The Working Closet

where life meets style

how to dress like a grown up

In exactly three weeks, I will turn 45. Happy birthday to me! Let’s all haveJ.Crew a cupcake!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be 45. It means I’m old, yes, as my kids like to remind me, but that doesn’t bother me. I figure as long as I can run 15 miles and do 20 real, on-my-toes pushups and swim a mile, I cannot complain about being old.

So I won’t.

Mostly, I have been thinking about turning 45 in the context of what I do here, on the Internet, and specifically on this blog. I describe The Working Closet as a style blog, not a fashion blog,  for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I’m not a fashion blogger — I’m not 25, for one thing, and I don’t live on one of the coasts, and I don’t have a photographer boyfriend who shoots my daily outfit photos. Instead, I’m a middle aged mom living in middle-ish America, Instagramming what I wear with my iPhone. I don’t go to fashion shows or press junkets; I go to karate class and baseball games and the grocery store. I don’t own one single designer piece; my clothes are from J. Crew and the Gap and occasionally Lands’ End. I don’t have the patience or the time or the talent for thrifting, although I’m good at online shopping.

I choose my outfits based on the weather and what’s on my schedule for the day. I wear the same things over and over because it makes getting dressed easier. I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m just trying to look nice.

In other words, I’m just like you.

Recently, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with the idea of style after 40 — what to shop for, how to style it, and why it makes a difference — and I’ve noticed that there aren’t a whole lot of outlets covering this, or covering it in any sort of practical way. Fashion magazines and, to a large extent, fashion blogs, seem assume that women over 40 have wads of disposable income that we can spend on designer labels and shoes we can’t walk in. I find the opposite to be true: My 40-something friends still have kids at home, and while those kids are no longer using our sleeves as tissues, they’re still a driving force in the organization of our days. My boys both play sports that require me to sit on tremendously uncomfortable bleachers for long stretches of time — and yes, that affects my wardrobe choices. Because short skirts and high heels are not bleacher-friendly. Trust me.

What about all that disposable income? Yes, Wade and I earn more money now than we did when the kids were littler, but we’re also spending — and saving — more. All those sports? Cost money. And college is looming, so we’re putting cash back for that. And my grocery bills are huge — we go through a gallon of milk every 48 hours around here. And that’s just for the four of us! So the idea that I would be scooping up the latest from Lanvin is ridiculous to me. I’m waiting for a good sale at the Gap.

I don’t think that any of this means that 40 — or 45 — is the end of chic. It can be depressing, though, to weed through advertising and editorials directed at some imaginary woman with a fabulous social life (that does not involve restaurants that serve kid-friendly food) and endless spending money (which isn’t earmarked for new basketball shoes or uniform shorts), especially when all the photos are of models young enough to be my children. What’s a grown up woman supposed to wear? Or should we all just give up and grab some yoga pants and a t-shirt out of the kids’ clean laundry?

No. Hell, no. I’m not buying that. But I do think the strategies in your 40s aren’t the same as the ones you used in your 30s. It’s a matter of finding a look that is age-appropriate but not old, and that reflects your unique personality. Because 40 — or 45 — is not old, and you’re still the same fascinating, lovely woman you were 20 years ago. In fact, I would guess you’re even more fascinating and lovely at 40 than you were at 20. I know I am.

The secret to being chic in your 40s is basically just not dressing like you’re still 30 — or 25. Own your age, and choose pieces that are appropriate. We’ll talk more about what those are in the next few weeks.

Are you dressing your age? Or have you given up? And what are your sources for grown up fashion inspiration? Let’s hear about them!

Photo via J. Crew

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48 comments on “how to dress like a grown up

  1. Jori
    April 3, 2013

    I battle with knowing that although you CAN wear something (meaning that it fits and looks attractive), it doesn’t mean that you SHOULD. I’m 42 and for Pete’s sake, skirts that are too much higher than the top of my kneecap really aren’t age-appropriate any longer. So there’s that. :-)

  2. C.C. Quade
    April 3, 2013

    Hello Susan! I’ve never posted a comment before, but this speaks to me as my own 42nd bday approacheth this weekend! I can keep up with my kids and still meet my friends for lunch in a fairly well-lit restaurant without embarrassing myself, fashionably speaking. To me, dressing 40s means standing straighter, smiling whenever I feel like it, and always checking the mirror from the back before leaving the house. I love my forties and love your blog too! Inspirations: jjill and muji

  3. Poppy's Style
    April 3, 2013

    You know I think it is all down to the individual – I wear leather leggings, AllSaints and short skirts – but I’m comfortable like that – and as long as one is comfortable I think confidence allows you to carry it off (though I will never show my navel except in a bikini!). I don’t like rules associated with age especially when it comes to clothes.

