Why Adults Don’t Dress As Cool As Teenagers

I’m not sure when it happened, but I’ve somehow become an adult – sartorially speaking, anyway. The other day I was on a bus packed with teenagers, and as I was looking around I thought to myself “it looks like these kids all walked out of tumblr or polyvore!” Then, I realized that this probably wasn’t an exceptionally hip group of kids. It’s just that I wasn’t a kid anymore. I looked at my own clothes, and realized that if you saw me walking down the street anytime within the past decade, nothing would have seemed amiss.

I can remember being 16 or so, and thinking that even people in their later 20s dressed so boring. I was right, of course – but there are reasons for it. So, I hope all of those tumblr-y teens on public transpo take note: adults may not look as cool as you, but there are reasons they don’t follow every fad out there:

Adults Have Had Their Clothes Longer

Oh, this old thing? Bought it years ago!

This is the main reason, and it really is that simple — if you’re an adult, chances are there are more pieces in your wardrobe that you’ve had for a long time, thus you won’t look as trendy as a teen. It’s not because adults don’t keep up with the times, though. It’s because:

(1) Adults have been alive longer. Straight up.

(2) Teens are growing, so they have to turn over their wardrobe more regularly. With the exception of some sad old t-shirts and sweatshirts, a kid who’s, let’s say, 15 wouldn’t even be able to fit into clothes that are more than – MAX – 5 years old.  In contrast, as an adult who’s been the same size since I was 12, I can wear clothes from the old millennium. It’s pretty hard to look cutting-edge in an Ann Taylor sweater from 2005.

Adults Invest in Quality Pieces

I don’t think… they read… the book…

Obviously an adult can’t wear clothes from years and years ago if those clothes have fallen apart in the wash. Once you know you aren’t growing anymore, and once you have car payments and mortgages to think about, it’s time to get smart with your money. Most adults have realized this and, in addition to those cheap Target and H&M things that you just can’t pass up, you probably have some fairly solid pieces that have stood the test of time. Today I’m wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt that’s 4 years old and not showing any signs of wear yet, which is a lot cheaper than buying a new one from Dress Barn every year.  When you’re buying something that you intend to keep for up to a decade, you aren’t going with a trend piece. You’re going to buy a classic – thus, you will look tidy, presentable, and possibly even stylish — but not necessarily fashionable. My general system is that I’ll buy anything faddish on the cheap (I’m not too good for Forever 21), but I’m willing to shell out more money for things that will last.

Adults Have Jobs. And They Buy Clothes To Wear To Their Jobs.

Beef up those shoulders and get to work! Accessorize with a glass of wine. Always include a lit candle in presentations. – John T. Molloy

It’s perfectly acceptable to go to school looking casual (unless you went to Catholic school like we did — under our dress code, I dressed about the same as a 16-year-old as I do now working in legal publishing). But, for many of us with office-y desk jobs, you have to look a bit more buttoned-up at work. A lot of us buy pieces that can do double duty. I have some outfits that I could never, ever wear at the office, of course, and some of my work clothes would be too boring to wear on the weekend. Still, it’s a big plus when I can find a top that would look good with a cardigan and dress pants at work,  but that I could wear with skinny jeans and flats on the weekend. When you were 17 you probably didn’t think about whether your outfit would work for both running errands and running into your boss at the water cooler.

Adults Are Fat

Your hair also gets more permed. Of course, if this image were really accurate, at one point the woman would begin wearing a skirted bathing suit.

Okay, I kid. But still, I hate to break it to you, but after a while things just aren’t where they were in your teens. In case you think it won’t happen to you, consider this. I weigh a little less than I did as a (pretty small) teen, have an “athlete” body fat percentage (which is the only athletic thing about me, trust), and yet I cannot pull off things I did at 15 when everything was sort of magically where it was supposed to be. Everything’s a little sadder and weaker looking now. Sorry guys. Enjoy what you have while you have it.

Adults can remember wearing trends the first time.

Like I always say, a good lace frock with a sash never goes out of style.

You teens don’t know what it’s like yet, but someday you will. I see the neon, high-waisted shorts, crop tops, leggings and flannel, and think to myself “oh, that’s how I remember 1993 looking.” And that feels weird, guys. That feels really weird. Sometimes adults don’t dress cool because “cool” means dressing up as your own second grade class picture.

Adults Are Trying To Look Their Age


Between my stature and my freckles, I look like I should be playing Opie’s girlfriend in an episode of Andy Griffith. To be accepted as an adult, I can’t dress like a kid. In fact, I probably have to dress a bit older than my age just so that people realize that I’m in my 20s. And adults who are on the other end of the spectrum – who look older than their years – probably also shy away from faddish fashions, because nothing ages you more than trying to look like you’re still a teenager.

Okay. I’ll admit it. Some Adults Just Don’t Know What’s Cool.

You ever see those ladies in their late 40s who are still dressed like they’re smoking cigarettes in the girls’ room in 1985? That’s because their idea of looking cool is wearing what was cool when they were teenagers. Let’s face it, some adults truly just don’t know what’s in style, so to feel young they default to whatever was in style when they were kids, recapturing the same look. Although I would never say that your teen years are the best years of your life, I will say that it’s a time when a lot of people feel – right or wrong – like they’re on the top of their fashion game. Now you kids pipe down on the bus. The old lady in slacks and sensible flats is trying to read her book.


7 thoughts on “Why Adults Don’t Dress As Cool As Teenagers

  1. It’s honestly terrifying to see trends come BACK around and to be able to take a step back and say “I know it’s cool again but it just looks ridiculous” (or “I actually love that look but I’ll regret thinking this in six months.”) These kids will all be laughing at their pictures in ten years. ADULTHOOD.


    • I saw these boys in giant flat-brimmed ball caps, neon sunglasses, and the skinniest of skinny jeans, and it made me so grateful that I’m old enough to show a little more restraint. Point: boring adults.


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