Monday Musings: Thoughts on Invisibilty As Women Age

I had a unique experience this weekend that got me thinking about invisibility as women age. Did you know there’s an actual term called invisible woman syndrome? This social phenomenon is not reserved for women but does seem more prevalent for us, especially after 50.

WORE THIS TO THE SYMPHONY FRIDAY- COTTON PONTE PANTS size S / CRUSHED SILK HIGH COLLAR JACKET size S / WHISPER SILK SCARF IN GERANIUM / CABLE HOOP EARRINGS / SHOULDER BAG

Some forms of invisibility simply feel like a lack of respect. That happened to me this weekend on a crowded walkway. A group of people walking four abreast toward me did not seem to see me. I was walking along the edge of the sidewalk and couldn’t move over any further without having to step into the bike path…not a safe thing to do in the city. I stopped in my tracks and waited. They would have had to plow me down to continue, which seriously pissed me off. They looked up and skirted back to their side to let me pass. Rude? Possibly, but they seemed genuinely surprised to look up and find me there.

Being bumped into is just one form of invisibility. We can also simply find ourselves feeling ignored and irrelevant. Not all cultures prize youth over experience, but ours certainly does.

The truth is, there’s an invisibility that comes with aging, but it should always be our choice. You may not want to be in the spotlight, but you don’t have to feel invisible unless you want to.

Fashion is a powerful form of self-expression, but for older women, it can also play a role in combating invisibility. In a society that often overlooks us, the fashion we choose to wear can make a strong statement. We get to choose the message our clothes send.

It won’t surprise you to hear that some women simply get dressed without giving it much thought. Others assume that if a garment is new, it’s in style, and that’s all they’re concerned with. Some women don’t give much thought to the message their appearance sends because they’re happy to blend in and enjoy the freedom they get from flying under the radar. Other women carefully craft their appearance to stand out and use it as an art form. You can see them from a mile away, and they love that. How we choose to dress is as varied as our eye color and extremely personal.

The color, shape, and volume of our clothes all affect how much our outfits and we stand out. The same is true for accessories, which can do a lot of the heavy lifting to make our look distinctive.

I’ll have more on this topic later, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Do you craft your outfits to feel seen and feel vital? Do you prefer the freedom of not being noticed so you can wear what you damn well, please? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Save or Splurge

Our save or splurge outfit this week features a soft, feminine blouse and spring-like accessories in soft colors. Kick flare jeans are everywhere this spring and are a great option for ladies who want a shorter inseam.

FLORAL BLOUSE / KICK FLARE JEANS / STRAW CROSSBODY BAG / WEDGE SANDALS / HEART NECKLACE / HOOP EARRINGS

Spring is a great time to swap out your solid leather bag for woven leather, straw canvas, or wicker.

FLORAL BLOUSE / KICK FLARE JEANS / STRAW CROSSBODY BAG / WEDGE SANDALS / HEART NECKLACE / HOOP EARRINGS

The save outfit comes in around $150, and the splurge is closer to $4,368. Can you tell the difference? Which do you prefer?

Thanks for reading, and be sure to wear what makes you feel confident.

132 Comments

  1. I dress for myself and what I feel comfortable in. I haven’t thought about being invisible and I will be 60 in June. Age is just a number…it’s how you feel inside it what’s most important. If you feel young, people will assume you are!

  2. I’ve given the issue of invisibility some thought and realize I have never experienced that feeling. What I have noticed is that people view me as a senior woman (which I am, age 74), and are ready and willing to assist me with my bag, doors, whatever, even though I am able to manage on my own. I love it, and often accept help with thanks. As far as fashion goes, I love nice cloths and put a bit of effort into my look, but sadly I rarely pay attention to what others wear.

  3. I make it a real point to compliment other women if I can tell they’ve made an effort. The look on their faces never varies … surprise … me?… delighted! It has sparked some nice conversations too. I do feel invisible, but I choose not to react. I spent decades as a plus size woman, and boy, does it take inner confidence to enjoy clothes and shopping in our society when you are a 2x and many designer brands say a size 12 is xl. I decided long ago that -nobody- defines me but me, and I would never pass an activity by that I wanted to do, just because of my size. I knew I was “there” when I went out into a department store from the fitting room in bathing suits to get my husband’s opinion. I thought nothing of it, but the clerk said women never parade around and turn around in the public places while trying on swimwear (wish I could have shown her your recent blog post :)). Shine with your inner light … if young people don’t “see” you, say so what and move on.

