Another Fashion Week has ended here in New York City and, as always, it was a testament to the ever-evolving creativity of the industry. Back on Earth, however, fashion trends may be less pricey or sophisticated, and no one picks up on them faster than teenage girls. The latest in clothes, hair, makeup (and all other things, such as music) seem to spread like wildfire in this demographic.

In fact, I could never really understand how my teenage daughters caught on to trends so quickly given that they didn’t read fashion magazines or spend much time in stores. Yet when a new style emerged, they were on it immediately. A lot of this seemed to me to be about what studies have repeatedly confirmed: that the most important thing to teenagers is peer acceptance. Fitting in with their friends, getting their approval, and feeling comfortable with their cohort is a major preoccupation for teenagers, and wearing the “right thing” can offer an instant membership card into a desired group.

It comes as no surprise, then, that a recent study from Temple University’s Fox School of Business indicates that teenage girls are not heavily influenced by their mothers’ fashion sense. What is surprising, however, is the extent to which the researchers found that the daughters were influencing their mothers’ consumption behavior—what the research team dubbed the “consumer doppelganger effect.” This study highlighted the increasingly visible trend of older women who are taking their fashion hints from their daughters and dressing more like them. Some women can carry it off so well that they impress teenage boys; but at the other end of the spectrum are those who wind up looking like they are wearing what teenage girls call with utmost disdain, “Mom jeans.”

Two questions immediately come to mind: Who are these women identifying with, and who are they trying to impress? Most important, though, why is this happening now? In my mother’s day, a stylish woman knew what looked good on her: She followed fashions, but in order to look her best she always bore in mind the specifics of her figure, her age, the occasion she was dressing for, and the audience she was trying to please. Now every day is casual Friday, but what’s more, it seems that there is relentless pressure on women to look as young as possible to the exclusion of all other goals.

The impetus to look younger can lead to disastrous consequences, such as when plastic surgery is taken beyond healthy or reasonable limits. In terms of fashion, very few of us can be trendsetters, and most are followers, but dressing too young for one’s age is a mistake for all but a precious few. It’s been liberating to discover that we can feel fit, healthy, and attractive as we age, and that we don’t have to be ruled by the biological clock, but just because “50 is the new 40!” it does not follow that “50 can be the new 20!”

I think that older women, like their daughters, are being influenced by our increasingly media-dominated culture, one which over the last few decades has led to an incredible spike in eating disorders, body-image problems, and preoccupation with looks. The “Baby-Boomer Generation” was the first to suffer eating disorders in epidemic proportions; it comes as no surprise that our body-image disorders would evolve into a preoccupation with looking young. But the numbers of young women afflicted by these disorders continues to rise. What kind of example are we setting for our daughters if we let them lead us rather than vice versa?

Some of these women (perhaps Lindsay Lohan’s mother?) narcissistically wounded by the aging process, may be trying to compete in their daughter’s world, a mistake if only because it is a game they cannot win. There are more than enough chic and sexy options for women at every age (think French women here), options that are flattering and highlight their best qualities. In contrast, dressing in clothing that is inappropriate for one’s age underscores precisely the ways in which older women can’t compete with young girls—at least in terms of physical appearance.


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