What are some tricks for looking like a grown-up?
September 5, 2013 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Specifically, I'm thinking of tips like "carry a very expensive purse," or "always wear lipstick." I try to avoid wearing flat shoes, keep my long blonde hair pulled back or blown straight, and wear a lot of dry-clean-only, tailored clothing. What else am I missing? How do the 4-year-olds on Toddlers & Tiaras manage to look fifteen years older? Any and all tips appreciated.

I am a 29-year-old woman. Since college I have been repeatedly told that I look much younger than my age. This doesn't seem to have much to do with maturity, confidence, or general style (on more than one occasion I've been told that "you're the most put together person I know,") but more to do with my short stature, round face with full cheeks, and soft voice. This is mostly an issue with strangers, and puts me at a disadvantage when I'm trying to solicit new clients for my business, negotiate business deals, or hire contractors to fix my perpetually-broken condo. What are some specific tricks or tips for looking older?
posted by aspen1984 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (41 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
posted by ambrosia at 7:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Random, but I find I look more polished and grown-up when I swap out the blush on my cheeks for some very tame bronzer applied along my cheekbone.
posted by joan_holloway at 7:59 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looking too "put together" can seem
young. Too matchy matchy can be cutesy or trendy which reads young. Better to look "effortless" and "timeless." Using classic pieces paired with expensive or traditional
accessories. Wearing a watch helps, for some reason. Nude makeup, darker hair, glasses. Talk about your kids (if you have them) or say things like "who is this Miley Cyrus person people keep talk about?"

But ultimately, enjoy being "young!" Confidence in yourself and security in your skin is true maturity.
posted by katypickle at 8:02 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Toddlers & Tiaras girls are wearing a ton of makeup. They look like clowns, but they look like mature clowns. Makeup can be used to age you up or down. If you don't currently wear much makeup or know much about applying it, you can go to a makeup counter (Sephora or a department store) and ask for a makeover and/or some tips about using cosmetics to make your face look older.
posted by decathecting at 8:09 PM on September 5, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry, I'm not trying to thread-sit, but for clarification, here is my usual makeup routine: B&B cream or foundation, concealer, bronzer, dark brown eyeliner, a matte neutral eye shadow, and mascara. I've been working on incorporating a matte lipstick, which I hate wearing. This is sort of my template. I'm getting the sense that shimmer=young and matte=old.
posted by aspen1984 at 8:17 PM on September 5, 2013

Good posture.
posted by greta simone at 8:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check out my previous questions as I've asked this same question before. I've learned it's also not about looks, but how you present yourself. I'm 28, look 18, and am in undergrad with students that are 18. I try to casually mention things like, "Man, when I was in high school we didn't have smartboards.. we used white boards". But also, the way you talk helps a lot. I don't view the world the way an 18 year old does and it reflects in my speech, the topics I bring up, the references I bring up. When talking politics you could casually mention "But don't you remember when Bush....?".

Oh, and thanks for reminding me to dye my hair again.
posted by eq21 at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Experiment with different shades of eye shadow, maybe look at fashion magazines to get an idea of what looks younger versus older.

Also, maybe being more covered up versus showing cleavage or your whole arms or whatever. Like a light sweater with buttons might be more grown up than just a shirt, for example.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:38 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

A calm, well-modulated voice. Eliminate trendy colloquialisms and sing-songy sentences. Make sure that your sentences don't go up at the end unless you are asking a question.
posted by 26.2 at 8:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm also in the camp that this is more about how you interact with people than dress. If you can project confidence, self-reliance, and worldliness it doesn't matter if you're in a t-shirt. If you're talking about how your mom said she was going to buy you a new car but she doesn't want to pay for the one you wanted and how that's totally unfair, it doesn't matter if you're wearing a business suit.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:56 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

What 26.2 said is much more important than your clothes, once you reach a base level of "adult professional" with your wardrobe.

You might take a look at this thread about how to appear more professional. Some of seeming more adult or grown up is clothing, make-up, and accessories, but most of it is bearing and demeanor.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't smile at first.

Wear dark colors next to your face.

Bronzer? Why? This seems unnecessary and may be making you seem younger (much like lip gloss).

