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

  • 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  • 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • 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+.

  • jen May 27, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    This is one of them most awesome, informative posts I've seen! The "curious face" photo is hilarious, hahaha. But you really know how to use make up to simply play up your features instead of changing how you look! And you've definitely mastered the art of dressing well and being casual. You look very comfortable but chic at the same time. Great job girl ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Linda May 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    this post is amazing! very helpful! and as always, you look gorgeous!

  • Jenny May 27, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    this was so informative! i'm also 23 and ALWAYS mistaken for a 15 year old whether it be in person or on the phone T_T so sad! i just have that darn baby face! your blog is awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

  • PetiteAsianGirl May 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Thank you everyone for the wonderful comments … I really enjoyed reading them and had several good laughs.

    Kerry – LOL! That's hilarious and I can totally picture it happening.

    Daisy – nothing compares to sneakers in terms of comfort, but my Cole Haan Nike air flats are the closest I've found. They actually have a slight wedge with support.

    Janice/Pauline – Janice I would say on "lighter load" days to carry a proportional tote. Longchamp works for me but that is too generic for some people's liking. Kate spade makes a lot of totes and I like some of Coach's plain leather ones. I agree with Pauline though, in the sense that nothing beats a backpack for your back. Messenger bags may distribute the weight a little, but nowhere near what a good backpack does! I carry 5+ lbs to work every day in a tote and I'm starting to feel the damage. Some of my coworkers do use rolly bags like Cynthia mentioned … but I'm sure you don't want to go that route.

  • phyllis May 28, 2010 at 2:04 am

    What a fantastic post! I get mistaken for 16 and under a LOT. The most recent story that comes to mind is when a flight attendant mistook me for an unaccompanied minor. And I was like nope…I'm 24 and married. Needless to say she was super embarrassed :p. I was incredibly amused though :).

    Anyway, I was definitely guilty of dressing like your pics of the left until the beginning of this year. I always rationalized it to myself by saying that I dressed for comfort first but obviously comfort does not need to be lazy :). I've been updating my wardrobe bit and bit and I have to say, just putting a little bit more effort and thought into styling have made SUCH a difference in my look. I don't think I've gotten any questions about my age in a while and I feel great about how I look!

  • Kristy May 28, 2010 at 9:27 am

    WOW! what a transformation! this is such a great and helpful post for all the petite women out there (excl. ME of course:P) But I'm really liking your tips because some of them apply to me. I get carded at the liquor store sometime when I wear jeans, a hoodie, and chucks. But seriously, who dresses up just to go to the liquor store? :D:D

  • Jimin May 28, 2010 at 11:33 am

    ohhhhhhh my goodness your posts get better and better ๐Ÿ™‚ the transformations are so amazing! I think you look pretty without makeup too, but I can see how you look much older in the after pictures ๐Ÿ™‚ you've mastered the look of classy chic ๐Ÿ˜‰

    and who is your photographer?! all your pictures come out greatttt


  • Anonymous May 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    One of my favorite posts so far! This couldnt have come at a better time. I'm in the process of updating my wardrobe and this is a big help.

  • MizzJ May 29, 2010 at 12:37 am

    hahah I totally used to dress like that in uni! The before and after shots are SO dramatic!! You gave some really great advice here.

  • CynthiaC May 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    @Kristy: I wear my "normal" clothes to the liquor store, which usually consists of jeans, a cami, cardigan and wedges. I don't think I've been carded there since I was 25. Hoodies and jeans just cry "university student" to staff while cardis and jeans are more grown up.

  • Patricia May 30, 2010 at 12:06 am

    This post is so timely for me! Last week, I was carded buying wine to cook with. I am in my mid-20s, but the man at the checkout said "I'm sorry, I just don't believe you" after I presented my ID. This week, I was outside wearing a hoodie and reading a book while my son was playing, and someone said "Babysitting, huh?"

    I really appreciate that this post is focused on casual wear. I have nailed looking my age at work, but these tips are just what I need to look more mature in my free time!

  • Emily May 31, 2010 at 2:27 am

    This post was amazing!

    I wasn't a reader when you did the five minute face video, but I just checked it out and I really love it.. I know you said you aren't a makeup expert or whatever, (I watch Michelle Phan and Holly Ann-Aeree, and a ton of others) but seeing how you did your face was SO helpful. Their looks are really nice, but too much for me. Minimal is best for every day. Thanks PAG! =]

    And my parents and your parents would probably totally get along haha.

  • Kate Gene June 2, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Holy moly! 62 comments!

    This is one of my favorite blog posts EVER! My husband has a baby face, so together we look like a happy junior high couple. XD I showed him this post and told him I want to raid your closet. LOL! You seriously have the best taste! I don't own anything but my (old) corporate clothes, scrubs, and sweats. When I run errands, I'm always in hoodies, gym pants, and Nikes. I need a new wardrobe, STAT!

