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Wear what feels good and comfortable. On my way to losing weight, I kept telling myself that I couldn't wait to wear short skirts again. But now that I'm older, I just don't feel comfortable in them. Even if clothes are fashionable, I hate wearing them if I'm going to fuss with them all day and/or feel like an idiot while wearing them. So I've had to learn that comfort and fashion can go hand in hand.

LA Slugocki

Absolutely love the way you parse this issue, fashion is a language. For a long time I had uniform of white T-shirts, blue jeans or khakis, black sandals, black boots, girly long blonde hair and pearls. I liked the tension btwn masculine and feminine. But that doesn't work for me anymore. Now, I've got to girl it up more, wear brighter colors, cut the hair, high heels and flip flops are out.

Janet Hardy

I've been dealing with the same issues myself, made more complex by my move from a sophisticated urban area to a small, rural-flavored town in the heart of Ecotopia.

Two resources that I have found helpful: More Magazine (yes, it's a fashion mag, but the editorial content is rarely offensive and it does show a wide range of great looks for 40+ women), and the blog (the people shown there are a lot older than you -- or me, for that matter -- but they're so fabulously fuck-you in their fashion statements that it doesn't matter).

Also, an observation I read somewhere: the best thing a middle-aged woman can wear is a classic tailored white shirt with an extra button undone. My closet is full of them now, and they always make me feel great, especially with a good-looking necklace of some kind. My "always works" outfit these days is a men's shirt in white Thai silk, worn with leather jeans, midheel boots and a strand of pearls. I defy anyone to feel other than utterly soignée in that outfit, regardless of her age.

Janet Hardy

Janet Hardy

Oops, correction on that URL: It's



Great entry; thanks for posting it.

Just this morning I was noting to my brother, who used to sell suits, that I'm pretty much illiterate in the language of fashion, so it makes me uncomfortable to try to speak that language by wearing stylish clothes unless I get approval from people who are more fluent.

Which brings me to one aspect of your discussion that I'd like to see elaborated on: language, including the language of clothing, has a lot to do with not only what the speaker is trying to say, but also how the listener interprets things.

So when we talk about how we want to be seen, it seems to me that we're creating mental models of how our audience will interpret our clothing choices. And those models may or may not be accurate--or they may be accurate for most people who see us, or only for some.

Same with words, of course; always hard to know how what we say will be interpreted, and writing and editing often involve a process of trying to imagine how the audience will interpret what we say.

But I'm a lot more comfortable with words than with clothes, and I trust my ability to model people's interpretations of my words more than I do with clothes. And so I'm less likely to even try to say something with clothing that comes from a different idiom than my usual.

Anyway, just musing here, no real conclusions. Thanks again for the entry; lots of good food for thought.

Random fandom

You writing is thought-provoking as always, and I think you've discovered a new taboo: in a society that's becoming increasing sex-positive and open to discussion of atheism, no one wants to talk (or even think) about aging.

Fashion thoughts:

If you can create a personal style that's distinctive enough, you can transcend many of these issues. For instance, you probably know Lee Presson. He dresses like a (fairly conservative) 1920s gentleman all the time, not just when he's performing. The effect is ageless. Lee executes a faithful, detail-oriented copy of an historical period, but one could do equally well inventing one's own style. It's hard to think of a great example--maybe Jimi Hendrix?

Ripped fishnets and Doc Martens look stopped being cool around 1992. Docs per se are still cool, though, in a classic/timeless way, along with Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

Not caring what other people think is the essence of cool. Have you ever read The Tipping Point? Malcolm Gladwell argues this assertion convincingly (in a discussion of smoking and peer pressure[!])


Much to digest here, but here's the very first challenge that occurred to me: are the clothes that say "25 years old" to you what the kids are actually wearing now? Or were they what you/your cohort wearing when you were that age? (Or has the retro clock made them the same again?) Honestly I don't think I spend enough time around 25-year-olds in person to even know.

Random fandom

Another random thought: at least in Western societies, dress is more "aged" (read like "gendered") for women than for men. A man who wants to look masculine can feel equally at home in slacks and an Oxford shirt at eighteen, thirty, or fifty. I'm not sure the same is true of women.

Of course, this applies only to some masculine fashions; stovepipe jeans and a hoodie might look pretty dumb on a fifty-year-old. But even there I think you get more leeway.


Oh, and I probably should have abused the comment thread for today's Meme for this purpose hours ago, but all your postings have pushed the announcement for the Stanford talk off the "Recent Posts" list and Rollyo is completely useless, so: Greta speaks at Stanford this evening!


