They say age is just a number, but society loves to define what we (and women in particular) can and cannot do in each decade of our lives. Most of this is nonsense—do whatever you want, when you want—but some of the advice is surely well-intentioned. Your 20s are supposed to be carefree and adventurous, a time to make mistakes and find yourself. By your 30s, you’ve supposedly figured a few things out, and in doing so, grown confident and comfortable in your own skin. I can’t say for sure that every woman in her 30s actually feels this way, but from the eyes of an ambitious twentysomething, I promise, they certainly look the part.
So far in my 20s, I often feel a lot of pressure to dress more casually than my fashion-girl heart would like. Theoretically, I’ve always believed that there’s no such thing as being overdressed, and that you should dress for the job you want, rather than the job you have, but practically speaking, this usually just translates to trying too hard at my age.
In contrast, many of the women whose style I admire, whether in real life or on Instagram, seem to have an endless list of occasions they dress up for—and they all happen to be in their thriving 30s. They stun in smart-casual attire for business panels and working lunches. They wear fantastic frocks for the endless array of weddings they attend. There are the gorgeous blouses and heels they’ve invested in for the office, the undeniably chic one-pieces they wear to the beach and all the pretty midi skirts they seem to wear for anything in between. I know the grass is always greener on the other side, but in any such ensemble at my age, I’d simply feel out of place. T-shirts, cut-offs, and even rompers tend to be the uniform of my peers. Unless planned well in advanced, anything more than leggings for a brunch can be deemed unnecessary, even rude. If you lack an important title, anything more than a pair of jeans in the casual workplaces of today can feel like an awkward attempt at effort. And so the few dresses by designers I adore and pretty pieces I couldn’t resist to buy are left on hangers in my closet, largely untouched. They long for the day I feel mature enough to break them out.
I get that these things—the clothes, the occasions—require money, and more elusively, time. And I understand that they aren’t magically acquired when the clock strikes midnight on your 30th birthday. But if the fruition of those wild nights of my 20s means life-long friends who will share their lives’ biggest moments with me, and the reaping of the long days hustling hard at the office means a little extra cash to spend later, then I think I’ll have done my 20s right. So maybe that’s it—by 30, you’ve earned the right to dress well. Maybe I just have to put my head down and wait.
Unfortunately, I’ve never really liked waiting. I’ve always had this urgent desire to “grow up”—where it comes from, I’m not entirely sure. My mother once told me, “You entered this world in a rush. Seriously. Since that first moment I held you I knew I would not want to let you go, but you were in a rush.” Her words were touching, and deeply true. I couldn’t wait for college; then, I couldn’t wait to graduate. I couldn’t wait to no longer have a dress code, to get my ears pierced, to move into my first place. I can’t quite tell you why I rush, but in accomplishing each one of these milestones, no matter how major, minor or intimidating, I’ve realized one thing is always true. As you grow older, you gain the ability to look back on each experience and tell yourself, it was always going to be okay. Perhaps all I’m seeking then, through the facade of clothing, is a little self-assurance.
While I have no idea where or who I’ll be in my 30s, or how many “things you should do by 30” I’ll have checked off that list, I do have an idea about what I’ll be wearing. In my 30s, like the women I admire, I envision myself finally coming around to buying investment, staple pieces, over the random splurges and fast-fashion indulgences I typically spend money on for my always last-minute plans. I like to think I’ll have a proper collection of Everlane flats, premium denim, and soft luxe tees. In a perfect world, I’ll have saved for a designer bag that I’ll use with great care, and treated myself to a beautiful pair of pumps. But then again, my mom once also told me, “Through this fashion and that fashion, on you rushed.” Hopefully, by 30, I’ll learn to slow down, too, and savor life’s experiences with friends, family—and fashion—a little bit more. Chances are, I probably won’t feel like I have my life together, either. But at least I can try to look like it.