Are these "old lady" clothes?

Speaking about Anne's leave no retail stone unturned thread about Coldwater Creek (, I too feel like certain stores and clothes are designed for a more "mature" clientele. I never shop at Talbot's or Coldwater Creek because in my mind those are for old ladies. But I'm probably missing out on some good pieces because of my bias! Conversely, there can be a bunch of frumptastic Grandma sweaters at places I normally prefer to shop (like Anthro).

I pass by the hospital gift shop every day on my way to the cafeteria and they always have clothes out on a rack (who knows why they sell clothes at the gift shop). One time I actually bought a skirt there ( I've also bought jewelry from the hospital lobby when they have these $5 jewelry trunk sales periodically. So I definitely agree that we should leave no retail stone unturned.

However, I passed this display recently and thought, ugg, old lady fashion. Then I started to wonder, is it really intrinsically for old ladies? What makes me think that--is it the colorblocking? The boxiness? The tunic style? The pattern (even though I love patterns)? And if someone with fantastic arty style like Suz or Diana wore those tops, wouldn't I then think it was cool looking instead of frumpy?

Just wondering what makes clothes too "old" looking and whether it's the clothes themselves or the wearer that determines that--chicken vs. egg? And would you wear these tops?

ETA: Not that I have anything against getting older--I would love to look as stylish as Karen or other YLF members of that age when I get there! In fact, I'm usually trying to dress older than I look. But I just don't want to look frumpy!

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Deborah replied 8 years ago

    Interesting post Natalie:). I find that I have strong associations with respect to clothing. Based on what I see around my town, I would say both those tops could be frumpy. I wouldn't bother to try either of them on, even though I find the black and white one quite attractive and interesting. And the second top actually has a mod vibe and over a slim straight leg pant could look quite cool.. But then if I were to see these on one of our fab forum members (irrespective of their age) my mind could be changed. It is such a fine line and seems to have so much to do with our own taste, style goals, etc.

  • Archer replied 8 years ago

    Hi Natalie - eternal question for me too and I find myself looking at what I have on then picturing some else in it - it usually tells me the answer, and I might change an aspect of the outfit. Mostly I take something off, or out of equation.
    My response is very much like Deborah's. I wouldn't pull either off the rack to try on because they look like they could tend towards frumpy.

  • Vildy replied 8 years ago

    Not my personal taste but I think most stuff is in the wearing - what it's paired with, is it belted or not, what do the accessories look like, what shoe.

    I recently saw some very expensive top online quite similar in fullness and print (almost exact print?) to the one on the left and while colorblocking has gone through a cycle of it being about whole pieces vs. sections, this one could work. I don't like asymmetry for myself. This top got me thinking whether wearing it over some volume (instead of the slim more mod look) could make it look younger in ironic style.

  • replied 8 years ago

    I wholeheartedly agree with everyone else on this issue. I have a definite idea of what constitutes "old lady" clothes. I have the advantage though of seeing it worn in the office every day. What we have decided (and yes we have discussed this), is that their style reflects a combination of the woman wearing the clothes and the clothing choices themselves. It really does seem to be all about attitude and less about the garment itself. I have been told that some of these women dressed exactly the same way 20-25 years ago!! It is their innate style. That means they were dressing like old ladies in the 20's and 30's!!!!

    I understand that people can work in accessories or styling to make a garment seem less "old lady-ish" but why bother?

  • Thistle replied 8 years ago

    I am still trying to figure out frumpy. I wear something and its frumpy but looks great n someone else.

    I think it is about so many things. Your personal style, how it is worn, body shape, personal coloring etc. it is a whole package thing which makes it so difficult.

  • Mochi replied 8 years ago

    Nothing useful to add here, but you made me recall a recent New Yorker cover:


  • shevia replied 8 years ago

    They do look unfab (don't want to say old lady as there are plenty of very fab old ladies!). The colors and print have potential, but something about the a-line cut and the buttons look cheap and designed to disguise rather than flatter someone's figure. I think that is the quality that (along with cheap fabrics and overall poor quality, which I can't totally judge in a picture) makes an item unfab in itself, rather than just unfab on a particular person.

  • Kim replied 8 years ago

    I bet if we gave it to Angie she could find a way to make it look fabulous! (I don't think it's bad to start with, just a bit dated in the styling - long top over longish skirt with a scarf worn high on the neck is kind of an old formula to me).

    I think we should have an "old lady top" challenge and find ways to style this top to make it look great!

    I think this top over some black ponte skinny pants, a pair of killer shooties and a great bag...(And of course the top has to fit perfectly.)

    Or with skinny jeans, the same shooties, a belt and a semi tuck...

    You're next!

