Discuss: How Old Is Too Old?

Feb 15, 2012

I have a lot on my mind this week, fashion-wise and otherwise, and I always find the comments on these posts so interesting, that I thought that I would post another one.

Yesterday, I was walking around the Hill and saw a significant number of women wearing patterned tights.  In fact, I think I saw no fewer than five women wearing dotted tights.  Some of them were young (intern age), some of them were my age (on the slippery slope to 30) and others were older than me.   

Now, I don’t necessarily think that patterned tights are faux pas.  Certainly, they shouldn’t make your legs look you haven’t shaved since 1992, but a pair of dotted tights or these garter belt tights could be cute.  But whether you love them or loathe them, I think we can all agree that they aren’t Capitol Hill appropriate.

But the bigger question that I’m trying to resolve is: How old is too old for patterned tights?  Or is age nothing but a number (ever increasing though it may be)?



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  1. Meredith says:

    I think you can wear patterned tights at any age, though I think that there is an age limit on very bold prints. If the pattern is subtle, I think anyone could wear them, but leave the garter belt print tights for the young.

  2. amy says:

    I strongly disagree — I think you can absolutely wear patterned tights on the hill. However, I think there are some caveats — I wouldn't necessarily wear the large polka dot tights above or the ones you linked to, but I think that a more subtle pattern in a neutral color (black or brown) are perfectly fine, especially if you tone down the pattern in the rest of your outfit accordingly. I frequently wear patterned black tights (my favorite are mostly solid with a subtle diamond pattern) with black tall boots, a black suit, and a solid-color blouse, so there's a little pattern peeking out around my knees but it's not overwhelming.

  3. renee says:

    I think 30 (sorry — I'm headed there myself), for very bold tights such as dots, colors, etc. I'm an attorney, and up until this year I wore colored/patterned tights of all types (if I wasnt headed to court) without blinking an eye, but this year I just can't bring myself to wear anything other than black or a simple pattern such as black argyle.

  4. KLo says:

    I'll be turning 30 right about the same time you will, if I remember correctly. I think the tights with dots are absolutely adorable, but I can't imagine wearing them to work. I might be willing to wear them on the weekends, but I doubt it. But I'd wear dots on just about any other piece of clothing or accessory, so maybe I just haven't seen the right dotted tights?

  5. I think like everything it depends….I had a French professor who was wearing black fishnets well into her late seventies very successfully…But she was French and she owned it…I think the bigger question with patterned tights is not so much age, but are you picking the right pattern for your body type? Some of those patterns can really make or break you.

  6. Scarlett says:

    I don't think they're too old for 30…but I wouldn't want to see someone hiding a varicose vein problem with dotted hose. Just saying…

  7. Rory says:

    I don't see why patterned tights wearing has to stop at any age, but please leave those to more art-sy professions and the weekends. If I had worn those while interning on the Hill I would have been sent back home.

  8. K says:

    I don't think there's an age cutoff for patterned tights- the more garish prints shouldn't be worn at work, and probably don't work at every age, but something more subtle could be nice. Like when the pattern is small / inconspicuous enough to look like a “texture” if that makes sense. I just saw these tights from Banana Republic https://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=61257&vid=1&pid=853744&scid=853744002 and I think those could work at any age.

    How do lacey tights fall on this spectrum? I saw a younger woman wearing them down K street and I couldn't help but wonder in what office that would be appropriate.

  9. eduncan says:

    Belle, what do you think of Swiss dot tights 9https://www1.bloomingdales.com/shop/product/spanx-swiss-dot-tights?ID=458636&cm_mmc=Froogle-_-n-_-n-_-n)? Those seem subtle and classy. Still inappropriate for the Hill?

  10. Heather says:

    I think subtle patterns (small dots included, like the Kate Spade ones) are appropriate at any age! That question had honestly never even crossed my mind. Bright tights or extreme bold patterns, on the other hand, look a little ridiculous past high school.

