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I used to have a very simple, minimal wardrobe based upon my list of wardrobe staples. It worked, I always was ready for any event, was dressed well… but it felt stifling after a while. As I have gotten older I feel the need to better express my personality through my wardrobe. When I was 29, a blazer, tank, and trousers looked crisp; now it looks matronly and dumpy. While I won’t be rocking a lot of the current trends, I find by playing with fabrics, colors, and silhouettes I look modern without a fashion victim or trying to look young.
The thing is, the more you play, the more you spend. You can either do it with cheap pieces that are lucky to last a season and end up in a landfill, or pay more and choose pieces that are on trend, but won’t be passé in a year. I have chosen the latter as it better fits with my motto of quality not quantity. But it ends up costing more, and variety needs more variety.
This past week I cleaned up my closet. No more dresses that fell off hangers, all shoes back in their boxes, the heavy sweaters and coats piled up to head to the attic. I looked at what remained and it was a strange assortment. I didn’t feel inspired, and I didn’t feel calm. I just saw so many holes and opportunities.
These days I would rather be inspired by my wardrobe than calmed by it, but inspiration costs either time (thrifting, sewing, tailoring, DIYing), or money. Serenity has a nicer pricetag, but I just don’t feel authentic lately. I sort of think it’s the body – it’s harder to dress a body that is larger, is softer, is curvier, and is older. Classic silhouettes and simple choices can look extremely boring and dated on such a frame. I often see women with similar figures to mine as I walk to work. They’re in gray trousers, low heels, twinsets. I recognize the pieces being from retailers like J. Crew and Banana Republic yet on them they might as well be from that weird store in the mall that sells Christmas sweaters and elastic-waist polyester pants. I go in the attic and pull out flat-front lined tropical wool trousers from Ann Taylor that I adored on me a few years ago but now they make me look twice my age. In fact, all pants (except my Tahari Hazel trousers) make me feel shorter, wider, and older than I actually am.
I would tell myself it’s good to be aware of this change, this desire, this transformation of my personal style. To write about it, think about it with each purchase. To take a Sunday afternoon and try on my wardrobe and see how each piece makes me feel, and what I need to make it work. To look at that list of needs and then see if I do need them, or if I need to let go of some pieces I own that are holding me back or taking me to the poor house. And so I will take my advice, and I welcome you on this journey.
I always state one should choose quality over quantity and be authentic to her personal style. Body changes and the blogosphere have caused me to lose my way, but I am getting back on the road to personal style self discovery.
What I have figured out so far:
- Cropped pants don’t flatter my figure or my personal style
- I had too many colors in my wardrobe; I prefer black, gray, shades of blue and the occasional pop of red and orange but I feel self-conscious and cheesy when dressed like a rainbow
- I hate ironing and shouldn’t buy much that requires it
- I’m more of a separates gal than one who likes dresses (except in summer when it’s just too easy and comfortable)
- I should never buy anything brown or tan ever ever again
- In the winter I feel more like a modern rockstar, in the summer I prefer the boho rockstar vibe. But with both, I like denim, silver, leather, band tee shirts and blazers. I am not twee, I am not girly, I am not preppy. Those trends may flatter my figure but they don’t fit my personality and always make me feel inauthentic.
I will continue to track my lessons learned and how my wardrobe adjusts with it. I’d love to hear how your personal style journeys go as well!
I think what’s most important is knowing oneself, belng true to that self, and having the confidence to pull that off,regardless of age, weight, etc. I’m not sure if that is what Allie means by True Fashionista or not, but to me it’s the way to go.
I know, i know. There are times when cultural requirements are foremost and I respect that. It’s not a good idea to wear a bikini to a formal church wedding or a bathrobe to my best friend’s gallery opening. That is even if those garments are being true to myself.
My Sweetie has it right. He says everyone, female and male, looks and feels best when they discover and wear, “their own best look”. I think he is correct, Too bad it takes some of us slow learners so long to discover just what that is!
Now, I have some language issues. There are some words and terms that I would be happy throwing away. They are: “age appropriate”, “mutton dressed and lamb”, “dress your age”, No offense to the folks who use the term on their blogs and yes I know the language history of it. But I personally, am getting to strongly dislike “a woman of a certain age”. As opposed to a woman of an uncertain age? C’mon folks!
None of us can help what is on our birth certificates. Why let it define the totality of who you are? We are so much more than that!
Lorena Lorena says
In my journey I’ve learned that capris were not meant for me. Also, that shoes that tie at the ankle do not favor me, however I still have one pair of heels and one pair of flats that tie at the ankle-
Grace Mitchell says
I’m right there with you. I’m actually kind of in hell right now when it comes to my clothes. The line straddling appropriate and interesting seems to have completely disappeared and I’m lost.