    1. Bravo!!! That’s fabulous

    2. Linda that is Bravo! You are a lady that exhibits a lot of self confidence (IMHO). I believe self confidence shines through from inside to the outward side and is a beautiful asset to have.

      Jennifer I see the people not moving over on walk ways and similar activity etc (young and old), I just think a segment of society has become so self absorbed…….so now that I’m older, I mean more mature :), I use it as opportunity to say good morning ladies or what ever to catch their attention. Maybe they’ll do the same one day.

  4. I have been tall my whole life and always relegated to the back row in school and family photos. Now that I’m 63 with natural gray hair, I find that I have the habit of dressing to blend in and not wearing pretty colors or patterns to make me noticeable. Old habits die hard…

    1. They do Mary. I find tall women striking!

      1. At 72 I haven’t experienced the invisable syndrome yet, but I am also 5 ‘8″. I dress to please myself and consider every day an opportunity to make up a new outfit, even if I never plan to leave the house. At our age, we are given the advice to wear nuetrals, blacks and avoid loud colors and prints. It’s no wonder we become invisable. If you pick carefully you can wear all those things. I’m in jeans, a solid rose tee and a matching cotton bomber jacket and canvass dockers, ready to hit the garden store.

  5. The best thing to wear is a smile. I am 88 and it is my favorite thing to wear. Plus a smile lets people know they are visible and noticed. It’s what most of us appreciate most of the time…being acknowledged.
    That said, in retirement, I have more time to think about what I wear which is pretty classic understated stuff. Your blog keeps me on my toes about what I put on each day so I don’t slide back into a sweatshirt and jeans mode. Thanks.

  6. When i was in my early 50’s i had a friend over 60 tell me that women become invisible once they turned 60. I thought it was just her imagination. Boy was i wrong! I’m 68 now and wish i could tell her how right she was. On the rare occasion when someone does hold the door or ask if i need help reaching something (mostly in a grocery store), it now catches me off guard. I always make it a point to smile, thank them and to say something like “have a great day”. In a small way I hope it encourages them to continue to help people older than them.

    1. I think it does. I always hold doors for people who are following in behind me, no matter their age. It’s simply polite.

      1. Dianne🇨🇦 says:

        Yes! Yes! I definitely feel like I’m not seen.
        But like Mel, I wear a smile and it’s amazing how many folks will smile back.
        I love fashion & really enjoy wearing nice clothes.
        We all love a compliment!
        Your sight really helps keep me current.

      2. When I was younger, I felt invisible. I was a busy mom and just threw on clothes, never put on make up or cared about my hair. My priorities were my kids and my husband.
        After an unwanted divorce, I retired, moved to another State, purchased my own lil home and I live alone. I now put thought into my clothing, my makeup and my hair, and I feel like I am no longer invisible.

      3. That’s wonderful

  7. I’m in my 70s and have been ignored in retail settings many times. I think it would be wise for retailers to realize that often our over 50 or 60 age group has more disposable income to spend than younger people. Just good business sense, besides good manners, to pay attention to us!

  8. Carole Cameron says:

    Thank you for addressing this reality. It is, unfortunately true and very disrespectful. Even here in Canada where people think everyone is so “polite”. Not in this regard!

