How to Dress Like an Old Lady

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Things You'll Need

  • Clothes in a size larger than you usually wear

  • Flat tie shoes or sneakers

  • Talcum powder or theatrical hair-whitener

  • Face powder (your skin tone or a shade lighter)

  • Lipstick

  • Optional: cane or walking stick; pocket book with handle or tote-bag; hat, glasses

  • Full-length mirror

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Whether it's Halloween, another costume occasion or a role in a community theater production, you can turn yourself into an old lady -- whether you start out as a very slightly older lady, a young lady or a guy. All you'll need is a trip to a second-hand-clothing store, tips for makeup and a few other theatrical tricks to create the perfect old woman costume.


Walk the Walk

Remember that it's not just what you wear -- it's how you wear it. A little work on the "rack" you're hanging those clothes on is in order. Watch old people on the street--they don't move the way younger ones do. If you're going to be a straight-backed old lady, let the work of keeping that posture show. Tense your shoulder muscles, shorten your steps, reach out for things with care. Keeping shoulder muscles tense affects the way you turn your head too, doesn't it?

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Put on your shoes and practice walking in them. Many elderly people look down when they walk -- falling is a constant danger in the lives of real elderly people. Bring your shoulders forward, let your head go down; when asked to look up, raise your head but not your shoulders (picture a turtle looking up from its shell). Again, shorten your steps and flatten them out -- heavy heel-and-toe is for younger bodies. Put a phone book in a tote bag, and try the cane. Add the glasses and an old lady hat. Clumsy? You're getting older by the minute.


Your New Old Lady Outfit

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Get dressed. Pants and top or a pants-suit works fine -- better a size big than a good fit. Older bodies don't have the smooth curves that make younger ones look appealing. Aging means body parts often get stringy or lumpy. Aging means often "making do" rather than expensive shopping -- partly a matter of money and partly a matter of what you see in the mirror.


Put a safety pin in a too loose waist-band or add a belt that bunches it up. Your new (old) posture will add other slightly less-than-perfect-fit aspects to your wardrobe. Wearing an old lady dress? Put a slip on under it, girly--nice ladies do. If it shows just a little bit when you go into look-down posture, you're just fine.


Pretend to Be Cold

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Add layers. Old bodies are more sensitive to temperature changes, especially cold. Add a cardigan sweater or a vest cut sweater -- again, off a bit by size, maybe a bit by color (two shades of not-quite-the-same blue). This doesn't mean color-clashing -- you're wearing an old lady outfit, not dressing like a bum. When in doubt, a white or beige cardigan does you fine.



Accessories and Bling

Add accessories. Old costume jewelry -- if you're on stage, let it be big enough to show, but not big enough to look ridiculous. Glasses -- any kind looks "older" if you add one of those bridles that keeps glasses from falling on the floor. Hat--let's get practical. Forget old "millinery" because it comes too close to ridicule, again. Baseball cap, summer bucket hat, straw -- you're a practical old lady, keeping the sun off your head. Or a winter hat -- down over the ears. Avoid shawls -- old ladies wear those only in picture-books.


Age Your Hair

Whiten your hair, not too evenly or you'll look like George Washington. Most of us don't gray evenly anyway. Long hair needs to be rolled or pinned up. If you're a poor old lady, rubber-band your long, now-graying thatch into a pony-tail (haircuts cost money). If your natural hair is extremely short, gray it or experiment with a wig (but remember wigs are hot).


Finish Your Look With Make-up

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Try out makeup. Elderly skin is characterized generally by low sheen and pallor. Usually a dusting of foundation powder one shade lighter than your skin-tone will do the trick. Whiten your eyebrows a bit or powder over them. Lipstick should be red or brownish-red rather than pink, or nonexistent.


Always remember that it's going to be easier for people to judge your age by the way you move than by what you wear. Notice how elderly people move. They reach for the handrails you ignore, take the steps slowly, and watch where they put their feet. Develop the moves, and the costume will take care of itself.


Try to stop short of stereotyped images--especially if you're playing to an audience that contains elderly people! They'll spot you for a phony in an instant.