Photo by Salt Water New England

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dear Muffy: How should I change my wardrobe as I hit midlife?



Dear Muffy:
How do I think about changes to a classic wardrobe as I hit midlife?  I've basically been wearing the same things for most of my life but now I am finding them less satisfying. 
And as I look around I'm not seeing a whole lot of role models.   Even in town, too many look like they've just given up and are doing their errands in slippers and in some cases what they probably slept in.  In your opinion, what is the path if I am not thrilled anymore with my current lot?

Answer:
Many people in their 20s and 30s have found that they prefer wearing low-key but well-made and respectable clothes.  For men and women, this balances and grounds their energy levels and lack of experience, and may even be a reaction to their earlier sartorial experiments.
At some point, there is a middle-age inflection point, when the same wardrobe now washes them out, and is,  perhaps, a bit dour.  A plaid flannel shirt that can seem active on a twenty something may have the opposite effect two decades later. 
This is when one might consider a shift to a brighter, albeit still classic, palette.  These may even be in a style that the same people eschewed when they were younger.  
These lighter colors are not only for the flattering reflective qualities on aging skin but also for a sense of fun.   (There is a reason so many statesmen have a little sparkle of joy on their faces when they speak of their GTH pants, while the less mature have more of a smirk.)   You no longer have to advertise that you are a person of substance through your wardrobe.  It comes through in your bearing.

35 comments:

  1. Hard to go wrong with the classic's!

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    1. Classics, not classic's.

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    2. Oh, X.P., do shut up.

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  2. What Muffy said.
    MaryAnne

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  3. Interesting. I notice that I am now wearing brighter colors that in youth I previously shunned. In the summer, especially if I have a tan, I am wearing hot pink, lime green, turquoise Lilly Pulitzers and J McLaughlin stuff while I notice my 23 year old daughter is always decked out in black, grey and white. My daughter also now tells me that "mom" jeans are popular -- dang! And I threw all mine out! LOL

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    1. My 43 year old daughter, as with your 23 year old daughter, is likewise always decked out in black, grey and white, but we have learned to offer no commentaly.

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  4. Color is the key. I have silver hair and fair skin so, if I don't wear a flash of deep or bright color, I blend in with the sky.

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  5. This is all great, if only a tiny bit harder for men in the same situation.

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    1. Men have the same problem. I noticed it in church this morning. A couple guys were wearing sweaters that would have looked great in 1993 (and probably did!), pants that probably looked great when baggy men's pants were stylish (and that's probably when they bought them). As we get older, our mass redistributes itself. Wearing clothes that fit your current shape and are tailored for it is a good first start. Throwing out things that were stylish 20 years ago but are no longer sold in stores also helps. Then, anything that is comfy and a bit sloppy for wearing around the house should never LEAVE the house.

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    2. Well said, Dave. If anyone doubts that, I have two words for them: "Adidas shorts."

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    3. I take some exception to Dave's comments - if you purchased your clothing from Brooks Brothers before it became a mass merchandiser and from J. Press, O'Connell's, the old Cable Car Clothiers, and few other quality merchants, and took care of the clothing, it still looks fine - never in style and never out of style.

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    4. I read Dave’s comments a bit differently in that he does mention style and body changes and I have dabbled in style changes but I’ve notice some differences in purchases through the years from all these retailers mentioned. One thing I noticed most recently was the neck on a couple of merino wool v necks but then good classic clothing is as stated...still looks fine if your body size and shape hasn’t changed.

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  6. Thank you for putting this so clearly. I have noticed this tendency in myself, but haven't been able to put it into words or quite identify the reason for it. I have wondered why some of the things I used to love are no longer exactly right for me, and what I should do about it. This makes an excellent starting point for evaluating my choices.

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  7. I grew up in the Northeast but now live in South Florida. Above the waist, stick with OCBDs and polos. Below the waist, khaki shorts and high quality loafers with no visible socks. Same colors, same style.

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  8. Everybody here knows me, so it doesn't matter how I dress. If I'm somewhere else, however, it doesn't matter how I dress because nobody knows me.

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  9. Last night at a small gathering of friends, someone said to me, "You look like you shop for your clothes in the 1960s." It was meant as a compliment (at least, I took it that way, but who knows). Classic sweaters, turtlenecks, OCBDs, and khakis are my basics. As I've grown older, I do like adding a few brighter colors. Not sure (or care, really) how the colors match my skin tone. I just think its fun.

    Aiken

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    1. I'll bet you look fabulous! The classics always look perfect. Add new colors when it suits you but stay with style, not fashion.

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  10. I needed to see this post. It hit home as I've been purging a lot of clothes. While I'm sad to get rid of quite a few of my favorite classics, I do understand that the neutral colors I loved are now washing me out. With my oyster shell colored gray hair and dark tan skin I've branched out and I'm wearing colors I used to just wear to the beach. Coral, turquoise, lime are now being added to my navy, grey and white classics. Now if I could just find the right pink lipstick...

