Why is it that everyone wants to be something they’re not? Our youth-obsessed culture is constantly advising women on how to appear younger… but what about those of us who actually want to appear older?
I graduated college and started working full-time at age 20, so it was very important to me that how I dressed didn’t give away that I was younger than some of the office interns. I wasn’t sure how to build my wardrobe, but I did know that avoiding revealing clothing and neon colors was probably a good start. (Hearing a friend in a management position complain about her own intern whose interpretation of business professional was wearing a blazer over a low-cut bodycon dress helped my thought process, too.)
Women in their twenties often want to look more mature for many reasons: to be taken more seriously at work, to make a good impression on a potential landlord, or even just to feel more confident in their style. The “wear whatever you want” fashion landscape of the 2020s doesn’t exactly help with that. So if you look in the mirror and wonder why your outfit doesn’t seem put together, or are annoyed by people assuming you’re years younger than you really are, keep reading to find out what the culprits in your wardrobe could be.
1. Mini Skirts
Mini skirts are having a moment right now, especially among fans of retro fashion, but minis have been a style that screams “YOUTH!” since their inception in the 1960s. London-based designer Mary Quant popularized the mini skirt as part of the ‘60s counterculture movement that celebrated hedonism and rebellion.
Besides, there’s nothing less confidence-inducing than having to tug down your skirt all day. Try switching to sleek midi or maxi skirts paired with a block heel for a more sophisticated look. You may find they’re surprisingly comfy, too!
Petite women are often told they can’t wear longer-length skirts, but this is simply not true. Longer hemlines can elongate your entire silhouette and allow you to wear higher heels than you could with a mini skirt (at the risk of making bare legs the focus of your outfit). If printed skirts are your jam, opt for a small print or a print that draws the eye vertically, rather than horizontally, advises 5’2” style blogger Chelsey of Venti Fashion.
2. T-Shirts (Especially Graphic Tees)
There is certainly a time and a place for t-shirts, but they automatically dress down whatever they’re paired with. These days, many offices are casual enough to allow a t-shirt paired with slacks or a skirt – but you may end up looking like a college freshman studying at the coffee shop instead of a career woman. If you’re someone whose everyday uniform includes a tee, it’s time to break out of that rut by switching to a collared button-down.
A plain white button-down shirt like this budget-friendly option from Zara is something every woman needs in her closet. Perfect for layering or as a stand-alone top, once you find one you love, your outfits will fall into place. If you’re busty and find your shirt gapping between the buttons, try some trusty Fashion Tape to ensure everything is closed up.
Collared shirts aren’t just for the office, either. In the heat of summer, linen button-downs can keep you even cooler than t-shirts, and let everyone at the Fourth of July BBQ know that you’re the main character.
3. Ripped Skinny Jeans
Ripped jeans: the fastest way to elicit a wisecrack from anyone in the generation above you. We all know that ripped skinny jeans can run the gamut from light distressing to having your entire thigh exposed, but if you’re trying to build an outfit that exudes maturity and sophistication, it’s best to skip anything that comes with rips or tears.
These days, there are plenty of great pants options for all body types and builds. Work pants from Aritzia are having a moment and come in all kinds of colors, styles, and lengths. Many women, including myself, hate shelling out more than $20 for a piece of clothing, but when it comes to well-fitting pants, the investment is worth it to avoid the cycle of buying fast fashion pieces that never fit or look right.
4. Peter Pan Collars and Other Too-Cute Details
If you can envision a toddler wearing it… it’s probably best to skip it, especially if you find people assume you’re younger than you are. Peter Pan collars, shirts with bow detailing, and chunky cable-knit cardigans are no-nos. Instead, reach for a turtleneck sweater, a button-down, or other basic top that you can enhance with classic jewelry and/or a blazer.
Bright colors and whimsical patterns can age you down as well. If you’re struggling with dressing the part of a sophisticated woman, focus on neutral colors like black, white, and tan and slowly work pops of color back into your wardrobe. Fashion blogger Dearly Bethany is a great example of a petite woman who uses a lot of neutral and monochrome looks without ever looking boring.
5. Headbands and Hairbows
Headbands like the ubiquitous Lele Sadoughi are everywhere, as are plenty of #hairspo posts on Instagram featuring sweet hair accessories like bows. But for young professional women, these hair accessories can make you look like you just took your final exam at Constance Billiard. Instead of relying on hair accessories, focus on mastering quick hairstyles that you don’t need to re-do throughout the day, like a sleek bun or low-effort heatless curls.
6. Round-Toe Shoes
Picking the right shoes is an underrated way to complete your outfit and elongate your frame.
“I always avoid round-toe flats,” a petite friend who works in Washington, D.C., tells me. “I feel like they make me look like a kid. Flats with a slight point somehow feel more elegant to me.”
Somehow, round-toe shoes can make you look both younger and frumpier at the same time. Luckily, pointed-toe flats and heels come in all colors and sizes. San Francisco-based Birdies is a great place to get inspired by all the styles of pointed-toe flats you could ever want.
Well-intentioned people may tell you to be thankful that you look younger than you are, but they’re missing the point. I think Dearly Bethany hits the nail on the head in this video where she addresses why women want to appear, well, womanly.
“If you’ve ever been called cute or adorable, and it was meant as a compliment but it just kind of felt weird… It didn’t feel good, didn’t sit right. That’s because most women don’t necessarily want to be cute like a five-year-old or like Minnie Mouse,” Bethany says. “They want to be desirable, sophisticated, and respected.”
With that in mind, go forth and create a wardrobe that makes you feel desirable, sophisticated, respected, and more!
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