What To Wear Over 50

A little eyeshadow gives a pink wink

A little eyeshadow

If you Google ‘what to wear over 50 years old’, there are an even 12,000,000 results. That’s 12 MILLLLLL-YUN! I’m sure you see the articles, mostly written for women, as you stand in the check out line at the grocery stores reading magazine covers, or looking through your online news articles. Yes, it’s news that women shouldn’t wear this or that as they age or shouldn’t sport eye shadow or certain lipstick colors. Guys you are not supposed to show off your sagging boney knees, any more than the women, by wearing shorts during those 100 degree August days while playing through eighteen holes. And, forget the swim suit!

I started reading these articles when I stopped coloring my hair way back in 2011. Looking for a makeup palette to complement my grey hair, I noticed articles on what to wear for women over 50 were in long supply. All were geared toward looking more youthful. Although I was in the process of eschewing our societal youth culture by uncovering my grey locks, I eagerly hopped on this train chugging down the track of anti-aging. I saw them as helpful, how-to articles.

It took me a while to catch on — 2011 was five years ago. I’m sometimes a slow learner. Then it clicked this summer when a well-meaning friend cautioned me about staying out in the heat too long. Working on my property expanding my gardens is a passion for me. Not to be deterred by ninety degree days with ninety something humidity, I don my sweatbands, mosquito spray and sunscreen, showing my sagging boney knees in a pair of shorts and my flabby upper arms in a sleeveless tee, while arming myself with Gatorade and water. I take to the land. When my same-age-as-me friend suggested I was getting old and couldn’t stand up to the heat and exercise, I was more than a little annoyed. Yes, I thought, I am aging. What’s the big deal? I’ve been aging from the day I was born.

It was here I realized ageism lies subtly at the underbelly of these articles. We tend to swallow whole this myth of things we should and shouldn’t do as we age — me included — which is exactly what leads to ageism in our society. We fall into the trap of doing everything we can to look youthful while at the same time accepting physical limitations due to age. For starters, we don’t all age on the same timetable. We don’t turn 60 with a birthday present of more wrinkles or less stamina.

Chutzpah aside, I know I don’t have the stamina I once did. Despite the Gatorade and gallon of water, I cannot keep going without feeling washed out later in the day. However, I can do what I used to do, just not as long as I used to do it. Still physically fit, aging is not a reason to stop an activity altogether. That said, I began to question the wisdom of not wearing eyeshadow, sleeveless tops or shorts.

The articles themselves are sometimes silly. One says don’t wear short skirts (those knees again) while another says long skirts are aging, making me look like granny (I am granny!). Cover your wrinkled neck with scarves or turtle necks but don’t button your blouse up to the last button —show some cleavage. That’s apparently peeks of bosom in-between the scarf hanging around your neck. Long sleeves are also preferred. After all they cover those wrinkly elbows and flabby upper arms. The bottom line of these articles is not so much how to look good as you age; it’s more like how to hide the fact that you are aging. They imply aging is ugly — better cover it up. If we don’t want to be marginalized as we age, we must cease buying into the idea of cutting back, taking it easy, stopping loved activities altogether and accepting society’s image of what is age appropriate and what is not.

I was further reminded of this when Martin brought home Motorcyclist magazine touting a story of ninety-year-old Erv Daley still riding his motorcycle up to 5,000 miles per year in-between RV stops. For anyone who rides a motorcycle they know 5,000 miles is a lot of miles no matter what your age. Erv has logged 145,000 miles since buying this bike new!  After reading Erv’s story, one cannot help but notice his attitude. It’s not about slowing down as we age. It’s about continuing to do what we love as we age, despite the age.  And how we look be damned!

What not to wear over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 has less to do with eyeshadow emphasizing the creases of aging eyes or shorts showing off boney sagging knees and more to do with society’s view of aging as a time to slow down, cover up and perhaps even disappear from the rest of the world’s view altogether. What I’ve decided I’m not wearing over 50 is acceptance of a dubious deprecation, subtle or not, about my age and aging. Who decides what is appropriate for me anyway? Me! I made it this far; I think I have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t wear and what I am capable of doing physically and mentally.

As my husband often quips, “My body will tell me when I can’t do it anymore.” I think he’s right. Besides, I like my pink eyeshadow.

21 comments on “What To Wear Over 50

  1. Lol..My Aunt Edna mowed her own lawn until she was 97. At 94 she climbed up on a chair to take her kitchen curtains down to wash them and climbed back up to hang them. She always said she didn’t want to live to be 100. A week before her 100th birthday she passed while she slept. Now saying that, at 64 I no longer wear stilettos. Lol my balance sucks. Wear your skirts the length that makes you feel good. Wear the eyeshadow that makes you feel beautiful. LIVE


  2. I was in Greece last week, volunteering at a refugee camp. The residents called me “Grandmother” and “Higher Sister”. The Afghan culture honors their elders. All week long I wore gray yoga pants, a white Do Your Part T-shirt and no makeup. I felt beautiful!


