THE BLOG
09/09/2014 08:11 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

3 Destructive Myths About Fashion For Older Women

There's something seriously wrong with the way that we look at fashion over 60, when a quick Google search for "fashion for older women" returns a series of sites that reinforce the most common myths and stereotypes about aging. It seems like society believes that being fashionable after 60 means "looking younger," "buying designer brands," or "focusing on how we feel, not how we look".

Having had an opportunity to work on a series of fashion videos for women over 60, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I can't help but wonder why we keep fixating on generalities, instead of addressing the fashion challenges and opportunities that older women face head on.

Let's have a quick look at some of the common myths about fashion for older women. Then, I'll explain why I think we need a different approach.

Myth 1: Being Fashionable After 60 Requires Expensive Designer Clothes

The highest ranked site in Google for "fashion for older women" is a Pinterest board, put together by a thoughtful young woman, for her grandmother, who she says has no sense of style. Every single woman in the photos is a model, wearing designer clothes.

When I met with fashion expert, Melanie Payge, I quickly learned that being fashionable doesn't have to be expensive. You also don't need to look like a model. The key to looking your best in your 60s is applying the rules of technical dressing - in other words, choosing clothes that perfectly fit your body type and personality.

Myth 2: Looking Fashionable After 60 = Trying to Look Younger

The second link takes you to an article by Oprah called "Fashion Tips to Look Younger." It highlights, in detail, the 12 fashion mistakes that women make that prevent them from looking younger. As if being "older" is somehow antithetical to being "fashionable." The article does actually offer several helpful suggestions, but, the "anti-aging" frame ruins the whole thing.

What's the alternative? We need fashion experts who are honest with us about how to deal with our aging bodies, without being condescending or asking us to "look younger." We need an approach that lets us express our personalities, while helping us to understand how to apply the rules of dressing well to choose the right cuts, colors and accessories for our bodies.

Myth 3: It Only Matters How You "Feel" After 60

The third result in Google is an e-commerce site; so, let's skip right on to number four. This site is all about dressing your "truth." This involves discovering your "body type," by exploring your energy patterns. The categories all have cheerful names, like "Bright and Animated (Air)" or "Subtle and Soft (Water)". There's a problem though. They don't actually tell you what a "Subtle and Soft" body actually looks like.

There's a larger point here. Many women in their 60s, perhaps partially due to a lack of good information, stop thinking about how they look altogether and focus on how they "feel". They often say that they've "earned the right" to wear whatever they want. Or that, they "don't have anyone to impress, so, why bother?"

In one sense, I completely support these women in their desire to be individuals. Women of all ages struggle with their body image, self-confidence and independence. At the same time, I disagree with the assumption that older women shouldn't care what they look like, by default. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best in your 50s, 60s and 70s. And, to look your best, it helps to understand a few timeless style principles.

We Need an Honest Approach to Fashion for Older Women

A little further down the search results list, is my community, Sixty and Me. We approach fashion a little differently. We try to empower older women, in every aspect of their lives. From the perspective of fashion, this means giving women over 60 the information that they need to make informed decisions.

We want women over 60 to be proud of their bodies and we want them to celebrate their personal sense of style. At the same time, we don't shy away from addressing common concerns that the women in our community have. For example, one of our recent articles discusses dressing for your body type after 60. Another highlights common fashion faux pas that many older women make. These are not mistakes because they make you look older -- they just make you look worse.

Now, I can already hear many of you responding that the very concept of "fashion faux pas for older women" is ridiculous. After all, shouldn't we all be accepted for who we are? Aren't we old enough to just not care what people think? If you feel this way, that's totally ok. But, don't expect the rest of us to feel the same. Let's not forget that 60 today is not what it was a generation ago. Women over 60 today are living active lives. Many of us are still working. Others are dating again after a divorce or the loss of a spouse. For those of us that want to look and feel out best, we want specific advice, not generalities. We want the truth, not more fashion myths.

Clothes are, of course, only a small reflection of who we are as older women. At the same time, we have every right to be seen (and to want to be seen) after 60. And, if we are not going to be "invisible," why not present our best possible image to the world? Why not embrace our age, while looking fabulous?

What do you think? Do you still care about fashion in your 50s, 60s or 70s? Or, do prefer to wear what feels good, regardless of what other people think? Please let us know in the comments.

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