little over a month, and I’m certainly not rich. I live in Oregon, write for magazines occasionally, and count myself an avid fan of ballet flats and Head & Shoulders. And I’m much more accepting of these facts than my seventh grade self would have been.
I’m slowly but surely amassing a wardrobe that flatters my body and makes me happy. I’m certainly still young enough to get caught up in awful trends, and I look forward to the day—maybe in 5 years or so—when I’m wise enough to say, “Zebra print white latex leggings? Not for me.”
I also secretly look forward to the day—maybe in 50 years or so—when I’ll wear those zebra print white latex leggings and walk my cat around on a leash and be like, “What? I’m an eccentric old lady. Deal with it.”
At 28, I am aware that my body is a combination of genetics and my lifestyle. My whole family is pretty slim, and I was raised eating healthy and exercising. I feel blessed that my mother was always accepting of her shape, and didn’t pass on any insecurities to me. Still being relatively young, I think I am able to see the results of my work (or lack thereof) almost immediately on my body. If I am eating healthy and exercising four days a week, I feel great and toned and notice that my clothing fits me well. If I am having a particularly poor week, where I let my diet be guided by convenience and snacking rather than healthy meals or if I don’t keep up on my exercising, I notice it almost immediately the next week. This instant feedback is amazing because it doesn’t let me slack off too much before I get my rear back in gear.
My personal style is pretty eclectic and varied. I like to experiment with different styles and eras of clothing and I am certainly not afraid of color. I have always paid attention to how I dress, and even in college I didn’t let myself fall into a style rut. When I dress well, I am more confident and productive. I think my willingness to stand out, stylistically, is because I feel very comfortable in my own skin. I am flawed and I am okay with that. I’m going to keep experimenting with my style and have fun with it, because at the end of the day, as long as I feel good about myself and that helps me to do good things in my life, the rest doesn’t matter!
When Sal asked me to write a piece about “My Personal Style” I said of course, but the more I thought about it the more I was unsure what exactly my personal style was so I asked some of my friends.When asked they described my style as lady like, tailored, vintage inspired but always with a quirk. I can get on board with that.
My style has evolved a lot over the past few years. I am in my 30’s now (31) and I am learning more about what actually works for my figure. I lost about 30lbs 3 years ago and before then I didn’t wear much tailored clothing. That is the biggest change. I like to show my figure more the older I get. I am still modest but I am more likely to wear a nipped in waist or a pencil skirt. In my 20’s I never would of done that. I am also very into dresses now. I own more dresses than anything else. I feel beautiful and complete in a dress.
I’m that all-encompassing cusp-age: 39 and 3/4. Really. And I couldn’t ask for a lovelier age and stage. I mean, I’ve lived through a couple of decades of adulthood and have learned valuable lessons about what matters to me and how I want to project my image.
In my twenties, I was cute and I took my metabolism for granted :-). But fundamentally, I didn’t have confidence in my look or abilities. I couldn’t afford the fashion I loved, but I did try to reproduce looks at lower price points. It was the early 90s – not the most adventuresome time in fashion. I belonged to that final generation of matchy-suit-wearing career women.
My early- to mid-thirties were difficult. I had a child and the early years of parenting were (extremely) hard on my body/mind. I gained weight. I turned to some very unhealthy practices to deal with my omni-present stress. This time was largely a fashion write-off. Extra weight inhibited body-conscious fashion choices. And I was too tired to care. But my career – and my life – continued to evolve.
My mid- to late- thirties have been terrific. I am healthy and happy with my weight range – confident enough to wear what I want. know what looks good on me. Aging is extremely liberating and I highly recommend it! I’ve always been a fashion junkie – and since I found blogs my sense of style has continued to evolve. Seeing real women wearing beautiful things in unique ways has made me realize that I am not limited by my shape or age. Only by my imagination. And, as my mother will tell you, I’ve never lacked for that 🙂
Though I’ve never been afraid to express myself through clothing and style, at 40 I feel more empowered than ever in critically examining fashion’s rules and trends, figuring out what works for me, and throwing out the rest. For instance, conventional rules might state that miniskirts are inappropriate for a woman over 35, but wisdom and experience have taught me that great looking gams should be shown off. As my confidence in my body has increased, so has my confidence in pushing the boundaries of style and being willing to experiment and make mistakes on occasion. My style is more playful than it was when I was younger, because now I see it mostly as an avenue for creativity, self-expression, and fun. When I was younger I viewed fashion more in terms of fitting in with a particular crowd, an idea that is no longer important to me. Moreover, I’d say that my current style reflects more facets of my personality than it ever has before; I’m no longer afraid to be stylistically schizophrenic and have embraced the fact that I have many sides, which will translate differently into my outward appearance on any given day.