  9. Wow! Lots of comments on invisibility. Very cute splurge outfit today, and I guessed it correctly based on the beautiful details of the blouse and the purse. Thanks for the fun!🤩

    1. My husband guessed it by the blouse details 😄

  10. I have another point of view to share. I have often noticed that if I have a pleasant look on my face, or a small smile and make eye contact people of all ages smile back, especially younger people in fact. I live in a condo where there are lots of younger residents. They seem very happy to respond to me in a pleasant way if I make a light comment in the elevator about the weather, or whatever.
    I think we need to be aware of how we present to others. If we look and feel confident and positive people won’t overlook us. Dressing in a way that makes us feel great increases our confidence. So as a woman in my early 70s I try to dress to look and feel my best.
    I love looking at your fashionable outfits to give me ideas!
    thanks

    1. Excellent point!! Being engaged and vital has a big impact on our visibility as we age.

  11. Elizabeth B says:

    I enjoyed reading your insightful post. Your experience on the sidewalk is simply rude, self-absorbed behavior; some people are just oblivious to others these days, sadly. I have had similar experiences and respond like you by standing my ground.
    In terms of fashion, I dress in a way that makes me feel good so I do put a lot of thought into putting together an outfit, not necessarily to be noticed but to feel good and be comfortable. I am a fan of Eileen Fisher as well so enjoy seeing how you style these items. Because I am interested in staying current I am thankful to have newsletters like yours to give me style ideas so many thanks for that.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth. I think it’s most important that we dress in a way that allows us to feel most confident.

  12. There’s a cozy mystery series based on the concept of the invisibility of older women, written by Lorena McCourtney. The first book in the series is titled “Invisible”!

    1. I’ll have to pick up the first book! Sounds intriguing!

    2. Carolyn Betts says:

      I’ll be reading that. I’m one of the invisible who refuses to stay that way! I smile a lot and dress fashionably always and notice people respond to that. It’s hard being 84 because people discount your value. Don’t allow it and keep fighting!

      1. Discounting our value is what annoys me the most!! I won’t stand for it.

  13. It’s no excuse but I think young people are self absorbed, especially these days. They may not have seen you until the last moment but should have said I’m sorry or at least smiled their apologies.
    As to being invisible, men stop seeing you when you are no longer young and beautiful, even when they are no longer young, strong and handsome. Sadly, it’s our world.
    I dress for myself. I feel most confident when I’m dressed elegant and classy. I’m not one for bright colours or big jewelry.

    1. Great point. Older men deal with invisibility too.

  14. The problem you mention seems to be in epidemic proportions in Vancouver. You cant walk down the street without either bumping into someone (sometimes on purpose) or having to wait like you did. Its the “me” generation now and they expect everyone to cater to them. Glad I taught my kids to be more respectful.

    1. I taught my children and I’m proud that my son is teaching my grandson too!

    2. The splurge blouse easily gave it away – sleeve details & the nice way it accenuates yr waistline. Walking 4 abreast is ridiculous unless you are out in the wilderness – not a city sidewalk. People can be so unaware.

  15. I am 69 and uncomfortable with my weight (which I can’t seem to loose) at size 16. I have been pondering this topic of invisibility lately because part of me wants to be invisible out of fear of being judged fat, but the healthier part of me just wants to look classically chic but not young. I feel I’ve never learned to dress my body since my waist thickened, summer and vacation travel being particular problems. Thanks for your advice.

    1. It’s really hard to dress a changing body. You may need different silhouettes now to help you feel like the vital, stylish woman you are inside. I urge you to not let your weight influence how you step out into the world. People who judge are saying more about their character than your weight.

    2. I agree with you and face the same problem. This getting older (and chunkier) is not fun! And finding clothes that fit well and look appropriate for my style/age (79) is difficult. I’m between a Misses and a Women’s size and neither fit really well.

      1. I’m also 79 and dealing with a 10 lb. Weight gain and all of it is in my torso. My hips and legs are still slim so finding jeans and pants has been part of my challenge. I’m also disabled with balance and chronic pain issues. Because I use a rollator out in public to avoid falling on my face, people notice me but not usually in a nice way. I dress very similarly to you Jennifer, but the save not the splurge. It was the blouse that gave it away for me as well. I actually liked the save outfit more than the splurge. The flowing lines of the save top hide an expanding waist. Chicos size 2P or 12P fit me perfectly and comfortably. Comfort is key at my age but I also like looking good at the same time. I also smile a lot and say hello to people in lines. I would say that Jennifer and Pamela Lutrell keep me current but I dress to please myself.

