By Kate Forgach
Forever 21 is a retail phenomenon among the younger set, but despite the trend of businesses catering to Baby Boomers, there’s no Forever 51 or 61 for those of us trying to find presentable, affordable office fashions. At least such a store would help us figure out the new dress code.
Take my office, for example; shorts, T-shirts and sweats predominate, which means my typical business attire would stick out like a sore thumb. Thanks to a manager in the 30-something age range, casual is more than acceptable, it’s expected. Still, my 55-year-old body would look pretty foolish in the business shorts and skinny shirts favored by the younger females.
So what’s a Baby Boomer to do? How do we fit in without looking like fools? And where can we find fashions that suit our aging bodies and more-mature tastes? Read on for a primer on getting along without entirely giving in, or spending a fortune.
Totally Toned Physics
Even if you’re a gym rat, Daisy Dukes and jeggings will make you look like a wannabee. It’s possible to wear body-skimming clothes without looking like you’re headed for the nightclub. Shop for tailored outfits that set off your best features without flaunting them. Well-cut fashions, including jeans, capris and tops, will look pulled together without screaming OLD!
Us somewhat larger ladies have a much harder time walking the fine line between too tight and overly ample. Much plus-size clothing tends towards the frumpy, but select stores have long understood our need to look fashion forward while complementing any over abundance.
In an effort to skimp on cloth and save money, many manufacturers are cutting tops so low you can see the Alps in one quick glance. Even Victoria’s Secret has abandoned quality support in favor of skimpy Pink PJs. That’s why I have a row of chemises in my closet. Such “underwear” allows me to fill in the gap while still wearing today’s looks.
Nothing gives our age away like that swaying under-bicep flesh. You can lift weights until you’re blue in the face (literally) but, at a certain age, that skin just gives up. It doesn’t help that manufacturers — once again looking to reduce material costs — feature almost nothing but cap sleeves.
Fortunately, lightweight cardigans with raglan sleeves are available everywhere, even big-box stores like Target. They’re perfect for overly air conditioned offices yet have a youthful look. I’ve also found thrift shops have funky vintage tops and cute jackets with mid-length sleeves that give my basics a hip look. My present favorite is a man’s seersucker jacket that looks great paired with everything from a gypsy skirt to yoga pants.
The Skinny on Jeans
I just love the hipster look; it’s such a great reminder of the Beatnik era. But Boomer men look plain silly in stovepipe jeans. On the other hand, you also don’t want to pull an Obama and wear mommy jeans hiked up to your waist. Here’s where the tried and true help out. Levi’s classics are always acceptable and stores like Lands’ End and Eddie Bauer can fit you out in body-flattering jeans.
The Upper Half
Boomer guys are lucky as they can get away with T-shirts and still fit into a relaxed office. Retro graphic Ts are particularly popular, but don’t pull out your ragged Pink Floyd shirt that’s worn thin. Save that for your next rock concert.
For slightly more formal offices, you can’t go wrong with polo shirts. They look pulled together but still youthful. I’ve also noticed the upscale guys in Colorado — a decidedly casual state — wear dress shirts without ties, but they’re always dry-cleaned with a super-sharp crease in the sleeve.
Save the suits for New York City and (some) job interviews. If you’re heading to a more formal client meeting or conference, a casual sports jacket over chinos usually suffices. A blazer with jeans also has a nice finished flair.
I really don’t want to see your done-lap disease. If your belly done lap over your belt, it’s time to explore Hawaiian shirts or, if your office is super casual, XXL team jerseys and polos. Lucky you, however, as these styles can be found almost anywhere. Make sure any sports clothing comes from an authorized dealer, like College Jersey or the NFL Shop. Otherwise, you’re ripping off your favorite teams and buying inferior products.
Two no-nos: Bedazzled Crocs and sandals with socks (unless you work in a food coop). Otherwise, you’re good to go.
Some offices are so loosey-goosey you’ll see hats indoors. While I think this fashion looks stupid on older men, a baseball cap worn with the bill facing forward is acceptable. And, although Mad Men lids are hotter than New Orleans during Jazz Fest, leave this fashion statement to the younger set and professional musicians.
Kate Forgach has written about senior issues for 11 years as a Cooperative Extension specialist and for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines.