Have you ever looked back at your ill-advised capri pants or "Jenny From The Block" inspired winter coats and thought, "Man, I wish I still had those in my closet." Chances are no, you will never, ever think that. This is exactly why style gets better with age, though. The more years you cross off, the sharper your eye becomes in terms of what suits you and what will just become another memory you groan over. You're a little wiser in terms of what you feel comfortable in, a little more honest in what you like, and a little more unapologetic of what you feel like putting on each particular day.
Getting older doesn't only mean getting your first gray hair or starting to notice laugh lines in the mirror. It also means you're growing into your sense of self and a new type of confidence that lets you like the person staring back at you. It takes years to figure out who we are — if we ever even do that — so it's no surprise that it takes the same amount of time to figure out how we want to look. As Iris Apfel wisely said, "Fashion you can buy, but style you possess. The key to style is learning who you are, which takes years. There's no how-to road map to style. It's about self-expression and, above all, attitude."
So as a "cheers to getting older," here are seven reasons why style gets better with age. Bring it on.
1. Your Choices No Longer Reflect Fears
When you were younger, you had a lot riding on the type of yoga pants you wore to school. They could make or break you in the delicate Jenga tower that was the hierarchy of the popular kids. For a kid like me who went to an all girls Catholic school, it was purses that showed our social standing in the hallways. The cool girls wore Coach bags, their gold, glittery straps winking at us peasants with the department store purses as they made their way to religion class. Then there was us, with our mothers' hand-me-down Ann Taylor bags. We would sigh after them, pretending not to hate the '90s businesswoman eyesores that hung off of our shoulders.
Those first style-formative years in our lives were heavy with stressful choices, like which boot cut jeans would get us invited to the next bowling alley birthday party, or how long was too long for a dress? (Answer: If it hit your fingertips, you might as well join Little Edie in Grey Gardens.) But now?
Now that my age group is closer to 30 than 20, everything in my closet reflects hopes and not fears. I have some questionable things in there that would never, ever garner me a birthday invite from Cecilia, but each piece does bring me a little closer to the person I'm trying to be. All my decisions are now selfish: They're all about me, not other people — and that's an awesome feeling.
2. You Have More Sartorial Personality
Have you ever sat at a cafe and just watched everyone over the top of your book? Isn't it so much more interesting when people have something a little eccentric on? One of my favorite style game-changer moments was when I was drinking a Pimms cup in New Orleans, in a restaurant with exposed brick and old generals living inside gold frames. As I tried to catch a blueberry with my straw, I noticed an older group walk in and request a table. The men wore straw boat hats and white blazers, while the women waited for their menus with dresses that looked like they were stitched together with meadows. I nearly bobbled that damned Pimms cup. They looked outlandish against the sea of jeans and slightly sweaty tees, but amazing.
Why did they have such easy confidence in their mint-julep-requesting pastels, you may ask? It's because the older you get, the more in tune you seem to become with who you are. If you like that person, you want to show them off to the world.
3. You Don't Deal With Discomfort
Jeans so tight you might have to shift a kidney to button them? Heels that leave your arches singing? Nah, man, not for us. Back in the day, I could be convinced to duct tape myself into little minis for the sake of attracting brown-eyed boys from across the room, but after years of going home from bars alone only to eat cheesecake in the dark, a person learns it's not worth it. It's not worth wiping out while chasing a taxi because your heels are so high your legs can't figure out how to actually leg it in them, and it's not worth spending money on Spanx that could be allocated towards appetizers just so you can zip up a dress all the way.
Now I just wear mom jeans to the bars, and — guess what? — I still go home alone, but at least this time around I don't need pliers to step out of my clothes on the way to the fridge.
4. It's More Honest
When you're younger, vulnerability is a scary thing. It's the reason we fall into uniforms of furry boots and yoga pants, and why "basic" is secretly an initiation into a group rather than an insult. "You can sit with us, Maureen, but I think we're going to go ahead and call you Ashley 3, Sub-B."
Hey, when you're only starting to approach the daunting task of figuring yourself out, you have to do what you have to do to not become overwhelmed by it all.
As you get older, though, you have some of it down. You don't completely know yourself — because really, when will we? — but you know you have a soft spot for the underdog, so you wear shoes so ugly they're pretty. You have a high respect for the woman who ages gracefully, so you wear her vintage dresses. You like your life uncluttered and light, so you wear minimalist outfits. Whatever your deal is, it's yours and you're no longer embarrassed to admit it.
5. Your Wardrobe Is Now A Story
When you were younger, clothes were a way to interact with others. If you wore the right bucket hats or windbreakers, you could approach a group and be welcomed with a nod. Now that you're older, however, clothes are how you interact with life. They hold stories and your affection.
These rings are from your grandmother's jewelry box, and this dress is what you wore in a cafe while you studied abroad in Paris. That sweater is from when you froze riding bikes through Amsterdam, and that gray tee is what you wore when you opened the email that said you got the job. Your wardrobe is no longer fast fashion, recyclable styles that you sample and grow bored of. It's your life in the form of sleeves and knits. You have a whole picture album there, and it means something every time you button up an ancient plaid shirt or smooth down a skirt.
6. It Reminds You Of How Far You've Come
I've gotten rid of a lot of clothes in my day: Gone are the graphic tees I wore when I rode the train to my morning classes in university. Chucked are the thigh-skimming rompers I had a penchant for when buying dollar beers at hole-in-the-wall bars. The motorcycle boots that were synonymous with my first winter in downtown Chicago are long gone, and the vintage dresses that reminded me of my first apartment with an old boyfriend are as sweet as those kitchen table memories, but like the boyfriend, no longer fit.
Having a more grown up style is fun because you can look back at all your other pieces with some affection and more than a little nostalgia. Every questionable print and groan-inducing pair of pants brings to mind a picture of you, during a time you were trying to figure out a new side of life.
7. You've Finally Learned How To Say No
When I think back on all the money I've spent on clothes I bought and literally have never torn the tags off of, I want to bury my head in my arms. All that money. All those dollars bills that could have been spent on plane tickets and cocktails. But you can't really blame a kid, can you? Everyone needs that trial period when they're just figuring it out — when they're putting on different personas in the changing room and bringing them home, only to find out that, nope, this one isn't it either.
Now you have a better handle on it, though, and with that comes the power to say no. What a relief that is! A couple of days ago, I found myself walking through Anthropologie and came across a summer daydream of a dress. It reminded me of carnival lights and pink cotton candy shared with a crush. It looked like something Audrey Hepburn would have worn as she linked her hands together on a terrace and looked at you with her doe eyes. It made me want to run through a meadow while shouting Taylor Swift lyrics. So, naturally, I went to go try it on.
While it was all of that and more, I somehow found myself putting it back on its hanger, zipping it up with affection and no regret. It was lovely, but it wasn't me. I wanted to own it, but I wouldn't wear it. I've finally reached the age where I know the difference, and it's pretty liberating.
Maybe that liberation is what growing up is — or, at least, what it should be.
Images: Marlen Komar