At the same time, you can accept your youthful appearance and find some way to compensate for it with your speech, manner, and what you say. Just as people who seem different have to compensate with friendliness, people who seem young have to compensate with acuity.
posted by amtho at 9:21 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Adults have a fearlessness of asking questions to get the information they want. It's confidence, but it's more nuanced than that - it's the life experience to know that you don't know everything and the self assurance to show that you're no less deserving of respect for showing your desire for information. And it's reciprocal - the more you respect other people in this way (not being aloof, helping them, being clear in your communication) the more they'll respect you back. So for example, when you're speaking to contractors, be insistent about getting the right information so you can make informed decisions. Ask them who you should be speaking to to get the knowledge you need if they can't provide it. Don't let anybody bullshit you.

It's crappy but the sad fact is, it doesn't matter particularly much how you look beyond a base level of professional because no matter what you do, you're going to be presenting as a woman. And there is a huge barrier there to get strangers to automatically respond to you on an equal level, regardless of a woman's age. It makes me angry just typing that out. But it's the current culture. You can try working on your voice - being louder, more forceful, direct, particularly in your introductions. You can also try working on determining when someone is - hopefully subconsciously - disrespecting or ignoring you because of your femininity and acting accordingly for the situation, which might help you gauge which people you actually want to pursue further interactions with, as well.

And yes, shiny/shimmery/candy colors = young, matte/textural/neutrals = older. Also consider cutting your hair to something low maintenance, or at least something that doesn't need a blow out or otherwise be in a ponytail, because ponytails are actually relatively youthful. Never text while having a face to face conversation. Only wear one piece of jewelry that's large, bright, or otherwise makes a statement - all other accessories need to be subtle or not even there. Look people in the eye.
posted by Mizu at 9:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [30 favorites]

Sorry - I understand a little more about bronzer now. Not the same as lip gloss.
posted by amtho at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2013

The soft voice? Speech lessons/therapy, enabling you to literally "speak up".
posted by Ms. Next at 10:03 PM on September 5, 2013

Or in a similar vein, drama classes!
posted by Ms. Next at 10:04 PM on September 5, 2013

Always wear accessories, and wear mostly understated accessories. My most adult-ifying thing is a couple of gold bracelets my grandmother gave me. They make any outfit look grown up.

Outfits, rather than just clothes. So, a top and a bottom that go together, either thematically or because they have similar colours, or whatever. Don't put on a pair of pants you like, and then a top you like. Put on a pair of pants and a top that look great together.

Also: belts. Like just a normal belt through belt loops are for some reason not very "youthful". And, often: blazers.

And mostly: confidence/assertiveness/acting like you expect and deserve to be treated with respect.
posted by Kololo at 10:12 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Earrings, especially pearl or faux pearl studs. I always feel polished when I'm wearing earrings.
posted by Youremyworld at 10:29 PM on September 5, 2013

If you don't like lipstick, consider lip tint or lip stain. I hate the feel of lipstick, too, but I'm quite happy with Benefit's tints (I use cha-cha-tint everyday) or those felt tip pen-style lip stains.
posted by sukeban at 11:48 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was underage. I could pass for legal simply by parting my hair in the middle instead of on the side.
posted by Cranberry at 12:23 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

For your round face, ditch the bronzer and try some contouring instead. On YouTube,
Charlotte Tilbury and gossmakeupartist are especially good for this. Also check out Kevyn Sucoin's "Making Faces" book for a contouring diagram.

For your voice, get one-to-one lessons with a serious voice coach. Do not waste your time with group classes as this is a specialist task which needs focussed tuition and you will damage your voice if you do not use it correctly. Shell out the money, it's worth it.

For posture, I recommend a book called "Towards Perfect Posture" by Brian Door. To learn each movement or, in some cases, submovement, I repeated it 128 times on each side - obviously not all in one session, I kept a running total.

In general, keep as still as you can. To get the Creepy Child effect in horror movies, they direct the kid to hold very still, as it's natural for children to move around almost constantly. The less you move, the less childlike you look.
posted by tel3path at 12:51 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Shoes and hands. I tend to overlook the obvious and often notice shoes and hands. A really good pair of shoes and a nice manicure say more to me than a tailored suit. To my way of thinking, the absence of make-up on a woman, rather than more of it, is also a good sign of someone who is confident and not to be taken lightly. Clowns wear make-up.