  11. H. says:

    I think the issue is less about age and more about what's appropriate in your office/for your position. Youth isn't an excuse to wear outrageous patterns or colors in a conservative office environment, and I think that a classy, subtle pattern (tiny pin-dots or a tight, textured pattern that isn't noticeable from a distance, for example) can be a great way to add interest to an otherwise conservative outfit at almost any age. (For the record, I'm a young-looking thirty, and love my pin-dot tights!) In some settings, I could see it being easier to get away with (subtly!) patterned tights at an older age, the way that expensive stilettos on a successful, established woman can project a very different image than the same shoes would if worn by a mid-20s recent grad.

  12. Meredith says:

    Belle – I've seen you mention wearing flesh colored fishnets to work. What brand do you suggest? This may sound silly, but do they hurt your feet in your shoes?

  13. VA says:

    This isn't really an age issue to me – more “are patterned tights appropriate for the particular occasion?”. Whimsical tights probably don't belong in a conservative office, or at a funeral. But I don't see why an older woman can't wear dotted tights with a cute and age-appropriate outfit to a cocktail party or something.

    Of course, this is coming from 20-something someone who finally got her petite, adorable, 50-something mom into a pair of age-appro skinny jeans (Talbots. Who knew?). Why should there be an arbitrary age when you have to give up an entire category of clothes, as long as you they flatter your shape and you have the confidence to wear them?

  14. J says:

    I don't think there is an age to stop wearing patterned tights, as long as the outfit is pulled together. Personally, I'm a 20-something and don't like polka dots on my tights. I generally prefer to wear other patterns such as ribbed or diamond. But I don't see why it would be inappropriate for someone on the hill to wear tights like the swiss dot ones mentioned above.

    I definitely think colors (other than neutral black, brown, navy) don't look good past 20.Yesterday on the metro I saw a woman wearing a sophisticated navy sheath dress with bright orange-yellow tights. She was at least 50! Those bright tights ruined an otherwise lovely outfit.

  15. e-liz says:

    depends on the pattern/person/place the tights are being worn.

    truth? there's no definitive rule. and there shouldn't be. these tights here and here? any age. these guys here? never. for any reason.

    it's just like any other item of clothing: use your best judgment.

  16. KC says:

    I Think there are patterns and then there are patterns – fishnets and slight dots are different from the HEARTS i saw a woman walking down K street with yesterday. She was otherwise dressed in a conservative, age appropriate and attractive black suit – and her tights had hearts on them. Black hearts. I did not know what to do with my jaw. I agree with everyone else, as well, as it's a know your office kind of thing as well .

  17. N.M. says:

    The tights that I think look the least professional are the black openwork tights in patterns like florals, paisley, etc. A subtle pattern is fine, and can actually look nicer than plain pantyhose. But the tights that have huge holes in the vague shape of flowers usually look very unprofessional. And I don't think subtle patterns have an age limit.

  18. Lucille says:

    Agree. Age is irrelevant. Most women know what looks good on them and what's appropriate for the setting their in. Discussing tights (again) is feeling a little tired.

  19. Anon says:

    I personally wear patterned tights practically everyday. I think its not necessarily bad to wear the pattern, just make sure its subtle. I typically wear black simple dresses with a cardigan or blazer and the tights. I work in an extremely conservative hill office and have NEVER been told my outfit was inappropriate…..

  20. Lucille says:


  21. Adrienne says:

    I don't think there's an age cap as long as the outfit and situation are appropriate. It also comes down to appearance. If you have heavier legs, patterned tights are not going to look good on you.

    If you work in a casual environment and can wear something whimsical, go for the polka dots. I like wearing fishnets with certain outfits, but that's as patterned as I get.

    In grad school, I once saw a female professor wear red tights wit ladybugs on them to a sporting event. I know it was a casual event, but this was a high-ranking power player at a national TV news outlet. Every time I saw her after that (and every time I've seen her on TV or in the news), all I can think about are those ladybug tights. It's silly, but it completely made me lose respect for her.

