image from cosmicmachine.blogspot.com
If you’re Jewish, the transition into adulthood is marked by the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, which takes place at age 12 for girls, 13 for boys. For Latin girls, a special ceremony called the Quinceañera signifies their burgeoning womanhood at age 15. But for those of us without such religious or cultural affiliations, the line of demarcation separating adults from children is far blurrier.
Does adulthood come when you graduate high school? Move out of the house? Pay for your own rent? As a recent University graduate, it seems the answer to the question of adulthood is: none of the above. The only thing that definitively places you into the tent of Adulthood is attitude. You can be an old soul, young at heart, and “some people just never grow up,” which is usually an insult hurled at those who refuse responsibility for their own actions.
Since leaving University for the “real world,” I wonder what it means to dress like a grown-ass woman. Most of my peers are caught up in a state of perpetual youth: wearing cutoff jean shorts, baggy tank tops, flip flop sandals. We’re in our twenties, enjoying our youth, but searching for stability beyond last call. Nobody is ready to wear suits and slacks to work, but they’re ready to get paid as if they do. The question begs to be asked: what came first, the pantsuit or the job?
I am a woman, and I want to dress like one, damnit. But somehow that assertion at age 22 makes picking out an outfit in the morning infinitely more complicated. How exactly does a grown-ass woman dress? My wardrobe is filled with mismatched patterns: tie-dye, leopard print, floral, and lace. But suddenly, I find myself wanting to dress like a Japanese minimalist, in the vein of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, whose Pleats Please line is noted to age women about two decades. I am attracted to clean and simple, yet avant-garde silhouettes offered by the former as well as Ann Demeulemeester, Jil Sander, and Martin Margiela. I may be a grunge baby at heart (and in iTunes), but I no longer want to look like a mess.Isabel back in 2011. Photos from wornjournal.com
We’re supposed to approach our wardrobe in an aspirational manner– to dress for the job we want, not the job we have. While I have no desire to put myself into lifelong debt by walking into Holts and purchasing all of the previously mentioned designers that I drool over, I’m ready to start presenting myself to the world as a serious, professional woman instead of a soft young ingénue. But this presents a conundrum, as I want to maintain a look that is interesting and individual, the antithesis of boring.
There is an expectation that all older women will hang up their miniskirt and decide to dress their age, not their shoe size. The concept of age-appropriate dressing is dictated by arbitrary rules that suggest all older women should look “classy and mature” and need to do so by showing less skin, and forgoing colourful outfits. It is almost too obvious that these rules that mandate older women show less skin are a subtle form of ageism, forcing older women out of the spotlight and into the dark corners of the room where they will blend in by wearing their neutral shades of black and midnight navy. It suffocates any outward expression that older women are sexual beings, suggests that older people are more celibate than sexy. But just because a person is getting older doesn’t mean they are required to ‘tone it down’. Ari Seth Cohen proved that ninety years old can still wear tutus and look great with the success of his geriatric fashion blog, Advanced Style.photos from advancedstyle.com
While I reject age-appropriate dressing in theory, I’m beginning to succumb to it in practice. I have shed the too-short skirts of my teen years in favour of pants that fit over my bum with room to spare, and refuse to wear more than one pattern at a time. But it isn’t always a matter of succumbing to rules. It can also be a natural transition (often equated with aging) towards paying more attention to fit and quality in the dressing room, honing in on garments that will last a lifetime rather than a season.
My new style icon is Grace Coddington, the fiery-haired and fiery-willed creative director at American Vogue is a woman who may have toned her style down since the Swingin’ Sixties, but still looks fashionable for any age. She wears a simple, unfussy wardrobe of monochromatic black and sensible flat shoes– items that do not restrain her from doing hands-on work on the job. Her pared-down style is the one I most want to emulate as I grow into a fully-functioning adult.image from bellasugar.com.au
It’s a funny thing that everyone wants to look older until they actually get older, and then they start trying to reclaim their youth. It’s commonly repeated that “youth is wasted on the young,” but maybe we should stop treating youth like it’s some precious elixir and realize how awkward it actually is for people who are not yet comfortable in their own skin. Maybe when we grow older and start to know who we are, we no longer need to act out (or dress up) to get attention.
Isabel Slone is a Toronto-based fashion blogger and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @isabelslone.