I think you have read my mind. I’m 38, about to turn 39, and over the past year have felt like much of what hangs in my closet isn’t….me….anymore. Certainly I’ve had a lot of changes over the past few years….three young children, a few extra lbs and feet that can’t tolerate some of the “cute” shoes that once I wore, and a job where I have to look professional, but have a great deal of flexibility within that descriptor. It’s difficult to find that sweet spot between looking like a 20 something just entering the adult world and work force and looking like an 80 year old contemplating what to wear while tooling about Leisure World. (Note: I have actually seen some very chic 80 year olds, so I know that giving in to dressing in a less than inspiring way as one gets into the later years isn’t a foregone conclusion) And so, I will not give up…I will continue to try to figure out what flatters, what is comfortable, and what works for my life. It’s reassuring to know that there are other women out there grappling with the same issues. Thanks for a great post!
I love this, because personal style *is* a journey. Our bodies change, our lifestyles change, our sense of self changes. It’s only natural that our wardrobes evolve alongside us. (Which is why I once wrote a post about why it’s OK to change your personal style 🙂
If I were able to compare my wardrobe at 23, 33 and 43, I’m sure I’d find some through-lines in terms of aesthetic but I am finding that now I am more open to experimentation, risk and fun: color, shape, silhouette. And I’m finally getting better at not hanging onto stuff that doesn’t work any more instead of trying to talk myself into keeping it (it cost $x, it *should* work, etc.).
Oh, and I’m totally with you on ironing!
I liked this post. I’ve been feeling similarly and I’m not sure if it’s our recent cross-country move, or my age, or something else. I have the advantage of being on the taller side, so I feel like I can get away with a little bit more, but I still sometimes feel dumpy and like I might look like I’m trying too hard. For what it’s worth, friends yesterday reminded me that we always see our own bloopers reels, while others see our highlights. I have been following you for a couple of months and you always look fantastic and inspiring.
Allie, I know you stated the “girly” just isn’t your thing, style-wise, but I just feel compelled to tell you that I just adore you in the ladylike dresses, hair up or ponytailed, rocking the heels and twirly skirt vibe. It might not be you, but I think you look fantastic in that look. On the rare occasion you go down that road, I always think, oh! she looks so pretty!
Heather Boschke says
Amen to finding pieces you don’t need to iron… I have that rule about dry clean only items – it just doesn’t happen! 🙂
This is such a great post! I’m 43 and definitely thought that by now I’d be the kind of person who buys one perfect cashmere turtleneck at Saks. But (1) I’m cheap and (2) easily bored. However, = I do think about the very fine line between trendy and mutton dressed as lamb! Is it okay to stil kind of be into disposable fashion, or am I fooling myself?
I think there are a lot of options between Saks and disposable fashion. I think Allie’s point is to buy the best you can afford, and buy thoughtfully. I know for me, disasters like last week’s garment factory collapse in Bangladesh have seriously turned me off to bottom-rung, disposable fashion. My quick fix isn’t worth another human being’s life. I can’t afford Saks but I am buying fewer & better things within my budget.
I thought the same thing about Bangladesh. I can’t get it out of my mind.
Great post! I’ll be 45 this year and have evolved my wardrobe over the last few years. Our own personal sense of our body image certainly drives our wardrobe choices. I was a few pounds heavier in my thirties and I dressed as if I was trying to cover it all up – twin sets, short sleeve bland sweaters, and slacks. I didn’t feel attractive so I didn’t dress attractively. Now my challenge is balancing looking current and not out-of-date with age appropriateness. But a spring wardrobe check is definitely in order. I’m guilty of holding on to items because they are serviceable even though they no longer make me feel good. I love your idea of reassessing and determining what to add to fill in and what works/doesn’t. Guess I know what I’m doing next weekend!
Rita O'Really says
I’ve been a lurker here for about a year and am finally coming out of lurkdom to say I can’t wait to read more posts of yours on this subject. I’m nearing 50 and am dealing with sudden body changes (on the outside as well as the inside) and need some inspiration to get my style back, if in fact, there ever was much style there!
I love your style and common sense. Thank you for bravely putting yourself out there for all of us to see. I’m looking forward to your next update and just know you’ll be successful at this task.