  22. Blakely says:

    Belle, I was one of those girls yesterday wearing dotted tights. Lol. Being in my early 20s, and working in the back corner of a not-super-conservative office knowing there was NO way I'd be seeing anyone (members, important meetings, etc..) I wore them for Valentine's Day. Yesterday was probably the only day I'll consider wearing them at work just because of the holiday and I was feeling in a particularly jovial mood. So I think that maybe I wasn't the only one in that situation, because rarely do I see young women (or any women for that matter) in patterned tights on the hill. I know yesterday was a special situation for me at least.

    As for how old you should be – I agree with most of the people above in that if the right pattern is worn correctly, it can be done at any age.

  23. Sara says:

    The lucky catchphrase for getting great jobs in DC is “right place, right time.” If my “right place, right time” caught me wearing bright colors, polka dots, or anything more than a subtle herringbone, diamond, gentle plaid, or otherwise tasteful classic pattern in a neutral color on my legs, I bet that I would miss out on a great opportunity.

    If you want to get ahead, think before you dress.

  24. Ann says:

    Meredith – I buy my nude fishnets at Kohls (Simply Vera Wang). They do not hurt to stand in – I had the same exact thought when I bought them!

    I am 51 and I wear nude fishnets and black tights. Not because of my age, but because I am only 5'2″ and I think anything else segments my body in a way that is not flattering.

    I will say that I have seen some patterned tights that look more like a skin disease than a fashion statement.

  25. Meredith says:

    Ann – thanks for the suggestion on the Simply Vera Wang fishnets, they are currently on sale on-line, so I am going to try them out.

  26. Anon says:

    Wow, I'm surprised by this sentiment Belle! I feel like I am way more conservative than most of the people who post on here (eg, I'm horrified by the idea of hose with open toed shoes, or nude shoes in the winter, or open toed shoes in the winter), but I have no problem with subtle patterns in my hose. Swiss dots, nude fishnets, and very occasionally even a black fishnet. I agree with Amy that the rest of the outfit needs to be muted and classy. But I am over 30 and wear them to the Hill. Don't think I would wear them to a hearing but anywhere else is fine.

  27. Belle says:

    I wear fishnets, and a subtle pattern is one thing, but I'm talking more about thick lace or big dots or chevron stripes. A small dotted tight is fine, but polka dots the size of my fist? That's casual wear.

  28. Anon says:

    Ah, well I definitely agree about big patterns looking girlish and being inappropriate for work. I think the lace hose just tend to look bad on everyone, but maybe on a really thin leggy woman it'd be ok.

  29. Theresa says:

    I don't think there's an age limit so much as a limit on what you can wear with it appropriately. Some tights are just horrible no matter what (read: beige. EW.) But if you're sticking with basic colors like black, navy, maybe camel, etc., patter is ok. But you can't wear a bold patterned tight with a bold mix of colors or a crazy pattern dress. I'm a grad student at GW and I can't tell you how many times I've seen women walking around Foggy Bottom, Dupont, and Farragut wearing crazy patterned black tights with a too-tight pencil skirt and a patterned top in too many colors/too much pattern. Patterned tights are attention-grabbing enough and should usually be used as the focal point of an outfit, so another one (or multiple) ends up looking tacky.

  30. Lauren says:

    I think that there is definitely no cut off age after which one should stop wearing patterned tights. Speaking from experience, I am an attorney in my late 40s and I often wear patterned tights as a way make my boring suits a bit more stylish and interesting- and its really economical also, as often a pair of new patterned stockings will give an outfit a whole new look, so i can recycle dresses and suits from years ago. I think buy all of my patterned tights from a Sydney designer label, FireHosiery: http://www.firehosiery.com.au . They are so incredibly comfortable, unique designs that you won't see everywhere, and really quite affordable too compared with other brands of comparable design and quality.

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