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Dress Your Age
Written by Nicola Hyland   
Ever been told to act your age? How about dressing your age? Are you sick of seeing women dressing like young girls? Or maybe just sick of seeing little girls dressed like women. AskBronny explores if fashion really does have an age limit.
Age Limits in Fashion

Imagine this scene: two people are walking down the street. One is wearing knee-high boots and a seriously short skirt. The other is in a see-saw pinafore with pigtail plaits and lace-trimmed kid socks. They are a picture-perfect mother and daughter team – except that Mum is the one in the pigtails. This may sound like an unrealistic scenario – but is it really all that unbelievable? The fashion age-boundaries are increasingly becoming blurred as young girls strive to dress like much older celebrity idols, while mature-aged women seek to recapture their more youthful days. Then there are those of us in the middle – torn between not wanting to look like a nana, while also fearful of being mistaken for a tarty teen.

So are you wearing your age on your sleeve?

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do you look through Dolly or Girlfriend magazines for serious fashion advice?
  • Have much younger nieces or siblings ever commented "I have that same outfit"?
  • Do friends and family consistently tell you that you "look cold"?
  • Are you frequently asked for your high-school student concession card?
  • Has a stranger ever come up to you on the street and said "Dear, I think you might have forgotten to put your skirt on with that belt"?
  • Do door-to-door salesmen ever ask you if your mother is home?
OR
  • Do you look for fashion advice on the APIA insurance infomercials?
  • Has your Nana ever commented 'I'd wear that'? [Which is quite different from "I used to wear something like that"]
  • Are you frequently asked for your pensioner concession card?
  • Do men tell you that you remind them of their mother?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you are probably guilty of blurring the fashion age boundaries.

How do we know if we are really dressing our age?

While there are no set rules as such, there are definitely fashion phases in our lives that should be 'phased out' as our lifestyles change. What is 'cute' on a pre-teen is generally viewed as 'sad' when you are past thirty. Remember Lara Flynn-Boyle going to the Golden Globes in that pink ballerina outfit? That was a prime example of an age-inappropriate fashion choice. You can generally tell if you are dressing 'your age' by taking notice of what others in your peer group are wearing – do you stand out for the wrong reasons?  

Identifying what isn't appropriate often depends on context and environment. Many workplaces have basic dress-codes, stipulating both smart and modest apparel. If you work with children, for example, you probably shouldn't wear an outfit that reveals exactly where babies come from. Aside from curbing thigh-high hemlines, there are also unwritten codes of professionalism in many workplaces that require a sense of uniformity in a staff environment. Employers want their staff to project a mature and intelligent attitude, which expands most noticeably into their physical presentation. While there are no definite age-boundaries, there are definitely lifestyle changes which demand a maturity in both attitude and appearance.

On the flipside, while you should perhaps restrain some of your youthful inclinations, you really don't need to resort to the sensible Granny twin-sets yet. There definitely is still plenty of room for fun in your wardrobe as you get older. Just because you work in a corporate environment doesn’t mean your cleavage has to go into retirement! There are ways to make an outfit look smart and sophisticated without resorting to something ultra-conservative – keep in mind 'classic' doesn’t have to mean 'classic fit'. Weekends are a great time to let your hair down (literally) – when you can don those short shorts and teeny tank tops in the comfort of your own back yard/shopping mall.

Each retailer has a target market and it is usually made pretty clear by the advertising, the models used in their campaigns and even the music pumping out of the store. Increasingly disturbing are the ways in which the fashion industry is pressuring young girls to 'grow up' fast. From padded bras for pre-teens, to slinky nightclub tops in the playground, the industry consistently plays on the pressures on little girls to become boy-crazy temptresses. The most extreme and controversial example of what is being coined 'corporate paedophilia' was in the Lee Lolita Campaign and the ways in the models were portrayed as pre-teen sexpots.  
 
While High Fashion caters to anyone who can afford it, we can agree that popular outlets such as Supre, Bardot and Dotti target a more teen-oriented market then stores like Review, Portmans, Que or Witchery. You can often tell a target market by the age of the people selling the clothes. This does not mean that you can't take advantage of the generally more reasonable prices in the youth-orientated market, just make wise choices. If you are in a shop trying on the same outfit as someone fifteen years younger/older then you, perhaps then you might want to start questioning your fashion preferences. Unless, of course, you look far better in it, in which case you should instantly buy it and laugh all the way home

I guess the most essential word here is grace – we should dress as we hope to age - gracefully. The ultimate mantra should be "What would Audrey do?" As Audrey Hepburn is one of AskBronny's style icons, it is fitting that she should be sought as a role model for maturing with poise. If you would rather someone think "She looks great" than "She looks like a cheap slapper", then this is an important adage to remember.

Having fashion maturity means knowing the difference between 'sexy' and 'slutty'. Penelope Cruz is Sexy. Paris Hilton is [something starting with an s and rhyming with nutty] well, you know. You can still make jaws drop without dropping your drawers. If what you wear makes you, or those around you, uncomfortable, then is your outfit really a good idea? 

My own problem is that all of the women in my family have very youthful genes. While I should consider myself lucky that I'll probably be a hot Nana, the fact is that I have always looked more than five years younger than I actually am. I still get ID-ed in clubs and liquor stores and have recently been mistaken for a high-school student in one of the classes I teach. Nothing makes me more paranoid than sitting on a train next to a fourteen year old who is wearing the same outfit as me. The flipside of this is that I have this luminous mother who looks as though she is in her mid-thirties and if I try too hard to look my age, I end up looking like her conservative older sister. I really can’t win.

While many of the ideas about age-appropriateness in fashion are pretty general, often it is more about how you wear something that defines its suitability for you – as opposed to your 'age-group'. 

Victims of Wardrobe immaturity
Britney Spears
Paris Hilton
Demi Moore (Okay, so maybe just in terms of her much-younger Man-accessory)
Emma Bunton (Baby Spice, about to have an actual baby)
Pamela Anderson (Just think about her poor sons!)

Victims of Nana Fashion
Katie Holmes (definitely an older-man-accessory thing)
Julia Roberts
The Olsen twins (one in particular, can’t remember which)
Nicole Kidman
Ugly Betty (at least, crazy-nana fashion)

Fabulous Age-appropriate Fashionistas
Audrey Hepburn
Jessica Alba
Penelope Cruz
Mischa Barton
Carrie from SATC
 
 

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