Privilege Blog

Do The Kardashians Make Young Women Dress Like Old Ladies?

Let’s talk about why an entire segment of young women these days dress like, well, old ladies. First, what do I mean by dressing like old ladies? As clearly I am an older woman, at least older than 50. So are many of you. Is that the same thing as an Old Lady?


We’re talking about the archetypal Old Lady. She wears what we used to call a “housedress,” her shoes are shaped like feet, she keeps her hair close to her head in a bun or permed waves or head scarf. Maybe she’s European, maybe she’s universal, I don’t know.  Does she still exist except in our imaginations? I imagine so. Carl Jung would call her The Crone.

So why do young women don full Old Lady gear these days?

Untitled #171

Ironically, Crone clothes highlight youth, in bas relief as it were. True Crones like us steer clear.

Stepping back, there’s far more to this than fashion.  Unnecessary displays of flesh have invaded the conceptual space belonging to young womanhood. The time between Girlhood and Crone,  Girlhood and Mother, or even Girlhood and Sheryl Sandberg is occupied in large part by the Whore. And a very visible large part at that. Leaving many young women few options but to flee to Crone or Virgin camps. Note the many ways now available to wear the clothes of 9-year old girls, and tomboys.

A side question. What archetype would Jung have associated with Ms. Sandberg?

Surely we should know more than Virgin, Mother, The Word That’s Hard To Write, and Witch, by now. No wonder Zooey wears her bangs so far down over her eyes.

50 Responses

  1. Wow. the last place i ever thought i’d read the word kardashian is here. i pay those wretched people no attention at all. they don’t deserve one second of my thoughts. they’ve done nothing of worth.

    1. My apologies. I hadn’t considered how allergic many are to the K-troupe. I suspect this will be the first and last time their name ever shows up here.

    2. I pride myself in not knowing one of those from another and I’ve never watched the show. Clearly, however they are influential.

  2. Love or hate them, the K-troupe set the trends. I pay no attention to how they dress, but I do hear them speak from time to time. And what I can’t stand about these young women is their intentional old lady voices. They use the vocal fry to make themselves sound more important– and it grates on my very last nerve. Perhaps they view their voices as an accessory that goes with their Crone style. Who know, eh?

  3. Uh-oh, I’m sporting my shoes today that are shaped like a foot. I just have a few errands to run. And, they are comfortable! I hope what I am wearing would not be called a house dress, but I may be guilty there also. And if 61 is crone territory, I qualify.

  4. I really do not follow the K sisters.
    It would seem odd that young women would want to dress older than their age.
    I’d love to be able to wear a mini skirt or bare my teen taught midriff again!
    I have seen over 50 gals trying to wear this look and it makes me cringe.

  5. Oh, the Kardashians. I have no ill-will toward that family, but I am sick of the sight of them and wish they’d go away and live in private. Their exploits and their dress assault me from every direction. I cannot seem to escape it! I guess it sells, but to whom?

    And I dress without reference to the Kardashians. As an over-40, I just try to look a little fresh for my age – not too young or too old, and try to maintain a womanly look (opposed to the androgynous, comfortable, if sex-less look I see many other over-40’s fall adopt)

  6. Dear Lisa,

    Thanks for always talking about privilege and class, even when you seem to talk about celebrities and style.

    To your question “So why do young women don full Old Lady gear these days?”, the answer is timeless: class. These women don’t see themselves as belonging to the same peer group as The Kardashians or assimilated, and they react by not sharing those styles. And looking for something opposite yet still able to convey attractiveness and youth.

    I’m sure there is some clever education – income – values classification that points to Ks & fans as being in different groups vs “young women in full Old Lady gear”. Being twice removed from the US media world, my guess is that probably in terms of educational level of parents and family income.

    You could travel back in time and see a similar polar forces at play (Dolly Parton vs Joni Mitchell) throughout history and continents.

    My only comment is that while Ks take up a lot of media space, now you also have sportswomen in media too, whose airtime is a novelty vs Joni Mitchell’s time and a much more segmented media channel (Youtube!) which provides other references.

    And to Mr Jung, my guess is that he would have been smart enough to acknowledge that Ms Sandberg’s book is one of the smartest ones in business in years, and stay away from the labeling just this time, as apparently the rest of the webosphere has provided enough careless comment on her and her book.

    Keep up the posting, always interesting!

  7. Do we really need to pidgeonhole Sheryl Sandberg anymore than we need to pidgeonhole you (or you readers)? It seems a bit too easy and dismissive.

    1. I think of iconifying as the highest level of pigeonholing, and therefore in its own category.

  8. First of all, I think it’s funny that you like the Kardashians. It’s not what I’d expect. In fact, I’d love to hear more about why you like them so much (you’ve mentioned in a previous post it’s their entrepreneurship, etc).

