When I was a junior in high school, the incoming freshmen thought I was a teacher. I was not yet 14, but wore dresses (or skirts), jackets, and real shoes everyday. I carried a real purse and a structured book bag, wore makeup, and carried myself as if I were an adult. (Sometimes, I’d have lunch in San Francisco with a friend in college, order a glass of wine, and not even be carded.) I felt so grown up in my adult outfits and wanted nothing to do with young clothes. When a freshman was surprised to see me in a student activity, I felt uncomfortable and began wearing jeans and tops more often. (It was certainly easier to change for water ballet and dance.)
Shortly after her 25th birthday, my roommate decided to stop wearing short skirts. I was purging my closet of several pieces I no longer wore and offered them to her. “No thanks,” she responded. “I want my skirts to be no higher than 2 to 3″ above my knee. Short skirts just feel uncomfortable now. I’m getting married and I want to look like a woman.”
At 25 she wanted adult clothes, not young clothes. I was a bit nonplussed. As a young child of four, I had first noticed that women wore different clothes. They even wore dresses that fit at the waist! (Those itched me.) In old movies, there was a difference between what adults and those under 18 wore but the world had changed and women wore what they pleased. And it pleased my roommate to dress like an adult woman. I felt intrigued and decided that perhaps I would wear adult clothes when I reached 25.
Today, adult women and teen girls wear similar clothing all of the time: Tees and cute tops, jeans, cardis, workout (yoga) wear, sneakers/trainers, jean jackets, short and/or long skirts, cute dresses, flip flops, etc. A few months ago, I discovered the television program, Burn Notice and was struck by Fiona’s outfits. They’re beautiful and fun and most are suitable for any teen girl as well as 37 year-old Anwar or even a 57 year old woman with a slender body. Ms. Anwar’s wardrobe was chock full of expensive designer pieces. But similar designs are available at Urban Outfitters, Torrid, Forever 21, and every other trendy shop in any mall. Quality has become the difference between adult clothes and young clothes.
Does it matter? Ought there be a difference? At least sometimes? Each woman must decide based on her life.
A dress code memo circulated in the early Summer each year at my last law firm. Women were reminded not to wear spandex, flip flops, jeans, and spaghetti straps. Each year, those very garments slowly crept back into the firm. I was one of those who read the memo, determined I was not guilty of wearing the forbidden garments, and tossed it in the recycling bin.
One Summer afternoon, I was asked to join a working meeting. It was rather warm so I left my jacket hanging from the back of my chair and took the elevator to the conference room/reception level. When I entered the floor, I found myself in a throng of suited attorneys and other visitors. Wearing a cute cotton top, cute trousers, and thong sandals (not flip flops), I was in compliance with the dress code (jackets were only required for court and client meetings). But in the midst of all those suits, I felt like a child at an adult-only cocktail party. How I wished I had worn my jacket. It didn’t matter one bit that there were other women in the working meeting dressed as I. All that mattered was that I felt like a child.
If my job were to blow up cars and be a sniper (which just might be cool), a cute top, cute trousers, and thong sandals might be appropriate (though stouter shoes would make running away easier). When I worked in law, the appropriate outfit was one in which I was seen as a peer; after that day, I never left my seat without my jacket and stopped wearing thong sandals to work. If I were a teacher, appropriate would be an outfit that expressed authority (without severity) and indicated that becoming an adult was a great goal. I’d want my students to desire to be like me.
So perhaps the issue isn’t young clothes vs. adult clothes. Perhaps the issue is learning to dress appropriately for the various functions in our lives. For casual occasions, I might wear an outfit similar to this one (with longer shorts) but I wouldn’t wear it to work in a law firm. Neither would I wear it to church or on non-casual occasions.
It’s no longer the 1960’s or earlier. We don’t have the same societal rules and the rules we do have, such as “business casual,” don’t really help. They encourage us to wear these spandex pants today because they’re so comfortable, or slip into these flip flops (which are leather so almost real shoes) because they’re right here and easy to put on. But we can learn what is appropriate for our lives and when wearing young clothes isn’t a good idea.