Reader Request: How to Look Older in Casual Attire

Reader Request: “I’m a 23 year old 5ft 90lb Asian girl who often gets mistaken for a 15 year old (or an 18 year old on a good day). Can you offer any fashion advice on how to look more your age? Specifically when it comes to casual clothes. I’m in grad school in the sciences and don’t have the benefit of wearing nice professional clothes.”

Being the approximate age and size of this reader, I set out to illustrate her situation. I put on my “grad student of the sciences” ensemble: sweatshirt, jeans, sneaks, and a curious face. I avoided makeup and pulled my hair back into a simple ponytail. I pictured my parents nodding vigorously in approval (their mantra is: a minute wasted on makeup, hair, or fashion is a minute that could’ve been better spent on studying). End result – below left.

Before (left): Ready to get carded for a PG-13 movie.
After (right): A few changes make a big difference in age.

Left: Gap hoodie PXS, A&F; kids tee sz M, True Religion “Joey” kids sz 12, New Balance sneaks kids sz 4

Right: Banana Republic top PXXS, J.Crew cardigan XS, True Religion “Stella” kids sz 12, Cole Haan flats sz 5

To keep casual and grad school-appropriate (I’m picturing long treks across campus and hours studying in the library), I avoided high heels. I wouldn’t call myself fashionable, so keep in mind these aren’t tips to look more stylish, or taller – just more mature:

And although this isn’t fashion advice – I feel that looking more mature or sophisticated truly starts at one’s face. Asians, especially, tend to have young baby faces that can really be transformed with a little eyeliner, mascara (on curled lashes), and bronzer. The products I’m wearing can be found in my everyday makeup for beginners video. Huge difference:

Continue reading for more suggestions…

I decided to put together another outfit for casual weekend-wear:

Before (left): going to jump rope in the park
After (right): going to an outdoor bistro lunch w/ handsome date (yea yea, humor me)
Left: Abercrombie tee XS, A&F; kids shorts sz 12, Old Navy flip flops
Right: Gap white tee sz XS, H&M; shorts sz 2, Alfani sandals (Macy’s) sz 6 “borrowed” from Mom, BR earrings

You’d be surprised at how many people I see around Boston donning jorts (jean shorts), a graphic tee, and rubber flip flops. What could look acceptable on a normal sized woman, though, is devastatingly childish on a tiny petite. My tips for the casual “tee and shorts” outfit:

Low wedges and strappy sandals are my must-haves for summer. I love strolling around Boston, but I don’t enjoy doing so tottering in heels or flopping around in rubber thongs. I’ve amassed several pairs of summer “walking shoes” from Macy’s and Target at decent prices.

Hope you guys found this post somewhat helpful, or at the least – entertaining! I also hope I didn’t offend any grad students. I have no idea how the reader in question dresses typically, so just gave it my best shot.

Readers – please share your tips on looking or dressing your age : )


196 thoughts on “Reader Request: How to Look Older in Casual Attire

  • Erin May 25, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Somewhat helpful? WOW! This post is awesome!

    Definitely saving this one and referring to it the next time I want to wear a hoodie haha

  • iamlisaaa May 25, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    you look absolutely stunning in the "tee and shorts" outfit! i had to examine your pictures cause i couldn't believe that was you before and after. you look so young! envy!

  • April May 25, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Do you work out your legs? They are unique–so much muscle tone–lucky!!

  • aspiringminimalist May 25, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    This is such a great post! Thanks so much, PAG.

    You look so different in the "before" and "after" pictures. Much more mature and put together.

    I love the way sandals and low wedges look for summer.

  • Dasha May 25, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    In the last 'before' picture, you look EXACTLY like one of my best friends in junior high school… in junior high school. I seriously had to do a double take… Amy??? LOL πŸ™‚

    These tips are spectacular. I'm in grad school myself and dress more like the "after" pictures and my friends all tease me for dressing up too much! Then again, they get asked what school they go to by high school boys on the bus, and I don't.

    Now can you do a post on what to wear under a suit? I could use some new ideas…

  • tris1978ton May 25, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Gorgeous then, gorgeous now. No matter what the style.

