For Maine-based designer Michael Shyka, style and fashion are all about attitude and no one should let random lists of fashion “rules” dictate what they wear.
Especially if those “rules” are based solely on age.
“How horrible to dress according to what some lists is saying is right or wrong,” Shyka said recently from his Orrington studio. “Style is absolutely up to the individual and their comfort level [because] if a person feels comfortable with what they are wearing, it comes across looking good.”
It’s when an outfit or article of clothing does not feel comfortable on the body, Shyka said, an individual should consider scrapping it, not when they reach some arbitrary age restriction.
“It’s all about attitude,” he said. “And when you have the right attitude about something you are wearing that pleases you, that shows on your face.”
Shyka, who designs prints and patterns used by clothing stores including Ann Taylor, J. Crew and Talbots, and is represented by a major New York City fashion agent, has no time for those age-based lists that crop up in publications from Oprah to Vanity Fair.
Recently the online publication Lifescript published a list of fashion trends to avoid after a certain age.
“Age is nothing but a number,” according to Lifescript. “Until it comes to clothes [and] in this case it acts as a helpful reminder that you’ve outgrown the latest trends”
Based on Lifescript and other listed suggestions, anyone over 35 should ditch “over the top” denim that is overly distressed or blinged out because “too much in any one direction is a foolproof indication you’re too old for it.”
Other age listed advice — Over 50? Don’t even think about a risque, cleavage-showing top or dress; sky-high heels should be abandoned after a person is out of their mid-40s; Likewise t-shirts with logos or messages emblazoned across the chest.
Accessorizing with a purse or bag is fine at any age, but after 50 it had better be a small purse or clutch and not an oversized so-called hobo bag.
“I don’t think we need to pay attention to age-related lists. In my opinion, yes there are certain things we should not be wearing past the age of 15,” said Ashley Jordan, who authors the fashion blog Sweet William and is a children’s clothes buyer in Portland. “But as we get older we should focus on what fits and look at dressing for our body type, not for our age.”
Clothes, Jordan said, should make the wearer feel good.
“The fashion industry is age-obsessed,” she said. “I live with the mindset that your style or fashion should make you feel confident and tell the world who you are without your having to say anything.”
Refining that fashion statement does not happen instantly, Jordan said.
“Try things on,” she said. “You have to go into it knowing you might have to try on 100 things that don’t look good before you find that one thing you love.”
It’s impossible to talk about fashion in Maine and not talk about L.L. Bean, arguably the best known definer of Maine style.
“I think regardless of age, fashion should represent one’s own sense of style,” said Meagan Anderson, LL Bean designer. “It should not follow any rules based on age, but instead a person should look for high quality items that flatter their body image and makes them confident [because] you have to feel good to look good.”
Anderson works with Amy Yeo, ‘Bean’s design manager on the company’s “Signature Line,” which gives an upscale twist to the company’s iconic outdoors apparel.
“It’s really updated ‘classic Americana,’” Yeo said. “High quality, updated fits that follow the trends without being too trendy.”
In coming up with the styles, Anderson said, the design team looks at colors, textures and fit.
“We want to make sure we have something for everybody [and] it’s not based on age-rules,” she said. “We design so everyone can make a fashion statement by finding something that works for their own body.”
The landmark Maine store does a huge amount of business from its flagship store in Freeport, but people the world over shop at Beans thanks to the catalogs and online presence.
Jordan is a huge fan of clothing catalogs.
“I do some style consulting and I really try to have people look through magazines, catalogs or online and show me things that they say speak to them or make them feel something,” she said. “Then we talk about why they like it and work to incorporate it into their fashion collection.”
When it comes down to it, according to Shyka, if a man or woman wants to wear something, they should go for it.
“My main concern is that they are comfortable,” he said. “In some cases, yes, I have been surprised by a woman’s choice because of her age but I also feel a woman knows her own body best and knows what is going to be good for her so I follow her cues.”
At the same time, Shyka will make suggestions.
“As we age, our bodies do change, so if a person’s arms are no longer in the best shape, I may suggest long sleeves or to stay away from sheer and transparent fabrics,” he said. “My job is to listen to them and help them find what they like [and] for someone to impose restrictions based on an age-related list is ridiculous.”
Dressing for a lifestyle is far more important than dressing for a certain age, Anderson said.
“It really comes down to what is attractive to you and what matches your lifestyle,” she said. “If you are in an office all day you might have a different style than someone who is retired [but] it’s more important to dress for your body style and comfort.”
Shyka, whose designs include bright, bold prints, loves watching a woman find a style she may not have considered because she thought it was “too young” for her.
“Color is something that should be used at every age,” he said. “Some of my older clients love color and they just come to life and light up when they find that right color combination.”
In the end, he said, that is what fashion and design is all about.
“Everyone has style and some people just need help bringing it out,” he said. “It’s the most rewarding part of my job.”