Clothes, age and people’s perception of you: does it matter?

I’m not bragging, but I look younger than I am (thanks, parents, for great genes!), and depending on what I am wearing, and how my hair and makeup is done, people tend to age me anywhere between early twenties to mid-thirties.

I’m actually thirty-six, and I don’t mind being thought of as younger than I am, but it does get old being carded in shops that have a ‘challenge 25’ policy for checking ID when I’m buying alcohol. That’s when the cashier can ask for ID if they think you’re under 25, if you don’t know what ‘challenge 25’ is (I just realised I have readers who aren’t in the UK). This happens in bars too, and with the legal problems that can come with serving underage people, most of the ones I go to are really diligent about checking ID even if you’re a regular.

And most of the ID-checking incidents have been when I’ve been wearing a hoodie, jeans and trainers, with my hair scraped back into a ponytail and zero makeup on. The days I’ve been in full corporate regalia (suit, or smart dress with a jacket and my full ‘work face’ of makeup on) I haven’t been asked for ID.

So it’s pretty obvious to me, from my own experience, that the way you dress can really influence how old people think you are. How should I be dressing, then, if I don’t look my age? Can clothes make people take you more seriously, regardless of how old you actually are? Does it even matter?

There are rafts of articles out there on ‘what not to wear after *insert age here*’. This isn’t going to turn into one of those. I am a personal stylist and image consultant by trade, and although I am duty-bound to gently steer people away from Horrible Fashion Mistakes, age lines are starting to blur and what was once seen as a huge ‘omg no’ at age 25 can still work at age 30 or beyond. Just because you’ve hit a certain age doesn’t mean that you need to junk everything you own, and there are a lot of people who do look younger than they are and can get away with wearing things that were traditionally the preserve of the twenty-something while they are in their thirties.

There are, however, certain things that will ‘de-age’ you no matter how old you look and make people think you’re way, way younger than you are. Hoodies, actually, are one of these items, and I think mine will be gently but firmly ejected from my wardrobe when I’m done with this post.

Some items of clothing work across the decades – well-fitting jeans will forever be a staple no matter how old you are, although as the body ages and changes shape, the cut of the jean, the denim colour and the fit become more important. Low-risers, very light denim and artful rips are best left to those in their younger years. High waists and clean, crisp dark denim works better for those that are older – and dark denim looks much smarter.

Because of the work I do, the image I portray to people outside of the confines of my house is important to me. If I’m heading to meet a client, it’s usually dark jeans, a well-fitting solid coloured t-shirt or top and a blazer, with boots, sandals or flats depending on the weather, and some jewellery. I want people to look at me and think ‘she looks smart, she’s a savvy, self-made businesswoman’. I don’t want people to think I’m young, just out of university and have no idea what I’m doing. Looking young really does have its disadvantages sometimes, but I’ve found that if I’m wearing sharply tailored jackets, power heels and carrying a good, quality handbag, people tend to assume that I am at least close to my age – but quite frankly, as long as they think I’m over thirty, that will do!

If you don’t care how people perceive you, you can actually wear whatever you like. But in the world we live in, be prepared for snap judgements and assumptions – people can be cruel, and a lot of the cruelty is around how people look and what they wear. A thick skin is necessary in this day and age, where ‘shaming’ seems to be a trend and people don’t care if feelings are hurt as long as they can get a reaction on social media.

My aim as a stylist and image consultant is to help people feel good about themselves and what they wear. Styling is different to image consulting, because styling is more about what suits someone’s body shape and skin tone, and what fits them and their lifestyle. Image consulting is more focused – creating an image, a perception, usually for professional purposes. Think of some of the more ‘out there’ celebrities – I’d bet money that even the most flamboyant of pop stars mooches about the house in manky old yoga pants and a holey t-shirt, but they would never let their fans see that because it’s not part of their image. That’s why photos of celebrities looking less than polished are always labelled as ‘shocking’ in the trashier magazines. Everyone looks ‘shocking’ when they’ve just come from a workout. Show me someone who doesn’t look like a slightly exhausted beetroot when they’ve just been through kettlebell hell, magazines. It’s not ‘shocking’, it’s called ‘being human’.

So, does this all matter? It’s really down to personal opinion. For me, my image matters – I want people to view me in a certain way, at least professionally, so I dress in a certain way when I’m working. Casually, I wear pretty much what I like (you guys have seen my casual outfits on here). I have clients who do the same – one image for their professional life, one for their personal life. But equally, I have friends who couldn’t care less what people thought of them, either at work or at home, and I do admire them for having the confidence to go to work wearing bunny socks or a novelty tie. It’s really all about how you feel, and what you want from your wardrobe. As long as it fits and suits you, that’s really, in the end, what matters most.



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