  • Ariel May 25, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    This was so fun and interesting to read! You look adorable even in the tee/no makeup xx

  • Couture and Crayons May 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    This hits close to home. I was recently asked if I was here for the summer (I was shopping in a college town). I responded yes. LOL. Since I am in my 30's it is nice to be mistaken as a co-ed. Ha. A baby on the hip adds a few years. But in all seriousness, I think taking a little time to take care of yourself, putting on some make up and putting together a decent outfit will make all the difference in the world.

  • Alterations Needed May 26, 2010 at 12:07 am

    "and a curious face." ==> LOL!

    It's really amazing the difference slight tweeks in clothing can make! Love the before and after pics.

    Since I'm also in the sciences, I can't wear high heels everyday, which are my weekend "look my age" weapon. So at work, my secret weapon are kitten heels! They are easy to walk in, give me a tiny bit of extra height, and look adult enough to keep me from being carded at the movies. =)

  • Edwina May 26, 2010 at 12:23 am

    wow, awesome post!! You do look a lot more mature after the 'transformation' in a good way! However, I think you still look very cute before 'transforming' heheh πŸ˜€

  • Rainy Days and Lattes May 26, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Wow, jumping rope? LOL πŸ˜€ That is a funny example! :p

    Bronzer really does enhance the look of any face, especially more fair skinned gals. I never made the connection before, but from your examples, I think it's the basics of looking your age!

    You look much more mature, but still a young woman πŸ™‚ (you look great!) Sometimes when it's overdone, it just looks bad. I think really red lipstick makes a person look older.

    I work in the accounting field, and I don't always dress up. Sometimes, I don't even wear makeup. I guess I occasionally look like someone who'd be getting ready to jump rope after work @ 5pm :p Someone in another dept even asked me how old I was when i went to work in (literally) jeans and t-shirt. Now, I try to sport mature-er looking pieces, such a cardigans and muted jewelry and embellished tops. I'll try that bronzer thing though πŸ™‚

  • sophia May 26, 2010 at 12:26 am

    GOOD JOB!!! OMG this is so funny, I love the pics on the left! Totally takes me back to college and h.s. days of wearing A&F; logo tees or the character tees! LOL @ "going to jumprope in park" ~ how cute!

    The last outfit ~ LOOOOVE! Where are the sandals and shorts from??

    I agree about walking around Boston. I pretty much only wear heels (unless it's cold enough to wear Uggs) so I struggled like a dumbass walking around Harvard Square and that area near Martha Stewart's house… the brick and unpaved roads are cute and all but UNPRACTICAL for wearing heels!!! Newbury St is like really the only safe place for that haha.

    Can you do a post on keeping shirts tucked into pants? LOL not sure if there's a trick for that, but that's one thing that's always annoyed me about wearing pants, so I avoid it entirely and just tuck into highwaisted skirts.

  • sophia May 26, 2010 at 12:28 am

    omg scratch my question about the stuff you're wearing.. I see you posted it >.

  • D May 26, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I love this post, cause it's so me. I need to revamp myself to look more mature. I am so plain jane!! you have helped so much!!

  • ipehishere May 26, 2010 at 12:40 am

    lol i love the right side outfit more but the left side outfit is looks more comfortable πŸ˜€

  • WhiteRabbit'sTime May 26, 2010 at 12:47 am

    WOW~ I enjoyed this post a lot!
    Your blog is so amazingly informative and you are gorgeous^___^
    I am going to take all the info. in and use it.


    Miss. P

  • Wendy May 26, 2010 at 12:54 am

    *Chortles* LOL!

    I definitely tend to look like the left side, especially with the hoodies! I'm trying tp phase them out currently though πŸ˜› I guess it's okay for me to look like a college kid, since I actually am one ^^

    Very entertaining post, with some great tips as well!

  • Jessica May 26, 2010 at 1:04 am

    WOW this a great post and I love these after outfits!

    I was discussing w/ Janice and I figured out that I didn't get too caught up in the tshirt/hoodie period when I was younger b/c I wore uniforms through elementary/jr high/hs so whenever I went shopping I would buy more "dressy" clothes for the weekend. I think my fashionable mom helped as well (thank goodness!)

    Also, I just found some pretty cognac sandals after seeing your previous posts (Bandolino Fortunatas)! I am currently breaking them in for my trip to LA (painful!)

  • Ping May 26, 2010 at 1:06 am

    hahah that is hilarious! i love it. i like the splash of color in there…green scares me but you did a good job with pairing the colors. the earrings are so cute too. <3

  • tris1978ton May 26, 2010 at 1:06 am

    In response to your question on my "Olive Oil as makeup remover" post, no, olive oil is extremely gentle on the eyes. I have never suffered from irritation.

