Have you considered that much of how we see ourselves in the world is expressed through what we wear? The pandemic proved to be an identity killer, among other things, as it made us live in sweats and athleisure outfits day in and day out for quite some time.
But if we look on the bright side, it certainly has given us the opportunity to think about what our lives might look like if we actually were retired. However that might look in your own case, your wardrobe choices will depend on a few basic but crucial things.
If you are planning on retiring where you are currently living, your options are going to be a lot easier. You already know the requirements of the climate. Perhaps you understand the cultural norms expected in your area, the kinds of items to wear and when to wear them. You are comfortable with what you already wear.
So, maybe your goal is just to simplify, to downsize from what you already have. If that’s the case, consider starting with a closet purge. A lot of us have been doing this already. But a closet purge is a liberating activity, regardless of whether you stay put or are planning a big move.
It’s especially valuable when you are embarking on a new lifestyle. Retirement is certainly a huge lifestyle change.
But if you plan to move, do some research: what is acceptable, necessary, and typical for your new locale? One of my colleagues who grew up in big cities on the East Coast moved to the Central coast of California.
It took her about a year to figure out what colors and styles would work for her in her new environment without compromising her personality. This is often where we hit a snag.
Be sure that the climate of the new locale – physically and culturally – suits your personality and style. Or, be sure that you are very happy discovering a new side of yourself in a new environment and experimenting with that.
Will you be dating? Volunteering? Tutoring? Will you be taking classes or gardening? Are you going to cocoon yourself? Babysit grandkids? Travel? All these come into play when considering what you will be wearing in your retirement years.
A couple of friends of mine just put their house on the market, bought an RV, and decided to spend the next two years as nomads. That made their clothing choices very simple: functional tops, sweaters, and jackets for layering, comfortable shoes for hiking and walking, and just a few slightly dressier items for an occasional meal out or to stroll through a new city or museum. That was all they packed.
Unless you are equally as adventurous, your own choices will likely require more thought. Your wardrobe will depend on the level of human interaction you expect. If you hope to be more socially active, think about how frequent your engagements will be.
The number of luncheons, entertainment events, dinners out, and family gatherings per month that you anticipate will give you some idea of how large and what type of a wardrobe you need.
If your work wardrobe was pretty extensive, it might be time to donate some of your more business-like pieces. There are wonderful organizations that provide outfits for women just entering the work force, and you can often get a tax deduction for donating those. (Contact your local worship or non-profit for homeless women’s shelter to find one near you.)
If there won’t be a lot of overlap among the people you expect to see during any month, there really isn’t a need for a huge wardrobe. Some nice blazers and jackets will pull many outfits together.
A few great outerwear pieces, well-fitting casual and dressier slacks, nice jeans, and a variety of different types of tops – casual, and dressy – will serve multiple purposes. Add in some of your favorite types of skirts and dresses and you will still look and feel feminine, attractive, and that important piece we desire as we age, visible.
Like my nomad friends, many of us have gotten the travel bug, especially after being isolated for so long. The call of the road seems irresistible about now.
There are many terrific options for travel during our retirement years. And just as wherever you call home, the climate of your destination will be your first concern. Comfort is the next. If you’re like me, lugging heavy suitcases does not contribute to travel enjoyment. So wardrobe brevity will be a goal if you want the experience to be memorable, in a good way.
Map out the places you will visit, check out related web pages to see what clothing people wear there at different times of the year, and consider any special events you might be attending. That will help you to determine how casually or formally you might need to dress.
And then be strategic. Think of a simple color scheme. Select pieces in the same or very similar color family that go with or complement each other – and then stick to that. Unless you have a multi-color item you adore and that goes with everything else, avoid packing it, or any other color anomalies. They will weigh you down physically and psychologically.
And most importantly, think of the kinds of shoes you will need: emphasis on the word need. A lot of times we may have a wonderful pair of sandals or pumps that really make an outfit rock, but you just wouldn’t want to wear them on cobblestones, on long walks, or in cold rooms.
Pare down your travel shoe wardrobe to one of each kind of shoe you absolutely need. If a dress or outfit you planned to bring along requires a pair of shoes that go with nothing else, you may want to re-think whether to bring that dress or outfit along with you.
I also want to encourage you to bring along one of my favorite must-haves for any type of travel, and that is a large pashmina shawl. It will keep you warm on airplanes, in air conditioning, is an elegant cover-up for almost any outfit – dressy or casual – and a good one (with a high pashmina or cashmere thread count) won’t wrinkle.
A lot of us will be living on a more restricted budget when we retire and hence spend less on clothes. That’s the good news. But the down side – and this is one of the main complaints I get from clients – is that there are fewer things for older women that are fashionable or forward.