If you have visible tattoos, do the best you can to cover them up. The only people who benefit on the job from being inked up are bikers working in a bar. Same with piercings. These are childish things.

A firm handshake and looking people in the eye when you talk to them is also important if you want to be taken seriously.

I am also quite formal in professional settings. I call people Dr. Mr. Ms. Mrs. as appropriate until I know them so well that it becomes awkward.
posted by three blind mice at 1:13 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that true grown-ups just wear what works for them and what they like, without caring too much about what they ought to be wearing.

Since you have a soft voice, I would practice asking for what you want in a polite, assertive and unapologetic manner. I think that will help you to be taken seriously far more than any grooming-related changes.

But, some thoughts on appearance:

When I'm on the underground on the way to and from work I get the opportunity to people-watch. I see a lot of professional women on their way in to work. I notice that a lot of younger women wear heavy or at least very obvious make-up. I too would consider a 'full face' of make-up to be something that younger women do.

Also, long nails with bright neon nail colour and nail art tend to be worn by younger women. Short, neat nails painted in classic colours look more mature.

I barely see any women wearing high heels on the train, they probably all keep their nice shoes at work. Most of the women I see wear nice, formal ballet flats. I think that nice, good quality shoes of any height will make you look like a grown-up.

Also, wear what you like (ditch the matte lipstick since you say you hate it!) and what you're comfortable in. I used to work with a girl who wore these really high heeled shoes into work despite the fact that she couldn't really walk in them and she kept falling over. Even though they were really nice shoes, her obvious discomfort made her look immature. If you're comfortable in what you're wearing, you'll project confidence, and that'll make you look mature.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:51 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

2nding tel3path re the contouring. in addition to her recommendations see also this video. If you read the comments you'll see a lot of people complaining that the model looks a lot older with the contouring.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:10 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

From your description, I think katypickle may right: when you're all matchy-matchy dressed up in a suit and hair and shoes and neutral makeup and all that professional stuff, it can make you look even younger. I think if you were to funk it up a bit with shoes, accessories or a fashion-forward hairstyle you may look more your age.

I'm 49 and get told a lot that I don't look a day over 35 (but I look exactly like a 49 year old), so I wonder if this is a common compliment people say instead of someone looks attractive or happy or smiley. I don't know. It could be that you actually do look 29 and you're being complimented.
posted by kinetic at 2:59 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cut your hair. Hair that's longer than shoulder length, especially super beautiful long hair where the owner obviously spends a lot of time on its maintenance, reads "under 25" to me.

Don't feel obligated to wear heels (in my thirties, I wear heels much less often than I did in ten years earlier, because ow my feet). When you do, wear modest heels; keep them under three inches. Wear flats that are dressier than ballet flats; slightly pointed ("almond") toes are good, like these. You probably already know this, but don't wear sandals at work.

Don't wear or carry anything that's obviously trendy or that has a logo people will recognize from five feet away.

Keep your eye makeup subtle. Heavy eyeliner and mascara somehow make young people look younger and old people look older; it doesn't seem to help make anyone look the age they want.

And this last one may depend on your workplace, but one of the things I've seen that distinguishes the older from the younger is that older people often have a knack for friendly small talk. They'll say hi to everyone they pass, chat about the weather or commute or how today doesn't feel like the weekday it is. Younger workers either tend to be all business or stick to smallish groups of people their own age.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:28 AM on September 6, 2013

It's "Kevyn Aucoin" not "Kevyn Sucoin", sorry I was on my phone.
posted by tel3path at 4:38 AM on September 6, 2013

Around here, I've noticed a lot of relatively low-level female employees (bank tellers, front line customer service) wearing suits and button down shirts.

Thus I conclude that if you want to convey "serious businesswoman", it's useful to deliberately appear slightly more individual; not that you shouldn't wear a suit, but you should avoid the kind of suit that could be mistaken for a corporate uniform.

Thus, printed dress with suit jacket, or skirt/shell/blazer, or anything that's just a little unusual in the cut.

Skirts close to knee length read older than short skirts, no matter how tasteful the short skirt.

