Dress Your Age And Still Be Hip

You probably remember Lisa Birnbach as the college-age author of The Preppy Handbook 19 years ago. Well she's all grown up now.

The author of nine other books, she'll be on The Early Show every other week on the segment Yikes, I'm A Grownup! This week, she tackles how to dress your age.

Sometimes it feels like our whole generation was absent the day that they handed out the dress code for adulthood.

We want to seem young and with it, but we don't want to end up looking ridiculous. I mean, should a mom be wearing her 13-year-old daughter's platform sneakers and cargo pants?
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Let's face it, there's a line out there somewhere that shouldn't be crossed after 40.

We've all seen women who've crossed it, and it's not a pretty sight. These days, it's just hard to figure out where that line is.

Looking at a picture of my own mother taken when I was 6 years old, the age my oldest daughter is now, my mother is dressed in such a way that I can see why I took her more seriously than my children take me!

And when the picture was taken, my mother was 10 years younger than I am now.

I'm looking for balance here. I want my kids to think of me as a youthful, fun mommy. On the other hand, I don't want them laughing at me.

In the search for that balance, I headed for the Westchester mall, but I didn't head there alone. Anne Slowey, fashion news director for Elle magazine, came along as my guide and adviser.

So should a mature woman wear leather pants, I asked.

"I don't think women should be afraid of leather pants; they can be very slimming, very sexy," said Slowey.

So maybe the rules weren't as strict as I was afraid they'd be.

Still, as we looked through the clothes, I learned there are rules.

"Lycra. Well you want to stay away from anything that's sort of lycra-y, noted Slowey.

But the thing that blew me away was the rule she had for herself.

"I'm at the point where I can't wear boy-cut pantsÂ….I don't wear jeans," she said.

She assured me that this rule didn't apply to me. But just the thought that there might come a day when I would have to abandon jeans was more than I could bear.

Still, I managed to make it to the dressing room. It was coming out that was the challenge.

I tried a dress that Slowey said was too short. And the trouble was that anything that looked appropriate on me made me look a lot more like my mother than my vision of myself.

So off we went scouting for still younger styles. As we looked and looked, I became sadder but wiser.

We ended up in one of those stores frequented by the young but that specializes in varying shades of gray - where I found something I thought I could never wear: a hoodie.

"Young but not too young.Â…That's what we're looking for," said Slowey as I had my first hood moment.

"It's the fine line," she noted.

Ultimately, I discovered that I could pull off the youthful silhouette and style, if I stayed away from color.

She even said I looked 28.

And of course, if an outfit makes you look 28, what do you do? You buy it!

You know, if I learned anything is that you can have elements of youth; you just can't go whole hog.

The key is in the silhouette, the shape and the details. Zippers on the cuffs and up the front. The "boy-cut" pant, for example, is very fresh and young.

A tank top - my mother never would have worn a tank top - but because the colors are so subdued, it still reads as very appropriate.

The idea is to wear elements that are young without looking like I've raided my daughter's closet.

That line is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of pornography: I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it, especially on myself.

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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