Updated Teen Fashion Rules For Your 20s

by Katie Hoffman

When I was a teenager, I thought I had fashion completely figured out. I had an arsenal of graphic tees, flare jeans and zip hoodies combined with what I thought was an enlightened view of how to be fashionable. I remember looking at my mom, my older relatives and my friends' siblings and actually pitying their unfortunate style ignorance. I didn’t realize it then, but many of the so-called fashion rules that shaped my style choices in my teens were influenced by my obsession with fitting in, my fear of being different and my generally unbearable teenager-ness.

Now that I’ve been out of my teens for several years, I sometimes wish I could go back and inform my zitty, desperate adolescent self that I had it all wrong. I'd shake myself until I understood that shopping at one of those surfer brands isn't essential and that fancy jeans won't score me a date with Ryan (there's always one cute Ryan in high school) from study hall. I would tell myself that my fashion priorities were totally messed up and that I should trust my current judgment as much as I trusted the dance moves I attempt when listening to Fat Joe’s “Get It Poppin’” (which is not at all). In an effort to share my wisdom, here are four of the most flawed fashion rules of our teen years updated for our twenties.

Teens: Where You Shop Is All That MattersTwenties: The Fit And Feel Is All That Matters

When I was a teenager, I thought shopping at the popular stores of the moment was as crucial to my life as knowing every lyric to “Show Stopper” by Danity Kane. It didn’t matter if the clothes I bought were ill fitting, uncomfortable, or ugly — every garment had intrinsic value just because it came from a trendy store. I thought, “As long as my shirt has this tiny eagle on it, it’s impossible for me to look like a mess!” But sometimes, I did look like a mess and that’s because I let a brand name and a good corporate marketing strategy cloud my judgment.

Who among us is completely immune to the siren song of designer brands? We like feeling luxurious and having pretty, expensive things tucked away in our closets, but once you're in your twenties, you start realizing that where your clothes come from isn’t as important as you thought it was during high school. My high school self shopped as if some undercover fashion auditor was going to perform background checks on every outfit I wore to determine its origin. Now that I’m older, I realize the way my clothes look and feel — and how I feel in them — is so much more important than the store from which I bought 'em. Once you make peace with that, the fashion world is yours. You can shop at little boutiques, browse thrift shops or even raid your mom's closet for some vintage finds. When you have clothes that you love and that love you back, it doesn’t matter where you got them — what matters is how you slay when you’re in them.

Teens: If You Can Afford It, Buy It!Twenties: Shopping Smart Is The New Black

In my teen years, I thought the secret to curating a Cher Horowitz-level wardrobe was accumulating as much stuff as possible. More graphic tees! Another pair of low-rise flare jeans! Every sale was an opportunity to seriously step up my fashion game. Quantity trumped quality, so every time I went shopping, the red dot clearance section was a port in the storm of moderately priced separates that my part-time job couldn’t finance. If an item [kinda] fit and I could afford it, I bought it. The result of my excessive shopping was a wardrobe with a few diamonds here and there and a whole lot of rough. My closet was like a sad museum of blouses that no good friend would have let me buy. When I’d get dressed every morning, I’d have to relive every impulse purchase that suddenly seemed a lot less cute than it did in the store. For most of us, being smart about your wardrobe investments isn’t something that happens when you’re 17.

Unlike our teen years, our twenties are about streamlining. We realize quality is much more important than quantity, and sooner or later we master the subtle art of editing our wardrobes. After years of thinking more is more, we realize that we seriously don’t need a lot to look great. Spending more money on a few key pieces rather than falling victim to the temptation of mass impulse purchases is almost always worth it in the long run (except, of course, when that one impractical red dress is calling your name). It's surprisingly liberating to revamp the huge wardrobe that has a lot of meh clothes we have no attachment to in favor of a smallish wardrobe full of beautiful clothes we love.

Teens: Wear What Everyone Else Is Wearing Twenties: Develop Your Own Personal Style

As a teen, being different felt risky — especially when it came the clothes you wore. Playing it safe with your wardrobe is the most basic high school survival instinct (followed closely by claiming to have your period every time swimming came around in P.E. class). We convinced ourselves that as long as we dressed “preppy” enough or shopped exclusively at Hot Topic, we’d have the benefit of safety in numbers, because there were at least 20 other people in the hall at any given moment that looked almost exactly like us. Back then, we didn’t think we could experiment with our look; it just wasn’t allowed. Imaginary High School Regulation 1452.3C states that expressing yourself through your clothes, hair or makeup meant that you were weird, and a charge of weirdness was punishable by a public dodge balling or an icy lunch hour silent treatment.

In your twenties, you start rejecting all the bogus notions your whiny teenage brain convinced you were true. Instead of looking like everyone else, you want to be yourself — wardrobe and all — even if it means wearing things other people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. If our teenage years were about camouflaging ourselves and blending into the herd, our twenties are about being noticed. They're a time of liberation where no risk is off-limits when it comes to experimenting with your personal style.

Teens: The Right Clothes Are Essential For SurvivalTwenties: I Will Survive — And Look Fabulous Doing So

When I was 19 years old, I believed that my quality of life was significantly diminished by the fact that I didn’t own a Coach bag. I held my Coach baglessness accountable for my singledom, my crappy college job and my boring math class. When you’re a teen, not having “nice” clothes — or missing out on the latest trends — feels like the end of the world. I could trace a lot of my high school angst to the fact that I didn’t fit into the clothes at the aforementioned surfer shops. Maybe it’s because our teens are a hormonal, transitional, generally hellish part of our lives, but we treated our clothes like they were the only things that could save us from being unpopular, unsuccessful and ugly. Quelle horreur.

Fast-forward to your twenties where you’ll gain a new appreciation for how clothes can work for you. Instead of viewing everything in your closet as a life vest saving you from life’s letdowns, you see only the endless permutations of possibility. You know that no dress will guarantee a second date and no blazer can ensure that you’ll get the job, but that doesn’t scare you anymore. When we make it through our teen years, we learn that our clothing can be a formidable tool. We can highlight our flirty or professional sides however we choose, and it’s empowering. Fashion complements our personalities and our goals and that's what really saves us in the end — not just fashion itself. It begins with us, and we know we're up to the challenge in our twenties (except maybe on Mondays).

Images: Fotolia; Giphy