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  11. Coming out of (contented) stealth for the moment ... For those who embellish with cosmetics and hair dye, please consider, as you enter the middle-middle years and beyond, limiting the former to the option of (1) blush and neutral mouth or (2) blush and mouth as fresh coat of paint on door, whereas the latter (I'm referring to hair dye) most often confuses things (unless you're a natural blonde and, with the help of a very-very UES salon, are more or less remaining that way in subtle best taste). Should that appeal to you, then the selection of clothes -- fitted to the body with the help of a tailor -- comes down to color temperature and saturation. Pink skin -- blue veins on wrist -- (hello, Muffy, yes?) = cool hues; golden skin -- green veins on wrist ( Anne Hathaway) = warm hues . Vivid coloring = higher color saturation (hello, again, Muffy and AH); softer coloring, which could very well be indicated by veins on wrist being a combination of blue and green = less saturation (C.Z. Guest & Katharine H.) In summary (a) if your natural coloring is vivid and pink, then choose more saturated cool colors; (b) if your natural coloring is vivid and golden, then select more saturated warm colors; (c) if your natural coloring is soft, then seek the less saturated (perhaps, grayed) versions of the hues that synch with your natural coloring. Get this right and you'll appear leaner and fresher. Should this sound complex, my writing is to blame. An objective friend or salesperson should be able to help you in a trice.

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    1. This is great unless your ancestry is from outside northern Europe.

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    2. This is excellent advice. Thank you.

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  12. I apologize for giving only Eurocentric examples in the entry above. I'm chagrinned by my lapse. The guidelines apply to all people, including dark-skinned people of color. Both Alek Wek and Viola Davis have cool skin undertones (i.e., hints of blue, pink or red) and vivid coloration. Naomi Campbell has warm skin undertones (i.e., hints of gold) and vivid coloration. Halle Berry and Beyonce also have predominantly warm skin undertones, however, their coloration is soft rather than vivid. A person of any race who wishes to wear pink lipstick, or a pink sweater, might consider selecting a cool pink (blue toned) or warm pink (golden toned) depending on the skin's undertone and at a color saturation that is either vivid or soft.

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    1. Thank you for this elaboration. Helpful. When I lived in Africa upon arrival one of the first things that struck me was the colorful clothing most women wore, both among the Somalis of East Africa and especially among the West Africans. This a real eye-opener after my New England upbringing where khaki and (mostly) muted solids reigned... One unforgettable experience was a stroll through the fabric market in Lomé, a seaport in the West Africa nation of Togo. Dozens of women sang in unison as they arranged their colorful “Dutch cloth” for sale... And Halle Berry? There are a million Halle Berrys in Ethiopia.

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    2. Thanks for expanding on this. Now it includes some of my people. Your humbleness and willingness to adjust with grace is especially appreciated - a true New England attitude. We all forget to include others outside of our group, but we are all connected beyond our sweaters and khakis.

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  13. I'm in my 50s now and I have to say I haven't really changed much in my wardrobe tastes since Reagan was in the White House.

    I guess I found what both pleased me and was most comfortable to wear at a fairly early age and I've stuck with it since.

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  14. Speaking as a 57-year old man, what I've found is that I'm leaning much more towards shirts in warmer, softer colours—plum, violet, deep blue, pink, etc. The blues and whites I counted on in my twenties and thirties, and even my forties, now wash me out a bit, and generally need either a suntan or a sweater for vibrancy. I found Muffy's reference to the flannel shirt particularly striking—I, too, have noticed that, instead of looking virile and vibrant as I did wearing them when I was younger, I now look more like Burl Ives. Not my favourite look.

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  15. Dye services (dry cleaners, etc)- opportunity abounds,
    such as with tailoring services.

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  16. This is a topic which has been on my mind recently, but I read the question a little differently. Instead of colors, I thought more of styles. As I recently turned 40, I have felt the need to dress more age-appropriate. To me, that means being overdressed instead of underdressed. Pants, skirts, flats, heels, blouses, blazers and sweaters more frequently. Jeans, sneakers (never a favorite), tees and sweatshirts less frequently, if at all. I have been doing this for a while, actually, and I feel most confident when I am "dressed."

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  17. Never give up on the classics! A blue shirt is a basic for both male & female. A navy cashmere crew neck sweater under a camelhair coat -- these basics look great on all ages. Don't ignore the power of a great herringbone tweed! Unfortunately it's all about fit and cut as one ages, as well as bearing, as so aptly stated. Powerful accessories are also absolutely necessary. Great shoes, purses, briefcases, luggage -- simple but serious jewelry -- absolute. The final accessory is a bright smile, a cordial word, and a twinkle in your eye!

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  18. Speaking as a middle aged man, I, too, find that increasingly I look better in more formal clothes as I get older and that I need to shy away from checks. High quality solids are the answer. Also, long-sleeve shirts, not polos; pants, not shorts.

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  19. I feel this post and I love the comments as well. I’m a man now in my 40’s and have lately been talking myself into buying a pair of patchwork madras pants. I would of thought of it as too eccentric on my 30 year old self. Now in my middle age I feel I could pull off a bit more whimsy.

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