  4. Poppy's Style
    April 3, 2013

    p.s. I turn 42 in August and feel like I should always have been in my 40s – I AM LOVING this age:)

  5. darcyblue
    April 3, 2013

    What’s your opinion about a bikini at 46? I only recently got my pre-kids body (sort of) back, by doing a lot of yoga. My husband thinks I can totally pull it off. After years of wearing frumpy one pieces, it is an appealing idea, but I keep wondering if it sends a desperate message to wear a bikini at this age.. thoughts?

    • Cassie
      April 4, 2013

      I’m 33, with a three year old and a 7-month old, and I only wore a bikini twice in my life – once when I was 24 in Mexico and on my honeymoon, at 28. I didn’t take advantage of my pre-baby body when I had it. If you are comfortable, you should totally rock a bikini.

      Probably not a super-teensy string bikini, but a real two-piece? You should go for it. I don’t think it would come off as desperate. Personally, if I saw you wearing a bikini it might give me hope that I might get back there too, one day!

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.”

      ~Nora Ephron

      I’m a big bikini fan, largely because one-piece suits don’t ever fit me properly, which drives me crazy. I think the key to bikinis after 40 is to opt for a suit that fits properly and that you feel comfortable in. My bikinis all have fairly full coverage bottoms and tops, because I’m not really interested in showing off the saggy parts of my backside or having my (very small) boobs spilling out, even accidentally. I have dresses that make me feel like I’m flaunting more skin than my bikinis do, honestly.

      I say if you’re comfortable in a bikini and not in danger of a thrashing toddler pulling the top off in a public place (which may have happened to me once — or twice — upon a time) then go for it, age be damned.

      • evnmum90
        May 5, 2013

        I am in my early 50’s and keep myself trim and in great shape. I lift weights once every two weeks and eat right. I don’t diet because I eat right. I am a size four and am five feet, seven inches tall. I went to Cancoun when I was in my late 40’s and wore a little black bikini and was very comfortable. If I want to wear a bikini at my age, I’m going to. Do what you want to do and make yourself happy. I’ve raised my son and now it’s time for me.

  6. Nicole
    April 3, 2013

    This is why I love Working Closet- I feel the exact same way!

    I feel like there’s a chasm in clothing between being in your 20’s and 30’s and your 60’s. The only stores that appeal to my age/figure/income are Gap, Ann Taylor, and J. Crew and I’M BORED!!!

    (p.s. darcyblue- rock that bikini!)

  7. Whitney {Rookie Moms}
    April 3, 2013

    My forties start next month and I have every intention of being adorable, fabulous, and fashionable throughout. My mom is all of those things at 63.

  8. heidi
    April 3, 2013

    Thank you for posting this! I love your style!

    I turned 50 in October and struggle with finding something that looks hip (i work on a movie lot) but not ridiculous for my age. I also do a lot of walking on the lot so heels dont work.

    I’m also a runner and am struggling with finding things that work for a half marathon but dont feel like i’m exposing my back side to the world. I feel like at my age running shorts can be too short. I’m exploring running skorts at the moment.

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      I have runner friends who LOVE the skort — and who look fab in them. I can’t run in a skirt, but that’s a personal issue, not a fashion issue, and one of the keys to successful running is feeling comfortable with your surroundings, including your clothes. Athleta has some great skirts, and there are a few other options — I’ll do some research and post some links.

      • Shannon
        April 4, 2013

        Susan knows I love me a running skirt. In fact, I never run in anything else (on the bottom, I mean!). :) As long as they’re nice and short and lightweight, I think they are super comfy and flattering. My faves are from Title Nine (they have lots of styles) and the C9 by Champion line at Target (cheap, good fabric, did I mention cheap?). And hey–nothing wrong with looking cute while you run, right??