    Second, it’s not just the Kardashian sisters. It’s how women are portrayed in pop culture, in general. Music videos these days (omg, can’t believe how old I feel writing that) show women in scantily clad outfits that are so much more risque than what Madonna wore 20-30 years ago. And THAT was considered shocking at the time.

    Third. The Olsen twins. They probably deserve their own post for similar sibling entrepreneurship — but perhaps of a higher class association. I assumed they wore baggy clothes to hide evidence of eating disorders. But maybe that’s wrong.

    Anyway. Fascinating thoughts on this, as usual, Lisa!

  9. Implied behind these tags, labels and assigned archetypes stands The Judge. Maybe even The Harsh Judge. It probably takes getting to this age of 66 that my Harsh Judge has finally given up an inch [mile] so my Merciful Judge can finally humanize these beleagured women I see rushing around so breathlessly overwhelmed. The female landscape is dominated by the Carpool Mom archetype who threw on something random just to get the kids going by 7 am, but opts to wear the same ensemble throughout the rest of her busy day, and it ain’t irony, it’s resignation.

    But The Whore/Wench archetype earns more time from me than the gal in the track suit and sensible shoes, how can one person need THAT much external attention? Maybe the next question is, how did we grow this vigorous set/subset of Exhibitionists, or are we back to the K-women again? If so, my Harsh Judge is yelling something from basement: “Bovines, rutting bovines!”

  10. Lisa, I find this post so funny!!!! So offbeat for your format! You made my day! Lord knows I don’t follow these women’s lifestories.. Actually they are boring, starting with the mother. And who ever thought you would use Bruce Jenner and Kardashian in the same sentence!!!! It’s sad… Anyway, to the point: vey well put… the homeless chic, social X-rays as Thomas Wolf labeled them.. and the long, long, long, long hair… I miss the sixties!!! Give me back Givenchy, Halston, and Audrey!!

  11. I pay as little attention to the Kardashians as humanly possible; I don’t know (or care) if they’re responsible for any fashion trends, deliberately or inadvertently, only that they’re responsible for massive indigestion if I have to look at/hear about them for more than a couple of seconds at a time.

    1. It’s so weird. The Internet, and writing for an audience. I didn’t even really think that this post was ABOUT the Ks, more trying to sort out a certain style trend. Hmm. Texts mean what the reader takes from them indeed.

  12. There are a lot of people my age who dress “The Crone” part. It is sad, but I think for them it is all about staying conservative (politically and socially) versus being compared to the Kardashians. “The Crone” I think fits with The Virgin in many groups as well…
    I think there has been a big modesty movement over the past five years. I often wonder if it is tied to politics? Regardless, how Taylor Swift, Kiera Knightley, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, and Zooey Deschanel dress is often way way too old for their age to the point of it being vastly unflattering. Good thoughts!

    1. I find that I’ve resorted, beginning in my late 20s, to dressing in a sort of “crone” or “older” style when I’m working or needing to project some level of authority. My peers are largely middle-management who value bowling outings and home-brew beer and Friday-night football – all good times – but situations with which I was unfamiliar when I started. Dressing in a way which they would see as “stodgy” seems to separate me in their minds from the other women my age who dress too informally, too sexily, too frivilously to be taken professionally, judging by others’ responses to them. I wear glasses at work (contacts elsewhere), mantain a neutral palatte, cover up, dress in a lot of menswear-derivative items that are quality but not stylish. I keep getting promoted, so I assume it works. My stylish peers are flirted with by management and get a lot of attention and visibility – but keep making lateral moves. And outside of work, managing contractors for a house rennovation dressed like a Kardashian is non-workable, so I find myself consciously choosing clothing that doesn’t put me in my best light, lowering my voice, and showing up glasses, pen in hand, once again. Being “sexy” in my experience has only produced a form of power and influence that, while reliable, is very limited in scope. It’s great for the dating world (or marriage, of course), but more of a hindrance than a help elsewhere in my experience. Sadly. The real challenge is figuring out how to dress as a working, childless woman in my early-mid 30s when I’m NOT working or trying to be taken seriously.

  13. Surely The Queen is an archetype? Or maybe Cheryl transcends gender and is simply The Hero. I feel like Warrior Maiden is another possibility, but not for Ms. Sandberg.

  14. I´m really happy living without the faintest idea what you all are writing about : )!!

    1. OMG,like you have never heard of them,just googled them,don’t think I have missed anything.

      Sorry Lisa,more cringe making celebs.