Georgia in AR says
It’s a process, children. 🙂 (I say that tongue-in-cheek because I just turned 60 and my daughter will be 40 in 2 years!). Seriously, Allie, your blog has SO pulled me out of the rut I was in. Thank you for that! I know you will find the way for yourself that feels good for you. (I think you look fabulous every day!) I do understand the dismay when something that worked well not so long ago, just does not any more. I think I’ve “got it”, then comes the moment of truth when I have to go looking again. It seems to come around more often that it used to. The only thing that helps me is to accept that this is just going to happen along the way. Before I found your blog a year ago, I had more or less given up on clothes. Now I have quite a few things I love, thanks to you! So, keep the faith, my dear! If it wasn’t too late for me, it sure isn’t for you!
Bee's Nest Deb says
I’m turning 40 this year and your post articulates exactly how I’ve been feeling. Thank you. These posts are why your blog stays in my reader through multiple “blog purges”.
I do have trouble with folks’ definitions, esp style bloggers’ definitions. What do you mean by matronly and dumpy? To me, matronly is a too large, unattractively designed, polyester work uniform. What comes to mind is a “matron” in a prison. Dumpy, to me, is a too large and too long pair of thick, 100% polyester pants. But what do YOU mean?
I know that you are talking about yourself, not telling us what we MUST wear. Nevertheless, because I admire you so much, when you nix an item, it’s difficult for me to go on wearing it. That is, even though I like the item and it looks good on me. I like brown and tan, including wearing them together. Brown and tan together reminds me of a delicious coffee drink. I like saturated jewel tone colors. I think they suit me, esp greens and blues. On the other hand, black looks awful on me, gorgeous on you.
Best of luck as you and I both continue our journeys. I am hoping to learn to have more confidence in my choices.
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
Oh I find brown to be utterly gorgeous and wish I was the type who could rock brown and khaki and tan. It’s classic and elegant and every time I wear it I feel dumpy. And my definition of dumpy is looking disheveled, not considering the figure when choosing garments, clothes that are cheap, ill-fitting, not well cared for. And to me matronly is looking older than you actually are, dressing in a dowdy manner, with older fabrics, colors, and silhouettes. I think different bloggers would describe it in different manners 🙂
Allie, again, you hit the nail on the head with this post. I so appreciate your willingness to explore your style, and be honest about what works for you and what doesn’t. You seem to have a solid grasp of what you like and feel most comfortable in, and I really admire that.
I’ve been thinking about this a ton over the past couple of weeks, myself. What do I love, what do I look good in, what things should I avoid (despite how great they may look on others), etc. Last night, I was shopping for black and khaki shorts/capris, which are required for my job this summer. I tried on over 15 pairs in various styles and sizes, and found nothing that was flattering to my body. The more I examine my wardrobe and analyze what works for me, the more I realize that pants/shorts are just not the most flattering for my body. I look (and feel) the most beautiful in dresses, and skirts tend to be better options for me than pants and shorts. While I love my black skinny jeans and don’t think I could ever give them up, I’m trying to embrace my body as it is today and dress it in the clothes that I look and feel good in. When I wear dresses, I don’t spend the whole day trying to cover up my body or suck in my squishy tummy. I walk tall and proud and smile genuinely. That’s what I think it’s all about.
Thank you for making me think and realize that there’s nothing wrong with me or my body. I should never try to alter my body to fit clothes – I should select the clothes that look fantastic on this body I have now.
What an interesting post! I’m in my early 30s and starting to transition to the next phase of my career, where I will need to project more authority. I am especially conscious of this because I can look very young if I’m not careful so I want to make sure I look my age and position. However, the setting is academic science in a male-dominated discipline, so what would be appropriate in the corporate setting is totally inappropriate here – finding that balance is really tricky. I need to project professionalism but not look high maintenance or like I can’t get my hands dirty. For inspiration I look to Ines de la Fressange and Sofia Coppola; I think they utilize neutrals and basics to maximum effect and look relaxed but polished.
This post really struck a chord with me, so I’m adding to my prior comment. As I read this post, you seemed to connect some of the challenges you were having with the kind of body that you have. But I have a very different body type and AT trousers (almost anything AT, in fact) make me look and feel dull, tired, and uninteresting. If anything, I think your curves can really bring life to a suit! Me… not so much. It is really not our bodies! It is a lack of imagination on the part of retailers coupled with mean cultural messages that tell women that we need to disappear when we hit a certain age, or weight, or grey-haired-ness, or wrinkled-ness. Can you imagine if someone took all the wisdom and insight and “Yes, that is exactly right” on the great blogs for 35+ and made it into a store? I’ll be quiet now, but I just can’t stop thinking about this post.
