I’m Too Old to Wear… What Exactly?

According to Linda Grant in her book The Thoughtful Dresser, Sarah Mower, the well-known Vogue fashion critic, once wrote that “everyone past the age of 40 needs a “mutton monitor.'” Grant relates this in a story she tells about buying a leather biker jacket. Grant says: “there is something about a leather jacket on a middle-aged woman that to me is both tough and chic.” She eventually found her perfect leather jacket. And then read an article by Sarah Mower that made her doubt her choice and even question her own fashion taste. Mower’s article, which itemized “mutton moments that older women were best to avoid,” had firmly placed the leather biker jacket in the mutton category. Meaning that middle-aged women were too old to wear them. And when one did so, the biker jacket would most certainly make her look “like mutton dressed as lamb.”

Well, I say pffft to Sarah Mower. And so do my friends.

Veronica Beard jacket, Burberry denim skirt, Stan Smith sneakers, Vince linen tee, Michael Kors bag.
Still wearing my denim skirt after all these years.

But let me back up. Earlier this week, I attended a “girls only” backyard drinks party at my friend Joanne’s house. There were five of us there. We all used to work together. Two of us are retired now, the other three are scheduled to go back to the classroom in September. We span several decades age-wise. Two of the women are in their thirties, one in her forties, one in her fifties, and me in my sixties. A perfect sampling to discuss the issues of what to wear after a certain age, whether that age is 30, 40, 50, or beyond.

Joanne brought up the issue. I had lent her my copy of The Thoughtful Dresser, and she had a bone to pick with Linda Grant. About the issue of leather biker jackets and whether middle-aged women are too old to wear one. In the book Linda seems to acquiesce to Sarah Mower’s dictate about biker jackets and mutton. Oooh. We did take umbrage to that. All of us.

Veronica Beard jacket, Burberry denim skirt, Stan Smith sneakers, Vince linen tee, Michael Kors bag.
Rag and Bone tee, Veronica Beard jacket, Burberry denim skirt.

I guess that Sarah Mower’s article was probably written a few years back when those “What Not to Wear Over Thirty” articles were so common. I can’t remember what any of them said because they all seemed so ridiculous. And their rules so silly. But I do agree with one thing that Mower says, that our face should match the rest of our outfit. Heaven forbid that we should look like we’re still trying to wear what we wore as teenagers. This happened to me years ago when at forty I tried on a much-loved dress that I’d had for years and knew immediately that it no longer worked on me. The dress did not match my face. The neckline and those puffed sleeves… oh my, I could hardly get it off fast enough.

Since then, thanks to my changing body, I am unable to wear much of what I wore in my twenties and thirties. Except for the odd Max Mara blazer. My old clothes became too small. And I didn’t often replace them because the style was outdated or the cut did not look good on me anymore. That’s what happened with tee shirts. The slim cut tees I used to wear now look dreadful on me. So I had to look for something that was more flattering.

I’ve always favoured mostly classic styles, even when I was much younger, so the modifications that I felt I needed to make to my personal style as the decades rolled by were pretty painless. Puffed sleeve dresses and slim-cut tees aside, a lot of what I wear now is kind of what I’ve always worn. Jeans, flat sandals, knee-length skirts, jackets over everything. Pretty much the same, but worn differently. I usually wear skirts with sneakers now, instead of heels. My jackets and jeans have moved with the times. Except when I can recycle a really old jacket that has come back in style. So something old worn with something current looks current.

In fact I wrote a blog post called “Back to the Future” last year because an outfit I was wearing was so reminiscent of one I wore in my early twenties. The same, but different. Better quality than I could afford back then, better cut, not so tight, and thus age appropriate. Or body-shape appropriate, I should probably say. But still very similar.

Vince linen tee, Frame straight-leg jeans, Michael Kors sandals, Vince cashmere sweater.
My book club party lobster boil outfit.

Changes in my life, my body, or lately my hair will still catapult me into a revisionist look at my wardrobe. Retirement did that. Suddenly blazers and blouses that I took into the dressing room looked wrong. I remember saying to Liz one day at Nordstrom that the outfit would have been great for the “old Sue,” but not anymore. And since I’ve let my natural hair colour grow out, I’ve been reassessing what I wear. For colour, certainly. But also for style.