  15. I’d be curious to know what you think of all the publicity (including by the university, who sent out a press release to all alumni) given this week to the young woman at Princeton just named Miss NJ. This means she will take a year off from school to fulfill her post and will go to The Miss America Pageant. To me, this seems to come dangerously close to the somewhat vulgar stereotyping engaged in by the media when the first women matriculated at the university. One of the members of the first coeducational class, for instance, was Miss Bikini and she still resurfaces in the press every now and again. Many of your readers may shoot me down for this, but my own opinion is that a woman bright enough and resourceful enough to gain entrance to Princeton should make better (more dignified) use of her physical endowments and intellect. I see The Miss America Pageant as a degrading and depressing display of misogynist entertainment. Imagine if a male Princeton student were to enter the equivalent (can’t think of one, off-hand). Would the university be sending out press releases about him?

  16. Trends come and go, and nostalgia is always there, especially for times past that we did not experience. Women today are so pressured to do everything and be everything and have everything, that the “simple life of a 1950s housewife” (which was anything but simple) seems attractive in comparison.

    I think there’s a little “post-feminism” up in there somewhere as well – a rejection of the androgynous looks of the 80s and 90s and a return to femininity. Not that one cannot be both feminine and a feminist! It is absolutely possible.

    I do not wish to make moral judgments but I think that the “Maiden” of today moves past the “Virgin” of the Jungian archetype and lives somewhere between the two extremes. This is a good thing, as most women, even young women, are neither virgins nor whores, and the aesthetic of the day reflects that. Shift dress by day, halter top by night.

    My friend’s religious tradition takes the ‘triple goddess’ one step further: Maiden, Mother, QUEEN, and Crone. The Queen is the woman in the Autumn of her days; her children are grown and may become Mothers (and Fathers) themselves. It is her time to rediscover herself and rekindle her own life’s passion after years of being a caregiver, but before needing to be cared for by others. You seem a perfect example of such a Queen, Lisa :)

    1. Very interesting. The Maiden then, has strength? And I love the construct of Queen. May we all be Queens.

  17. While I’m not a fan of their style, or even many of their lifestyle choices, I LOVE that this family is living life on their own terms, and getting rich off of everyone else’s voyerstic interests. I say why not? Do I watch their shows? No. But somehow I know who they all are… Im not sure how that happened, but it did. So much so, that I am looking forward to finding out what Kim named her baby! I will only admit that due to the anonymity of his forum! ;)

  18. Every era had its bombshells: Pam Anderson, Marilyn; Rita Hayworth. A sexuality that blatant is discomfiting, especially to young women who attract looks with even a suggestion of the body- even now when what’s shown would once have gotten you arrested. (My I sound like an old lady- and I am!)

  19. I think the Crone/Virgin trend is an overt backlash to the current blinged-out lifestyles of the rich and famous. The competitive, materialistic, more-is-better aesthetic is just too much for a lot of us (if not all of us), so I think it’s nice that there is an alternative. Even Marie Antoinette used to like to pretend to be a shepherdess.

  20. Wow…that’s a lot of epithets in one brief blog post. Whores and rutting bovines? I’m hoping this post is an anomaly and not an omen.

    1. To be fair, the bovines were not mine, and were meant to be comic, I think. And I struggled with the word Whore. I didn’t like writing it, but I’d say it in real life. I was thinking of the word as the archetype, not trying to call anyone a name. Probably trying to make too fine a point. My apologies.

    2. “Whores and rutting bovines?”

      The “Whores” bit was used as an archetype, not name calling by LPC.

      The “rutting bovines” was my own indelicacy, not to be credited to LPC. Or to be fretted over as an omen, I shall try to be less excitable by my hot button issues.

      LPC’s clever framing using foreground/background bas relief as context for her point was missed by some readers, I’d say it was missed in a spectacular life imitates art display, ie the K-gals are so foreground across all media in life that most of us couldn’t see the bas relief background here on the page.

      LPC is so gifted, anything she pens is methodically structured and rationally sound, including this hot buttons bas relief.

  21. This is so interesting. I think archetypes themselves change over time, or we change how we relate to them. In application, I think younger people when thinking of an “old lady” look see it as things like certain short hair styles that are fluffy or otherwise a few decades out of date, certain overly matchy outfits, certain expressions of avant garde styles that seem to arise out of the menopause, etc. When I think of female archetypes classically understood, it was not necessarily is visual essence (such as fashion/style) that they were distinct.

    For my age range and past life, I’m so sad that I can’t necessarily anymore dress in the pure grunge style that was so fun to me as a girl, because it seems today that look is only left for butch women. I LOVE it, but in my life and situation just cannot present myself that way with its currently associated presumptions and politics.

    We have definitely had change over the 20th century to today. Outside of a few traditional stereotypes that hold on, it just doesn’t seem that things like skirts and sensible shoes and hair buns are really associated to little old ladies at all anymore. That generation (and its predecessors) is going and gone. I hope the transition completes itself in the next few decades so that when I’m a bit older I can happily dress like I’d been born in 1880.

  22. I thought it was the Olsen twins who started the you’re never to young to dress like my grandmother trend.

    I like them. They’re little and slouchy and always seem to be swallowed up by their clothes.