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
I would totally support such a shop! Have you read the blog Girls of a Certain Age? http://www.girlofacertainage.com/
Yes — it’s one of my favorites. Her budget and work envt are a little different than mine (a lot different), but it’s very inspiring
I’m 40 and I feel like the styles I love no longer love me back.
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
It’s tough isn’t it? Just when you feel you have it all figured out you need to get back on that journey to personal style!
I had just written about my personal style too ! Great minds 😉 but I learned that pencil skirts do not make me feel good. But full skirts do!
Cassandra Westfall says
This is so awesome and articulately written! I am feeling the same way lately about styles that I used to like making me feel too old or dowdy nowadays. I feel the same way about color. I love pops of color and even mixing colors sometimes, but head-to-toe color just seems so forced and cartoonish to me.
Very interesting post Ali! I have to say that at 5’1 I adore cropped pants. (By cropped I mean ankle length just to clarify). I never thought a skinny or slim pant would work on me either, but have found that when I wear those I get the most compliments. I have also found that, as much as I like skirts, they don’t like me. Skirts just don’t jive with my lifestyle or the tops that I own. I love dresses. The simplicity of one piece seals the deal for me. I also love the colored pant trend and hope it stays around for a long time. I will be 30 in a few weeks, so this feels like the perfect opportunity to play dress-up in my closet and reevaluate where my style is headed!
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
It’s the thickness of my calves and ankles that make cropped pants a no-go for me, though I have found ankle length and slim can work!
Fabulous post! I went through this in my late 30s, and I’ve been going through it again lately. As Jennifer (great comments!) said, building a wardrobe does become more like buying a household appliance (thank goodness for shoes). I’ve gone more classic in my choices, but I’ve amped up the quality and the fabrics – silk, cashmere, leather, linen … And I love what you said about feeling authentic (or not) – it doesn’t matter how ‘flattering’ (a la Pseu’s recent post) an outfit is if you don’t feel like yourself.
I love that you know yourself so well! When I moved to Jakarta, it was decided (after I came) that about 80% of my clothes would be put into storage. I didn’t get to choose which boxes. I have now gone 6 months without 80% of my clothes, and it has made me come to some conclusions like yours! If you don’t mind, I’ll be doing a similar post soon.
That is such a good way to edit your closet. If you’ve forgotten you even own it, you can much more easily give it away / sell it / toss it.
I wouldn’t bail on color altogether. It’s an implement in your wardrobe toolbox. Everybody needs to own some black and blue pants/skirts/jackets, but I find color is helpful in navigating the seasons and keeping your look seasonal. Browns, tans, green-blues, cream move me from the bright flowery Spring/Summer into Late Summer/Early/Late Fall. As the temps vary by 10-20 degrees the same base items shed or add layers and keep me looking alive. Brighter or pastel wools in February/March -this year into April- say, “it may still be chilly but the days are getting longer and it’s time to think about better times ahead” and move into Spring. Blues can look crispy and businesslike or ready-for-the-weekend but knocking off to-do lists on a Friday. Certainly there are colors that don’t look great with individual complexions and I’ve got no gripe with ditching anything that fights your natural complexion, but I think going too monotone in your overall wardrobe can leave a girl looking just as frumpy as that “classic” suit and skirt that 20-somethings dive into with such gusto. I say, no more than two skirts/pants in the same color at a time. Otherwise you’re likely to be wearing the same color all week long.
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
I’m not bailing color all together, I still love it and purchase it, but it feels more costume-like when I wear head to toe color. I recently bought a cobalt blouse and a hot coral top and am on the lookout for a bright cotton skirt, but these colors are going to be used more as pops than the main element 🙂
You read my mind, my heart, and my closet with this post. Classic collapsed right into frump in the last couple of years for me, and, on the other end, bright and adorable things I loved even 2 years ago are now anathema. I’m moving, slowly, towards what Deane and my role model Une Femme describe, but it’s a hard and expensive transition, even without buying a lot. It makes shopping less like a way to blow off steam, and more like buying a household appliance — it has to be done, and done well. Thank goodness for shoes! I really look forward to seeing how you move through this and following in your footsteps. There’s a lot of time and space between 20-something and advanced style. I wish more retailers were there to help us navigate it.
Love that you know yourself so well and that you choose to share that knowledge with your loyal readers. You inspire me every day in so many ways that you’ll ever know.
