Anyone thinking of purchasing a Supreme sweatshirt more expensive than a used car may want to ask themselves an important question: Will I be able to pull this off 30 years from now? Unfortunately, according to a study published in the journal Ageing and Society, whether or not your style will stay the same may have a lot to do with gender.
For the study, University of Kent Professor of Social Policy and Sociology Julia Twigg, Ph.D., conducted 24 in-depth interviews with men between 58 and 85, to help investigate how their responses to fashion and clothing choices might change over time. Twigg particularly remembers one interview subject who was fond of retro snakeskin pants that he has since abandoned. But generally, men did not undergo any dramatic moment where they realized styles from their youth no longer matched their aesthetic identity.
“It was common for [women] to have this changing room moment when they put on a dress and think, ‘Hmmmm, not any more’,” Twigg tells Inverse, adding that “none of the men had had that. I think it’s that clothing has a different significance in women’s and men’s lives.”
In her previous research on women, Twigg found that the age-related “changing room moment” was a defining factor in explaining why someone may retire a certain favorite outfit. It represented a seismic shift in the way women saw themselves and their style. But the men in Twigg’s current study never described a changing room moment. Instead, they found that as they aged, they were able to generally maintain the way they dressed. Twigg sees this as a consequence of the way men’s and women’s clothes are designed, which allows men to continue their aesthetic identities later into life than their female counterparts:
“One of the things women do as they get older is cover up more,” she says. “Men’s clothes don’t show much of their bodies. They show their hands, face, maybe their neck. Obviously, the body is present underneath but it’s not as exposed. That has quite a lot of consequences for getting older.”
One consequence she identifies is a sense of loss, or a “cultural exile,” that some, but not all, women described when they felt compelled to retire certain looks.
“I had a woman who was very elegant and smartly and fashionably dressed. I think there was a sense of sadnesss, something that had been interesting and lively in her life was unavailable to her. She felt a kind of exile from it,” Twigg says.
Interestingly, men didn’t seem to bring up the fear of being “culturally exiled” as a factor in why they might have retired the snakeskin pants. But there were some things that tended to inspire strong negative emotions other than age. For example, when the interviewers brought up elastic waisted pants it sent some of the subjects reeling with horror:
This was met with cries of derision. Trevor, the former police officer, cried: ‘No, no!’ ‘That’s anathema’ said Tony, the former graphic designer. Chris held up his fingers crossed, as if to ward off a vampire.
Elastic waistbands aside, Twigg notes that these results serve to highlight the different ways that societal norms around clothing design tend to affect how men and women are judged not only by themselves, but by others as they age:
“It’s partially that women are judged by appearance norms that men aren’t so much,” she concludes.