Features — 09 August 2019
Ask the experts: How to (finally) dress like an adult

By Eric Barton

City & Shore Magazine

Trusty is a fine word to describe the vintage-looking New Balance 410s. They’re gray and blue, a bit of red trim, made from canvas that’s as comfortable as a pair of well-worn slippers. They’ve been to birthday parties and rehearsal dinners and earned respect from sneaker heads who have entire closets just for tennis shoes.

So they seemed like the exact thing to wear when the ultra-trendy Time Out Market food hall opened in Miami not long ago. With a fine pair of jeans and an untucked dress shirt, the idea was that the New Balance 410s would fit right in with the cool kids.

Well, it turns out the cool kids all got a very different memo. Looking around the crowd, there wasn’t another pair of sneaks anywhere. Women were largely in LBDs and colorful slinky dresses. The men had jackets and pants – not a spot of canvas on any of their shoes.

It was at that moment when it became clear that perhaps, finally, it was time for a wardrobe update. If making it to middle age wasn’t indication enough, looking around at that Miami Beach crowd was a fashion wake-up call.

But how does one go about finally dressing more like an adult? And is it possible to look more your age without also totally losing your style? We asked the experts – and it turns out yes, you can totally pull off finally dressing better – without losing your individual style.

Hold on to Who You Are

Perhaps no store in South Florida has a longer history of helping people up their style than Maus & Hoffman, with its Las Olas storefront opening in 1940. Tom Maus has been there for nearly half of its history, clocking in at 34 years at the store and now its vice president. And through it all, he’s seen a decided trend in people battling their age.

“Men especially are resistant to think about their wardrobe,” Maus says. “They graduate from high school or college and maintain that same look.”

Sometimes they maintain that look for far too long, it turns out. When asked about those canvas New Balance sneaks, Maus had a quick answer: “Yeah, don’t do that.”

Giving up the old kicks doesn’t mean sacrificing your style, Maus says. Trade in the canvas for leather on what can still be a more casual sneaker-style shoe. Similarly, the old humorous T-shirts that fill the closets of the younger set should largely be replaced as time passes on – at least in public – with more solid colors.

Then add jackets to your wardrobe. They can even be lighter-weight ones like cotton or wool and linen blends, which go nicely over a good pair of jeans and even a T-shirt. “A jacket is the first thing to add when you’re dressing more adult, because a jacket can be added to what you already wear,” Maus says.

The jackets and upgraded shoes are a fine start, but now you’ll need to start thinking about the deeper recesses of your closet.

The Five-Year Wardrobe Clock

As a full-time personal stylist for the past 12 years, Anne Morrissey has seen lots of clients, men and women, who have simply forgotten or fought off looking their age. Sometimes it’s because they have no time to think about their clothes, while others just don’t know how.

“People who call me are not stylish people by nature,” says Morrissey, who’s based in Fort Lauderdale. “They may be extremely successful in all facets of their lives, but their wardrobe is just something they struggle with.”

After a face-to-face meeting with locals or a Skype call with clients out of the area, Morrissey will put items on hold for them to try on at retail stores. Then she creates a book of outfits that mixes and matches the items to help understand how they all go together.

One of the rules she suggests is to think about wardrobe updates every five years, so that your clothes keep up with your age. “We evolve as we get older, and if we don’t keep up with it, we start to look ridiculous,” she says. “People in their 50s trying to look like they are in their 20s, it’s tragic.”

To help clients’ wardrobes catch up with their age, Morrissey starts with a compound question: “Who are you now, and how do you want to show up?” Meaning, perhaps you’re currently in middle-management but aspire upwards – your clothes ought to reflect the next step. Perhaps you simply want to look sexier or more polished or more in control – your clothes can help you achieve any of those, Morrissey says.

Before going to an event or a restaurant or pretty much anywhere, Morrissey suggests Googling the location and perusing the photos to figure out what people are wearing. Showing up looking appropriate for the place, and for your age, will change everything, she says.

After a wardrobe update, Morrissey says clients will often tell her that they feel more confident and that people treat them with more respect. “The effort is attractive,” she says. “People associate good qualities to you just based on how you are dressed.”

Find Age-Appropriate Role Models

If hiring a personal shopper just isn’t your thing, there’s an easy solution to figuring out what your wardrobe should look like. Start by perusing photos of celebrities your age, says Lindsey Swing, Delray Beach resident and co-author of the fashion blog LL Scene.

“You may not be able to afford the designers they’re wearing,” Swing says, “but you can still model your wardrobe based on what you see.”

Five years ago, Swing and her co-author Lilly Robbins started the blog after friends had been asking them for years for advice on what to wear. They came to realize that most people have no idea how to dress, and the blog soon became their full-time jobs.

To upgrade your closet, Swing suggests going through those items you’ve been holding onto forever. The things you once loved in your earlier years – the two-piece sets, the crop tops, the vintage bowling shirts, the basketball shorts – those will make great donations to your favorite charity.

That said, finding age-appropriate apparel doesn’t mean giving up. After the baby comes, lots of parents sacrifice their style for the sake of easy and comfortable. But Swing advocates keeping up with your wardrobe to give yourself more confidence at adult gatherings.

“Truly, a lot of people struggle with dressing more like an adult,” Swing says. “But it’s achievable without losing who you are. You just have to put some work into it.”

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