    3. I feel similarly. I have gained weight over the past 2 years and the only thing that fits me is my leggings. I have been trying to lose weight and don’t want to buy larger clothes but I think I will have to with warmer weather coming. I hate trying on clothes when I am overweight. I am 65.

      1. Please buy yourself some clothes that fit, Mary. You deserve to wear clothes that fit you. You’ll feel better about yourself.

  16. I notice when I walk, most pedestrians coming in the other direction are usually so wrapped up in themselves, either chatting to friends or on the phone they don’t realize they might have to move over to let me pass. I wonder whether this is really an age thing, i.e. we are invisible, or self absorption and lack of manners? I have had women my own age who are oblivious and don’t move to let me pass and young people, who do.

    1. I wonder. I can’t imagine not noticing anyone walking toward me.

      1. @Jennifer I wonder whether men (in particular) don’t hold open doors for women anymore due to ‘equality’. I often read how when men have done so, particularly if the woman is younger, she has responded with a curt, ‘I can do it myself’. But, I agree, manners are on out the nose these days

      2. I wonder!

  17. I certainly have experienced this invisibility too. I am mid 70s so it has been happening for a long time! As soon as we are considered not “attractive” anymore, we become invisible. I have noticed, along with my husband, that a lot of younger people (like 20s and teens) are very rude. It never occurs to them to step out of the way or hold a door open if you are following them into Dunkin Donuts. so annoying! Regarding dressing, I dress for myself. I don’t like to draw attention to myself. Although I find large patterns and busy prints attractive, I would never wear them. My most daring is wearing Johnny Was embroidered blouses and leggings!

    1. Sadly, manners are really lacking in our society these days.

  18. I dress to look nice and feel good. I guess I would say, I like to just blend in. I enjoy wearing colors that look good on me and do get compliments. Being unseen is so frustrating. It happens in stores too, think Pretty Woman😇 I would have been very upset, like you were. I don’t believe the group didn’t see you, they were rude and self-involved. Sadly, see it too often.

    1. Thanks for sharing how you like to dress. I know many women do the same. It’s a struggle for women who don’t want to blend in.

      1. Pat Patterson says:

        Fantastic topic Jennifer, thanks for sharing recent encounter. The invisible feeling and actions have been happening to me for several years. I do my best to be on trend with my clothing, I take very good care of my skin, have my hair professional cut & colored. My husband is 7 years older than me, he gets noticed, anyone else notice that, I get the door closed in my face. As men age, women find it attractive and men admire them.
        So, guess we 70+ women, let’s look them straight in eye and let them know, we yearned the right to age gracefully!

      2. Exactly!!

  19. I had the exact same thing happen to me last week on the sidewalk. I did the same thing you did, just stopped in my tracks. The three young gentlemen were truly surprised to see me standing there! They said sorry but I was too irritated to respond!

    1. Ditto! They were shocked to see me standing there. Sadly they said nothing.

  20. P.S. I often get compliments, so I don’t feel invisible at all (even at 81 years old).

  21. Jennifer, I definitely dress to please myself but also to communicate to the world that I am visible and vital. I try to make my clothing choices based on whether or not the outfits flatter my figure and reflect my mood. Most of the time I am upbeat, so I choose colorful, coordinated pieces that seem easy to put together but intentional at the same time.

  22. I don’t remember feeling invisible as I’ve always noticed people looking at me, whether it’s due to what I wear, I’m not certain. I was in the fashion business for many years when I was younger, so I always dressed a bit trendy and I love unique accessories.
    The last 2 years with my hair white, I’ve had a lot of looks and compliments from both men and women. When I went through chemo and wore scarves or hats, the looks I got were more of pity, but did I care? Nope. I just looked at them and smiled.
    I would much rather stand out than blend in.

    1. Thank you for sharing Vyonne. Standing out takes confidence which many women begin to loose as they age.

  23. The topic of invisibility as we get old really hits a nerve for me! As an overweight woman over 50, I often feel doubly invisible (if that’s possible). Although I take great care with my appearance and grooming, I’ve had men of all ages stop holding a door open for me when I approached the entrance, literally letting it slam in my face! Interestingly, I’ve never once had a woman over 50 “not see” me. I try to compliment other women as often as possible, because I know how good it feels to receive a compliment and feel seen. Hoping in some karmic way that will counteract the invisibility we older women face far to frequently.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kelly. I think you’re right about being doubly invisible. There’s a prejudice against overweight people in our society that’s simply intolerable!

