I'm over 30 and I still shop in the juniors department. So why do I feel like I'm standing up in an AA meeting sharing my “problem?" Because once a woman is on the other side of 30, a not so subtle social pressure comes to bear demanding that she suddenly adopt a dour, sedate fashion sense that leads her to shapeless, and often times ridiculous outfits which are meant to de-feminize, marginalize, and desexualize. After all, women of a “certain age" aren't supposed to wade the *** pool anymore; they're supposed to be nestled comfortably in a marriage, moving and shaking the business world or caring for parents and grandchildren. All this while wearing clothes meant to be all function and no fun, and which unfortunately are often just that. But there are certain of us women, primarily tail-end boomers and leading edge Gen-Xers, who are refusing to go into that good night and become invisible. You know who you are. Like me, you may still haunt the Juniors’ department looking for cute outfits or, feeling the need to “look mature, " but convinced there's nothing out there, you may have succumbed to the pressure opting for fussy and matronly outfits that don't do you justice. And some of you, horror of horrors, have completely gone over to the dark side and are wearing those terrible offerings from women's, which take into consideration neither shape nor style.
Well I'm here to tell you that you don't have to settle for unattractive shapeless clothes, even if you don't have a twenty year old's body anymore. (By the way, most twenty year olds don't have perfect bodies either). You don't have to dress like June Cleaver, and you don't have to give up fashion after 30, 35, or even 40. I'm going to tell you how to successfully shop in Juniors with confidence, and come away with outfits that are both functional and dare I say it cute, but won't make you appear to the world as that most derided of women, you know her, the mutton who's trying to look like a lamb. Are you ready?
1. Timing is everything. If you're going to haunt the junior aisles without eliciting quizzical looks from teens and twenty-somethings, you have to shop when they're not around. Weekday mornings, when school is in session, are the best times. It goes without saying that you should completely avoid the weekends. If this isn't possible, take a younger woman with you. Many women take their teens shopping in Juniors. Nobody has to know that you're really selecting outfits for yourself.
2. Stay away from extremes to avoid the dreaded “mutton as lamb'’ look. Any cutsie T-shirt that reads hottie, cutie, brat, etc. , looks ridiculous on a mature woman, as do sparkles, lots of ribbon, lots of fringe, you get the idea. What you're going after in Juniors is the cut or shape of the outfit. Stick with more sedate colors and smaller prints. If you absolutely must have one of those cutsie T-shirts, make sure it's plain and message-free.
3. Get a cool pair of jeans. Let's face it, while the jeans in women's are classic, and classics are great, they aren't sexy and they don't suit everybody. Despite what you've heard, low rise boot cut jeans are a godsend for most mature women. A low rise boot cut is great if you're petite or slightly overweight. This jean gives the illusion of a waist, lengthens the torso, and makes thunder thighs look smaller. Classic jeans, especially straight legs, have a tendency to make a lot of mature and larger women look, well larger. One rule for low rise boot cuts: don't get a rise that is too low (to avoid panty-peek) and opt for a classy dark indigo or black color. Slightly distressed jeans are cool too. Avoid excessive details. The dizzying array of buckles, zippers, etc. , that are popular in junior jeans now will make you look as though you're trying too hard. A jean with one detail like a leather laced front is okay if you feel you have the penache to pull it off.
5. Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. Here's where a mature woman can really have fun. A sexy pair of boots, some strappy heels, an awesome handbag, and fun jewelry are absolute musts. Just remember that less is more. Don't wear too much jewelry or load up on accessories. A good rule of thumb is to wear one to two powerful pieces at a time. Up-to-date accessories are a great way to punch up your classic pieces.
6. Know what shapes look good on you and know what's classic. I mention this because armed with a knowledge of what never goes out of style and what looks best on you, you can choose freely and confidently from those outfits in Juniors that are mere variations on the classics. By sticking with the classic, more conservative junior apparel and avoiding youthful excesses, you can find great contemporary clothes and still look like a woman.
So, I hope you see that if you're 30 and older that you really do have something to wear! You needn't listen to those invisible arbiters of style that say you have to dress a certain way (read matronly) as you age. The trick as you grow older is to become more sophisticated-not dowdy-in what you wear. Avoid the boxy, shapeless clothing offered to mature women. Wearing a tent and thinking it will disguise your faults is a mistake that often backfires. You'll only end up disguising the fact that you're a woman, and isn't part of being a woman having the freedom to flaunt your sexuality should you desire?
Lynnel Hampton is a native of Seattle, Washington and a graduate of the University of Washington. She holds a BA in English with creative writing emphasis and is currently pursuing an MA in Communications. She is a past winner of The University of Washington's Annual Black History Month Essay Contest.