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Our Experiment in Youth Dressing and How it Failed. Massively.

No one cared about our clothes, it was our ages that mystified them.

This is the day we played dress up. I and my co-conspirator Jacqueline Depaul had ourselves professionally done up as if we were 19-year-old cool kids hanging out in Hollywood. People were in disbelief, and not for the reasons we expected.

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Remember George Plimpton? He was a journalist who would try being a professional sports participant to better understand what it was like. Hint, he got hurt a lot. This was a bit like that, but instead of trying our hands at pro football, we decided to see what dressing like kids would be like.

Clearly collectible.

We had a full glam squad to get us looking like this. The idea was that we would produce a video (coming soon) of the aghast reactions of people on the sidewalk who saw us dressed in a way that would be completely unexpected for people our age. The four-man camera crew followed us around the most straight-laced part of LA we could find- the financial section of downtown.

Results: Massive fail.

No one cared; no one even gave us a second look. That was not part of the plan. We had no idea what to do, as we were expecting these vivid reactions from our passersby. No one thought there was anything all that odd about us, no one cared. Really, how could this be? Could we be any more colorful? What would it take?

Preparing for the youth quake.

Semi-defeated, we decided on Plan B: direct inquisition of passers-by. We needed to understand why no one was even noticing us. What we found was super fascinating and much more informative than we ever anticipated.

It’s Not What You Wear. It’s How You Wear It

Yes, people felt there was a dissonance. But it was not what we were wearing. IT WAS OUR AGES! This blew my mind. I look 60, I have no age interventions, nothing to turn back the clock other than exercise and I eat well. No one believed our ages. People thought Jacqueline was 23 or perhaps 25. She is 50. I had to show a guy my driver’s license to prove my age- he thought I was 30. That is an insane level of dissonance.

I have to surmise the reaction we were getting was that people had a fixed idea of what “old” looks like. Our bodies and the way we carried ourselves did not match up to that. This is something I speak about all the time, how we as a culture are brain-washed by the tsunami of images which show people our age as broken down out to pastures. If we were more broken down, bad posture, overweight or some other look that corresponded with how they were seeing 60 portrayed on TV, perhaps the reaction would have been different. The thing is, we don’t look that much different than the other people we write about in AGEIST. 

Seriously, I am 60 and she is 50.

The results of the experiment were the reverse of what we expected. It was not that the clothes were a mismatch for our age, it was that our stated ages were a mismatch for people’s ideas of what this age should look like.  We were pushing people to give us negative opinions, and no one would bite. Every single person we spoke to thought we looked amazing; they loved how we looked. The only negative critique I received was my shirt did not match my socks and that I could up my game in that area. Ok, but otherwise? “You look like money.”

Of course, part of our relative street anonymity may have been that the bar is pretty high for shock- the competition that day was a homeless guy wearing a spotted leopard throw rug as a poncho. Hard to beat that for sheer spectacle.

How did it feel to be dressed like this? My initial impression was that I was dressed as a clown, and in the interest of our experiment, was fully accepting of my soon-to-be street humiliation. Strangely, after 10 minutes, it felt completely normal; colorful, to be sure, but it felt fine. I owned it, which I think was part of the reason no one noticed us.

Just Own It

This brings to mind one of our readers Bill, who recently wrote in admonishing us for using the term “age-appropriate.” He was right, and his critique still stings. If we are about anything here at AGEIST, it is that age-appropriate is a horrible concept and must be added to the lexicon of terms never to be used.

One of the big findings for me from this experiment is that the possibilities for what one can wear and be taken seriously are far far greater than I had ever thought. The key, as we say so often here, is to own it. This was me taking my own medicine and seeing that yes, it’s true. If I walk proudly with a sense of ownership, it does not matter at all what I wear. If I decide to dress like a 19-year-old, the effect will not be to have people question my style or sanity; it will be that they question my age.

AGEIST is about showing possibilities and through the telling of stories, expanding our imaginations of what is possible. It turned out that in this case, it was my own imagination that needed expanding. Will I be buying those Supreme pants? Nope, but the faux Gucci belt is on my shopping list. 

6 COMMENTS

  1. I love it! I absolutely love it! I am so glad you did this! It brings me such hope and joy to see that people are not setting a rigid line about who is allowed to wear what! And you do both look fabulous!

  2. I’m in this experiment since I started the Ageless Rebellion and in the public eye since I went from blogging to Instagram in 2017:) My findings? At a more conservative, “typical” over 50 styling site of 13,000+ women, the nice and attempting to be properly pretty “house wives of everywhere” I’ve got a few bitchy comments like “desperately trying to look like 20” or “everything about you offends me”. A few feel inspired and risk more sass and spunk, also copying a more exalted selfie style. Most are passive, don’t engage; I feel they shrug me off as an age-inappropriate annoyance. “I would never wear a mini skirt and tattoo type stocking, why even look at her?” Then there is the ten percent who’s friendly and always finds something nice to say overlooking the age-less faux pas. On the fashionista sites I get applause on anything chic, when I’m tomboy-ish, punk, weird or otherwise drop out the expected, the likes drop like a box of safety pins kicked by a naughty child. To”wear what I feel” is my “thing” so I’ll continue to be child-like curious and play. Recently I am veering more and more into the theatrics of fashion, the feminine Rebel Queen, showing outfits as the wardrobe of my life’s movie. I show in my
    upcoming book that my life for sure is like a script with foreshadowing, “killing your darlings” and other powerful script writing tricks:) I let all kinds of outfits tell all kinds of stories but what got me personally closest to my life’s underlying myth are robes of the past, recently I’ve got a fun tale from a long black cape. I don’t expect people hitting me over the head by “trying desperately to look like 700.” We’ve got a lot to do to shake up the ingrained mindset of looking at over 60 as grandmas and grandpas including the faulty belief that aging is inevitable. I never felt any age, which is one of my super powers. I see age on my face and skin though; there I can only wait for science to pick up speed. But I am happy to agree with my friend Aubrey de Grey; aging is a dis-ease and can be cured. Those of us who live their ageless essence and don’t believe being a slave of a biology of the past can then truly forget about any numbers in their birth certificates. There are some rather amazing college age outfits from Topshop and I.Am.Gia to Dolls kill:)

  3. It’s not strangers on the street that make us feel self-conscience about “age appropriate” dress, it’s the people we know. If you went into where you work dressed like that, it would freak people out. If you suddenly showed up at a family gathering like that, everybody would think you were going hard on some kind of mid- or post mid-life crisis, perhaps having an affair with a much younger person. 🙂

    The solution is to never pull too far away from current trends or ease back into it if you’re going to. I think I stopped caring about clothes when I was too busy shopping for kids to worry about what was happening in fashion for me. I’ve never been hard on the cutting edge anyway but I always had a few playful things. Like with face cream, you should really start doing something about these things long before you need to start thinking about these things.

    I’m often mistaken for someone much younger. I always assumed it was because I naturally “looked younger”. This article blew that delusion for me, it’s just my clothes. 🙁 🙂

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David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

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