  • Anonymous June 2, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    can you please do more posts like this?

  • Janice June 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    A little late responding, but thanks for the backpack comments! I will likely go that route, but might mix it up w/ a tote from time to time.

  • Eva June 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Wow, that's a BIG difference ๐Ÿ™‚
    Love it.

  • Anonymous June 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Wish I had similar advice for men. We don't have the benefit of makeup, and I can't grow facial hair that doesn't make me look like a dirty 14 year old even though I'm 23.

    It really hurts my self confidence when people express shock when they find out my age. It's rude and demoralizing ๐Ÿ™

  • Euni June 23, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Randomly found your blog, love it! I am definitely guilty of the child style sometimes, it's just so easy to throw that on and go to class (and speed walk around campus)!

    Since summer break started I've been doing some shopping to change my style. I threw on a tee under a blazer, skinny jeans and flats…STILL got a shocked look when I said I was 20 D:

  • Rosie July 14, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I'm late, but I love love love this post and your humour! I am also an Asian grad student. I always dress up in a professional style to teach, which my fellow grad students make fun of me for doing, and even so I get asked by my undergrads, "Are you a junior or a senior?" And "What's your major?"

  • Emily S. July 18, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    This is brilliant. Thank you for posting this! I didn't even realize that the "before" and "after" shots were the same person at first. Like everyone else on here, I'm tiny with a baby face. I get so sick of people saying "Oh, you'll be glad to look younger when you're 50!" I know they mean well, but it strikes me as sexist– like for a woman it's more important to look young than to be taken seriously? Argh.

  • Tara August 24, 2010 at 1:27 am

    loving the post!

  • xue.Bunny September 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    LOL omg wow! I LOVE this post! Sadly though I still get carded as a 13 year old even with makeup on. *sigh* Oh well, look to the future right? ๐Ÿ˜›

  • RunningOnCoffee September 12, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Love this post! I am 27. I notice I'm more likely to get carded at the liquor store/restaurants when wearing jeans than my nice work clothes. However, I work in a school district – and last year when I went in to the high school, the main office secretary asked me if I needed a pass to class. (Um, no, I work here).

    When I was 21, and working as a counselor with 12-18 year olds at a shelter. One of the 15 year old girls staying there did not realize I worked there and asked me which room I was staying in! I'm pretty sure that was the moment I decided I would wear heels and get dressed up for work.

    I'm told I will appreciate this when I'm older.

  • chian October 11, 2010 at 4:28 am

    Great post! Looove your style!

    I always try to look older during work so that my clients will not look down on me, which I was able to achieved by putting on simple makeup (eyeliner + concealer + blusher) and dress professionally/modern.

  • Hilary October 27, 2010 at 1:11 am

    great post! as a very petite med student i find myself feeling the same way. i can definitely waver between those two looks depending on the day! i'd say going for "neater" in general always helps with the age thing. you do such a great job looking mature without looking frumpy.

  • Amanda November 16, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    thank you!!! This is one of the best things I've found online about dressing "older." I'm 5'2", 100lb, and I'm so sick of being talked to as if I just went jump rope in the park. I've been getting a little more of a clue on how to dress more sophisticated, but this really helped me hone in on some details I was missing!

  • Anonymous December 21, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    More posts like this! I'm a 20yo Asian who is dating an older man. I don't have his expensive lifestyle budget, but I make due with what I have. ๐Ÿ™‚ He thinks I'm cute, but I want to be beautiful and sexy. Please help! I will forever be carded and treated like a little girl…

  • Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    amazing post!

  • Brown Eyed Girl February 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

    This post is a must-see for any college grads navigating the weekend social scene or even summertime happy hour scene. (petite or not!)

    I think a few hipster or menswear-inspired outfits can also lend maturity and sophistication to a weekend warrior.

    Pairing a well-constructed, fitted blazer or thin sweater with well-tailored fitted jeans, cords, or slacks can amp up the maturity factor of an outfit.

    Investing in a big girl purse–something structured and almost luggage-like, rather than cutesy and slouchy suggests a put-together and older woman.

    Like other readers, I need to wear sneakers or flats due to a foot arch issue. Wearing fitted straight-leg or wide-leg work slacks or trousers with a fitted monochrome tee or acceptably adult-ish graphic tee works well with muted low-soled sneakers, flats, or ankle boots.

    I recently swapped my chunky New Balances for a retro-looking, unobtrusive sleek pair of Pumas, and the maturity factor of my weekend outfits (as well as the coolness factor) went through the roof! Now I def look my age when I'm roaming the city or trolling the Farmer's Market on Saturdays.

  • โ™ฅ LTDT โ™ฅ February 19, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Holy crap… So THAT'S why I got charged a child's fare on the city bus… Hahhahaha. This is amazing!! Saving this. Thanks sooo much!!!

Comments are closed.