  • Archer replied 8 years ago

    What fun: Caveat is that we style the outfit to make them less 'frumpy' in themselves not as they relate to age or body type etc??
    Black and white asymmetrical one: add fitted high back but long in front black waist coat and do up one/some buttons - depending on skinniest section - bust, waist, lower?
    Black slouch pants and high shooties. Bag: squared off, semi brief-case shape (pref hermes) in cobalt blue or beautiful tan leather.
    Red and black one: Add dark emerald green skinnies (matching booties if possible, if not, grey ones, black turtleneck (very fine) underneath top, cross body bag in black, one big silver ring and no other jewellery.
    I admit I'm 52 so I think am qualified to comment because that means I am not an 'old lady' I think.

  • Suz replied 8 years ago

    Great question, Natalie. I sometimes have similar feelings in certain stores or about specific articles of clothing. My own prejudices are about a particular type of hippie/boho style that is worn by women "of a certain age" in my city. (Probably in yours, as well....holdovers from the 60s).

    The items you show are more like what I'd see in local "art gallery" shops. So I wouldn't associate them with "old lady" so much as an arty eclectic style, that yes, might typically be worn by an older woman, partially because she would shop there (and a younger woman wouldn't).

    I think you could style either of those items to look good, though neither one would look very good on me. Maybe the Mod sweater.

    Long winded way of saying that sometimes our associations have to do with context. And what you're really objecting to, perhaps, is not "old lady" style, but a style that is overused to the point of stereotype in the place where you live -- the way, a year or two ago, legging jeans tucked into Uggs were a stereotype on college-age girls in my city, which inevitably prejudiced me against Uggs, whatever the purpose for wearing them! It becomes a look one tires of.

  • Amy replied 8 years ago

    I see those as arty pieces and not old lady pieces. There are also a lot of "old" ladies with truly fantastic style. Perhaps we should be terming it frumpy style rather than old lady style?

    After some reflection, I can see why arty clothes might appeal to an older woman who feels alienated from current trends (skinny pants, sky high heels, denim, etc.) She may wish to wear something interesting and not the same old thing she was wearing 20 years ago. Something that makes a statement, but isn't going to be affected very much by what's hot now and what will be hot 20 minutes from now. There's a certain timelessness to arty pieces.

    I'm attracted to them myself for these very reasons :)

    Mochi, thanks for sharing that Ian Falconer picture. Brilliant and hilarious!!

  • Raisin replied 8 years ago

    Right or wrong, I would say that I would also associate the above clothing with "old lady style". I'm not sure exactly what it is. The combo of bright colors, bold patterns, and boxy, oversized shapes, and usually in stretchy synthetic fabrics. Sorry, I hope that doesn't offend anyone, and I don't think everything that matches that description is frumpy, but I would have thought the same about these clothes as you did, Goldenpig.

  • Isis replied 8 years ago

    Let's not disparage old ladies; they are as varied as anyone I think.

    Mochi, LOVE you NYorker cover! The description by the artist is very interesting too, and I love the way he embraces his grandmother and Chanel!

  • Suz replied 8 years ago

    Amy said: "After some reflection, I can see why arty clothes might appeal to an older woman who feels alienated from current trends (skinny pants, sky high heels, denim, etc.) She may wish to wear something interesting and not the same old thing she was wearing 20 years ago. Something that makes a statement, but isn't going to be affected very much by what's hot now and what will be hot 20 minutes from now. There's a certain timelessness to arty pieces."

    Brilliant. I agree, Amy.

    And Mochi - I meant to mention that fab cartoon! Great link!

  • JAileen replied 8 years ago

    Mochi, LOVE the New Yorker cover! Thanks!

    I feel qualified to speak to this issue as a (nearly) old lady. I think what happens is you find something in another time that works and is cute and you stick with it. And then you find out it is awful! This happened to me with funky looking jumpers. Suddenly I found instead of funky, I looked like I belonged to a religious sect! I couldn't get rid of those jumpers fast enough. Whew! Now I'm rethinking long skirts with boots. I think the fit and other items in the outfit have to be perfect otherwise it has the potential to be very frumpy.

    Genuinely old ladies, such as my mother's generation, AKA the greatest generation, having grown up during the Depression, do not waste anything. Just because something is slightly out of date, doesn't mean it isn't still serviceable, especially if it still fits.

  • cciele replied 8 years ago

    Amy -- Word.

  • Echo replied 8 years ago

    JAileen has a great point that doesn't only apply to "older" people. I think it is easy for anyone to get stuck in a style rut with hairstyles or clothing or shoes or anything else that they once found stylish and great, but then they did not revisit it for too many years and in the meantime it becomes dated.

    But I also agree that it has more to do with combinations and outfits than it does with certain pieces. There are things I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole that other women wear and look GREAT in. It is sometimes hard to believe that something that looks so awful on the rack can look so stylish and great on the right person with the right style.

