A list of items and outfit combinations that you should not wear past a certain age is a dated concept. It doesn’t make sense that you’ll look fab wearing a particular item at age 39, but that the very next day you’re too old to wear it at age 40. Things aren’t that cut and dried. 

That said, age appropriateness is still relevant. Age is like any other factor that influences your overall style. If we all looked equally fab wearing everything, regardless of the factors that impacted our personal style, then the concept of style itself wouldn’t exist. It is how people wear what, when, and where that gives them their stylish individuality. 

So as unpopular as it may be, I believe that certain looks are best suited to those with youth on their side. But I do not believe in attaching a universal, set-in-stone age limit to items and looks, beyond which wearing them becomes taboo. That way of thinking needs to be modernized. Whether an item, the fit of an item, or an outfit combination is age appropriate is best evaluated on a case by case basis. Some women, for a myriad of reasons, will just pull off a look better than others. Furthermore, context is key. Some so-called age inappropriate looks are appropriate within a particular setting.

I actually find myself encouraging women to wear looks that they feel are age inappropriate much more frequently than the other way round. That’s because it’s HOW you wear an item or trend that makes the difference. When my 75 year old client excitedly pointed to a pair of eggplant, straight-leg waxed jeans a few weeks ago, I was all for it. By adding a sophisticated element to the item, we could make it look fabulous despite it being an ultra trendy and “young” look. The jeans were sleek but not at all skin tight. We matched them up with dressy flats, an elegant and roomy silk untucked long sleeved blouse, arty jewelry, and a very chic handbag. My client ended up not purchasing the waxed jeans because we found a normal pair of straight leg eggplant jeans that were even more comfortable. But the fact is that she could have pulled off a pair of waxed jeans with style. 

This very same client also purchased the mixed media leather and ponte knit black skirt that Phoebe modeled for us last month. She rocks hers with a tailored brocade teal jacket, sheer black hose and dressy flats. And looks just as fab as younger Phoebe. 

How do you decide whether something is age appropriate or not? I wish I had a neat set of bullet points to break it down, but I don’t. It is so subjective and situational that I don’t think I will ever come up with a universal set of guidelines. But there is one question that always pops into my head when someone asks the question. A forum member recently wondered whether a particular look was age appropriate at age 42. In my response I said that at age 42 (and I’m 42) I believe you need to look like a grown-up. And that’s the simple principle that most helps me to evaluate whether my own look, or my clients looks, are age appropriate. 

At this point you might be thinking that I’ve just switched the question from “is this age appropriate?” to “do I look like a grown-up in this?”. That’s true of course, but the second question is just less theoretical, at least it is for me. And yes, it is subjective. What’s important is your answer to the question, and the answer of people whose opinion you care about. That will determine whether you will feel confident in the item or look, and therefore, whether you can pull it off effortlessly. 

I’m not saying that anything goes. I have strong opinions and I don’t hesitate to share them with my clients. What I am saying is that my opinion is just that — an opinion — not a fundamental truth. Also, my opinion varies a lot depending on the specifics of the situation. The bottom line is that a universal formula for age-appropriateness isn’t practical.