How Not to Look Like Mutton Dressed as Lamb


One of the most common issues many women face is that as they get older they worry about dressing inappropriately for their age – the old “mutton dressed as lamb” issue.
Interestingly, what I’ve discovered with my clients, is that if that thought ever crosses their mind, it’s NOT GOING TO HAPPEN and they can put the thought out of their mind.   Personality is a huge influence on who has a preference to dress too old or too young (in fact in my 7 Steps to Style program I have a personality quiz that will tell you which camp you fit into so you can stop worrying forever about dressing too young as you’ll discover it’s never going to happen to you)..   The women I meet who are dressed to follow Mary, don’t even consider that what they are wearing might be a ‘bit too young’ for them now.
I see way too many women looking frumpy and dowdy because they dress too old, to make sure that they’re not dressing too young.   Please, I implore you, don’t do this either as it ages you.  It also makes you appear like you can’t deal with change and are not keeping up with the modern world.
So to ensure you don’t look like a spring lamb, avoid showing too much flesh, if there is a little cleavage (to around the top of your cleavage, not plunging down, unless you’re a lovely young thing), make sure skirts and dresses reach to around the top of the knee or slightly longer.
Outfits that are neither too old and frumpy nor too young and try hardSkirts past the bottom of your knees can often appear frumpy, unless you have very long legs, and are best worn with heels.  If you prefer to wear flat shoes, keep your skirts no longer than the bottom of the knees unless you have super long pins!
The midi-skirt is a trend that looks best with bobby socks and sneakers when you’re youthful, or with a heel or wedge to elongate your leg as you mature.
If your skirts are more creative in their styling, then you can get away with a much more unusual selection of shoe styling (such as an oxford or boot) as those with a creative bent can easily pull of breaking all the style rules.
Discover how your personality influences your style choices with my 7 Steps to Style program – you’ll delve deeper into the impact of your personality and how that is the deciding factor in choosing what to wear and how to put it all together for you (and why you have that experience of walking into a store and thinking “who would buy this stuff it’s ugly?”.

More tips on Age-Appropriate Dressing

What is Age Appropriate Dressing?

Age Appropriate Jeans

More Style at a Certain Age



I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • I like your observation that if you think about it, it won’t happen. But am not in agreement with the heels. I just can’t tear around the city in them all day. A full ballerina-length skirt like Audrey Hepburn was known for wearing, and cute flats. boots or a low wedge (the shoe has to be stylish) is to me a good look and doesn’t wreck my feet.
    I either have skirts made by the designer and cut a few inches longer (so they graze the bottom of my knee) or buy from one designer whose signature look is the sweeping calf-length skirt. It is not a look for everyone but I’d look dumpy and MDAL in above the knee.

  • This is excellent, Imogen. I also like what you said about “if you think about it, it won’t happen.” I’m pretty sure I’ve made the mistake of being way too frumpy in my fear of drawing attention to myself. This is encouraging.

    Taking into account what Duchesse said, I’m also wondering about non-frumpy alternatives to heels. I feel very uncomfortable in them, and live in a climate where they’re not practical most of the time. Would you consider addressing this in a post sometime?

    I so enjoy your blog, Imogen! I learn something new every day.

  • Imogen, do you think some women end up frumpy BECAUSE they are trying not to dress younger than they actually are? Just taking that urge to be age-appropriate too far?

  • Hi, another thought: re the “frumpy” I find the colours sad, in both the skirt and tee. Skirt length would look fine on a tall person like me. A lot of “frumpy” has to do with clothes made from cheap dyes and low quality fabric.

  • Duchesse – yes you absolutely can wear flat shoes with a skirt and not look frumpy, but it’s the sort of shoe you choose – I see so many women getting around in loafers which are a pant shoe, with their skirt which is why I used them in this illustration.

    I don’t wear skirts above the knee either, and I too can get away with wearing a longer calf length skirt, but I’ve discovered that you either need a boot or a heel for that length to work without looking frumpy and dowdy.

    The majority of women have proportionally shorter legs and longer bodies, which is why I’d suggest the shorter than calf length is a better length. I spend a lot of time when I’m sorting out client’s wardrobes on my knees pinning their skirts up a couple of inches for alteration!

    The colours in the frumpy outfit could look not frumpy in more modern garments, these colours suit some people and they don’t look frumpy at all when the garments work.

  • Sallymandy – non-frumpy alternatives to heels are shoes like ballet flats, or other shoes that have a slimmer sole, a low vamp (if wearing a skirt), knee high boots, sandals with finer straps (rather than thick straps).

    Does the shoe look elegant or dowdy? It’s not about the heel (some shoes with heels can look frumpy), it’s about the shoe construction and design.

  • Sal – absolutely you’re spot on – so many women spend so much time worrying about looking like MDAL so go and dress Old Lady well before their time (and I’ve got 70 year old clients I won’t let dress old lady).

    When do we suddenly decide that we need to start wearing shapeless, nasty synthetic fabrics in dowdy patterns and designs?

  • I like the middle look Imogen, with a tad longer skirt. The shoes look a little “lambish” to me though, would they really look good on a forty-fifty year old? I myself would do it, but only if that skirt were to the knee.

    Can you do some jeans looks that are hip but not “lamb”??? I’d love to see something new and inspiring for jeans.

    Boy do the Certain Agers I know here like to show lots of skin! Just like that first polyvore.I know it’s warm, and many of them love to show off their toned bodies and new breasts, but I don’t think it’s going to change here. They just feel it is such a point of pride to have a great body.

  • Karen – to me the skirt in the middle is knee length. The shoes are high but not overly ‘out there’ so would suit many.

    I’ll look into jeans for you!

    It saddens me that so many women where you live feel they need to show off their bodies to that extend just because they’ve paid for them!

  • I sure liked this article and the posts that went along w/it. Thanks for the Polyvore visual, it was very helpful. As I got older, I was always wearing longer skirts, but since getting good advice, like what you’ve posted, I now wear the shorter length at a suitable area of my leg, which is just below my knee. I’m glad that others posted their shoe preference for the flatter shoe, b/c I tend to “fall off” the higher heels; but I certainly agree w/you point about the style of the flat show being appropriately un-frumpy *g*

  • Usually in the summer I wear longer skirts with sandals (like cotton prints) but since I am now 50 I think maybe that might look a bit frumpy, so I should go with knee-length skirts instead. The problem is, legs…if you have pale legs and older legs, does it look good to go bare-legged with knee length skirts and sandals in the summer. I hate wearing hose…I guess I could do the spray tans!

  • I LOVE your blog and especially enjoyed this post. I wish I could anonymously forward it to the women that I see who are desperately trying to hang onto their youth.

  • Love your tips and photo illustrations on how be be ‘niether mutton nor lamb’ Imogen (and congrats on your centification too- great news).

    I regularly go through my clothes and cull what I have sadly grown out of age-wise (or don’t fit into anymore!) It’s important to keep your clothes organized so that you can ‘see’ exactly what you have and what needs updating.

    For more info on how to do this read this article –

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