My wardrobe is definitely more colorful than it was 20 years ago. Black still often dominates, but now punctuated with more vibrant colors. I love my teal and fuchsia coat. It would have been too bright and noticeable for me 20 years ago—especially for outerwear! I also now own several pairs of jeans—I hardly wore them in high-school and college.
As a child of the 80s, I loved the boxy oversized look and had to adjust to the more fitted styles of the 90s. I now appreciate a good cut, more architecturally constructed clothing and better “lines”. I’m more comfortable with clothing that shows my shape even though I have gained several pounds in the past fifteen years. I’ve always been a bit self-conscious about my legs, but am happy leggings are popular again, and that I have the luxury to indulge in a few pairs of great boots, something I couldn’t afford in my 20s.
What defines my style? I love black, purple, and silver. Anything asymmetrical, never any logos, jewel tones, tunics, decorative zippers, rivets or studs, knits, black mini ruffles (current obsession), faux velvet, hot pink, faun, teal, stripes (esp. on socks and stockings), not many collars or button down tops, anything with a peacock feather, beads, metallics, or embroidery.
The French have a wonderful expression—bien dans sa peau. It loosely translates to being at ease with oneself, comfortable in one’s own skin. For years it was my goal, and somehow, without even being aware of it, I arrived. It might have had something to do with turning forty, but I suddenly realized I was relaxed with myself, and I understood my own sense of style. (I am a firm believer that fashion is who you wear; style is who you are. I am much more interested in the latter than the former.)
My own style has evolved from the two halves of my life. I’m a writer, which means that a good part of the time, I am at home wearing jeans and Gypsy skirts and an armful of bangles. But I also travel for book signings and personal appearances, and—for a variety of reasons—I like to dress more formally, injecting as much glamour as I can manage. Sometimes the worlds collide—at my first publishing dinner, I wore a little black dress but I topped it with a burnout velvet opera coat dripping with fringe. And from time to time, the more constructed dresses I buy for appearances find themselves trotted out at my daughter’s school events or out to dinner with my husband. My daughter calls me a Bohemian bombshell, which is intended—and taken!—as a tremendous compliment.
A friend likes to point out that this is the last year I can claim to be in my mid-forties. I must point out that 46 doesn’t really feel any different to me than 40 did. I am actually twenty pounds lighter now, that I was at 40, so it even feels a little better.
My style is in development right now. Really. I have managed to reach this age wearing mostly jeans and sweatshirts. The sweatshirts have been out for the last couple years, owing to the hot flashes (my own personal summer). But, until now, my wardrobe, hair, and makeup choices have all had to do with ease, convenience, and shortest possible prep time.
I am fairly comfortable with my body, and have come to accept that the pooch-y belly thing is not going away. I love my curves, but I have noticed that my 36D breasts feel a little more matronly than voluptuous. That could be because of the ever-decreasing distance between my bra and my belt! New bra fitting, anyone?
Since 40 or so, I have placed a barrier before myself, guarding diligently against anything that looked “too young for a woman my age.” Long hair? I’m too old for that. Skinny jeans? Not on a woman my age. This, I have come to realize, is silly. Which doesn’t mean I am going to start wearing baby-tees and ultra low-rise jeans, but I am looking for a way to be both sophisticated and still fun!
At age 46, I am working on a personal style makeover with a purpose. Starting in the second week of March, I embarked, with dr.wende, on Wardrobe Therapy. I am hoping to emerge having learned some things about myself!
Currently, I am less concerned about both personal style and body image than I ever have been. Or perhaps I should say differently concerned. Functionality seems to be my motto. My body, in the past year or so, started gaining fat in different places and it took a while to get used to that. But with exercise and yoga, things are feeling pretty good. Feeling – that’s the key for me. I want my body to be strong so I can do all the things I want to. I don’t think as much about how it looks as how it feels.