Take, for instance, this linen “muscle tank” from Vince. I love this tee. But for the first three years I owned it I always, always wore it under a jacket. For the past two summers I have loved it with my Burberry denim skirt, my Stan Smith Adidas, and my Veronica Beard jacket. But just lately, I’ve been wearing this tee on its own. Gasp. Who’d have thought? For the fantasy book club party in my backyard, I wore the tee with my Frame high-rise straight-leg jeans and my cream sandals. I threw my Vince cashmere sweater around my shoulders.

And today, I changed the jeans for my Burberry denim skirt and the sandals for my sneakers. I threw the Vince sweater around my neck again. I like this outfit.

Vince linen tee, Burberry denim skirt, Stan Smith sneakers, Vince cashmere sweater.
I’m surprised that I like this sleeveless tee without a jacket over it.

And then I tried the tee and my sneakers with my A.L.C. striped, silk midi-skirt and my Theory crocheted sweater. I like this look as well. It seems my white hair has allowed me to embrace more slouchy looks. My hair is looser, and a bit less contrived than my old look. So I feel comfortable in a more louche, more rumpled outfit. As changes ensue it’s all about finding a new balance that works. To look modern and not boring, and a bit edgy without looking like mutton dressed as lamb. As opposed to following dictates about what I can’t wear at my age, I guess I’m finding ways to wear what I want. To feel good in my clothes and feel good about myself.

Vince linen tee, A,L.C. silk mid-skirt, Stan Smith sneakers, Theory crocheted sweater.
Bit breezy on the deck today, as you can see.

So the other night in Jo’s backyard as my friends and I discussed what we should wear and not wear as we progress through the decades, great hilarity ensued. There’s nothing like a bunch of friends with whom you feel comfortable. With whom you can reminisce, and joke, and tease, and laugh. Great big guffaws that are sooo sustaining. I think that evening was just what we all needed.

We concluded that we will never be too old to wear leather biker jackets, as long as we choose to wear them. We can wear whatever we want, whenever we want to do so. As long as we love it and it makes us feel good. “What about tube tops?” my friend Marina quipped as she waved her glass in the air. Ha. Well, tube tops. Now they’re a whole other matter.

But I do think that if, as a result of aging and our changing bodies and hair, we start to not feel good in our clothes, we should refrain from beating ourselves up. Instead we might just want to take a critical look at what we’re wearing. And be ready to embrace change.

Vince linen tee, A,L.C. silk mid-skirt, Stan Smith sneakers, Theory crocheted sweater.

From someone who always liked a snug tee shirt, I’ve embraced bagginess whole-heartedly. Not ill-fitting, swallowing me up bagginess. Just looseness. Softness. And a little schlumpiness. And if I didn’t already own a muscle tank that I love, I’d be looking at these ones below.

But enough about me, my friends. Let’s hear about you. What do you NOT wear anymore? Did you abandon it because your “mutton monitor” alarm sounded? Or because you found it simply did not suit your changing body or lifestyle? Do tell us.

Today I’m joining Catherine of Not Dressed as Lamb for the #IWillWearWhatILike linkup.


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58 thoughts on “I’m Too Old to Wear… What Exactly?”

  1. Sleeveless tops. Unlike you, my upper arms could be used as signal flags on a battleship–especially since I lost weight. Not to mention encroaching crepey skin accompanying me into my eighth decade. So the few sleeveless items in the wardrobe will only be worn underneath something that will cover the arms. 🙂

  2. Melissa Ellen O’Neill

    It seems to me that your hair has liberated you to wear a much more ‘current’ version of your favourite outfits

    1. I always tried to stay current, I think. But I feel as if I’ve taken a step sideways, with my white hair. Sometimes it’s hard to describe what I mean exactly.

  3. Hell, no! Leather jackets forever!

    But first … Suz, your hair is perfect for you! The color, the length, the loucheness. That wouldn’t work for me, but boy does it work on you.

    BTW, I’ve found out during the looooong USA pandemic outbreak just how badly washed out my grey (not white) hair looks against my nearly 75-year-old complexion, and it’s terribly aging on me. Again, not you, Suz. Isn’t it funny how those things work?

