I Don't Know How To Dress Like An Adult

I turn 25 in a horrifying 3 months, and I’m starting to feel like I should pay more attention to dressing my age. But I don’t know-how. When I was a kid, I would pore over the Vogue Age issue, plotting all the ways I would be chic and fabulous in my twenties, thirties, and forties. I would have a carefully curated jewelry collection and timeless leopard pumps. Then, I woke up one morning to realize I was already “in my twenties” and still had a closet full of mall clothes and vintage denim. Dream boards aside, twenty-somethings such as myself are totally broke and rarely invited anywhere where we can dress like we belong at a Gossip Girl charity benefit.

After starting college in blue Hot Topic skinny jeans and a lip piercing, I now have a locked-in uniform for work and weekends. I wear some combination of skinny pants, skirt, or bodycon dress + oversized blouse/sweater/button-up regardless of the season. Swap chambray for chiffon for work, add lipstick for the bars. Day in and day out. Even if it skews trendy, nailing down my personal style felt like a huge accomplishment. Until I realized that a closet of Urban Outfitters and sketchy Asian wholesalers do not exactly scream “financially stable, educated adult ready to be wifed up.”

I live in NYC, but I am a midwesterner at heart. Hitting my mid-twenties meant seeing classmates buy their second house, taking the time to take stock of my life. Even if my life is starting to resemble a Girls plotline, I should maybe at least look like I might not be the only one at the 10-year reunion still staying out after partying and waking up at noon with my cat. So I’m making a few concessions to dressing like an adult. I’m trying to phase out costume jewelry and cheap watches and bags. I’m trying to wear heels more, so I at least have half a chance of seeing eye-to-eye with my fellow office workers. And I’m rereading advice from Harper’s Bazaar and Refinery29 on how to dress your age.

The good news is, your twenties are basically a get-out-of-jail-free period where you can wear whatthefu*kever—no need to class it up just yet.

After all, in your 20s, you live life hard and should arm yourself with things that are meant to be scuffed up, mismatched, worn down, and taken on adventures.


I still have five and a half years to save my pennies for that cream leather statement bag because the prescribed look for your twenties is decidedly inexpensive. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a Coachella crop top and cutoffs, you know? A cheap evening gown shows, but $30 faux leather leggings look every bit as good (and feel better, or did you miss that episode of Friends) than the real thing.

I am fully aware that my growing bodysuit and disco heel collection has a shelf life and that my time is limited to feeling fabulous in H&M and Forever21. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t last forever. But, realistically, my bodycon daisy dress that slips off the shoulder and barely covers my ass doesn’t need to last for 5 years. But I am dreading the big 3-0. I intend for my face to look awesome forever, but what are you supposed to wear?

Think of your 30s as all about refinement.


OK, refinement. Does that mean more expensive stacked platforms? Do I have to switch to flats? Are monogrammed necklaces a thing outside of the Hamptons? Can I still wear ripped denim? Help. I’m pretty sure that your thirties are the most difficult decade to figure out. You’re supposed to be at peace with yourself, but nobody seems to be able to decide if cutoffs and a silk blouse are “effortless” or “only cute on Jennifer Aniston.” I foresee my thirties as a fever dream of J.Crew and Barney’s receipts, confusedly layering a $700 leather jacket over the last shreds of a Forever 21 party dress and Louboutins.

Because much as we all need to keep the zest in our dressing, a spangly bra is too try-hard, too exhibitionist, too shiny-boobed.

Lisa Armstrong for Harper’s Bazaar

After 30, it gets really interesting. Lately, “dress your age” features have been less predictable and more style-minded. We’re in a trendless age where just about anything goes. You can wear literally any pants silhouette and look modern, from high-waisted palazzo pants to cuffed boyfriend jeans, and you can pair them with Chanel sneakers or plain black pumps. Harper’s Bazaar’s latest “Do You Dress Your Age” Quiz actually stayed away from the usual tenets (platforms after 27 are tacky, don’t go sleeveless after 40, etc.) for three totally positive readings that even took the edge off my panic. I highly recommend it as a pick-me-up! But it did not tell me, definitively, how to dress like a grown-up.

And so, I have made myself a cheat sheet.

  • The twenties: This is the last time you can ever wear color (until you turn 60)—stock up on hotpants. You’ll get to burn them in a ceremonial bonfire when you turn 30.
  • The thirties: You should now be making enough money to purchase an iconic handbag and watch. If not, you have failed.
  • The forties: It’s time to be a Mom or at least dress like one. Put on your sensible shoes. Neutrals only; florals are for children.
  • The fifties: Driving moccasins. Always driving moccasins. And you should probably know how to pull off a hat by now.
  • The sixties: F*ck it, you’re old. Wear what you want, as long as you don’t go braless. Pink lipstick and a red dress? Yes plz. Dye your hair purple and blame it on the hairstylist. Go nuts; you’ve earned it.
  • The seventies: All you really care about is tracking down every single bullet of your favorite lipstick. It took you fifty years to find, and now it’s discontinued. Life is cruel.

You can reach this post’s author, Mandie Williams, on twitter.

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