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.


90s Fashion Myths vs. Realities

** A lot of the pictures have broken since we first wrote this, and we see you, and we’ll be fixing it ASAP. **

Listen, young ladies on tumblr. You’re all into the 90s look, and that’s great, I suppose. I mean, from my perspective it’s the very definition of not great, because it means that I am now old enough to have worn a “vintage” trend the first time around, but bully for you.

Here’s the deal, though. You’re getting it wrong. Your romanticized version of the 90s is super cute, but that’s not how it was. It was awkward, frumpy, and all around unfortunate. Our shirts were too wide and short by a good stretch. Our jeans made us look ice cream cone-shaped. Regardless of season or latitude, everyone was dressed for a Seattle winter. Inspired by our live blog of Hocus Pocus, I present a fashion companion to all you tumblr girls who were born after the early 90s: You Weren’t There, You Wouldn’t Understand



Everyone wore distressed, slouchy “boyfriend” pants or sleek, high-waisted, taper-legged denim.


Yeah. Our waists were high all right. But do you know what lay between the high waist and the tapered ankle? A foot-long butt. While the modern iteration of these pants has a slim fit, there was no “skinny’ in 90s jeans. Rather, there was a ton of fabric, so that your frame would blossom out after your waist, only to end in a vice grip around your ankles. We all looked like gorgeous ice cream cones.

In terms of denim, the acid wash and stone wash we wore had NOTHING in common with today’s distressed denim. It looked almost like the cover of a marble composition notebook. We didn’t do subtlety very well back then. And if you weren’t wearing that – and this never shows up on your tumblrs – you were wearing super-bright, almost indigo blue denim.



We all wore big, cozy flannel shirts a la Kurt Cobain or – let’s be real – Angela Chase.


Well, we did… kind of. I remember being so excited in second grade to get a slouchy flannel for Christmas – so I could look like Cory Matthews. So, I want you to think less Nirvana and more TGIF. Most of us didn’t look like angsty grunge musicians, we looked like honor roll kids from nice families who were trying to stay comfy.



Underneath our Seattle flannels or stylish tunic tops, we showed off our toned, aerobicized legs in leggings, topped off with Doc Martins.


Every kind of pants in the 90s made you look like you were wearing diapers. I think leggings had a little less elastic then, plus most of the ones we had were stirrup leggings. Yeah. In the 90s, stirrups weren’t just for horseback riding and your gyno’s office. So, pants were well secured at the waist and ankles, and kind of saggy and sad in between. On our feet? Keds.



Our hair fell in long, devil-may-care waves and curls, kind of like Lorde.


Those big 80s bangs didn’t really die until the mid-90s. We didn’t wear loose waves, we wore spiral perms. If you wanted to look really polished, you probably had The Rachel, and if you wanted to look really professional, you had Princess Diana’s haircut. In the late 90s, we didn’t wear long, subtle side bangs like all of you kids. We had light fringes that we painstakingly curled under with round brushes, so your forehead was under a protective hair-dome. There was a lot of half-up, half-down happening. Lots of claw clips. Scrunchies. Seasonal scrunchies, classy scrunchies, denim scrunchies. One of the first times I remember getting a big laugh in a crowded room, I was about 5 and was making up a commercial for scrunchies at Thanksgiving with my extended fam. “Scrunchies! Because real bracelets are for snobs! Scrunchies! Because you could put it in your hair later, maybe!” (See, the whole thing with scrunchies was that they just ended up on everyone’s wrists).



The woman of the 90s wore a lot of power pieces – be it menswear-inspired suspenders, or tiny suits a la Ally McBeal.


The woman of the 90s wore a lot of shoulder pads – it wasn’t just the 80s. She’s also responsible for that thing where you wear big, ugly sneakers with business clothes in order to go power walking. 90s women wore a ton of horrible flat-front khakis. The Adult Jumper was going strong, and not just for teachers.



Totally radical!


Totally dopey.

Riot Grrl


We wore baby doll dresses as a subtle critique of the infatilization of adult women – ditto for those baby barrettes. These were paired with heavy, down-to-business boots. Zines as far as the eye can see.


Sure. We all wore baby doll dresses with baby barrettes and boots — because Stephanie Tanner did. I’m sure it was different if you were in high school or college, but if you were a kid in the 90s you probably weren’t wearing these fashions to fight the patriarchy with Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love. You just wanted to look like people on TV.



While we wore our sweet tumblr-y fashions, we listened to the latest indie tunes from mix tapes that we ordered from the back of a zine.


Celine Dion. Natalie Merchant. A lot of pseudo-intellectualism: “tell me all your thoughts on God,” e.g. Harmonicas without irony. Actually, everything without irony. That’s what separates real 90s style from the (admittedly better) 2010s revival, and the best thing about the decade: we really, earnestly meant all of this.

Is this for a Tween or just Fashion Forward?

I am an adult.

I am an adult who has tween like tendencies.

I am an adult tween.

Sometimes when I’m shopping, I just can’t help myself from veering into the Juniors section because there is some legit cute stuff there. But in the crazyness of the shopping haze, I don’t realize it until a week later when I wear said purchased items out that I realize I might be too old to wear it.

My latest conundrum comes into the form of this sweater, purchased at Kohl’s (which has the ultimate Juniors black hole of clothes).2013-03-01 15.26.30

Here is Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson wearing a similar, yet much more expensive ($229 at Wildfox Couture) version on TV. She plays a teenager.

stop cramping my style, bitches -A

However, here is Dr. Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project wearing the same sweater in a different color and still looking cool.

BTW, watch The Mindy Project. It’s good.

This is the constant struggle in my life, and I can’t believe it’s actually a big enough problem that I felt like I needed to address it on the inernets. But I can’t be the only one, right? Ugh, being a girl.