29,000 tips on how not to look old—poem

shadow of person in a long dress with elbows raised; hilly suburb and sea in the background
Shadow of a person in a long dress: do they look old or young?

29,000 tips on how not to look old

You mustn't be scared of wearing jeans
 but you mustn't wear skinny or baggy jeans
 or flared or ripped or hipster jeans
 or boot cut or jackets that match your jeans.
 (I can because I'm young but not you
 because people might notice you're old.)
You mustn't wear scarves around your neck
 (they make you look top heavy
 and highlight all your wrinkles) 
 and you mustn't wear beige or black
 unless you strangle the blands
 with a colourful scarf around your neck. 
If you wear long hair you look like a witch.
 If you wear short hair you look like an apple
 left on the shelf too long. You mustn't
 wear straight or short or wispy bangs  
 you mustn't go spiky or layered or (OMG) bouffant
 no loose curls or tight curls or short curls or long curls.
Of course I've got nothing against
you being yourself—in fact you must "do you"
but please do my you 
(your you won't do)
and whatever you do, don't wear what you like
or do your hair the way it wants to go. 
There are three things in your closet
 that you could safely wear 
 so throw all your favourites away.
 With that awful old hair you could possibly wear
 a harmless bob and it might almost be OK
 so get to the stylist today.
I hope I have empowered you
 with my 29,000 tips 
 on how to look young instead
 of a person of 40 or more.
 Go forth boldly now and become 
 my definition of you. 

      ~Rachel McAlpine 2021

An instant poem—I hope it amuses you. Triggered when I accidentally found myself on a page of style tips for not looking old, in other words fashion advice on how to look younger when you are not young. I then read another 6 pages of similar tips. Some tips were identical, others were inconsistent and contradictory. All worked from an ageist assumption: that nobody wants to look older than they are. And probably that’s more or less true. But hey! I’ll carry on wearing what I *+&%#! well want to wear! Do you?

21 thoughts on “29,000 tips on how not to look old—poem

  1. judibwriting says:

    I do indeed wear what I like. When I moved to this retirement community in Ohio, I knew the look was Eldercasual- mostly simple pull on pants and tops. I brought with me a closet full of casual dress professional clothes- which are much dressier than the mainstream around me. My body is older than my chronological years, which is why I live in the Assisted Living wing of this wonderful CCRC. I am 20- 30 years younger than most of my fellow residents and my taste in clothes hasn’t hugely diverged so hey- I wear the occasional skirt and dress and have lovely shawls that seem fancy to many here. But I will not buy new clothes until I can’t button buttons or zip zippers anymore. That time is coming as my neurological compromises are also shutting down my upper extremities, My hair is still shoulder length, not a sensible cropped head- my time will come, but not yet!!! So until my body dictates otherwise I will wear my hair and clothing as I please. Thanks for the support.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I love your approach. You’re happily asserting your personality and maintaining control over what you can control. Our very identity is wrapped up in the look we choose and know and love. Comfort and familiarity bring pleasure but so does flair and self expression. I suspect your lovely shawls may be inspiring other residents as well as brightening their day: no buttons or zips on a shawl!

  2. Oh, I laughed, good poem! I dress for comfort, not for appropriateness. Right now I’m wearing pull-on shorts and a tee shirt, and I don’t care if it makes me look older or younger. COMFORT, that’s the name of the game for me.:-)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And when you’re comfy you look real and good. One of the tips said we should never wear flat shoes!!!!

  3. josaiawrites says:

    I love this post.
    I’ve decided that I’m not going to help others to deny the fact that they, too, will age (if they’re lucky enough to live that long). Looking at my face, I think, reminds those who may not want to see, that time passes, bodies break down, skin wrinkles and sags….
    I will show my face. And, I would say to those not yet on the path where I am….. if you have the courage to look, we may be blessed to share a moment of genuine connection. How lovely that would be.
    If not, how sad…..we both lose.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow! I bet there’s a smile on your face as you make that connection. Maybe that’s what I’m doing when I smile at strangers in the street. Not just getting a semi e in return, but saying “Don’t be scared. I’m old and so far it’s been rather wonderful.”

      1. josaiawrites says:

        Exactly. Although there are challenges, pain and struggle, c there is also such beauty, quietness, and a deep sense of awe in aging. I’m so grateful for it all.

  4. realruth says:

    I wear whatever I feel like, and am pleased to be getting older (rather than the alternative). I’ve recently read that Vita Sackville-West didn’t replace shabby furnishings because “Her possessions must grow old with her. She must be surrounded by evidence of time” and I liked that.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Strangely appealing, that idea of Vita S-W. I hope most of us wear whatever we feel like despite the best efforts of fashion “influencers”.

  5. Your instant poem produced an instant laugh from me. I’m old enough to wear what I like. That means I look frumpy to strangers, but neighbors love seeing me coming up the walk with a fresh coffeecake. Well, their eyes aren’t really on me.

  6. Sadje says:

    Haha! The tips don’t leave any choice at all.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Exactly 🙂

      1. Sadje says:


  7. Cathy Cade says:

    I’m not sure if fashion is less important to the youngies now (other than those that work for the magazines and tabloids) or if it’s just that I’m less observant (and no longer live around London) but people of all ages seem to wear what they like now rather than follow the advisors.
    I like the charity shops (I think you call them op-shops where you are). I can try out something different without it costing me a fortune and filling up space in my wardrobe. (‘Fess up, ladies. how many unworn fashion garments have taken up unearned wardrobe space in your lifetime?)
    I just wash it and pack it into the charity bag to take along to the next charity shop I visit.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      In New Zealand it’s puffer jackets and sneakers all winter all round. Nobody looks out of fashion on the streets. But the young have their own fashion insecurities. Luckily thrift shops are all the go for many reasons. To save the planet I try to buy less.

      1. Cathy Cade says:

        I try to buy less to save my finances. 🙁
        Not having any shops open over the past year has helped enormously.

  8. LA says:

    This made me smile

  9. So hilarious and so true! Style advice is all over the board. I’m days away from being 62 and very likely violating a lot of these cautionary tips. I say… be yourself, be comfortable, be happy, welcoming and kind, and your look will appeal to most anyone. Keep smiling!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      A smile is a fabulous fashion accessory.

  10. Cute and thought-provoking, Rachel!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you Becky. One day I’ll polish up the poem… Or not.

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