I remember the first time I was called “Ma’am.” I also remember finally being called “Grandma.” And I clearly remember when I exchanged showing my ID to order a drink with showing my ID for the senior discount.
But none of those moments made me feel as old as the first time I ventured out of a department store dressing room in a new dress and the 12-year-old salesclerk smiled brightly and chirped, “You look great! And you can wear it anywhere, because it’s, like, totally age appropriate.”
Age appropriate?? Listen up, Twinkie. I’m way too young to be worrying about “age appropriate” clothing. That’s for our mothers. Today’s grandmas still rock skinny jeans and stilettos. Toss me a pair of thigh-length Spanx and the tube dress on that mannequin over there, and I’ll show you how it’s done, Baby Girl.
But on the walk of shame back to my dressing room, I started thinking about longstanding fashion rules for women, many of which have been generally dismissed over the years as we collectively discovered that the world doesn’t actually care if we wear white after Labor Day or mix red and pink together in the same outfit. Rules were made to be broken, and female baby boomers are exploding fashion rules every day. Simply put, we know what we like and that’s what we wear.
Unfortunately, in our youth-obsessed society, with beauty pageants for six-year-old girls and college students getting tummy tucks, our definition of “age appropriate” has become a bit blurry. We start questioning our wardrobes, asking ourselves, “Is this too young for me?” Or we see another 50-something woman in a leopard print skirt and wince, thinking “I have that skirt. Do I look like that?” The rules have been tossed out, and now we’re no longer certain what works and what doesn’t after a certain age.
The good news? While there are no hard-and-fast rules, there are a few guidelines to help you navigate the landmine of dressing young when you’re…well, not. It’s easier than you think. Simply put, your clothes need to match your face. Avoid the following:
1. Cutsie Betty Boop, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse or general Disney attire. By 50, you need to look like a grownup.
2. Fad pieces that don’t work for your body. This would include rompers and low-rise sweatpants with “Juicy” emblazoned in neon across your butt.
3. Miniskirts. Unless you’re at a karaoke bar, belting out a rocking Tina Turner rendition of Proud Mary, miniskirts after 50 say “Hey Buddy, looking for a good time?”
4. Message t-shirts. “Still a Bad Ass,” and “Sexy Grandma” written across boobs that are now closer to your waist than your clavicles is just wrong.
5. Short-shorts. They looked trashy on Daisy Duke. And she was a 22-year-old gazelle. Don’t even think about it.
6. Plunging necklines. Our boobs are already plunging. Do we need to advertise it?
7. Jeans with rhinestones. Ditto rhinestone baseball caps. Or anything bedazzled. And that includes your vajayjay.
8. Extremely low-rise jeans. The color of your underwear, the fact that you don’t wear underwear, or the exact starting point of your butt crack should stay between you and whoever actually asks to see it. The rest of us prefer to simply speculate. Or not.
9. Stupid shoes. Thigh-high boots (outside of the bedroom), knee-high gladiator sandals, platform sneakers. What works for Madonna on stage can make the average 50-something boomer on the street look like a badly dressed transvestite.
10. Little-girl hair accessories. Cutsie barrettes, bows, and rhinestone headbands. If your three-year-old granddaughter wants it, give it to her. For keeps. (See #1).
11. Anything purchased at Forever 21. Or Claire’s. Or any store where the salesgirl uses “like” before every third word.
12. Too much sexy (yes, it’s possible). Despite what Hubs thinks, 4″ stilettos, a short skirt, and a strapless top, worn simultaneously (even if they all fit and you can walk in the shoes), makes you look slutty, not sexy.
13. Anything that looks better on your DIL than on you. If it requires perky boobs, flat, non-child-bearing abs, cellulite-free thighs, or triceps you could bounce a quarter from, and this no longer describes you, pass it along to the next generation.
14. Anything you’ve had in your closet for over 10 years. I know it was expensive and you love it. But in 10 years, styles evolve. Hopefully, so have you. Let it go.
Having said all that, I’m not a 24/7 fashionista. While I love getting “all done up,” as Hubs would say, I’m equally comfortable in the ubiquitous yoga pants and t-shirt ensemble that female boomers have adopted as the uniform of our generation, especially while living in a small town with a very relaxed fashion culture.
I was out running a few errands recently, so it was just a quick shower, some workout gear (more YMCA than Bali Fitness), no makeup, and out the door.
On the third stop, I ran into an old friend, all skinny jeans, bangles, full makeup, and gorgeous hair. I frantically tried to hide behind the zucchini counter, but no such luck. After air kisses and mutual exclamations of “It’s been SO long! You look GREAT!” she smiled, ever-so-sweetly, and said, “You know what I’ve always loved about you?” “Do tell,” I replied, instinctively sensing I wasn’t going to like what came next. “You’re so real,” she gushed, “You can get all dressed up and look fabulous, of course, but you’re just as comfortable going out like…” as she waved her hand in my general direction, “well…this.”
My mother always taught me to answer compliments with a simple and gracious “Thank you,” which I managed to choke out, but I kept thinking it was a good thing she didn’t see me last Thursday at Safeway in my jammies. I’d never leave home again.