When I look at pictures of myself 20-30 years ago, I realize I had no idea how amazing I looked. I never thought of wearing miniskirts and dresses when I was in my 20s, 30s, even 40s. I am now in my fifties.
Lately, I’ve tried on some things in my closet that I deemed “too short” — not something a younger would have done. It got me thinking: How short is too short when you’re half a century old or more? Is it different than when I was 22? Should it be different? Otherwise, how have my style and fashion choices changed as I’ve aged?
I became fascinated by the answers to these questions—if there were any, and if those answers matter—as well as the thoughts, fears, and fears other women my age have about their fashion and style choices. So I talked to as many of my colleagues as I could, and also got insight from a psychologist. The stories and conversations we had were enlightening, empowering, and wonderfully insightful.
The inner workings of my friends’ brains
I’ve known Natalie Flores, who is 49, for about 25 years. We worked together when we were in our 30s and became close friends. tThe days of mini skirts, tank tops, and cowboy boots were in Austin, Texas. We had bare legs and arms. Although I have since moved to a much less swampy place, Nat still lives in that state. However, some of her fashion choices have changed.
She told me, “I no longer wear shorts because of the way my inner thigh arches, although I have no problem with a miniskirt because it hides the curve of my inner thigh.” She also said that she no longer wears a hat sleeve because it “signifies” a soft, pale inner arm that she prefers to hide (from her reflection and the general public).
“It is a hard-won freedom to ignore how one is perceived by others. And I, for one, am very grateful to all who have pioneered the way to express themselves openly without apology.”
– Stephanie Roccio, woman in her fifties
Joanne, a 69-year-old retired cyclist and attorney who requested that her last name be kept private, she told me that sOnce you’re over 50, you don’t wear mini skirts anymore.
“I stopped because I didn’t feel like showing off so much anymore — I didn’t feel the need to advertise, like I do.” She said. “As I got older, there were no skirts at all. I didn’t like things flapping around my legs. Plus, if I drop something or have to climb over something, I don’t want the hassle of a skirt. Both of those things happened in my forties and fifties.”
Stephanie Roccio, a 50-something French woman I met two decades ago in a bistro, had a sexy, understated style that I had never been so good at. When we spoke, she told me that her style had definitely changed, and that she felt as if she was still undergoing changes, both in fashion and otherwise. I think this is a country that we should all look forward to: always growing and developing. I mean, are we really done?
“The cool thing now is that I don’t have any pressure or drive to impress,” Stephanie said. “My fashion and style decisions are gradually becoming… comfortable yet unconventional, but above all honest to me, rather than hypothetically pleasing to times and/or people. I feel and love my age in the sense that I dress perfectly in keeping with my needs and desires, regardless of the input external”.
Some of the women I spoke to complained that their skin was starting to sag. Joanne told me that despite her good muscle tone and the fact that she’s in great shape, her pack is failing.
She said, “Unfortunately, gravity has been around for as long as I have been. This one breaks my heart.”
Jenny Barbato, a 70-year-old woman Active and fit, he said something similar: “I’m more aware of showing skin—wrinkled neck and arms, legs increasingly scarred and mottled. But it’s not infrequent that I do it anyway.”
“If a significant amount of your self-esteem depends on your appearance, you will feel more anxious as you get older because your appearance changes. And I think this is especially true for women,” Ann Kearney Cook, a licensed psychologist and wellness coach in Ohio, tells me.
“YesYou should define yourself by the choices you make each day, not what happened in the past or how the culture perceives you,” she said. This includes making a decision to be a better person or a better friend, to eat healthier, to move, and to experiment with the arts.
“Focus on the choices you make to feel good about yourself and your body,” she added. “You get affected by a lot of things, like who your partner is, what fashion in the past has been for you, and how important the clothes of the people in your life are.”
At the end of the day, the trick is finding colors, fabrics, and patterns that look good on you, feel good about, and truly express who you are now.
“The gift of getting older, I think, is that we’re clearer about who we are,” said Kearney-Cooke.
The freedom to care less about what you are “supposed” to wear
Fortunately, as I get older, I care less about what other people think of the way I look. Not that sometimes I still don’t worry about how I conceive, but I’m ultimately better at not giving these kinds of concerns too much credit. One person answered my question about a mini skirt by saying, “Don’t worry. No fear. I wear what I want.”
And when it comes to the gaze of others, there is a certain freedom in recognizing that not everyone is watching you. “I look at other women my age and think, no one cares how we dress anyway, which also gives me a certain amount of carefree,” Jenny said.
Natalie told me she’s been feeling nostalgic lately for her college years and wondering if she was trying too hard to look young.
“I’ve experimented with adding elements of this look to my picks. I definitely stop and wonder if it looks forced, and if it makes me look like I’m trying to look younger or if I’m looking a little way out of what someone my age is ‘supposed’ to wear.”
Many of us spend a great deal of time worrying about our appearance and whether we will look attractive to others. This, of course, is always related to how we choose to dress, Kearney Cook said, as well as our relationships with our bodies.
“We also have to teach people how to talk about our bodies,” she said. She told me a story about one of her clients who got a clean bill of health from her doctor. The woman was very pleased, but when she told her husband, he asked if the doctor had said anything about her “big ass.”
“And that’s the best part,” Kearney Cook told me. The woman replied: No, he did not ask about you.
A big part of accepting aging is the maturity that comes with it. As Stephanie said: “It is a hard-won freedom to ignore how others perceive oneself. And I, for one, am so grateful to all who have pioneered the way to express themselves openly without apology.”
“When I was younger, I had no idea how good it looked,” Joanne said. “Nobody does. But then you grow up and look at pictures of you when you were little, and you think: ‘Jeez, you looked really great. I wish I would have appreciated that more and been less nervous.’”