Look Your Age

After all that thinking I did about societal expectations surrounding looking professional, I found myself also wondering about a related question. How does a person go about looking their age? This is something that comes up a lot on shows like “What Not to Wear,” in which they frequently chastise the person getting the wardrobe makeover for not dressing appropriately for their age, be it by dressing too young or too old. I often get comments (regardless of what I’m wearing) that I look “so young;” by contrast, Mark is often thought to be older than his actual age (and he goes to work in a t-shirt and jeans every day!) So how do we, as a society, go about determining what the archetype of a certain age looks like? TV, ads, general life experience?

I wish someone would tell me, because I’m apparently an outlier, and it’s getting annoying. If I am a person and I am the age I am, how can I not look my age?

And if it turns out that most of the people I know have this problem, how has the overall picture of what a person’s age is supposed to look like become so skewed?

-posted by Dana


5 Responses to Look Your Age

  1. Mary says:

    I have no expertise in this area, God knows, but I think the “looking your age” thing is about giving people sufficient visual cues to draw conclusions about you. They can then interact with you “appropriately”. For example, if you are a young high school teacher, the idea is you would want to set yourself apart from your students. While I don’t think one can identify archetypes because fashion changes so much, there are certain distinct styles at any given time associated with certain age groups, or certain activities associated with those age groups.

  2. Jennie says:

    Ah yes. I struggle with this less than I did right after college. But for us there’s this really fine balance of looking like an adult without looking middle aged. I know when I cut my super-long hair a few years ago, people stopped thinking I was in high school and correctly placed me in my mid-twenties. It’s also I think, a balance of knowing what you can and cannot pull off, look wise. I can’t wear low-rider super tight jeans. I don’t have the body for it. So, where I to try, I’d look like I was trying to hard to look too young. On the flipside, if I play it really safe and wear jeans with elastic in the waist, I age myself. You have to know where that line is and stay on the safe side of the line, but not totally run away from it.

  3. Ellie says:

    The beauty of grad school right after college is that it’s ok to look like a grungy undergrad for a while longer. Now that I have 5 years between me and undergrad, it’s a lot easier to look “my age” (whatever that means).

    I’ve found that looking age-appropriate is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more important to look “role-appropriate”. For example, I play three very different roles throughout the week: I am a mom to a toddler, I am a postdoc, and I am a RPGer. If I wear my work clothes to take my daughter to the mall, I look like some young mom playing dress up. If I wear my mommy clothes to the game, my players don’t take me seriously because moms don’t know the player’s handbook from the DM guide. If I wear my gamer clothes to work, my students think I’m an undergrad.

    I’ve never really had a problem with looking younger than I am, though. People usually place me at my age or a bit older. The effect was most noticable in high school, when people assumed I didn’t drive because I didn’t own a car, not because I was 15.

    The idea of “looking my age” has calmed down since then. I think it’s because age categories are getting bigger. Being a high school student is 4 years. Being an undergrad is about 5. Being a young professional is perhaps 10 years, and being tenured faculty (but not emerita) is perhaps 30.

  4. Mary says:

    I’ve learned even at middle age (which I define more and more loosely with every passing year) to avoid elastic at all costs (although I admit a few ill-advised flirtations with it.) Now that many things come with just a bit of spandex, it’s not so necessary…and it’s the beginning of surrender. One garment I love, however, which is universally derided, is the skort…looks like a skirt (kind of), but isn’t!! I need someone with influence to start promoting this garment as a good thing.

  5. daisy says:

    i look my age and i accept it i;m 33 and nothing wrong with that.

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