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Apropros of nothing at all, I’m wondering—how many people change their dress style as adults? And how often? I’m talking about a real change in look, something akin to a makeover. Not the sort of gradual change that comes with attempting to approximate your previous look with the clothes available in stores as they change, but a big change.

Actually, I’m not entirely sure what I mean by this. I’ve been wearing mostly the same look for decades, but certainly there was a stretch of a few years when I was more likely to wear black shirts and a stretch where mostly I wore blue. I wear sweaters (or jumpers) somewhat less frequently than I used to, particularly when I lived in somewhat colder climes. But on the whole, I could perfectly happily wear my outfits from 2009 or 1999 or even 1989, if they would fit me. And if I mixed those outfits with my 2019 ones, I don’t think many people would really notice.

On the other hand, if I had versions of my 1979 wardrobe that fit me, I wouldn’t ever wear them. I mean, I was ten years old, fine. I hadn’t settled on a style. But by the time I was twenty—and really by the time I was thirty—I had settled on a style, and since then, I’ve stuck to it.

But I am aware that I’m not necessarily a typical person. For one thing, I don’t wear fashionable clothes at all—nothing I wore in 1999 was particularly in fashion in 1999, so it’s not exactly less fashionable now. And, of course, I’m a guy who presents as a guy: my choices are in some sense more limited (I have been wearing trousers all my life) and less limiting (as long as I present ‘guy’ my choices aren’t likely be dangerous or even provocative). But I am interested in clothes, and I look at what people wear, and for the first time I’ve been working in the same place for a decade, and… I think most of my co-workers’ wardrobes are pretty similar to their wardrobes from ten years ago. Not identical, and of course many of them have gained or lost weight, or added muscle, or borne children, or otherwise have a somewhat different body type, and may have adopted some different clothing styles in response to that. Still, on the whole the people who favored solid colors still favor them, and the people who indulge in bright patterns still so indulge. The women who preferred trousers ten years ago still seem to prefer trousers; the women who matched jackets and skirts still do that, just about as often. The dudes who wear open collars whenever they can still do that; the guys who liked sweater vests still like ’em, and why shouldn’t they? I’m sure there are subtle differences I haven’t noticed, but in broad terms, I feel like most of the adults I work with (or near) had, at least in the workplace, settled on a look and not really changed it much since. On the other hand, my workplace is in academia, which is itself not a typical sort of place, and the prof who wears the same suit for thirty years is a well-known stereotype.

What are y’all’s experiences? Do you feel like you would happily wear some substantial portion of your 1999 wardrobe? Do you think most middle-aged folk would happily wear the stuff they were wearing twenty years ago, if it were new and it fit? Do tastes and styles not actually change very much?

I think about this in part because—well, because I started thinking about it and haven’t stopped, so that’s a thing. And also because I had a conversation recently about fashion in the late 1980s, which is thirty years ago now, and seems even longer in some ways. And I’ve never really thought about it like this, but I was wondering if when I compare fashion in the 80s and fashion in the 70s and fashion in the 90s, I’m really comparing people who were twentysomething during all those periods—which means I’m comparing entirely different groups of people. And now I’m wondering if costumers all know this and do it—if you are looking to costume a fifty-year-old in year N, look at what a thirty-five-year-old was wearing in year N-15, and then adjust for what was available in stores.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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