Age-appropriate dressing
Image: Max Mara

Isn’t it time we did away with age-appropriate dressing?

12 Apr 2024 | |By Hitanshi Kamdar

In a world where girlhood trends are colliding with mature silhouettes, the idea of ‘dressing your age’ has been turned on its head. Is that really a bad thing?

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“Every single morning I decide whether I’m going to be 15-years-old, or a lady near her death,” said Miuccia Prada, backstage at the Miu Miu AW24 show in Paris earlier this year. She had just presented a collection meant to evoke the chaotic joy of childhood dressing juxtaposed with elegant tailoring. This meant a mix of streamlined outerwear, oversized bomber jackets, cropped skirt suits and even – *gasps* – skinny jeans.

It also saw a varied cast of women strutting down the runway, including 63-year-old actor Kristin Scott Thomas, 68-year-old Spanish actor Ángela Molina, and 26-year-old singer Ethel Cain. That the collection was well received, and Mrs. Prada’s backstage quip widely shared, is an indication that traditional style dictats might, finally, be falling out of favour. Are designers extending an invitation to reconsider what the term ‘age-appropriate dressing’ means?

In any rulebook on ageing gracefully, the style section is often filled with cardinal ‘no-nos’ for women. No short hems, no plunging necklines, no leather trousers. But, given how strongly fashion has been clamouring for a break from binding constraints to make more room for diversity, surely such rules need to be reconsidered? “I strongly believe that there are no fashion rules and to assume that because someone is older, they can’t wear a certain trend, that’s actually quite ageist,” says fashion journalist and author, Sujata Assomull.

“When you think about it, the notion of ‘age-appropriate dressing’ really is a constraint,” says fashion stylist and creative director, Sarah Ann Murray. “And that can apply to any style of dressing – smart, casual, youthful, flamboyant, revealing. These are all constraints put on people. How we abide by the ‘rules’ is up to us. I personally tend to consider my surroundings, the event, the location, the weather, and how I’ll be travelling to and from, when I dress. My age is likely the last thing I’d ever consider.”

Reframing narratives

Assomull has been using her social media presence to challenge stereotypical notions of age-appropriate dressing, proving that mature women can have fun with fashion. “One of the reasons I started doing what I do on social media is to change the narrative on age in fashion,” says the founding editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar India. “I think there has been this kind of feeling that women of a certain age may not want to experiment. But look at the late Iris Apfel. How is that for the biggest example of how women are more experimental as they age? This whole mindset needs to change.”

The change in mindset seems to be trickling down from the very top. Like Mrs Prada at Miu Miu, for Autumn/Winter 2024 Chanel’s Virginie Viard showcased a mix of tailored double-breasted coats, knitted skirts and belted cardigans that would look chic on any woman, regardless of age. This season, older women also graced the runways at Balmain and Batsheva.

Then there’s Phoebe Philo’s classic offering, which invokes her timelessly-feminine design language from her Celine era. Subverting fashion’s loud-and-proud youth-obsession, these seasoned designers are making clothes for consumers of all ages. And it’s not just designs, fashion campaigns are shifting focus to include older women, too, with actor Maggie Smith featuring in a now-iconic Loewe advert. Elsewhere, French actor Isabelle Hupert has acted as a brand ambassador for Balenciaga, and Burberry has tapped actor Vanessa Redgrave and chef Mary Berry for advertisements.

“As you get older, you probably understand style more and have a more nuanced and mature approach to fashion,” says Assomull on why many women seem to wear clothes with more confidence as they age. “It’s ironic to me that women who are more mature have more money to spend on fashion. They have more disposable income than perhaps younger women.”

It seems logical, therefore, that fashion on the whole moves past its youth obsession, not only in its design language but also in its imagery and advertising campaigns.

The timeless style and passing trends dichotomy

Being well-dressed is an art, honed with years of practice. While most well-dressed women follow a uniform of sorts, sticking to favoured classics, numerous celebrities, including Kate Moss, Carolina Herrera, Diane Keaton, Iman, and the aforementioned Iris Apfel and Miuccia Prada, have proven that uniform codes can be switched up effortlessly. We’re talking classic maxi skirts, cardigans, wide-leg trousers, and tailoring mixed with pops of colour, vibrant prints, and unique silhouettes, like, say, a jellyfish dress or mini skirt.

“I do have a sort of uniform in the sense that I know what suits me, but I am also more experimental in many ways because I no longer care what other people think or have to say,” says Assomull. “I want to wear what makes me happy and I think that comes with age, wisdom and confidence. But that doesn't mean you can't follow trends. You just need to do it in a way that works with your personal style.”

