Why “Things You Should Own By 30 Lists” Make Me Want To Roll My Eyes


The further and further away I get from that 20 to 25 checkmark box, the more I start contemplating the big 3-0. Namely, I begin paying closer attention to those "things you should own by 30" lists that claim I need to stock up on trench coats, slacks, and a LBD that'll take me from the office to the fancy cocktail bar. There's a lot of awesome that comes with the upcoming milestone for me: I now have the confidence to know what I want out of life and roll up my sleeves to get it. I walk into work every morning to a job I'm truly excited about that doesn't consist of stapling forms together at a entry-level gig. And I now know the difference between drugstore wine and the finer stuff in life, even if I can't always afford the latter. The closer I get to 30, the more excited I get, too.

But there are also a couple of, how to put this, changes involved that I'm slowly learning to appreciate. I've found a couple of foxy silver hairs mingling in my bangs. A night after 3 a.m. cocktails requires an IV of Gatorade and Italian beef sandwiches straight to my veins. And I'm starting to feel a little more panicky when it comes to where I'm settling down in life. That brings me back to those "things you should own by 30" lists. It's hard for me to stop myself from rolling my eyes whenever I see them, because they do nothing but make me feel uneasy about what I've carved out for myself so far. Here are seven others reasons the "what you should own" lists make me feel uncomfortable, whether they're talking about faux fur coats, designer shoes, or kitchen appliances.

1. They Make Me Feel Like I'm Not In The Right Place In Life Yet

Think back to when you were in second grade, and how you envisioned your adult life to be. Chances are you thought you'd have seven dogs, a walk-in closet, and a career that required you to swing a briefcase while you stepped off the train. I had cookie-cutter ideas of what a proper adulthood looked like, but the more I grew up, the more I learned that there are all different kinds of ways to build a life.

But apparently, these "30 things you need by 30" lists didn't get that same memo. Most of them revolve around those run-of-the-mill, traditionally-successful, I-throw-white-wine-dinner-parties version of adulthood. As in, you'll own a pair of ballet flats you can wear when you go to Whole Foods and a striped crew-cut shirt when you head to brunch. It's not a bad kind of grown-up to be, but these lists make me feel like it's the only appropriate one. Like what if my wardrobe is more about the baggy boyfriend jeans and high tops? Would that mean I'm doing 30 wrong?

2. They Make Me Feel Like I Need To Tick Boxes My Whole Life

Graduate college in one piece and with a decently taped-together GPA? Check. Get your first job and started buying coffee in little paper cups every morning? Check. Work your way up from an apartment that had a heater that wheezed to a condo with an herb garden on the windowsill? Double check. So, when do you get to stop checking off boxes and start getting to enjoy the progress you've made?

Lists that tell me I should've "swapped my Captain America tees for Oxford shirts" by now make me feel like I'm constantly in a cycle of having to look forward and change, rather than being allowed to enjoy the messy "right here, right now" bits. Instead of having to jump for the next achievement (like actually having a place to wear a LBD to) it'd be nice to just enjoy the state my life is in right now.

3. They Make Us All The Same

If we all followed these lists, we'll all have the same wardrobes, the same styles, and the same love for a good pair of stiletto booties. But how can you group a varied mix of humans like the "30s crowd" into one little box?

My 30 will be different from your 30 because we will have gone through wildly different experiences. You could have gone the desk-office way but have a love for taking cooking classes in different countries during your time off, and I might have gone the studio artist turned mother turned grad student route. Are we both going to want to wear a denim jacket once spring hits? Maybe. Are we both going to need to own a glam LBD? Probs not, which is where my eye roll comes in.

This type of advice is lazy. Fashion reflects our lives, and most of us don't have a neat 20-item-list type of existence. We're all going to want our lists to include different things, whether that's thrift dresses or Armani blazers. None of it's wrong.

4. They Don't Consider All Of Our Fun Quirks

I'll admit that my closet is an eclectic mess. Yes, I have my cashmere crew-neck sweater and my trench, but I also have a whole space full of sherbet-colored vintage dresses with Jackie O cuts. I have men's Oxfords and grandpa sweaters with moth holes in them, and a couple of ill-fitting '80s denim jackets and jeans. Do I feel the need to toss 'em when I read these lists? Kind of.

I know that the point of these lists is to give us a picture of core fundamentals, but it'd be nice if they threw in a couple of options that were open to interpretation. Like instead of telling me I specifically need black heels, tell me I need shoes that I could pound the pavement with if I miss the bus, but that'll still make me look like a boss once I show up to work. Or instead of telling me I need a grownup cocktail dress, tell me I need a frock that will make me want to slap my butt when I see myself in the mirror. Those are grown up things, too.

5. They Make Growing Up Seem Boring

Don't get me wrong: Wearing a trench coat and couture sunglasses while perusing rhubarb in farmers' markets sounds fun in its own right. But it doesn't leave much room for interpretation or unique opinions about what constitutes a good time. Personally, I just don't want to be classy AF and get myself a mortgage to worry about.

Instead of suggesting something vague like "you definitely need a suit," my eye rolls would be kept to a minimum if different experiences were kept in mind. Yes, some of us will have that mortgage, but others will be living with two roommates and working several jobs. And both of those are great choices.

6. They Take The Fun Out Of Style Evolution

I like tips, but I don't like being told what to do. You can guide me towards the pencil skirts, but leave it up to me to decide whether I actually want to buy them. The reason for my slightly-miffed attitude? Because figuring out your own style is so much fun.

Think back to how you dressed when you were 18, and how you dress now. I'm sure there were a lot of cringe-y dresses and ill-advised trends you subscribed to wholeheartedly, but figuring out what best represents you is all about that messy, finger-on-your-mouth, trying on different personalities type of work.

During that process, it's likely that you'll meet yourself. You might take off the clothes that used to fit you, and go on a shopping trip with this new person you kind of know as an acquaintance, and are really pumped to learn more about. You won't be able to properly figure her out if you follow a formula, though.

7. They're Just Aggressive

"30 Things Every Fashionable Woman Should Own By 30," "30 Things Every Self-Respecting Woman Should Own," "10 Things Every Woman Must Own Before Graduation." It's just so aggressive. Instead of making the reader feel like they aren't up to par if they don't get their hands on these items before their milestone, these lists could maybe be more suggestive. Feel free to call something a "30 Things Before 30" list, but perhaps don't make the reader feel like they're a failure if they're not into any of the selections. Let's take out the "fashionable" and "self-respecting" adjectives. I will never own black trousers as long as I live, but that doesn't mean I'm a fashion train-wreck or I that I left my self-respect back at Barney's where said trousers are still hanging.

Fashion is supposed to be fun, and while guides are super helpful, there's no need to throw the Bible down unsuspecting women's faces. So I'll eye roll for every time a list has made me feel like my personal style is wrong; I'll eye roll for every time I've felt like I had to buy a trend I felt meh about just to fit in a certain standard; and I'll eye roll for every time I felt like a kid trying to put on her mom's heels when I'd think about sporting a suit I never needed.

My advice is to not believe anything that makes you feel like you're the wrong type of human. Wear your Gucci handbags or your baggy overalls. In the end, you're doing 30 right because you're staying true to yourself. And that's real maturity right there.

Images: Marlen Komar