This post has grabbed my brain and won't let go. When I was young and had a figure I would seriously consider committing a crime to have back, I was also seriously repressed and afraid to even hint at any sexuality. After I had my kids I gained a lot of weight. For a good portion of my adult life, what I wore was dictated more by what I could fit into or afford. I call them my "sweatpants years" and I don't recall them fondly. It had nothing to do with comfort.

I'm 52 now. When I lost weight the other year and had to buy new clothes after getting down to a weight I'd not been for more than 20 years, I faced the same dilemma as you, Greta. Only, I'd finally started to accept my sexuality (yeah, a bit late, but better than never) and wasn't afraid to show my body. But, I'm not 25 (my oldest daughter is older), and as much as I might wistfully look at the skimpy little outfits and imagine wearing them, I know that would look silly.

But my taste in clothes has always been a little funky (showing my age with the use of that word), and so I just try to build my wardrobe with clothes that I like. Yeah, a few things aren't exactly for fifty-somes, but then, I've already dressed older than my age in the past. If that makes sense. It's hard when you want to look sexy and don't feel sexy. And that last is elusive. Because it has to do with more than just what's being worn.

I do have a rebellious streak, and sometimes I let it have somewhat free reign. But then there's always the reminders that I'm NOT as young as I feel. Like when my daughter requests I don't show too much cleavage at her wedding!

Gee, I'm rambling. Yeah, a very thought-provoking post. Thanks.


Awesome post!! Thanks! Put into words ideas I vaguely had but had no way of really coherently expressing! (I think the commenter with women's dress being more gendered is also right on, though I've never thought of that before!)
Again, thanks for a thought-provoking and interesting post!

Derek Miller

I think many of us forget to do two things when we buy clothes: (a) TRY THEM ON to see if they fit, and (b) LOOK IN THE MIRROR to see if they look good (trying to be objective about it). I think many people simply buy stuff that's in their size (or what they think is their size) and never really examine how it fits or appears. We could avoid a lot of mistakes by changing that behaviour.


Thanks for thinking out loud! A similar subject came up a couple weeks ago after dying my hair a dark red/auburn. Why is it considered "trying to be younger" when a middle-aged person dyes their hair a slightly unnatural color?

In high school I DREADED choosing clothes because I didn't like having to pick how people were going to judge me. I didn't want to say anything.

I realized from your article that I fit into the "wants to defy social norms" but also "doesn't want a lot of attention" which can be a difficult combination.


I've always been a jeans and T-shirt kind of gal, since I was a teenager in the sixties. Now that I'm a grandmother in my late fifties, I see no need to change. This IS what a grandma looks like. Of course, I dress up sometimes for work or a party but it has to be an occasion. I just don't care about fashion. Fortunately, I'm married to a man who doesn't care either. As an aside, I've never been attracted to men who dress very well.

Greta Christina

Thanks for the amazing conversation, everyone! This is being very enlightening.

Quinapalus: "are the clothes that say '25 years old' to you what the kids are actually wearing now? Or were they what you/your cohort wearing when you were that age?" No, they're definitely not the same. But you raise an interesting point. Being middle-aged and wearing what was cool when you were 25 says something different from being middle-aged and wearing what's cool for 25-year-olds now. The former says "I'm trying to re-capture my youth... and I'm out of touch with how the language of fashion has changed." The latter says, "I'm trying to seem hip and with it... but I'm either unaware of the fact that the current fashions for middle-aged people are different from the current fashions for 25-year-olds, or I'm trying to look younger than I am." (Neither, however, is something I particularly want to say.)

Janet: Thanks for the link to Advanced Style! Totally awesome. I've put it on my blogroll. And yes, I think I need to rethink tailored white shirts. Always avoided them when I was bigger... but now I think they could work.

Random fandom: What you say about age and gender and fashion is true, and I hadn't thought of it. Fashion is more linked to age for women than for men. I wonder if that's because we're more conscious about women's age than we are of men's age, or because fashion in general is more of a thing for women than for men, or both.

But while it's often true that not caring what other people think is the essence of cool (although not always -- crazy people on the street don't care what other people think)... well, the reality is that I do care what other people think. At least to the degree that I want the things that I say -- in words, but in other languages as well -- to be understood. I want to say what I mean... which means knowing the language I'm speaking.


Oh my Greta, a subject near and dear to my heart---outfits. I think Chip just said that outfits and bananas are the two things I am obsessed with.

I totally agree that not caring about fashion says just as much about you as being a slave to it.