  9. Shannon
    April 3, 2013

    Gah! Nightmare. I agree with you 100%. Everywhere I look–even at blogs or mags targeted at moms–everyone looks at least 10 years younger than I am (which is newly 42). Add in all the other factors you mention–tight finances, the realities of parenting elementary-school-age kids–and it seems impossible to both live in a practical way AND look stylish and age-appropriate. I fall back on Casual, because it’s practical for those variables. But this puts me into questionable territory–I end up wondering if skinnies and a long-sleeved tee, or, more recently, neon pink shorts from J. Crew :) , are just too “young” and unsophisticated for a 42-year-old mom, even if she is on a budget and chasing 6- and 8-year-olds around all day (picturing all those pool and park days coming up this summer, and suddenly ANY chino shorts and tees seem just about right!).

    Sigh. Let me know if you figure it out.

  10. Caroline
    April 3, 2013

    Susan,

    I really, really loved a book called The Wardrobe Wakeup. It has no photos of cute outfits, but a lifetime of fashion advice between its two covers. And, I really love your blog : )

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      Oh thank you, Caroline! I’ll check that out.

  11. Melissa Diskin
    April 3, 2013

    I’d give anything for chic skirts that are knee-length or longer….

  12. Gina
    April 3, 2013

    I love this…….. “In other words, I’m just like you” because you are & I am! And from the other comments, so are lots of women. I love how you get it Susan & love your style.

    Jeans, fittted tees and flats are my uniform lately but will be branching out into khakis soon with the warmer weather hopefully arriving. I’d love options for footwear when I don’t feel like wearing ballet flats. I’m dying for a cute pair of loafers! Let’s see…. you are definitely an inspiration and I watch JCrew & GAP but they have such young and skinny models, it’s hard sometimes. I guess some of the celebrity Moms – Katie Holmes, Jennifer Garner etc…to a point. Even though they are a little younger than me (also 45 this year) and they can spend a lot more then me, sometimes their styles are fun to check out. Did anyone check out Gwyneth Paltrow’s Annual Spring Edition? Some looks were very cute & some absolutely hysterical. And the price tags on her version? LOL!!

  13. Jake Donohoe
    April 3, 2013

    When my best friend and I were in our early 30s we talked about 40 being the year we became women who wore long flowy dresses and big chunky jewelry (like a more urbane Mrs. Roeper). Then we turned 40 and nothing really happened.

    I feel like dressing for 43 means that I dont wear cheap shoes and fuck everything else. Skirts above my knee? OK. Jean cutoff shorts? Ok. If its comfy and I feel good then forget the rules.

  14. 최다해 gongjumonica
    April 3, 2013

    Nice post. I am in my early twenties, but a lot of people guessed that I am in my early teens. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. Anyhow, I dress a bit girly. I’m Asian and wear those cute Korean dresses most of the time. I don’t know if that’s the reason why I don’t look like an adult.

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      I think that if you’re comfortable with your look, and it doesn’t bother you that people think you’re younger than you are, you should stick with it. But if you’re frustrated by being mistaken for a kid, think about ways to make your look a little more sophisticated — maybe by pairing a girly piece with something more menswear oriented.

  15. Benesh McGrath Darci
    April 3, 2013

    I am a newly minted 48 year-old who teaches 8th grade English in downtown LA. I am on a weight loss journey – have lost 45 pound with 30 to go. Finding my style voice has been difficult and I so appreciate your inspiration. I have found the pair of skinny jeans that work at the Gap, and some great dresses at J Crew but I so need some lingerie suggestions…anything is greatly appreciated.

  16. Jennifer
    April 4, 2013

    Where do I get my inspiration? From people like you!

    I loved last year’s #getdressed challenge and it made me look at my own wardrobe a little more creatively. I was just remarking last week with another blogger that I’m so much braver with my use of colour, patterns and accessories now in my 40s than I was when I was younger. I realize now that when my mother’s friend nicknamed her “a woman of colour” based on her wardrobe, that it’s a compliment.

    My individual wardrobe pieces are more conservative than they used to be, but I’m having more fun putting them together these days.