      1. Jill from Detroit says:

        Invisibility, what a great topic. I thought about this a lot and feel invisible often as a small petite, but chunky older woman.
        1. I’m not threatening. My 6‘3“, 260 pound son-in-law would not be ignored on a busy street, or walked into.
        2. I’m not sexy. I’m older, heavy with an apple shaped figure.
        3. I’m not rich. We live a very comfortable lifestyle and I try to dress nicely, but usually very casually I’m not projecting glamour with diamonds and gold Jewelry everywhere.
        So, no power, no sex, no money.
        These are things people notice and I am ignored. As you said, these people are shocked to see you standing there. I don’t think it’s deliberate. It’s almost subliminal. I will say it is very rude to walk a breast down a busy sidewalk. If people do this to me, I will still like you did with my elbows out and if they happen to walk into an elbow, it’s not my fault. I’m only protecting myself.
        What can we do to come at us? I think dressing confidently stylishly with a little bit of bright color might help. But I don’t think it will totally eliminate the invisibility problem. As others have said older women need to acknowledge other older women and let them be seen and complement them for who they are.

  24. You become more invisible the older you get. I’m in my late 70’s and try hard to look modern, not young, with my clothing, hair and makeup. I receive compliments from my peer group, but outside of that I often feel invisible. I have even walked into a Talbots or Chicos store and have not been greeted or approached by a sales associate. This in a retail setting, not just on the street.

    1. Not being greeted in Talbots or Chicos, who cater to older women, is rude and bad business on their part.

  25. I wore scrubs and dress clothes at different times in my career. Invisibility was definitely a factor when I was in my scrubs. Clothes make a huge difference!

  26. Invisibility is real for women over 50. Or, at least that’s been my experience. With fashion, there’s a misperception in media, I think, that all older women have to replicate the venerable Iris Apfel with bright clothes and chunky jewellery in order to be considered stylish. I haven’t changed my personal style (classic-elegant) just because I’m older. Staying true to who you are is important. And, while it’s galling to be ignored, I try not to take it personally.

    1. Great points! There are ways to dress to be more visible without bright colors and chunky jewelry, although many women love to do it that way.

  27. Thanks for writing a post concerning invisibility. I think that it starts between 50 and 60 and the older you get the worse that it gets. I am 73 and for me it has been happening for a long time. Its not just from women, its from men also. I was at a Starbucks lately inside with my daughter sitting in chairs drinking our coffee. There was three older guys, older than 50, sitting at a table, they kept looking over and I smiled but neither of them responded. It was as if I didn’t exist. I have had to move over on a sidewalk and even looked straight at people and smile or say hi and nothing. This is so rude, I was not raised like this. How sad is this.

    1. You’re not alone. I’ve had people look right through me. It’s unnerving.

  28. Kathleen Ayers says:

    Sometimes I want to stand out, other times I don’t want to. I’ve been told that my long, platinum gray hair makes me stand out, so I don’t necessarily want to dress so as to be noticeable.

    1. Your striking hair would be very noticeable.

  29. If I am just heading to the supermarket for a quick trip, I am usually in comfort clothing (joggers & sneakers) and happy to blend in and go unnoticed, but if I am attending a wedding or going on vacation, I want a beautifully coordinated outfit that makes me feel amazing! And, getting a few compliments is always nice bonus

    1. Compliments are a beautiful way to be acknowledged.

  30. Jennifer, well said and so true! My outlook is – our country promotes youth like it’s a religion. Respect and acknowledgment of older adults is almost non existent. I am happy to fly under the radar but my career involved high pressure visibility in my fashion too. I cannot change other’s pathetic behavior. So I wear what I feel good in and enjoy my life!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like being under the radar occasionally, but generally, it frustrates me. I hate to be discounted for any reason.

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