Regarding advice, it's a journey. I actually hate shopping, find it exhausting. But I do like cool/cute/good-looking clothes. Sometimes something comes into my mind before I find it in the store. Then I keep my mind open for it until I run into it somewhere. Othertimes, it's the opposite, something in a store strikes me and I give it a try and it works. I would say the real wild card has been recommendations from friends. Sometimes they think something will look good on you that I would absolutely never touch. But I try it and it opens my mind. I definitely don't have a body that fits most clothes. I have given up ever wearing strapless anything, halter-whatever unless I get surgery. I've stopped pining for what I can't wear and just get in touch with what clothes are cut for my body type. I carry around Halston's advice to Liza Minelli, one of my favorite fashion quotes "You don't fit the dress, the dress fits you." That's the whole point of fashion is to bring out what you want to bring out and enhance (or cover-up, if the case may be). What I have mostly evolved over the years, for myself is just clothes that actually fit me. Not my size, but where the shoulders fit my small shoulders and the rest of the shirt still makes it over the rest of me. Tailoring in a way, but without paying for a tailor. Then I go from there.

Oh, and I have never regretted, on occassion taking the high road and getting the well-made, higher price tag designer dude. Every so often it is absolutely the right thing to do. I find a good designer, pays attention to cut and is a lot more forgiving to a real woman's body than some of the retailer who are just trying to cater to 20-somethings and those that wish they could wear 20-something's clothes.

Btw, I think the striped dress with peekaboo cleavage and pretty smile is a great start :)

Have fun! Let's go shopping when we get to SF.


Good stuff. I'm a 26-year-old still figuring out what my style is now that I'm not a student anymore... and in fact, now I'm a college teacher, so it's important to dress to distinguish myself from students (since I look even younger than I am). It's encouraging to see the individual styles of the professors around me and to realize that there is no monolithic "professor look" I must adhere to.

David Harmon

I can't believe nobody's brought in the "Warning" poem yet.... ;-)

I'm not only style-illiterate, I have the additional problem that I'm the wrong shape for most of the pants in the store -- too short for my waistline, so the sizes for most brands' stop just outside my inseam/waist pairing. I did find some Dockers in the right size, and have been wearing the hell out of them....


Wow, I agree with everything you express here. Thanks. I would add that the way we express ourselves also depends upon our audience. If we are in work situations, those people who respect social norms often become quite important, and it's tough to stay true to our own expression while still making the sale, so to speak. Also, it's funny how ripped tights and docs used to be the statement of the nonconformist, but now it's so acceptable as to be almost a uniform. Anyway, I struggle with the same issues of self identity as I get older, so it's nice to see them so well spoken.


Thank you so much for writing this essay! I am in love with the idea of fashion as a language that changes and evolves. This perfectly articulates what I've been thinking and writing about lately, as I approach my 40th birthday and rethink my style.


A subject I love as a 54 year old, size 18 clothing lover. I'm not really a fashion lover, since that, to me, implies just having as much as one can of whatever is in the magazines. Quentin Crisp said, "Style is being yourself, but on purpose," and I like to dress with that in mind. I do find, as an observer, that everyone's clothing says tons about them. Sometimes it says, "I'm afraid of this language," or "I don't care much how I look," but that's still a message. No one can escape sending a message, for good or ill.

I think the one thing that being middle-aged grants us is freedom to choose. We get liberated from the requirement to be beautiful or elegant or to fit into the expectations of our social class. I remember how rigid the dress expectations were for me in high school; everyone wore certain things whether they were flattering or not. Now I can choose what I like.

I like costumey clothes, things that imply a different time or a different provenance from what is expected. Sometimes I'm the only one that sees it; for instance, I have a sheer, floaty skirt that is the precise peachy pink of a little girl's ballet skirt, but that may not be what anyone else would think about it. I suppose at the most basic, my clothing message is about being special and wanting your attention. I'm super outgoing and my clothes say so, but they're not any particular style (punk or classic talbot-y or soccer mom or hippie chick).


One person who I always think of when I think of ageless style is Patti Smith. She pretty much wears the same thing she always has: button-downs, bowler hats, men's jackets, tight jeans and boots. She's in her sixties now and she still manages to toe the line between rebellious and utterly respectable.

Jimmy Crummins

I use a simple formula. I take my wife shopping with me for clothes, and I let her pick them out. My wife has good taste and she doesn't want me looking like a dork. Since I also don't want to look like a dork, it's a good formula. Now, I otherwise can't shop with my wife. Food shopping, shopping for the kids clothes, furniture... nothing. She's a total pain in the ass then and it wears me out. But concerning clothes - that works.

Greta Christina

Thank you for sharing, Jimmy.

Jimmy Crummins

You're welcome Greta.

BTW your article here was well written and well thought out. When I lived in Germany I always could tell someone's political leanings just by the way they dressed.


It's an interesting piece and, as always, very well-considered and well-articulated, Greta! I can understand that someone might personally not want to dress like a 25 year old when they are 40, and if that's not how they--or you--choose to dress, then that should be respected.

