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Claire Tierney is a Staff Writer for The Hudsucker, and in her spare time she may be found hiking around Washington, bonding with her cat, or enjoying a fat sandwich. Claire is currently working jobs that utilize her impeccable customer service skills while she works towards achieving her dreams, whatever those may be.

Navigating Fashion After 40: Should There Be An Age Limit on What You Wear?

Representation of women over the age of 40 in the media is seriously lacking. When we do see older women on our television screens and in our magazines, they appear dowdy and their sole purpose tends to be emotional support and comfort. They are almost never the objects of sexual desire. When older women demand to be acknowledged, particularly as sexual beings, society has a knee-jerk response of disgust and judgment. Perhaps it is because an older woman who has lived, experienced, and learned is a threat. She cannot play wide-eyed innocence or the diminutive naiveté that is so often seen as desirable. Because older women cannot adhere to this patriarchal standard of beauty, they are pushed to the margins. Older men appear 10 times more frequently in media than older women, so women often spend the second half of their lives being hidden away and ignored.

Tina Fey said it best in The New Yorker: “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to f*** her anymore.”

Image Credit: Game of Thrones/HBO

It’s not just show business. Older women are forced out of their work in pretty much every industry. In order to remain employable, dateable, or relevant in anyway, society demands that women adhere to this standard of youthfulness. But when women maintain their figure through diet and exercise, or when they take steps to look younger through medical treatments and surgical procedures, they are slammed for trying to look too young. While this double-edged sword exists for all women, it is most visible in the fashion and entertainment industry.

While Madonna has always been a source of controversy, in recent years the focus has shifted to how she maintains her body and how she chooses to dress. She is endlessly critiqued for her incredibly toned-figure and her sexy outfits. She is called crazy and unhealthy—all attempts to delegitimize her body and her choices. This is because she continues to sexualize herself, and society is deathly afraid of an older woman empowering herself through her sexuality.

Image Credit: Valarie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

Younger women in their 20’s and 30’s are encouraged to dress more playfully, to take more chances and be more sexual with their outfits. On the other end of the spectrum, women in their 50’s and 60’s are encouraged to cover up their bodies and avoid looking trendy in anyway. The irony of course, is that today it is considered trendy for women to wear their dyed grey hair in a bun and match it with an oversized sweater and glasses (but that’s an issue for another article).

I do think there is something to be said for people dressing to compliment their favorite, or their most defining, features. As a short woman, I love when tall women wear high heels. And as a pale woman, I love when women of color wear bright colors and bold patterns that contrast against their darker skin. It suggests confidence. So, as a young woman, I love when older women wear outfits that emphasize their age and their experiences. I think that older women can accomplish this through outfits that hint at their power and presence.

Large hats, animal prints, shaped jackets, and purses with stark lines all suggest an aura of self-confidence and power. The woman in the massive red hat adorned with flowers demands attention; she refuses to be hidden away. These elements of style emphasize the woman’s presence; they don’t let society ignore them. Leather pants and animal-printed purses brighten up anyone’s appearance, but I believe that these loud and demanding accessories look best accompanying an equally formidable companion—a woman with half a century’s life experience under her boldly colored belt.

Image Credit: Ari Seth Cohen {via Advanced Style}

It’s not about removing the element of sexuality from one’s wardrobe, but rather embracing what makes them feel sexy or beautiful and showcasing it. If an older woman’s calves make her feel sexy, she should feel free to show them off. If her thighs make her feel sexy, then she should feel free show those off as well.

When aging women are made invisible, we don’t have a realistic portrayal of what a 60 year old woman looks like. This contributes to a culture in which women lie about their age. This, in turn, creates an environment in which there are no visible older women because they have either been shut out of their industry, or they are pretending to be younger. It is a ruthless cycle, and it can only be broken when we begin to recognize that not only are older women all around us, but they continue to be sexual beings.

Perhaps my desire to see older women dressing to this particular message is limiting in and of itself. But our clothes are a statement about ourselves, and if we have the opportunity to make that statement empowering, than I believe we should. But ultimately, being stylish make us feel confident, and being confident makes us stylish. So it doesn’t matter your age, or your gender, or your size. Wear what makes you feel confident.

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