Fashion is often seen as a young person’s industry, but that’s simply not true. In recent years, the industry has been bending towards becoming a space where those of all ages feel welcome and accepted. There are influencers and style mavens who skew into the age range above 50 who, to be frank, are showcasing interesting and compelling daily outfits–we’ve been paying attention, especially with the rise of TikTok.
Whether your relationship with clothing and accessories is directly correlated with your roots, being inspired by core family members, or something else–one thing is clear: fashion provides a way for many to tell their own stories. Through clothing choices, one can be seen as bold and even fearless. But, what’s most important is that age not be a defining factor when it comes to being viewed as stylish. Style is something that can be cultivated over the years, but to some, it’s an innate instinct. This notion is something to ponder, especially at a moment when it appears that trends are driving the cyclical global fashion market. Interestingly enough not relying on trends is a guiding light for those who know the power of leaning on your individuality.
Ahead, we spoke with three women spanning different generations who have an affinity for fashion–they didn’t hold back on what guides them style-wise. And they also let us in on why they’ll always lean on patterns and key colors to feel confident.
Sonya Shields, 60, Brooklyn
“[For] my whole life, fashion has been how I’ve expressed myself,” says Sonya Shields, a nonprofit executive director and president. Originally from Great Neck a village in Long Island, Shields tells me she grew up inspired by women like her mother and grandmother. When reflecting on their style decisions, she says that her mother was always dressed flawlessly. “I remember as a child taking in the beauty of my mom and grandmother.” Shields mentions over our call that her parents were also a well-dressed couple through multiple eras, especially the ‘70s. At that point, she says they embraced their Afros and wore pieces adjacent to what the Black Panthers wore. Over the years, her mother’s intentional choice to mix trends while keeping things classic has always been a guiding light for Shields.
By the time she attended Howard University years ago for undergrad, preppy style was in. Since she’s a New Yorker she wasn’t used to that approach to fashion–she tells me she wore pinafores and sweaters that were considered in style, but each time she’d inject it with her own style by way of sneakers and hats by Kangol. Shields used her time at the Washington, D.C. historically Black university to experiment with her style.
Since she’s been in the nonprofit sector for 30 years she mentions that this space is typically filled with people wearing suits. Shields tells me from the beginning of her career she’s been subverting what a typical person in this industry should be wearing. “When I came into this field no one was expressing themselves [through their style].” Now as a leader, she is doing just that. For instance, for a recent gala, she decided to wear a tuxedo sans a top. To some that might have felt off-putting, but Shields prefers to go for “funky” looks. And that’s what makes her journey with fashion ever more compelling. She says with age she’s been leaning into showing more skin unabashedly.
Denim plays a large role in Shields’ wardrobe too. She expresses that there have been multiple instances where she’s been told jeans are inappropriate for the workplace–rather than allowing naysayers to get her down–she powers on confidently.
For those yearning to stop relying on trends, Shields says to lean on pops of color and bases like denim, black pieces, and white staple items. “Getting into trends is a mistake,” the executive director said. She tells me that bases can guide you and lead you to create memorable outfits. An additional word of advice: “Don’t buy outfits.” Instead, build a foundation of well-made pieces that you can wear over and over again.
Patrice Alexander, 57, Atlanta
Migrating towards specific things is a normal happenstance for lovers of unique clothing and pieces. That feeling is what happens when you’re in a store and suddenly become energized by an item. Patrice Alexander, an Atlanta-based consultant says that’s exactly how she shops. Rather than perusing stores with a list in tow, she lets her heart guide her. “I’ve never been one to be into trends,” she says. “I have always had a love for fashion. I buy things that I love and wear them until I can’t wear them anymore.”
In a Zoom call, she further mentions that putting herself in chic outfits comprised of pieces by Roger Vivier, Chanel and Gucci comes naturally to her. “I’ve always bought things that I loved without a thought,” Alexander adds that she’s always had a love for fashion–her upbringing just outside of Macon, Georgia could point to why. She recalls both her paternal and maternal grandmothers being viewed as stylish. The former she says was particularly inspiring as she wore mink hats and jackets often with church-approved items. She remembers going on shopping trips with her as a child and trying on her clothes. “My mother’s mother dressed [not according] to her age–she always had a sense of style that I appreciated.” All of these moments would prove to be meaningful as they were her preliminary experiences with adding special touches to outfits.
On Alexander’s Instagram page which her daughter Briana launched for her over a year ago, she is able to document her sophisticated outfits. When scrolling through her page, you’re able to recognize that fashion brings her joy. There’s one Reel where she’s wearing a bell-sleeved red and baby blue floral top, and flared Free People denim, in it she’s dancing and smiling. In another she dons a striped Alice + Olivia collared shirt with a bow directly in the middle, vintage Chanel platform shoes, and ‘70s-esque, flattering jeans by Veronica Beard (she’s also dancing in this one). This profile allows her to showcase her playful approach to fashion.
“My style has pretty much been the same my whole life, but it’s improved because I have more disposable income,” Alexander said. At one point years ago as a single mother, she wasn’t able to splurge on items like she can now. As she’s gotten older she feels that she’s also been able to tap into purchasing pieces that hold significance to her. This is solid advice for those figuring out what to spend ample money on, instead of doing so often, save it for when it’s not a burden on your bank account. Investment pieces can look like vintage leather coats, durable work totes, and loafers you can wear no matter the season.
Na’aisha Austin, 40, Atlanta
Na’aisha Austin shows up for our mid-morning video call wearing a long-sleeved Christopher John Rogers color-blocked sweater dress in black, orange, teal, and yellow. This is on brand for Austin, a writer, who hails from St. Louis, Missouri. She has fashion in her blood–her mother is a designer known by many in the town she grew up in, in the Midwest. She tells me that Kimora Lee Simmons wore designs by her mother when Simmons was 16. “I’ve been immersed in this world my whole life,” she says. When tasked with explaining her relationship with clothing, Austin eloquently expresses that it has been a way for her to dream and revitalize herself. As a child, she was teased while attending schools that were predominantly white–and so she chose specific clothing to shield herself but also express herself creatively.
In her 20’s and 30’s Austin explains that she had different clothing she felt drawn to. In her 20’s she was into boho pieces and felt she was reinventing herself. When reflecting on that era of her life, she says she wasn’t purchasing investment items back then. But, at the moment she is heavily purchasing colorful pieces by Christopher John Rogers that she feels will stand the test of time. She owns 25 runway looks by Rogers, a Savannah College of Art and Design alumnus. In an email, she tells me that she feels it’s important for Black consumers to support couture pieces by our own designers. Austin attended the most recent presentation in New York City after connecting with Rogers’ team.
“[My style] has evolved but I’ve always worn bold colors,” she says. “I do love statement pieces.” Austin says that statement pieces allow her to feel like the most confident version of herself. She typically purchases pieces with bold textures such as taffeta, silk, and wool, she feels she is drawn to them. “I use my fashion to highlight who I am,” she said. For those who might feel fashion is a vain form of expression, she could care less. Rather than dwell on this notion, she says she dresses for herself. Austin shares that she also purchases items she hopes to pass down to her daughter one day.
For elevating one’s style she expresses that one must first find what they love, whether that’s pastel pieces or a specific jewelry brand you’ll support often. Once that step is done you can move to figuring out what pieces feel most authentic to you. That might be strictly supporting Black designers, or maybe not. An additional tip she offers is to always be intentional with your purchases.