You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life. – Coco Chanel, French fashion designer
In the last year or so, I’ve come across a fistful of articles in women’s and fashion magazines that expound on what a woman of a certain age should or shouldn’t wear. One author said she had been told that women over 30 shouldn’t wear leather jackets anymore. Another article smugly noted that while older women are donning clothing items once deemed the domain of the younger woman, young women can triumphantly pull on shorts, with the knowledge that they are leaving the older women – their mothers – in the dust. Every time I read one of those articles, I got unnecessarily exasperated. I soon realized this was a waste of energy. I then calmed down and recalled a famous Coco Chanel quote: “I don’t care what you think about me; I don’t think about you at all.”
Is there such a thing as age appropriate? Should there be such a thing as age appropriateness? I would rather we remove the word “age” from the concept of age appropriate. Let’s talk about what is appropriate. Take those shorts, for example. Now make them “Daisy Duke” shorts, the kind in which the inseam length is a negative number. Maybe a handful of women would look good in them, but I’m certain I don’t want to see anyone’s cheeks hanging out, save for the ones on their faces.
I will submit that not all women – regardless of age – can wear shorts and feel comfortable in them. I grew up in the Central Valley of California, where the temperatures would remain in the 90s (degrees) late into the evening, but I would not wear shorts to school or to any social outing as a teenager because I was too self-conscious and felt exposed in shorts. Painfully shy, I deemed it a triumph when I finally felt comfortable enough to wear shorts in college. The operative word is comfortable and its subtext is confidence.
I submit that a lot of women of my age can wear shorts smartly and successfully – and appropriately. First of all, I don’t wear shorts to “look” or “feel” young. I wear shorts because I like a particular pair of shorts or like the look of it as part of an outfit, an ensemble. This is a very important point. I have my rules of thumb, though don’t think of them as rigid rules. Think of them as comfort levels. No matter what the style, they should fit – not tight or not baggy when they’re not supposed to be baggy. I don’t wear short-shorts. Inseam length is critical. While a three-inch inseam seems itty-bitty, it’s not so bad – if you really like the style, fabric, and/or print – to size up and let the waistband sit low. In the wintertime, you can wear opaque tights and look appropriate and sharp. If you feel the need to cover up and work your way up to a certain comfort level, wear boots. Regardless of comfort level, however, shorts and boots go hand in hand in cold weather.
The only time I don’t wear tights with shorts is when it’s super casual and I’m at home or at a sporting event. In the Bay Area, our summers are famously cool and foggy most of the time, so you can get away with tights and shorts across seasons. In the summertime, I wear shorts with flats or wedges or platforms, but never with heels, especially spiky heels. That’s where my comfort level ebbs. While shorts oftentimes conveys casual and informal, I like dressing up shorts, as a style statement but also for its ability to lend a sense of sharpness.
Fashion should be fun and experimental. With shorts, you need to figure out what style looks good on you, which fabrics and prints flatter your shape, and what kind of a look you are trying to convey. And then let loose and experiment with what goes on top, what shoes are a good match, what accessories compliment and make the whole outfit cohesive yet effortless. Think of shorts as part of the overall outfit. It makes them less intimidating and really, part of the fashion canvas. So be artistic, creative, comfortable, and confident in whatever you wear.