How do we pick our favorite styles? For some older women, it may have more to do with our past than our present. At least that is a conclusion reached in Karol Blaylock’s 1999 dissertation, “Determining Apparel Style Preferences of Older women and the Age at which these Preferences Developed.” (Do you wonder where I get these exotic sources? WorldCat—available through many libraries.)
Blaylock surveyed over seventy women from the ages of 55 to 88 and asked them to choose their favorite styles from common looks originating from 1910s to the 1950s. Women in the 77-88 age group chose styles that were in fashion when they were in their thirties. In other words, they did not change their preferences to keep up with trends; they stuck to styles that they had loved when they were younger. A costumer designer I know said that in her profession they referred to this tendency as “frozen time.”
I wondered if I could find any pictorial evidence of this and remembered the artist Roz Leibowitz’s amazing collection documenting the lives of Texan twins. In this 1997 photo, these octogenarians (born 1916) wear high waisted , Hepburn-esque pants. They were in their thirties just after World War Two, and they certainly might have worn such a style then.
In my own case, Blaylock’s system doesn’t work perfectly. In my thirties, I was a graduate student and a beginning professor. As a student, I wore jeans, a style I have given up entirely. As a young academic, I sometimes wore skirts, which I have also abandoned. But wait—there is one wardrobe piece that has carried through. When I was pregnant in my late thirties, I discovered stretch pants—and fell in love. This anti-fashion element is still at the heart of my wardrobe today.