Seconding -1 to the ponytail and the blush. Could you maybe put your hair up at the back?

Finally, don't forget to offer the handshake first, and (when applicable) to loudly buy the first round of drinks. Be the host when it's appropriate, and I mean that in an "I'm in charge here" way, not in an "I'm here to make the tea" way.
posted by emilyw at 4:58 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have self confidence.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:20 AM on September 6, 2013

Having a round face with full cheeks is probably the key factor in your looking young. In my own experience, a good stylist cut my hair into a fashionable modified bob and it made a huge difference. Hair fell around my cheekbones - or where they'd be if I didn't have such a moonface - and gave the illusion of more mature features. Added angular glasses, rectangles with a zyl (plastic) frame, and it was a huge huge difference.
posted by juniperesque at 6:19 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

What do you mean by soft voice? Among the silver backs I work with, speaking like a tween - which is now common among women in their 30s - and being seen whispering to another woman will mark a woman as completely irrelevant.

There is nothing you can do about having a round and youthful-looking face. Do not dress or act in any way that will remind a client of their teenage daughter and their teenage daughter's annoying friends.

Males can act quite a bit like dumb lumbering high school jocks with few repercussions. Our gender has to walk and talk like a "grownup. "

Take heart! I know a very successful professional who could pass for 13. She's probably 30 by now.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:02 AM on September 6, 2013

Hair no longer than 1-2" past the shoulders. No bangs (long bangs a la Kate Middleton are ok).

Makeup - eyes can be a little shimmery for special occasions or evening wear, but mostly use just liner and mascara. Keep a nice brow.

Posture - both feet on the ground, hips square. Face your torso to the other person (line up your belly button to his/her belly button). Don't tilt your hip to the side or anything like that. Basically, physically embody confidence.

Then, speak clearly, be knowledgeable on an assortment of topics, give & share conversation and don't laugh at juvenile shit. Don't let yourself be emotionally pulled here or there based on the "energy" of the other person. (Videos can help here - watching videos of Werner Erhard of the Landmark Forum fame show someone who embodies personal power and authenticity.) And for the love of all that is holy, no vocal fry (a la Kim Kardashian).

I'm in my 30s and often told I look young... until I open my mouth! Once I speak, people realize I'm older.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:24 AM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd wear the tallest heels you can walk in, for the added height. Glasses lend authority, and you can get glasses with no prescription. Also, make sure you feel and own your authority; take yourself seriously.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on September 6, 2013

Nth-ing voice lessons or acting lessons. I am short with baby cheeks and with a backpack on, sometimes strangers think I'm a high school girl. (That would half my age by the way) But when I open my mouth and my absurdly contralto voice comes rolling out (thanks Dad and Mom for your low husky voices!) people tend to sit up and pay attention to me much more. Even if you don't have a low voice, pitching your voice a bit lower than normal can help.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:24 AM on September 6, 2013

My co-worker, who is 27 but was routinely mistaken for a HS student despite her ability to look very well put together, recently got a very good haircut (just below chin length) and started wearing her glasses. It has been a sea change in how people treat her.
posted by anastasiav at 2:36 PM on September 6, 2013

Response by poster: There's a lot of wide-ranging advice here. I think it's worth pointing out that a lot of assumptions are made about how my behavior must be driving the assumption that I'm young, but I've actually had a client tell me first-thing in an initial phone call that "you look like a child!," solely based on a professionally-taken photo of me on a professional website. So, tween-speak, swearing, up-talking, giggling, use of verbal filler, and inappropriate topics were clearly not part of the equation on that one. I do tend to speak articulately and professionally, but I appreciate the emphasis on speaking assertively. I did a little follow-up googling and I read a good tip that I should use the same tone of advice I would to ask someone to pass the salt at a noisy restaurant: assertive, clear, and direct. I'm also taking notice of my posture and trying to take up more vs. less space in general. I had a meeting this morning and just those last two things alone made a difference, I think.