  17. claudia098
    April 4, 2013

    Great post! I’ll be 44 soon and have realized that this decade has brought me some peace with myself. I no longer try to make my hair do things it’s not inclined to do, for instance. Took me all those years to get it through my head that I don’t have straight fine hair and I should stop desiring those styles. Same with my clothing. I could wear the skinny jeans hanging in my closet, but I just don’t like the way they look so I won’t. (I’ll purge them soon, promise.) I’ve come to recognize what suits me personally and what’s just chasing a trend.

  18. Laura
    April 4, 2013

    Well, I’m 51 and “in my dotage” I dress for comfort meaning I want to feel comfortable in the clothes hanging on my body. It has taken me quite some time to feel comfortable in my own skin so why not feel comfortable in what I wear? Like you I run. I run a lot and I know I’m in far better shape than the 30 something moms I hang out with. Day to day I am wearing nice skinny jeans, a tee, flats and a pretty scarf or statement necklace. That’s me. Is that “age-appropriate” for me? I don’t know but it is what I am comfortable and confident in. Oh and whether it is appropriate or not I wear a bikini. :)

  19. elizabeth crane swartz
    April 4, 2013

    Amen to all of this.

    I’ll be 45 this summer and it thrills me when I mention that my kids are 19, 17 and 14 and I hear, “no way” or “wait. WHAT?” I’ve spent the better part of the last two years pursuing my interests, meeting like-minded people and trying to find my niche and I’m only sorry it took me so long. The payoff has been huge and my family reaps the benefit.

    one of my favorite quotes is from street style photographer mr. newton “… the glue that pulls an outfit together is often just confidence and attitude.”

  20. Stephanie Bice
    April 4, 2013

    Love this topic. I turn 40 in a mere 7 months – and have found myself attending quite a few professional events lately due to a career adjustment. So, what exactly is professional and age appropriate for 40? (And for the record, a two-piece “Hillary Clinton” pant suit will never be on this body. EVER. Sorry Hil.)

    And then there is the swimsuit issue. I’m like you, lemons for boobs instead of cantaloupes. Not sure about my rear, but I’m pretty certain those varicose veins weren’t on my thighs before I had a couple of cute daughters… So I struggle with that every single summer.

    Great topic – can’t wait to read more!

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      I have those veins; I also have wee silver stretch marks just below where the bottom of my suit hits, and a permanent roll of post-baby fat right under my belly button that will NOT go away. 20 years ago, those things would have made me insane. Now I think they’re just part of who I am.

  21. Peter
    April 4, 2013

    I’m 45, a man, and think if you should definitely wear the bikini.

  22. sunny
    April 4, 2013

    fascinating topic! I turn 45 this year but thanks to my family’s Swedish-ness….. I’m often mistaken for a 28 year old. Thus I wear what’s comfortable for me and what I look good in. Sometimes that even means wearing a pair of converse with a fun dress and a cardigan..even though I read somewhere “no Converse if you’re over 25″. Guess that makes me a rule breaker!

    I don’t dress the way some in my city think a 40-something should look: I have long, wavy blonde hair, minimal makeup, and my daily uniform includes an a-line skirt, a tee, cardigan and cute flats. or swap out the skirt for jeans. I also wear sundresses year round – either alone or with a lightweight or heavier weight cardigan on top – with a cute scarf.

    • Karen
      April 4, 2013

      I love the sound of your daily uniform and wish I had more awesome skirts and cardigans. I’ve got enough tees to last forever.

      Wear what you love (and meets any applicable dress codes). :)

  23. Sara at The Bag Blog
    April 4, 2013

    Love this post! I am not too far from 40 and have been thinking a lot the past couple years as to how I want my style to change from my 20’s/early 30’s fast fashion days, into my now late 30s. These days I want to feel chic and pulled together, but I need to be able to get dressed quickly and want to rely on high quality classic pieces that I can wear year in and year out. But sometimes that feels boring to me so I am adding in some trendy/fast fashion accessories like a hot pink belt or crazy necklace. So far that has helped me to still feel like I am dressing “young” but still be age appropriate overall.

    • Susan
      April 4, 2013

      Sarah, I think you’ve totally nailed it.