  3. I completely agree with you, Kathy, passionately! Age is a number, not a definition of who you are or what you are. Like my dear, Grandmother used to say when someone complained about another birthday coming around, “Well, it beats the alternative.” 😉


  4. I so agree! Wear what you feel comfortable in! I have always been a conservative dresser & still am! In sunny Florida we are definitely not giving up on shorts & no sleeves. Yes, my bony arms are a little flabby & legs have some cellulite but I’m still wearing a bikini because I am comfortable! I am 67 but mentally feel like 30, ENJOY LIFE……ALL!


  5. I always thought a women with grey hair and a nice tan looked great in bright colored beach or resort wear. Now at 67, I thought of letting my grey grow out and when I said this to my hairdresser, she said no way I was too young to be grey.
    So the color is still on, but there is always next summer…..


    • Ginny, I just had to reply to your comment about your hairdresser. Mine said the same exact thing when I announced going grey at 59. Who knows maybe they are taught to say that. I figured coloring my hair was money in the bank for her and her salon owner so, of course, she was against it. I also decided it was my decision, my life and my money. I found a stylist who was ok with helping me go grey and also got a bonus…I get a better hair cut. I’ve never regretted it! Here’s to next summer. K


  6. One of the joys of Retirement is NOT having to worry about what we wear any more. I still haven’t had the courage to shave the side of my head and dye my hair purple. It’s just good to know that I could if I wanted to!
    A great post on ageism Kathy. I wonder if I could link to it for a “round-up” post that I am writing for International Day of Older People on October 1, the theme of which is “Take a stand against Ageism”? One of the ways of taking that stand will be showing that yes, quite a few of us oldies do know our way round technology and the internet.


  7. On your last comment, you got that right! I really enjoy reading your blog. I retired from teaching last year and your blog always gives me a thoughtful perspective to think about. (I started going grey in my late 20’s and I’m pretty tired of it! I do “low lights” in three different colors to mix into my grey/white hair. Much more fun for me!)


  8. Good post again Kathy. I’ve thought about these issues for some time. One thing I refuse to do (at least not yet) is resort to wearing athletic shoes everywhere I go like so many do at even my age (58). My 88 year old aunt is still wearing cute shoes. She loves fashion and always has. She is my role model.

    I’m experimenting with a black and white wardrobe with pops of color – usually turquoise or red. THIS IS ME!! And it goes with my new white hair. I love black and white polka dots and I’m wearing them! I’m also wearing a lot of my grandmother’s costume jewelry which I think is beautiful and I don’t care if it is in “style”. J

    Renee in Laurens!


    • I wear athletic shoes a LOT – because they keep me moving with joy. I have some feet issues that require orthotics – urg! From hiking and biking up hills. BUT, now that I am retired, I’m looking for some cuter shoes to wear to more leisurely events. I’m 66 in about a week. And right now am at the Oregon Coast taking long walks in my athletic shoes, and popping them into my little backpack so that I can take time in the amazing waves. Love Kathy’s blog – the best!


  9. I give a hot damn about how I look but I don’t give a hot damn about what other people say I should wear. Shorts, short skirts, ankle boots, skinny distressed jeans and yes eyeshadow but brown for me thanks 😉
    I am so over the younger generation deciding that our generation is old and should all be off to the old people’s farm and many but not all of ‘those’ articles are by younger women.
    I don’t want to look like Iris Apfel but kudos to her and her ilk for wearing what pleases them. She has earned the right. So have we.


  10. Great post, Kathy. My 85-year-old mother wears eyeshadow, shorter skirts, sleeveless tops and low necklines. Guess she didn’t get the “What Not to Wear” memo. Regardless, she always looks gorgeous! She also recently signed up for Zumba lessons, as well as a calligraphy course. For me, my mom is a role model of how to live your life in your 80’s (as are the many other women described above by your readers). Thanks for sharing this important post.


    • Your mom is a great role model for any woman! I love all the stories from readers about the women in their lives who are continuing to live as they want to and put ageism aside. They are my heroines. K


  11. Perhaps the clothing question hearkens back to our first years breaking trail in the workplace. It’s not about eyeshadow or sagging knees, it’s about dignity and self respect. We knew how easily women were put into a little box of restricted roles; we had to figure out how to send out a different signal by behavior, by appearance. How, now, do we dress attractively as older women and send an accurate message about who we are? Not as younger women , but as capable, confident, multi-dimensional human beings.


    • Pat, Thank you for your insight. Yes, I remember donning the female version of the tie with my blouses and suits! Maybe that’s why I chafe against any set of restrictive rules for dress. At this stage of my life, I’m doing what I want to do, not what an arbitrary rule-maker comes up with. K


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