Murray echoes this sentiment: “I have a go-to style that will stick with me forever and that is great for when I don’t have time to think about putting the perfect outfit together, but, if I’m feeling creative or love a particular trend, then I’ll certainly work that into my wardrobe and adapt it to suit my own personal style and way of wearing things.” Murray believes picking elements of current trends to sprinkle into her daily wardrobe helps preserve her personal style and lets her personality shine through.

When it comes to SS24 trends, many translate well into the wardrobes of women of all ages. Assomull believes the pops of metallics seen at Versace, Michael Kors, Gabriela Hearst and Courrèges work for mature women beautifully. It’s the same when it comes to the rise of craft-led features, including crochet, embellishments and shredded denim at labels catering to younger audiences, such as Bottega Veneta and Diesel. That said, even trends like coquette and short shorts could find their place in mature wardrobes. At the end of the day, it's about wearing what you feel comfortable in.

Another trend that defies age-appropriate codes this season is the preppy trend. “I have a big oversized collegiate cardigan that I’d wear with say combat trousers and a striped dress shirt rather than with other preppy items,” says Murray. “I like to mix trends in surprising ways – it’s the contrast that makes the trend really stand out as interesting and playful.”

Ralph Lauren jumper age-appropriate dressing
Image: Ralph Lauren

Age-appropriate dressing in 2024 is more about finding joy and comfort in your clothing than sticking to outdated style codes. Whether you’re a fan of  longer hems and modest cardigans, or pairing Doc Martens with skinny jeans and a vintage band T-shirt, as long as you focus on styling it well and invest in pieces that highlight your personality, you’re sure to look stylish no matter the age.

And, if you’re still finding your personal style, we’ve got you covered with some must-buy essentials approved by Murray, to make dressing a breeze whether you’re 20 or 80.

Alexander McQueen crepe blazer

You can never go wrong with exquisite tailoring and Alexander McQueen gets it right every time. This crepe blazer will work wonders with tailored trousers or over a floaty dress.

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The Row Gala trousers

Master the effortlessly polished look with The Row’s Gala trousers. Rendered in classic black and cut for a flattering wide-leg fit, the trousers pair well with everything from a T-shirt to a jumper.

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Stella McCartney twill mini dress

Not only does Stella McCartney’s floral print mini dress exude elegance and joy with its colourful blooms and flattering ruffled hem, but it is also made using materials with a reduced environmental impact. Clothing with a conscience is always in.

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Zimmermann Natura midi dress

Perfect wedding guest attire, Zimmerman’s floaty spring confection is made with ruffles, adjustable ties, and vintage-inspired blooms all over. Pair with statement earrings and some white mules for a romantic look.

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Self-Portrait chiffon blouse

Self-Portrait’s bow-detailed pink chiffon blouse is great for dipping into the coquette trend without going overboard. Pair with tailored trousers, pointed-toe slingbacks and a bow in the hair for a delicate look.

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Loewe anagram straight-leg jeans

If there’s one material that’s truly timeless, it’s denim. Mix up your classic blue jeans with this high-rise pair from Loewe embroidered with the brand’s logo anagram motif. Pair with a classic white shirt and bright Adidas Sambas.

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Max Mara Teddy Bear Icon coat

A bonafide style statement, Max Mara’s Teddy Bear coat has long been a staple of the fashion set. Crafted with a camel wool and silk blend for a plush effect, cocoon yourself in the versatile brown coat for a cosy look.

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Polo Ralph Lauren cotton chore jacket

Light enough to add a flair to your summer outfits as an overshirt and warm enough to keep you cosy in windy weather, this easy cotton jacket is the perfect grab-it-and-go piece.

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Roger Vivier Virgule Strass slingback pumps

In case you missed the memo, kitten heels are in. Go classic with Roger Vivier’s black slingback pumps adorned with a crystal-embellished buckle, perfect for dancing the night away (comfortably).

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Birkenstock Arizona sandals

While the pink Birkenstock Arizona sandals shone bright last summer thanks to Barbie, for SS24 dip into runway-approved white with this suede iteration that you’ll keep reaching for all summer long.

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Loewe Squeeze Medium leather shoulder bag

Loewe’s black lamb leather pouch bag features a chain-and-leather shoulder strap, making it ideal for comfortably carrying all your essentials while adding a chic touch to any outfit.

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Bottega Veneta Jodie leather tote

Cult favourite for a reason, ditch the sombre-hued bags for this bright green Bottega Veneta Jodie. The classic intrecciato weave and rounded shape make for an elegant statement piece.

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