  • nicole May 26, 2010 at 1:19 am

    I love this post! The asian parents mantra made me laugh because it's so true. and "jorts" is a new one on me haha I love it. The "before" and "after" shots truly show how small changes like how one wears her hair and some makeup can make a petite girl look more mature. I think you did a fantastic job with this reader request. You're so thorough and make a lot of great points. Not to mention, you look really polished and put together. I love the casual weekend outfit, it's simple but chic; I love your mom's sandals haha. Great job babe!

  • Angie May 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

    this is super helpful! πŸ™‚ i wanted to promise myself never to dress like the girl on the left anymore but school does make it hard πŸ˜€

    you do a great job of looking your age ^__^

  • Anonymous May 26, 2010 at 1:25 am

    This post is hilarious and I can totally relate. I graduated from UCSD and there are many girls like your "before" picture walking around our campus! LOL. What a difference makeup & clothing can make.

  • locke May 26, 2010 at 2:02 am

    WOW, thanks for sharing! am planning a wardrobe makeover and this is just on time =) yeah, huge difference between the homey simple look to vava-voom outfit and make up! Love it! thanks thanks =) xoxo

  • Lady Cardigan May 26, 2010 at 3:07 am

    I'm not tiny, but I am very thin, and well into my 30s I was mistaken for someone much younger. I'm too old for that to happen much now, but I still sometimes get called "honey" if the light isn't good! I need to work at dressing like a grown up, and I think this is a great, helpful post. Thank you.

  • Lindsey Anne May 26, 2010 at 3:43 am

    So true! Great post. I've thought about these style elements in bits and pieces but haven't seen it written anywhere! Thanks for the tips. I've just started following your blog because it's so informative! Looking forward to future posts πŸ™‚

  • Liana May 26, 2010 at 3:59 am

    great post! lol i often get mistaken for a teenager too, although now that im getting older its not as annoying πŸ˜›

  • ye55i May 26, 2010 at 4:49 am

    Wow! this is really a nice post! i love how you compare both of the looks.. yes, they are so different. thank you for sharing! πŸ˜‰

  • Anonymous May 26, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Thanks for the post! I was the reader who asked and you actually definitely hit the mark on how grad students dress, lol. The before and after pictures really show how styling goes a long way. Thanks for sharing and I'm definitely going to put these tips into practice!

  • PetiteLittleGirl May 26, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Your post is pretty awesome. What a big difference! Although, I don't have that problem. I always look older than my age πŸ™‚ LOL

  • Dreamcatcher May 26, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Wow..I love this post !I love the way you write πŸ™‚ At 34 am still told that I look just the way I did back in school..well..always leaves me confused about whether to be happy or sad about it πŸ™

  • FB @ May 26, 2010 at 8:27 am

    This is a really great guide. I don't need help in this area, as I'm 5'4", but I do notice that when I wear sweats, dress down and tie my hair back, people assume I'm younger than when I wear a little makeup

  • Kerry May 26, 2010 at 8:54 am

    This is a great post. I just finished grad school, but I waited to go back when I was 31, so I deliberately had to try dress younger to fit in with everyone else (I still look younger, but I couldn't wear my 'teacher clothes' to the lab).
    I laugh at the other grad students who do not seem to own any clothes that are not logo t-s, athletic attire and flip flops. We did a professional photo shoot for our lab group and the others did not have any appropriate clothes for the photographs. I had to lecture them on the importance of having one good pair of shoes.
    As for being mistaken for a preteen – I was in a cycling race this weekend and as we were lining up one of the officials freaked out and said "there's a junior lined up with the pro women" and then he walked up to me and demanded if I was indeed in the correct field "Are you a pro?". I was like 'yeah, I am. I'm 33. I've been racing for 12 years. I think I know which field to race in.'

    It's basically impossible for me to look my age at bike races – helmet, sunglasses and lycra destroy any chances of looking fashionable or mature.

  • daisy351 May 26, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Definitely good advice! I'm also a grad student in the sciences, so I know what it's like. The problem is that I work with all guys, so they make strange comments if I start to dress up. Also, due to foot problems, I have to wear sneakers because I need arch support.