    And second–you’re right also (for me) about the cut of clothes that work for me now (looser, skimmier is better around the midsection). But the clothes themselves (501s, beautifully cut blazers, classic looks of all kinds) are still my preferred style because they actually make my bod and me look better.

    Finally, I’m really missing getting dressed up these days. There’s simply nothing to attend. No parties, no lunches, no dinners, no nothing. Down here in USA-land we have effed our response to COVID so badly that I guesstimate we’ll all be in this mess for another 9 months or longer. Jeez, I cannot wait to push the reset button–first in November and then mid-year 2021.

    In the meantime I’m doing what everybody else in the world is doing–my best. It doesn’t look like what used to be my best. But it is my best.

    1. So true Ann! I hadn’t thought about two reset buttons! Now dressing up may just e for grocery shopping! It’s actually reassuring to stay connected with others on Sue’s blog.

    2. Thanks, Ann. I’m still working on the hair thing. But I’m getting closer to what I want. Well cut blazers, loose-ish top, and jeans is still my go-to look as well. I should have a sign that says “wearing this outfit since 1975.” Ha.

  4. Ah, I remember that furore, back in 2007. I posted about it at the time, although I didn’t yet have a leather motorcycle-style jacket of my own. . . . and then again in 2010, when I finally acquired one. I had it repaired (a second rip on the sleeve) just before Covid restrictions hit, and I’m looking forward to wearing it again this fall . . . both of us ten years older than when some might have deemed us already an inappropriate match. Guess who’s Not Giving a F. . . Fig?!
    More seriously, I do think it’s worth assessing our look with changing bodies, faces, hair, etc. in mind, but in the spirit your last paragraphs suggest — with gentleness towards ourselves and an openness to change. You’ve hit the sweet spot for your own Aging Stylishly — I love that muscle tank and midi-skirt combo!!

  5. Never a big leather wearer, the whole moto jacket issue is not mine! However, I’ve dressed in the same Classic uniform-y way for decades—using different accent colours, abandoning browns, adding more white , updating standard pieces. I wear fewer dresses now preferring to wear trousers and twinsets or linen shirts. My personal not to wear are those, to me, flamboyant outfits which are supposed to signal our embracing of “crone-ness”. Others may enjoy but they are Simply Not Me!!

  6. I have mainly just abandoned really high heels (a 1 1/2 to 2 inch heel to a wedding or short event would still be considered) and fitted tee shirts. I have always loved classic style- white shirts, tailored pants, cashmere cardigans, striped tees- so nothing much has changed as I have aged. I am still looking for a white tee, V-neck or crew neck- that is not see-through. Can’t find one anywhere! I put on a white tee this morning and thought, nope, and took it off. I don’t want my bra, or my mid section and the waist of my pants, to show. Any suggestions? I would love a good white tank top for summer too, but same problem. I feel like clothing companies used to make good cotton knit that was not see-through. But enough about that. Your natural hair color looks fabulous on you. I love the outfit with the muscle tank and midi skirt. Beautiful and summery.

    1. I have worn Vince tees for years, but not am finding that I love the short sleeve Everlane box-cut tee. They are lovely and soft and the cotton is deceptively thick. I took shots for my blog in my new light blue tee and I had a black bra on underneath. You couldn’t see a sign of it in the pictures. The website has really good measurements for the garment. So I measured the length of shirts I already own as a gauge before I ordered my first one. Now I have three. I like the box-cut pocket tee the best. Here’s the link. https://shopstyle.it/l/blEUY

      1. Found your website on Google, thanks! Think a lot about dressing appropriately in my mid 60s
        Still love high heels but graduated to 2.5 inch for sanity. I wear a lot of neutral colors but love color too. I no longer wear anything above my knees in public;) looking to dress modern and age appropriate is a challenge at times. Look forward to your blog and style ideas. Thank you!

  7. I love your hair and your white sneakers ! Good to wear those sleeveless tanks before your arms ” melt”.

  8. Staring down my 71 birthday, I’m designating myself as officially too old to wear…
    (1) Anything which makes me feel self-conscious or unsure of myself.
    (2) Anything which makes me feel elderly, dreary, or plain.
    (3) Anything which makes me physically uncomfortable.
    (4) Anything which someone tells me I “ought to wear at my age”.