  24. Karen
    April 4, 2013

    So I’m 28, about to be married and also 29. Just started wearing a bikini and skinny jeans and generally discovering my figure about two years ago. I have a not-sold-in-most-stores bra size and all my jeans have to have darts put in because I have a über-hourglass figure. My growing problem stems from recent weight loss that led to wardrobe purge resulting in: I have nothing “grown up” to wear. I have scrubs (I’m a nurse), jeans, tshirts, and a few dresses. If I had to go to a conference or on a job interview, I would be sunk. I have no idea how to dress my new body or get around the “fashion” of the 20s that neither fits me physically or professionally! I have a hard time dressing to go out to dinner without looking unintentionally frumpy or too young.

    • Lori
      April 5, 2013

      I’m in a similar boat (and hopefully soon enough in an even more similar boat). I’m working on losing all of the weight I gained during grad school from some really bad habits. I’ve cultivated a pretty cute wardrobe at my heavier size, much of which should transition to my smaller size with a few minor alterations. I’ve never really been one to always stay on trend because it’s way too expensive and because I’m just not a fan of a lot of the recent trends. So I try to stock up on basics that will always look good–black cigarette pants, white oxfords, pencil skirts–and pair them with some trendy pieces so I look my age. It’s a really difficult age to navigate, I think.

  25. Martha
    April 4, 2013

    As an almost 53 year old, I can relate to this. I wish for a store that catered to 40-60 year olds that wanted to look chic but not 20 year old or even 30 year old chic. As I get older, it is even more difficult to find things that fit well. And a lack of disposable income is a hindrance as well. S the mythical store needs to stock well made and yet inexpensive things!

  26. Sharon
    April 8, 2013

    I am 43. I manage to dress ok for the office but I struggle with the baseball, soccer and hockey games. I feel like I always fall back on jeans and a tee with sneakers. Flip flops when it is warm. Like you said, bleachers are uncomfortable. The weather is also temperamental in the spring on the east coast. Freezing one day, scorching hot the next. I also worry about looking like I tried too hard or didn’t try hard enough. I’m looking forward to your posts on this.

  27. Maura
    April 17, 2013

    I spend more time on “run around” cute outfits than my largest client meetings or formal events. It is the hardest area of my fashion life. I just was introduced to this blog today and I LOVE it. signed, Preppy in Chicago, age 43

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  29. Sometimes I think the universe is really talking to me because I’m a 42 year old mom to a 14 year old and also a 7 month old, yes after alot of prayers a 7 month old and just yesterday as my 14 year old daughter and I were shopping at Old Navy I thought to myself for the first time should we both be shopping at the same store? Then I find you from Making it Lovely!! Although my daughter and I obviously like different things I’m finding myself wanting to look young for my new baby but dressing my age. I’m looking forward to reading future posts!! I’m your newest follower!!!

  30. AnnW
    May 6, 2013

    Is 66 too old for a new jean jacket? I’ve never had one. Ann

  31. Julie
    May 7, 2013

    If you feel great in it – wear it. The caveat is that to feel great, it has to fit well, flatter, and be appropriate for whatever you’re doing. I’m struggling with this myself (and write about it a lot on my blog – especially in the “How I got here” post), but at 35, I like my legs, so I wear short skirts and high heels. A lot. I think that’s ok. If you’re 45, 55, 65…
    There was a “pinned” phrase that said something like “Dressing well is an easy expression of good etiquette,” (that’s the butchered version) and I like that. Dress to show courtesy and respect for yourself and for others. Recently, I was involved with The Neighborhood at 2ND Street District (Austin, TX), the style portion during SXSW, and John Varvatos, Billy Reid, and several designers talked about the difference between style and fashion, how one should always strive for the former. But, you know what? I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a working mom who needs to focus on other things than my appearance, so if I can infuse a little fashion, then that’s the best I can do, and that’s ok. If I’m clean and feel “put together,” I consider it a win.

  32. Katy
    May 9, 2013

    I followed through to this post from a link on Making it Lovely and wanted to comment that I loved what you had to say. Although I am 25, I definitely don’t have much to spend on clothes and still have body quirks to work with. Your message here is why I want to work in the fashion industry. I think style is accessible for all of us, and we shouldn’t feel that certain ages or body types should limit that.

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