The reality is that designers are creating merchandise for a younger demographic, one that spends more money every season.
But let me disabuse you of the notion that you can’t find anything appropriate or fashionable that is suitable for your age and time in life. Just think of the things that you have worn or are now wearing that you loved and consider why you loved them. Was it the color? The silhouette? The fabric? The pattern?
If you stick with those favorite elements you can still build a lovely retirement wardrobe of age-appropriate, and more importantly, personal style-appropriate, clothing. Your accessories can liven up any outfit and take it fashion forward.
So let me put this idea out there. Consider buying less, but buying better. You don’t need a lot of things in your closet. You just need a closetful of things you absolutely love. When something you have loved and worn to death is starting to look tired, replace it with something very similar but of higher quality.
Yes, unless you are an expert shopping sleuth you will likely pay more. But I guarantee that when you wear that higher-end item, even if you wear it repeatedly, you will feel fabulous every single time. It’s a real mood elevator. It says, “I deserve this. I’ve earned it.”
And if you have champagne tastes and a beer budget, vintage and re-sale shops often have fabulous high-end things in better fabrics than anything you could buy new.
These two women are expert vintage and resale shoppers. They explain about what to look for, what to reject and why, and how to clean or repair vintage items so that they can look like new. And here is my article about where to shop online for quality clothing at a bargain.
Lastly, the big question is: do you still care as much about what you wear and how you present yourself to the world? It can be very liberating to no longer feel the pressure to put forward your most professional self, day in and day out.
If you are retiring to a place where extremely casual dressing is the norm, you can let go of any pretense of “dressing for success.” Regardless of where you will be living, a curated, simple, and delightful retirement wardrobe can actually bring a sense of great relief.
Are you retired now? What does your future retirement wardrobe look like? How has the pandemic affected how you plan to dress in the future?
I’ve written elsewhere that I discourage everyone from using the word “retirement.” I call this the “R-word.” I would rather see people talk about a “life transition,” because the emphasis should be on moving TO not FROM.
I like the fact that this article encourages readers to ask, “What will I be doing in my next life?” If you have no idea, you will probably be miserable. So you ask, “Will I be working? Will I need business clothes?”.
As with any transition, you have to leave room for the unexpected. You may decide to live in jeans and sneakers…and then you decide to write a book and now you’re being asked to speak. You may decide you’re bored stiff with life in a small village. You may decide to prioritize exercise and develop a new body…which can change what you wear.
Oh, that’s SO good!!! Yes. That’s been my own trajectory: teacher, writer, book author, speaker…all after the age of 52. Now at 75 I’m leaving the door to all possibilities. Excellent summary-thanks.
I had many of these things on my retirement list. We had a trip to Italy scheduled and paid for and I was gathering the clothing and other items I needed for the trip. But for all the planning medical issues got in the way and trip canceled, down sizing not happening – no energy to do it and the need for clothes that fit caused extra spending and an expanded wardrobe. I can’t currently wear the shoes I planned to wear and have had to carefully search for those that suit me and yet are wearable. I do still care greatly how I present myself to the world but my world has unexpectedly gotten much smaller and yet I still shop for me as I would have in my normal world.
Life is full of twists and turns, isn’t it…I feel that when we dust ourselves off and dress for the “new normal” of our world, whatever that looks like, we are honoring the gift of life. Thank you for this thoughtful comment. 🙏
Thank you soooo much for this article! I’m at a crucial time where I’m leaning towards colors that actually look good on me plus the style I feel the best when wearing. As I slowly work towards a closet that holds only what I love.
Yep – purging your closet can be hard. Harder still if you find yourself not wanting to get rid of anything. Once I dove in there were many items that I donated so someone else could wear it. I found items that “weren’t worth a quarter” so those became rags or garbage (not too many in that category) I found I had way too many shirts I never wore but I had thought might wear it for ___________________. I put several hours one day doing this but it was so worth it! My clothes aren’t crammed together. It’s easier to pick out what to wear each day.
Yes! Honing and purging are liberating!! We breathe better when our closer also breathes. Lovely comment, thanks.
Isn’t it crazy that designers are still creating fashion for the younger demographic, when the population is aging & us ladies over 60 are going to be a huge customer base for some time to come?
Yes! (Been beating that drum for ten years and they still aren’t listening…)
I have had to dress up for work for 40 years and now I can go back to what I love and feel most comfortable in—jeans, at leisure wear, sneakers and thong sandals. I don’t wear anything now that I am comfortable in. Living on the east coast means four seasons with sweaters, jackets of different weights, etc. I keep a couple of nicer outfits and 1 pair of heels. I still have to purge my closet though which will be difficult.