    In my attempt to avoid the “mutton alarm”, I’ve adopted the following formula: to dress my older body with self-respect and dignity, to add a dollop of fun, and to wear my clothes with confidence and certainty. Seems to me that a knee-length denim skirt, a sleeveless T, sneakers…and maybe a leather biker jacket(!)…pretty much ticks all those boxes.

    Love your blog, Sue!

  9. Hmm, I like leather jackets but just not on me. I find them too heavy to wear but I have no issue with women wearing what they like, within limits. I wouldn’t comment, unless it was a close friend, and even then I might choose to keep my mouth shut – not my monkeys, not my circus – but most older women in very low cut tops, see-through clothing and/or excessively short skirts are unlikely to look good. Mind you, I don’t really like young women showing too much flesh – most young men don’t do that and I wish more young women didn’t feel the need to.

    However, we should all have the right to choose and I’ve chosen to give up heels as I simply can’t walk in them. If it’s really hot and humid, I wear sleeveless tops and dresses (I was sent home from work as a 20 year old intern for wearing a sleeveless top – I’m proud to say I charged my employer cab fare to go home, change and return and they paid 😉) and I can’t see myself giving up jeans ever. But we’ll see. And yes, most definitely, I choose looser, slouchier shapes, quality fabrics and clothes as well-made as I can afford, caring more for comfort and style than fashion.

    Thanks for another fascinating topic. And you look wonderful in all your outfits, especially that wonderful striped shirt.

    1. ” … I’m proud to say I charged my employer cab fare to go home, change and return and they paid 😉 ….”

      Oh! I love that so much! You were so smart at such a young age. 🙂

  10. I avoid most high heels especially slip ons. Ones with a strap might work. They must be comfortable. I will not wear ugly shoes. Some bloggers like shoes which they think are edgy but I think look somewhat matronly. I don’t wear belts but haven’t given them up yet. But I will only wear them if I think they look great and I feel fabulous. I too work to find clothes that do not cling to my middle. I prefer sleeveless to short sleeve. For me, the proportions seem off.

    1. I think that really young women can wear those retro, almost matronly shoes that have been trending. But at my age they look like what I always eschewed when I was their age so I cannot bring myself to wear them.

  11. I love my biker jacket and wear it with joy. Such a tricky subject, this one because on the one hand I am firmly in the Wear What You Want camp and, on the other, mired in But Make Sure You Don’t Look Daft. Last year Mr Green and I were out and about and were confronted with a very elderly woman – I am talking late 80s – literally staggering towards us in tight t-shirt, ditto capri pants and huge pole-dancer shoes. The real huge platforms, ankle straps. She literally could barely walk because she was very frail and small. It was one of the most peculiar sights I have ever come across and I could not grasp such a weird mix. That was extreme, I will admit, the desire to exhibit your body as though it was that of a 25 year old. Part of me would say: no extreme short skirts but another says: look at Zizi Jeanmaire. My dictum now is to dress for the life I have.

  12. As I have matured I am not interested in other people’s should or should nots especially regarding clothes. I don’t really rule out wearing items but rather the item needs to fit my criteria such as comfort, be within my colour pallet, work with other items in my wardrobe etc. The only never again I can think of is heels of any type. As far as I am concerned life is too short to wear heels.

  13. Like Laura, I don’t wear “wearable art”, those self-consciously embellished clothes that are often considered “fun”. Nor do I wear hyper-girly styles— ditsy florals, ruffles, eyelet or bows. (If a seven-year-old would wear it, I avoid.) And though I like them on others, no animal prints. I like your clean style very much! Because “louche” means “not reputable or decent; decadent; sordid”, I think you might have intended something closer to “loose” as in relaxed?) Or maybe not 😉

    1. Hyper-girly, too many ruffles, and too much statement jewellery are on my avoid at all costs list. The statement jewellery just because it doesn’t suit my personality.
      P.S. I did mean louche… not quite reputable… but not quite sordid. I hope. Ha.