Wow, you said it, sister! I’m 43 and recently let my hair go natural – silver gray, which looks good on me, but there’s no denying that people now relate to me differently. I had to up the ante fashion-wise, to compensate, so I now buy clothes that are “sharper” and subtly sexy, rather than trendy and girlish. I keep silhouettes simple – wrap dresses, slim pants, tailored jackets, awesome shoes – and colors limited to black, white and jewel tones (I know there are older women who totally rock the crazy bag lady look but I am not one of them). And I look to women closer to my age with great style to help guide me because it’s so easy to fall into the frump trap: Michelle Obama (for work), Sophia Coppola, and Emmanuelle Alt. I buy FAR less than I did when I was younger and am much smarter about what will and won’t work on me. I have a limited budget for clothes but even when thrifting, I try to only buy the best. I have a great collection of vintage costume jewelry, but I wear it far more sparingly now and choose single items that make an impact, rather than lots of small things. When I shop for jewelry I look for simple strong styles or interesting materials, rather than sparkle, which drew my eye when I was younger. Thanks for putting this out there! I thought I was the only one going through this and clearly, I needed to vent!
Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen says
I LOVE your vent! The conversation in the comments is fantastic; thanks for sharing your experience. I learn so much and am inspired so much by this!
Great post Allie! What I have found as a woman over 50 is that when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, classic clothing made me feel sophisticated and mature. Once you I hit my 40’s those same outfits felt dowdy. Now, I always dress with an edge. Whether it’s my big bold ethnic jewelry paired with a crisp white shirt or a pair of killer pumps with my basic black dress and bold earrings to top it off. It’s the unexpected that keeps “women of a certain age” looking fresh and fabulous!
Omg I could have written this!! I think we are living in a parallel universe. I live in the uk and I follow your blog as I have EXACTLY the same body shape as you, I’m 36 and in my professional life I wear uniform . However I have a very similar style to you well groomed rock chick I call it and lately I too have been struggling with fit and frumpy. I have just returned from a two week holiday from Florida where I did a bit of shoppping( clothes are very inexpensive in the states in my opinion) and I am struggling with what I bought, just not sure it’s me 🙁 I haven’t worn colour for a while and I just don’t know what’s going on…… Fab thought provoking post….. Thank you. Sharron x
Suzanne Carillo says
I think I am the polar opposite of you for colour. I love colour…the more the better. I couldn’t imagine limiting colour in my wardrobe.
I agree that cropped pants only look good on super tall people. Knowing your body type is probably the #1 thing to look at when buying any clothes.
The way I dress changes with my mood. I don’t like to say I’m not this or I’m not that, in fact I try not to define myself other than to say I’m a creative person. That holds limitless possibilities.
The most important thing to me when I dress is that I leave an impression. I want to be memorable.
I don’t believe that we need to be told what to wear for whatever age we are. We need to wear what looks good on us, for us. The older I get the less I like the words “age appropriate”.
Amen! If it looks good on you and you feel great in it, who cares how old you are?
It’s really tricky to navigate being mid-late 30s. Age-wise we’re kind of inbetween and can go way wrong either too young or too old.
I also agree about the time and money it takes to build a decent wardrobe. Even buying reasonably priced clothes…
Jen Alcon says
This post hits home for me. This week it completely hit me: when it comes to office style, I am drawn to skirt suits and dresses – very sleek and modern (they flatter my shape). At home and in non-work situations, I’m more of a separates girl which is comprised of mostly Free People pieces. I’ve found a way to incorporate grunge and boho into my wardrobe. I’m comfortable in my own skin now and I wear clothes that make me feel confident – even if they don’t follow the rules as to what a 42 year old mother of two should be wearing. Also, I had to Google the word ‘twee’…..I am so not hip!! LOL
Une femme says
I know what you mean, and feel I could have written this post myself! Where I seem to be finding (and keeping) my groove is with clean, simple separates, and using accessories more for color and incorporating a bit of edge, color and trends. I agree that you look great in colors, but also think you look fabulous in black and your “rock chick” looks.
Trystan L. Bass says
Holy moly, I could have written a lot of this myself. If I shopped where women my age (mid 40s) are ‘supposed’ to shop — places like Ann Taylor & Talbots — I’d feel twice my age! I’m so glad I’ve found ways to stick to my CorpGoth ways over time or I’d feel super frumpy.
It isn’t easy to look current and chic as time goes on. Women of a “certain age” really need to fight the urge to become invisible and wear just comfortable, frumpy and blah clothing. That’s what I love about Annette’s blog Lady of Style. She updates her look with well fitting but often inexpensive clothes and great accessories. Attention to grooming, posture and health is essential to looking one’s best as we age.
Allie, I’ve looked at your evolution as well, particular your wardrobe over the last few months. I know it feels inauthentic, but bright colors do look really pretty on you. I know you don’t want to look like Garanimals, but there’s something joyous about you in color! JMHO, of course.. 🙂