I did want to put forth another perspective on this, because this is something I've had arguments about with my parents, who I think feel like they've dodged the "my daughter dresses in revealing clothes" bullet and get bent out of shape when I tell them that when this blubber comes off, I'm wearing miniskirts, halter tops, and showing off my belly button. And I will do that at forty or fifty if I damn well please.

I'm 31 and I've been fat all through my teens and twenties, and I think my folks were thrilled that by now the kind of clothes that no parent wants their daughter to wear are, in their opinion, off-limits to me now even if I lose the weight. I never got to wear the kind of clothes that I wanted to wear and I always wished I could just buy what pleased me and not have to worry about looking like twelve pounds of butter crammed into a sandwich bag, the way other girls could. When I drop this weight, no matter when I finally get to that goal, I am going to wear whatever the hell I want to wear, not because I am trying to recapture a youth but because that's what I want to wear. I feel like I missed out on that time that so many others have where they can wear whatever they like to wear and not worry about fat rolls popping out and looking revolting.

Of course, I'm realizing that the misogynistic fashion-nazis will piss and whine about my "age inappropriate" clothing and some people who buy into that will consider me some kind of space cadet. But I'm prepared to deal with that in my own ways. What I'm not prepared to do is to wear nice, proper, middle-aged clothing that I've been wearing in plus-sizes through my entire youth when I've worked my ass off to be able to wear the clothes I've dreamed of wearing all through those years wearing middle-aged tents to cover the blubber--for no other reason than to please those who have decreed that I shall not wear them. I see no reason to punish myself to cater to the prejudices of others.

That is, I understand that there are cultural aspects of these things--but consider that at one point minstrel shows were also considered acceptable parts of mainstream culture. If I was really dressing too "young" because I was buying into the misogynistic attitude of fashion, that would be one thing, but I think that women who genuinely want to dress the way they do shouldn't feel they have to cave to social intimidation to "dress their age". I, for one, am not going to do it because I buy into the culture but because I genuinely want to dress that way, and I gave up on catering to the tastes of others in Catholic school.

The only way you can fight a bad part of culture is to challenge it.

I'm an artist and, if all works out according to plan, will end up in California as an animator, so I kind of have some leeway. :D There's a lot of things people overlook when they find out you're an artist.

Peter Tibbles

There's a line from a song called "Amanda", done best by Waylon Jennings, but also by others, that goes "I got my first guitar when I was 14, now I'm over 30 and still wearing jeans" The last time I heard him sing the song it had changed to "over 50". Well, I'm now over 60 and still wearing jeans. I don't know if they're appropriate but they are comfortable.

France Andrews Zeve

Thank you for this. I went shopping yesterday, looking for something that made me feel sexy, but wasn't the outfit I'd buy for one of my daughters (4 ranging from 21-31.) After two hours I went home empty-handed and frustrated. The choices seemed to be either skimpy minidresses with empire waists or frumpy sack dresses designed for what 50's television thought a "Mom"should wear. I'd love to see some designer acknowledge that being 50 doesn't mean the end of being sexually attractive. I've been a costumer for years, but it would be nice to not HAVE to design and sew my own every time I want something to perk me up.
BTW, I love your blog and have passed it on to a number of friends.


I absolutely love the way you put this. I've been telling people this and it always takes me far to long to convince them of the truth of it. I've long since realised that and radically changed the way I dressed a few years back. Luckily I was also losing weight so that helped justify it more. People ask me what my style is and I say I don't have a specific style. I have many things to reflect the many moods that I could possibly be in. What I buy and what I wear depends completely on how I'm feeling. One day I might be dressed trendy, the other I'll be more dressed up for no particular reason, another day I might just be in cons and a basic tshirt. What you wear generally reflects who you are and how you feel and far too many people don't seem to understand that

The Beautiful Kind

LOVE this post thank you! You looked very classy and sexy at Skepticon, Greta! Rockin' those boots.

I'm 38 and still wear pigtails and overalls, but gave up wearing knee socks a couple years ago.

Your post reminded me of this batty lady - dear Little Edie and her costumes.

My mom is just as batty and she still wears purple spandex and her Queen leather jacket at 65.


I can relate to that post in my own way.

I am in my mid-thirties and struggling to find the right look for me. I feel silly in both "teenager" clothes and "middle age" clothes. I end up wearing jeans most of the time, or athletic gear... well, because I am athletic after all.

"People" want me to wear tiny dresses and skirts. Those DO look good on me as I am thin with nice legs... but I don't feel comfortable in them. I feel stupid avoiding those clothes that make me look so good and get me lots of compliments, but they are just not me!

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