      1. Google dictionary (which relies on Oxford Languages for its definitions) gives “disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.” Goals!! (excepting the sordidness 😉

  14. It’s tricky really . Some of the things I wore at 17 could still have a place in my wardrobe as I still have the same basic attitude & taste but shapes & fit change . I’ve pulled out pieces I loved from the loft to find they no longer sit right on the shoulders or they fit too tightly in the body & too loose in the sleeves . Leather jackets never flattered me – too hard against my face I thought . The last few years have seen me looking a lot less neat – looser fitting trousers – not so tailored jackets & less lady like shoes . I like my hair less sharp too as part of all this . This all makes me sound rather an untidy mess – hope I’m not .

    1. I don’t do ladylike shoes anymore either. Or only rarely. You sure don’t look like an “untidy mess”, Wendy. I think you always look very pulled together.

  15. Lovely photos,great hair!
    I’ve loved, from my early years, simple,classic things,with a bit of an edge,so,I don’t think that there are many things,among those I like,that I can’t wear . Maybe it speaks my inner critic-20 years ago I had 59 kg -on my 175 cm height-,around my fifties it was 64 kg. I started to wear dresses only a couple of years ago ,my arms are not perfect,so I prefere sleeves,my t-shirts change to more boxy cut,as well as my sweaters. The shift was slow, I’ve wanted to be comfortable and feel good. I don’t think that we shouldn’t wear leather jackets or jeans or whatever…if we have a mirror and common sense:-)
    Shows like Fashion Police were horrible to me,I’m here,as always for prevention and education,there are so many blogs,you tube channels,IG …that show how to style different colours,textures,how to choose clothes for your figure and your style of life…These are relevant advices….

  16. I never never wear sleeveless tops. My upper arms are too big and flabby. even when I was lifting small weights at the gym they never changed. always too big! I never wear heels, haven’t since 1997. I use orthotics in my shoes and cannot use them with heels. I must say, there are a lot I don’t wear because I live in Florida. I only wear LONG PANTS maybe five times a year, in January and February. The rest of the time it is shorts and capris. Capris are worn when I go out for dinner at night, and that is not happening with COVID, so just shorts all the time!

    You have great arms for that sleeveless tee!

  17. Love the midi skirt and tee, you look great! I’ve been trying to style a similar skirt I just bought and will try this combo to see if it works for me. I do generally avoid sleeveless, even regular strength training only does so much that can improve the shape of my upper arms. But a slight tan helps in the summer. I have a beautiful black leather jacket that I haven’t worn in years, I might get that out again this fall if I ever had anywhere to go besides the grocery store. Thanks for a fun post!

  18. No Tshirts, cannot do a crew neck (menopause!) Nothing around my neck thank you. That being said…cardis! Any blouse, top or sweater with a cardigan over. Loved cardigans my whole life. My grandmother never let me out the door without my sweater!

    1. I remember when we never left the house in the summer without a white cardigan. I have such clear pictures of my mum always folding one over the arm which carried her handbag. I still love cardigans too. But mostly chunky ones, now.

  19. I did a photoshoot for my new website showing me teaching online in the studio. I decided to wear a sleeveless dress. I didn’t realize how my arms have gone to seed during Corona – I have no excuse for that because I HAVE a workout room upstairs. I just don’t like weight machines – I like classes.

    For the most part, though, I look good. I just had to choose pictures where I didn’t have my arms outstretched – or if I did, they were extended far and high enough to look like there might be some muscle tone. The dress goes perfectly with my new purple and teal hair – which some might call a mutton moment, but I think I look terrific.

    I kinda wish I’d done Botox a few weeks before the photoshoot but my hair looked so awesome, I didn’t want to wait till later when it might have faded from where I’m liking it. Besides, there’s always retouching.

  20. For me it’s more about skin and flesh. I’m 68, and I don’t want to show it, no matter how *relatively* ok it might look. It’s really not even about appearance—I don’t like the way it FEELS. To everything, there is a season, you know? A biker jacket, on the other hand, is an ageless classic! If it’s your style, you can wear it until the day you die. Tough is timeless—in fact, I’m waaay tougher now than I was when my body was young and pretty.

  21. I’ve always found those ” what not to wear ” lists arrogant and well, bitchy.

    I find it far nicer to give polite advice without rolling your eyes and making sarcastic remarks, but even then it’s not showing the other person respect in what fashion makes them happy ( or happy enough ).

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