I agree that both sexism (Mizu nailed it) and my face shape (as Juniperesque mentioned) are probably the biggest factors for me. While the sexism is a much, much bigger issue, there are some immediate changes I can make in other ways. I need to do some soul-searching over whether or not I'm willing to cut off my hair, but doing some more layering is a good baby-step. I'm going to look into contouring techniques with makeup. I also have noted that I need to suppress my tendency to wear large, funky necklaces in certain contexts and I'm learning to do my hair in a french-twist. Thanks for the tips everyone.

p.s. My voice sounds almost exactly like Pam on The Office, for those who asked above.
posted by aspen1984 at 10:16 PM on September 6, 2013

If you haven't already, watch a couple videos on using bobby pins correctly. They stay really snug and you won't get flyaways throughout the day. Someone linked that video in an askme a couple weeks ago and it has revolutionized fixing my hair to stay professional-looking.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have the same problems, and I have counterintuitively found it helpful to wear (relatively) short skirts. I think this might be because I have a thin, flat figure, and more conservative clothes make me look like an adolescent. Conversely, I can wear things like low-cut tops, which might look too provocative on others. A sexier look sometimes brings out sexism, but my anger gives me confidence, which more than compensates. This has been one of the most profound discoveries of my twenties, actually. YMMV.
posted by Comet Bug at 9:24 PM on September 7, 2013

From a few of the things you mention in your updates, mainly your repeatedly pointing out that you already do all the right things, I get the impression - and forgive me if I'm wrong - that you may visually come across as somebody straight out of college going on job interviews, having invested in the interview suit, button down shirt and sporting some kind of severe hairdo etc...which generally looks like trying too hard to do all the right things and emphasises youth and lack of experience. So if you have focused on this interpretation of formal wear please read on.

Certainly in my organisation all new trainees turn up in this look the first few days and weeks and then are relieved to be able to move away from the interview suit interpretation of formal wear. And where they end up is some kind of interpretation of formal wear that focuses on different ways of introducing your personal style and preferences into work wear. And unless you work in an extremely conservative sector no reason why you shouldn't. I am an accountant and I do not currently own a button down shirt, that I would wear with a suit. I have a couple of white shirts that I tend to wear with jeans...

My work wardrobe focuses on black trousers and jackets (jackets only* when I have to be on the formal end of formal wear, e.g. high profile client meetings). I invariably wear a bright coloured top underneath. If I don't have to be on the formal end of formal I often wear cardigans instead of jackets - always colourful. I also wear dresses that compliment my shape. Normally these are either bright colours (no patterns), toned down with black jackets/cardigans or black matched with brighter accessories.

* I also wear jackets when I wear jeans to work because one of my clients requires us to join in their dress down Friday and wear jeans and I always wear a jacket on those days to dress up my smartest jeans even though I would not normally wear a jacket to this client because they are very casual to start out with...

The style of trousers and jackets hasn't really changed for years because it is driven by my body shape and size but I invest in seasonal accents in tops and accessories. The tops are normally one of two styles. They are either a heavy stretchy fabric, fitted cut and shape (but not too tight) even though I am reasonably large and curvy. Or they are a floaty fabric, especially in the summer, and quite feminine. These floaty things are generally more neutral colours than I would normally wear to make up for the lack of structure in the garment itself. Neither style of top shows much skin. Did I mention the appropriate accessories? I do have shoulder length hair and normally wear it down. And I always wear a bit of make up that makes me look awake and well rested but pulled together.

Please take a very serious look at what items of formal wear actually suit you in terms of cut and style and compliment your body shape. Anything that doesn't suit/fit you well should go or be tailored to fit. And then focus on finding complimentary pieces of formal wear that you mix and match. You can still be you and be formally and professionally attired. You could look into autumn/winter tailored/smart looks for this season and focus on non suit combos. Clearly not everything will be suitable for your environment but I bet there are things you could take inspiration from to present the aspen version of kick ass professional lady that will not get you confused with the new graduates.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:52 AM on September 8, 2013

I used to have the same problem because of my petite frame and round face with full cheeks. I'm a similar age and similar disposition - in fact, I've always been told I'm very mature for my age or that I seem like an "old soul", so I believe you when you say it's not your behavior or mannerisms!

What worked for me? Cutting my long hair into a chin-length bob. I think partly because it helped disguise the full cheeks and partly because women tend to cut their hair shorter as they get older. Either way, people still think I'm younger than I am, but not the 10+ years younger they used to think I was.
posted by geeky at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2013

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