We've written extensively on workplace dress codes — what "business casual" really means for women, what "smart casual" actually means for women, how "business formal" has changed over the years and perhaps the only workplace dress code that's ever proven beneficial. Why? Because people are always talking about who should or should not wear what to the workplace.
And one of the most concerning facets of restrictive, shaming and penalizing dress code culture is the impulse to tell women what to wear based on their age. Fairygodboss contributor Jenna Blair took to our community forum recently to share a story of her friend who was told she was "too old" to be dressing the way she does — and to ask for others opinions:
"The other day, a friend of mine said JLo was 'too old' to be dressing the way she does. I disagreed because I think her style fits her career and public image, overall. On the other hand, I could see how someone like Baddiewinkle doesn't 'dress for her age,' but i'm still a fan of her style, too. So what do you all think? Is there such thing as 'dressing for your age?' Are there rules for what you can and can't wear as you get older, become a parent or even if you're in a relationship?"
Here's how the community responded to her question.
1. Everyone should wear what they please.
"If you like it, wear it; if they don't like it, they don't have to wear it," writes contributor, Kimberly Duke.
Many others agree.
"Everyone can dress how they like," posts a user under the name of Bklyncyclone83. "It so happens that JLo is incredibly fit and looks it, so why can't she show it off? She works hard for that body, I'm sure. Some people her age look 20 years older than her. They can wear what feels good on them, whatever that may be. Sometimes I'll see people wearing what I consider unflattering outfits, but that's their business."
2. Still, everyone should dress appropriately over dressing fashionably.
"I'm a big fan of functional over fashion," writes Esther K. "I'm not the kind of person who needs to express herself through her clothing (or the size of person who really could if she wanted to). But I often err on the side of 'what's appropriate"'for an event rather than gear it to an age. I never want to be the most casual or the most fancy at any event."
Blair also agrees that "dressing for the occasion is what should matter, not whether or not someone 'pulled an outfit off' to your standards."
3. No one has the right to police women (or men!) for their outfit choices.
Policing women for their outfits because they're too old is a gender issue because men are seldom policed in the same way.
"Policing what women wear based on their age (weight, race, orientation, so on and so forth) is just an expression of misogyny and a 'culturally acceptable' way to encourage women to in-fight," shares C. Klein. "Personally, I've never heard someone complain that a man is 'too old' to dress 'like that,' though there does seem to be a trend in judging men's style choices recently, which should also stop."
4. It's okay for people to have fashion rules for themselves, but not to push them on others.
If you want to follow specific rules you've put in place for yourself, that's fine. But don't expect others to do as you do.
"I don't think there should be rules for the scenarios you mentioned in your post — at least not universal ones," says Vivaciously Victoria. "If someone wants to pin certain rules on themselves regarding what they 'should' be wearing based on their age, now that they are in a relationship/have had children, lost 15 pounds, whatever, then I think it's fine for them to have those rules. It's when they push for others to follow their rules that problems arise."
5. Everyone should wear what gives them confidence.
"There's something to be said about a woman who is confident and feeling comfortable to wear what she feels best in... There's even more to be said about the environments where women feel comfortable, too!" writes Trinity Griffin. "Here's to rocking awesome outfits that make us feel as confident at JLo!"
Even if you're still working on building confidence, rest assured that those who are judging you don't have confidence themselves.
"Do you, find your own style and adjust it as needed to fit the situation — and screw the naysayers!" says Nancie Shuman. "And remember that those who are judging you probably wish they had the courage and self-confidence to express themselves as you do!"
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.