Hugh Wilson
30 July 2010 17:30 | By Hugh Wilson, contributor

How to dress for your age



How to dress your age (© Rex Features)

We've all seen them, the middle-aged men in too-tight jeans and blindingly bright tops. They usually have a sporty cabriolet parked outside and absolutely no hope whatsoever of bagging the pretty young blonde they think they deserve.

They look comical. And they look comical because they have transgressed the first rule of fashion: dress for your age, not the age you wish you still were or - for that matter - the age you'll one day become.

If you're in your 20s or 30s, you might assume this rule doesn't apply to you. You're fit, youthful and in your prime - you can get away with wearing anything, right?

Wrong.

This sort of carry-on is very wrong, regardless of your age (© Rex Features)

This sort of carry-on is very wrong, regardless of your age

Whatever your age, you need to take years into account. The rules aren't rigid, especially when middle age is still a distant speck on the horizon, but you do need to think about your changing status, your position in life, and the ever-increasing distance from the carefree days of your youth.

As Roger Martin, founder of men's fashion retailer www.stand-out.net, says, "the way a man dresses tells us his status, his attitude to life, his personality - all of which change and evolve as he gets older - and contributes in a major way to his attractiveness."

Twenties - do as you please?

It's easy to dress like a slightly foppish uncle in your 20s - preppy blazers and too many pairs of chinos - but you also want to avoid looking like the coolest kid in the sixth form.

"In a man's youth, clothing was far more likely to be linked to popular culture, but when a man enters his 20s, he should begin to develop his own sense of style," says Roger Martin.

Sarah Gilfillan, founder of men's personal shopping company Sartoria Lab (www.sartorialab.co.uk), says much the same thing. "A lot of guys in their 20s haven't figured out their own style yet. So they dress like their mates to fit in, regardless of whether it suits them or not."

If you're 27 or 28 it's a long time since you left university, so a wardrobe stuffed with oversized printed t-shirts, hoodies, baggy jeans and scummy trainers is starting to look like a desperate attempt to avoid moving on.

Your university days are over, it's time to bin the hoody (© Rex Features)

Your university days are over, it's time to bin the hoody

Similarly, as Sarah Gilfillan says, "it's common to see 20-somethings that feel the need to wear every detail in one outfit - ripped jeans, t-shirts with garish prints and appliqué, boxy leather jackets..." You won't be surprised to learn that Sarah does not regard this as a good look.

The good news is that - well, you're in your 20s. A good physique and a rosy complexion mean that you can carve out your own sartorial niche with a few simple, classic items, well put together.

"You can do skinny jeans if you've got the legs but, if not quality jeans with a good 'bum enhancing' fit are essential," says Gilfillan.

Close fit, fine knit cardigans or sweaters work with many outfits and for many occasions. "If you want to wear a hat, go for it," says Roger Martin. "Your 20s are one decade when headgear does not arouse suspicions of incipient hair loss."

Make the most of hats in your 20s, it's the only time wearing them won't arouse suspicions of hair loss (© Getty Images)

Make the most of hats in your 20s, it's the only time wearing them won't arouse suspicions of hair loss

The final touches are up to you. "You can then add your own spin and personality," says Sarah Gilfillan, "whether it's rolling the jeans up, doing the top button of the shirt up, or adding some cool accessories."

Thirties - act your age?

"When a man hits the big three-o, he should address his wardrobe or face looking ridiculous," says Roger Martin. The fact is, when you get beyond your early thirties, skinny jeans and super-tight t-shirts can have 'trying too hard' written all over them.

But Sarah Gilfillan identifies another worrying trend. Thirty-something men are often stuck in a fashion rut - buying the same things from the same shops over and over again.

"And because they think they can't wear the more trendy things anymore they start to dress in really safe things that their dads might wear too," she adds.

So how do you strike a balance between dressing too young, and not dressing young enough?

First off, don't be in denial about your body. You may have put on weight. You may be less of an athlete than you were 10 years ago. So don't emphasise what needn't be emphasised. If it wobbles, cover it up.

After that, the change from your 20s wardrobe can be more subtle than you think. For instance, Sarah Gilfillan suggests replacing novelty print t-shirts with more subtle, fitted t-shirts. Get rid of ripped or bleached jeans and replace them with dark jeans in a good cut.

Once you hit your 30s, it's time to trade those print t-shirts for subtle shirts, dark jeans and fine sweaters (© Getty Images)

Once you hit your 30s, it's time to trade those print t-shirts for subtle shirts, dark jeans and fine sweaters

If the skinny jeans have to go - and unless you're Russell Brand they probably do - think about branching out into flat front chinos or trousers.

Similarly, hoodies are fine for casual but they shouldn't be ubiquitous daywear anymore. Think of fine cashmere sweaters or nicely fitted cardigans instead.

After that, it's up to you. Just remember, your 30s can be the most stylish decade of all. You're not 21 anymore, but nor are you 50, so go for luxury over comfortable and avoid blazers and high waist tapered jeans like the plague.

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