Saturday, July 19, 2008

Does a Person Ever Get Too Old to Wear Vintage?

A good friend, who declines to give her age but says it's close to Madonna's, once tried on a dress for me. She has a slim figure, great legs, and can wear just about anything. "What do you think?" she asked me. "Too 'mutton dressed as lamb'?"

On her, the dress was neither lamb nor mutton, but the perfect in between. But it got me to thinking: can you get to an age where vintage looks ridiculous on you? I guess it's no surprise that I concluded a person can wear vintage until she's pushing her oxygen tank in a cart, but she might want to refine her style over time.

Some of you are probably thinking, "People should wear whatever they want! Who cares about age? Heck I'll be wearing go-go skirts when I'm ninety!" and I say, more power to you. But some people do like a little direction, and for them I offer a few guidelines:

1. Play to your strengths. When you're 18 you can get away with something that widens the hind end or casts a dull light on your complexion. By the time you're, say, Madonna's age, you should know that navy blue doesn't suit your particular skin and that skirts need to hit at a certain point to make the most of your legs. You know that you look best with something that defines your bust, or, on the other hand, that you'd rather show your strong shoulders and back.

When you play to your strengths, you don't look like a woman in a gorgeous vintage dress, you look like a gorgeous woman.

2. Quality matters. I've stolen this idea from this month's Vogue. Grace Coddington, once of Vogue's editors who's in her 50s, said that as you get older you look better in well made clothes. Well chosen, well made clothes are something that women--not girls--wear. Fortunately lots of vintage clothes are beautifully made, and the quality shows.

3. Simplify just a little bit. A full-grown woman is confident, and a confident woman is more likely to scrap sartorial clutter. I'd love to see a 50-year old woman in a 1950s, full-skirted dress with a floral pattern paired with sleek Helmut Lang pumps with steel heels. She might wear no jewelry and no makeup except lipstick. Of course, she has an excellent haircut. Or, another 50-year old woman might choose a simple black Jackie O. suit with a black James Perse tee shirt underneath and then stack seven bakelite bracelets in different primary colors up her wrist.

What do you think of age and vintage clothing? Is there any advice you'd give?


  1. I recently read an interview with Molly Ringwald, who is now in her 40s. She stated she does not wear vintage anymore and I couldn't help but feel like it was because she had outgrown it.

    I don't think anyone can grow to old to admire craftsmanship and originality, but I imagine one would "feel old" if they wore a garment from their youth. I know I feel strange when I wear something from the 80s or 90s.

    But nothing can ever replace the quality and beauty of mid-twentieth century design.

  2. Seeing Molly Ringwald today in a 1980s prom dress would be scary. On the other hand, I bet she'd look great in a 1940s suit.

    I guess that old saying is true that you shouldn't wear something vintage if you wore it the first time around.

    And I completely agree about mid-century design!

  3. I think maybe a lot of people see vintage as a trend for the youth. I get "Oh I couldnt wear that" all the time from women over 40. 40! Thats young isnt it ? Anyway, once I saw a ninety year old woman walking down the streed in a lovely 1960s suit, brooch, hat gloves an all, and I decided that I'll never stop, she looked fab :)

  4. I agree 100%, and I love to see a woman who isn't in her 20s wearing vintage. We all need good role models!