As far as clothes, I¹m not sure when or how it happened, but I went from being quite stylish to almost purely functional (still cute enough, I hope) for 95% of my waking hours. As a freelancer, I don¹t dress for work regularly, although I have occasional meetings and conferences for which I make more of an effort. I have a collection favorite outfits that I recycle that have a casual professional/Bohemian/Gypsy vibe that I suppose is my personal style. But fashion is not something I think about much anymore. That seems like it could be a rather sad state of affairs or some sort of negative reflection on my self-image, etc., like I’ve “let myself go.” But it’s not. I’ve never been happier or more at ease with myself.
I’m forty-eight, and the last few years have been some of the best years of my life as far as my self-image is concerned. This is both unexpected and a huge relief, as I used to feel a lot of despair about my looks and figure.
The most compelling reason for my attitude change is that I know so many people who are dealing with serious medical or weight issues that I feel very fortunate just to have a healthy body. (This is a big paradigm shift from having the “luxury” of worrying that my legs weren’t long enough or my skin was too pale.) I’ve gained just enough weight in my forties to have a more feminine-looking body, which I always longed for. And for the first time in my life, I’m working out in a gym, which is good for my body, energy level, and attitude. It also helps tremendously that I have a partner who is fabulous and appreciative. He and I just returned from a trip to the Caribbean, and the Latin American women inspired me with their confidence and allure, which clearly was self-generated and not dependent on some narrow external definitions of beauty, age, or weight.
My style has remained much the same over the years. I like tailored clothes, in black, brown or gray, simple ballerina tops, button-down sweaters, clunky clogs, platform loafers. I’m partial to interesting hats, perhaps inspired by former NY congresswoman Bella Abzug and pictures of my glamorous Irish grandmother and her sisters. I own a few vintage dresses, fitted Madmen-esque styles from the late fifties and early sixties.
When it comes to style, I’ve always had a sense of what I liked, but until the last fifteen years or so, my almost nonexistent clothing budget severely constrained my choices. Whatever I could find at thrift stores or deep discount that fit me was what I wore, whether I liked it much or not. I do remember a couple of thrift store finds that I was thrilled with and wore until threadbare. One was a grey wool quasi-military jacket from the late 1940’s. It fit my curves like it was made for me. Another was a grey wool cloche hat, probably from the 1930’s. I’ve always been drawn to styles that are clean and simple, without a lot of visual clutter. I tend to shy away from pattens. I’ve come to describe my style as “classic with a twist.” My quirky, irreverent side needs some fun accessories to lighten up my otherwise straighforward look. Aside from budget, the biggest change over the years has been achieving a clear sense of what I can or wish to wear vs. what I love on someone else. I can now admire someone else’s style without feeling it’s somehow “better” than my own or trying to emulate.
At my age, I’d love to be able to tell you that my body image is 100% positive, but that’s just not the case. There are definitely days when I dress to camouflage. But I’ve learned to buy what fits regardless of the size on the label (which nowadays are meaningless anyway) and no longer blame my body if something doesn’t work for me. Trying on a garment that looks terrible on me no longer ruins my day.
At 56, I must find ways to celebrate how I look, because everywhere I turn, someone is making age into a problem. Wrinkles should be removed through injections or surgery. Gray hair should be hidden. Skirts shouldn’t be too short, heels shouldn’t be too high.
I look for clothes I think are pretty. Style and fashion are important, but only if they’re flattering. I’ve discovered that my skin isn’t reacting well to hair color, so I’m deciding whether to find gentler alternatives or just let my hair gray naturally. I love skin care products and makeup, and while I don’t know if they actually do me any good, I’m afraid to stop using them and find out!
I chose this photo of myself with my daughter just before my son’s wedding last fall. I stopped looking for “Mother of the Bride” (and Groom) dresses, after finding only shapeless skirts and portrait collars like my grandma used to wear, or “Cocktail Dresses” that were mostly mini skirts and baby doll dresses that look great on my daughter’s friends. It took me months to find my chocolate brown taffeta Badgley Mischka, which met my criteria: pretty and flattering. I felt beautiful.
You fabulous readers in your teens and 60s, I hope you didn’t feel excluded. I queried many more women than contributed, and I think I ended up with a wonderful and fascinating group of musings, don’t you? HUGE thanks to all of these amazing ladies for taking the time to mull over and write up their feelings on style and body image as they pertain to age.
Whose story resonated most with you? Was it someone in your actual age group, or outside? Please feel free to add your own story in the comments. I’d love to keep this conversation going.