Despite the arrival of Hurricane Arthur over the 4th of July, there was plenty of beach and sun time to make it really feel like summer. Rummaging through the laundry room in search of a clean bathing suit, I pulled out a bright bikini and went upstairs to put it on. It was a bit smaller – ok, skimpier – than my usual fare, but it looked cute and I was feeling toned…my skin was sunkissed and lacked the New England pallor of a few weeks earlier, the lunges I had been doing were paying off, and those nasty kettle bell swings were clearly having a positive effect on my biceps and shoulders. I was reaching for a coverup when my inner demon announced that I was about to leave the house wearing my teenage daughter’s bikini and that was a cardinal violation of the “You Are Too Old To Dress Like That” fashion bible. I hemmed, I hawed, and changed into a more demure and practical two piece that I generally save for athletic adventures like paddeboarding. I spent the ensuing hours taking mental notes about how women (and men) were choosing to dress for beach and heat. Is there a date on the timeline of life that says we need to start covering up and showing less skin simply because we are “of a certain age”?
Like “Business Casual” that adheres to no particular regulatory body, dressing in a manner that is age appropriate or non-offensive is something that one either knows how to do or not. Shorts that are so short your butt cheeks are peeking out are a bad look on everyone…including nubile 20 somethings. Class is class. Nobody wants to see your under boob, or your side boob for that matter, regardless of how perky your natural breasts or implants may be. Leaving a little something to the imagination is a good thing. If it’s the first thing you notice when you look in the mirror, it’s the first thing everyone will notice as well. Make sure that is the message you really want to send.
When I was in my mid 30s with 3 small children I was getting ready for a school related event. I pulled on a simple dress and immediately took it off, proclaiming to nobody in particular that I was too old to wear such a short dress. It had been a purchase between babies. I marvel now that I felt I was too old to sport the hemline then, since I regularly wear skirts and dresses now that are of similar length. The problem was likely more a dearth of healthy body image, squeezed between the soft flesh of successive pregnancies, than a societal pressure to dress my age. (Although that may have played a role as well, along with my hawk-eyed mother who adhered to very strict hem guidelines her entire life.) But now I’m in my 50s, my children are (almost) independent and my mother no longer stands sentry over my wardrobe – or my life for that matter. I feel as though I have greater freedom to dress to suit my personality (and the thermostat) then I did when I was younger and still acutely aware of other people’s opinions. Does that mental freedom come from more time to spend at the gym or the self confidence that comes from hands on living?
My take on dressing in your 50s is this: If your outfit makes you feel confident, go for it. The vast majority of people are not going to notice your varicose veins or your underarm dingle dangle. As I have learned over the years, most people are far too self absorbed to notice what is lacking or dangling on those around them.
But if YOU feel overly self conscious or uncomfortable, you will project that discomfort on everyone you encounter, making them feel awkward around you. Got arms that look like Michelle Obamas? Rock those sleeveless dresses. Abs that are taught from countless hours at Pure Barre…? Hell ya, bikini Sunday. But adhere to the makeup rule when dressing: choose one feature and accentuate it. Don’t try to draw attention to everything at once or you end up confusing your audience – and even yourself.
I don’t think there is an age limit on what looks good, but there is clearly a limit on what looks like you are trying too hard. If you are consciously trying to blend in with the 20 and 30 somethings because you hate being 50+, then there is a risk that you look ridiculous. But if you feel comfortable in your clothes and aren’t worried about what everyone is thinking about you, then chances are you look fabulous and are attracting attention because of your stellar and dynamic personality – cultivated over years of experience and wisdom.