    And part of it comes down to leaving no retail store unturned and possibly no style of clothing unturned. Perhaps there are some things we are all ignoring because of a preconceived notion we have on it hanging on the rack?

  • Aziraphale replied 8 years ago

    Hahahaha! Mochi, that link is hilarious.

    Much as I think the term "old lady clothes" is problematic, I do see what you're saying about the outfit in that picture you snapped, GP. It could easily be a little frumpy.

  • Aida replied 8 years ago

    I'd happily wear the tunic on the right if it was the right fit for me. I'd style it differently, of course: skinny black pants, pumps (oooh maybe snakeskin!) and a big oversized watch. Maybe a moto. Done and done! I also see both of those as arty pieces.

  • bionda replied 8 years ago

    What Aida said. I'd wear the black and red tunic styled much as she would. And, btw, I am an "old lady". :-)

  • DonnaF replied 8 years ago

    One way I identify *old lady* clothing is their cut: Ginormous! Huge, huge armholes even for my fat arms, darts that hit my ribcage even though my girls are set somewhat low even in the best of bras, and billowing, baggy bottoms. I can become seduced by catalog photos since I don't see the pinning in the back, and have been known to be attracted to stuff in the catalogs of J.Jill, Coldwater Creek, Chicos, and Lands End. I have to keep reminding myself that even if the clothing technically fits, 99% of the time it won't fit like a *10* and actually be flattering.

    Old lady clothing is a visor cap worn with either a velour *running suit* or one of those running suits with appliques on the jacket and Easy Spirit or similar sneakers, preferably with velcro and not tied. Years ago, my daughter and I saw a woman on the street dressed like that and wondered what my mom was doing in that neighborhood -- until we just realized the woman was wearing *that* uniform, lol.

    And guys? They wear those Hawaiian shirts to cover their guts.

  • Adelfa replied 8 years ago

    I wonder what looks we'll be sporting in 20, 30, or 40 years, and if we'll look frumpy to the young set! My 89 year old aunt looks completely gorgeous in simple separates and a great semi-precious stone jewelry collection.

    A lovely colleague of mine mentioned how beautiful Charlize Theron is, in the hearing of her 9 year old son. He informed his mother that she is not beautiful AT ALL, and mama asked why.

    "Because she's OLD!!!"

  • Claudia replied 8 years ago

    What Isis and Amy wrote.

  • goldenpig replied 8 years ago

    Hopefully I haven't offended you all with the term "old lady"...maybe frumpy or too mature might be better terms. I usually am trying to dress older than I look so I have nothing against older women, just trying to understand my bias against these types of clothes. I could definitely see Aida and Blonda rocking the tunic as they described. And Suz and Amy are right, it does have an "arty" style. Maybe it's all in the context. If I saw it as a YLF WIW or hanging on a mannequin at Anthro then I would probably have a totally different reaction than seeing it there in a hospital gift shop or if it were in the window of a Chico's or Talbot's. I still don't think I'd reach for these tops though--I am not into boxy waist-surrender looks for myself.

    Mochi, that New Yorker cover is hilarious!

  • ManidipaM replied 8 years ago

    Mochi, that is HILARIOUS! Thank you :-D

    Natalie, I'd probably happily wear either top myself --- well, the mod one in a particularly adventurous/experimental mood, since blocky is not my usual style. I can't attest to the results I'd achieve, but I do suspect a lot of it is in context and styling, as others have said. for instance, the way that scarf is draped on the tunic... particularly dated unless worn by someone undeniably young and insouciant.

  • Claudia replied 8 years ago

    Haven't been in Chico's but have seen some nice things posted on YLF by members. But I do have some non-boxy wardrobe favorites from Talbots. There are others on this forum that have had positive results shopping at Talbots, and Angie has taken clients there.

    I also have some great, arty, classic and trendy items collected from JJill over the years. ;-)

  • rachylou replied 8 years ago

    Hmm. Excellent question.

    Those don't strike me as old lady. Arty. Often worn by older ladies. But not necessarily frumpy. However, plenty of people do wear those kinds of things in a frumpy way. I think it usually has to do with throwing the one piece on over whatever, to try and liven things up. Style, however, is a comprehensive endeavor.

    I think of old lady clothes as looking like scrubs. You live in a senior home and you start wearing what the attendants wear. A lot of polyester peach and teal, or dusky pink and baby blue.

    Re. clothing in hospital shops: It's very helpful actually. One always brings the wrong things or has nothing because the stay was unplanned or is getting really really bored...

    DonnaF... rofl!

  • harryom87 replied 8 years ago

    What is question? I can not understand this question.

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