  • J-ezzy May 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Wow girl, that's quite an amazing post, I didn't realize what a difference you could make!!!

    btw – I was in Boston last week and let me say, it's a beautiful city!! I was by the Harbor (it was quite dreary, but beautiful nonetheless), the view from the building I was in was stunning, I'll post the really crappy pics soon!

  • PetiteXXS May 26, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I love it! You have such a mischevious expression in that first before picture (must be your curious face!). And that's totally me in college (I even have pictures to prove it!). The 'after' pics are all stunning… especially the white tee and shorts… I love that look!

    But other than to be taken seriously at work, I actually don't mind looking young for my age when I'm off duty (especially because hubby also looks young for his age). That is face-wise… but wardrobe-wise I definitely agree that the hoodie and tees days are be behind me at this age and I'm only slowly starting to learn what age-appropriate and stylish casual wear really means. Thanks for the tips and very helpful and entertaining post!

  • Anonymous May 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    omg this is so helpful! can you please do more poss like this?!

  • PetiteGorgeous May 26, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Fabulous post, PAG!
    The "before" looks are definitely very sad and boring looking. The "after" looks are certainly very sophisticated.

    When I started my doctoral program I got rid of my backpack and invested in a notebook case to carry my laptop in. Backpacks are definitely for undergraduates and high schoolers heh. I was surprised to find that about 95% of my readings come from journal articles online.

  • Irene May 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

    OMG LOVE this post! You look admittedly adorable in the 'before pics' — but some GREAT pointers on how to dress more age appropriate. Sometimes I want to steal you away as my personal fashion adviser LOL!

    Also, isn't makeup amazing sometimes? πŸ™‚ And I love how you 'borrowed' shoes from Mom – I do that all the time too πŸ™‚

  • K May 26, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Dress/skirt and jewelry! Most people look bad in shorts, even me who has great legs!

    Take a bbq – most people think casual, right? But you can be too casual. I always wear a dress, even if just a plain cotton jersey dress.

  • Sara May 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Great post! You could even exchange "looking older" for "looking more put together" and the message would still be the same! Love it! πŸ™‚

  • hugstiem May 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Lol, this post is frickin' amazing.

    Me in undergrad – left pic
    Me in grad school – right pic

    Man, I have sooo many Threadless tees in my closet from my undergrad "uniform."

  • Janice May 26, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    What a fantastic and well-written post! I have only recently started to read your blog, but this was such a thoughtful post that I had to comment. I'm a 31 y/o petite Asian woman who likes to get away w/ wearing some kids clothing, but gets carded every time!

    I'm actually going to law school this fall and was wondering if you had ideas on sophisticated non-backpack options? Someone else had mentioned a notebook case, but if you have any other ideas, I'd love to hear them!

  • Jackie May 26, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you for posting this!! So many petites have this issue and don't how to fix it! I learned this the hard way unfortunately =( DRESSING the part and wearing the make-up goes a loooong way. First time I DIDN't get mistaken for a 12-year-old I was surprised lol

    For me I try to buy timeless, classic pieces, trendy stuff looks teenage.

  • Really Petite May 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    OMG- what a difference a few tweaks with clothes and makeup does! I love seeing the difference- good job!

    I always had this issue with my business- always striving to look older so a nice fitted suit always goes a long ways for me πŸ™‚

  • Pauline May 26, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Janice, my 2 cents as a law student: I really don't agree with the idea of ditching the backpack to look more put together. You REALLY don't want to compromise the health of your back; law books are really heavy. Unless you plan to do all your readings at school and never take your books home, you need the support! Everyone at law school knows that law books are heavy. It's better to look like a student during student hours than someone with unprofessional, bad posture during networking events.

  • CynthiaC May 26, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    @Janice & Pauline: A few years ago, I saw a bunch of high school kids who went to school with rolling SUITCASES. This was circa 2003 though…

  • D's Beauty Corner May 26, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    This is such a great post. I liked your comparison charts. And those H&M; shorts are super cute! I've been looking for a longer pair similar to those

  • Jenn May 27, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Love this. Great tips! I'm almost 29, and some people still think I'm 16. Petite + short + young face = teenager apparently. πŸ™‚

  • ladyish May 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    The changes do make a huge difference. When I wear hoodies and logo brands, people think I'm 10, but when I'm more 'dressy' everyone assumes i'm older. I'm 17 and 5'0, but dressing up a bit can definitely pass me for 17+.

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