    I don’t know anything about the K’s, except what I see on magazine covers when I’m in the grocery line.

    Quite a brand.

    xo Jane

  23. I must also admit that while I am not always a fan of Kim’s sartorial choices, her makeup is stunning. I use her pictures and YouTube videos every time I do my makeup for a wedding (including my own).

  24. I appreciate your blog for your personal style.
    But this post is a didactic play about bitchiness of women (as a previous about Duchesse Kate). Sideblows against Crones are boring.
    You name yourself a feminist, right?

    1. I am absolutely a feminist. And I do not mean to make sideblows againsts Crones at all – they are a glory of civilization. I aspire to become one.

      This seems to be one of those posts that read differently in my mind than on the page. Not quite sure how or why. I did not mean to be bitchy about the Ks or the Olsens, only to examine a clothing trend that had mystified me, using some ideas readers gave me in previous comments.

      Lesson learned, I think:).

  25. Maybe I had wrong readers on my nose. I read your post in this spirit that dressing like the K.’s is a typical whore’s outfit. After your description of a Crone I’m in doubt that’s the look you’re going for in your future.
    Impartiality protects us from falling into clichés.
    I admit, that sometimes for me also it’s a challenge.
    “Nobody is perfect” (Some like it hot):-)

  26. Hi Lisa, I am inspired by archetypes and think this is a great way to look at fashion, style, and personas. How and why we put on the clothes we wear each day. Also, your post motivated me to read the Wikipedia article regarding the Kardashians. Of course, I’d heard of them but never looked into who they actually are. I could never be interested in following people so seemingly superficial and artificial. On the other hand, I greatly enjoy following you and appreciate you sharing your insights!

  27. No apology necessary, Lisa. It’s your blog and if I understand Flo correctly, your post was a “bas relief” contrasting what you consider to be the archetypical clothing choices of “the whore” and “the crone”, have I got that right? I’m not offended (after all, I wasn’t called a rutting bovine) just perplexed by this way of looking at women. Do you use this same formula for men?

    1. I was trying to understand first, why young women dress as they do. The Crone was an archetype, the, we’ll say Wanton, was another. I do not look at women this way, I think that our culture often does. Or did, at least.

      Male archetypes exist too. Peter Pan, Master of the Universe, and so on.

      The question is whether we’ve all moved on to a less “grouped” way of seeing people. I certainly hope so.

    2. Hi Lisa!
      Now I get you! You were trying to understand … Fashion! Plus there we have the generation-gap.
      I remember well the day when my mother wanted to understand something … I had donem that did not match in her world, did not meet her taste, her standards.
      I experience the same with my nieces and nephews. Don’t you ever experience it with your children?
      Well, I might add I had to grow up, if I remember correctly, I was almost 30, when that gap finally came into existence.

      I am not sure if these thoughts apply to the Kardashians, but they apply to those girls and young women who prefer to chose mute colours over bright colours, knitted granny-style-cardigans over blazers etc. Fashion! Horray!

  28. There are a number of young women in my office who dress like my granny. But, yes, because of their youth, and because they’re not copying her generation exactly – they have their own twist, their own take on putting it all together – they don’t look like they’re dressing up in a costume – it looks rather stylish, if occasionally a bit puzzling.

  29. “Context is everything,” someone once wrote. I see the Kardashians as perfectly dressed for their world, as the Olsens are for theirs. Rather than whore vs granny, I see femme fatale vs artiste. Latter day gibson girls vs the pre raphaelites. It seems to me throughout the history of fashion some have reacted to what they perceive as too revealing clothes by covering up. Sometimes it has little to do with actual modesty.

  30. What an interesting and diverse discussion. Okay, my grown children sometimes call me the Queen. ( I think they are secretly trying to disparage me for not only my dress (used to be more couture) always lady-like, my values, etc. I have never ever dressed frumpy.. now just a thought, what about instead of going to the shapeless house-dress style, the Preppy could arise for those young to mid aged who want to go out to the store looking put together. ex: a tennis or golf type of ensemble. I still like a pair of jeans with a crisp white blouse/ Tee and jacket.

    The K’s, I see it as purely compounding their capitalistic ventures…Kim’s now defunct zillion dollar, 10 hr wedding was the height of hubris.If you watch the news you could hardly have missed it.

    Giveaway by The Enchanted Home

  31. I’m tired of women being sorted into archetypes. I’m a human being, an individual, not an archetype. There’s far too much of that arch typing of women going on in the society as it is. This is why women don’t feel free to express whoever they are. If you’re young and want to dress like a crone or a whore or what have you, feel free to do so I say. I’m nearly 50-something and I dress like an bohemian on the weekend and a business women during the week but none of those things define me fully, nor do I want them to.

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