How Not to Look Old at Work

While looking in the mirror recently you discover a gray hair. In your eyebrow.

You also begin to notice that everything is starting to, well, sort of droop. Sag, actually. Your latest photo in the company newsletter bears an uncanny resemblance to your mother. And your great Aunt Edith.

You’re starting to feel more than a little old when your new manager doesn’t know who Ringo Starr is.

This is when you start to worry that others at work are noticing that you’re getting older. Have they noticed the body you once had that resembled a sleek sports car now sort of evokes thoughts of a wine cask on legs?

Looks can be deceiving, you tell yourself. Maybe you’re not running a 5K race every weekend, but your wisdom and experience should still be valued in the workplace, right?

In a perfect world, yes. But the truth is that people make judgments about you based on the image you project. So if you look old, then they will assume you are old. And maybe out-of-date. And possibly lacking current skills.

This doesn’t mean you need to race to a plastic surgeon and have everything nipped, tucked and hoisted while praying you don’t end up looking like a jackal.

But there are some ways you can spruce up your image at work and not look like someone who is trying too hard. They key is to just become a better version of yourself, and not try to turn the clock back unrealistically.

So here are some ways not to look old at work:

  • Stand tall. Hours of sitting hunched over a computer and years of wear and tear on your body can start to damage your posture. Have someone take a picture of you standing from all angles, then examine where you can improve. Get a feel for how you need to align your body to stand taller. Often stomach exercises can help strengthen your core and help you stand up straighter, as well as practicing yoga. Consider having someone videotape your walk so can see how to adopt a more confident and upright stride.
  • Start at the top. Hair, or lack of it in many cases, can be the first tip that you’re getting older. Hair that is allowed to go gray can become more frizzy and uncontrollable. Consider going to a professional stylist to get highlights that help brighten your face and soften the gray or get a deep conditioning treatment. Stay away from extreme hair styles such as straight-ironed hair or the kind of perms not seen since Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.” Get layers to help improve the movement of your locks so you don’t take on the helmet-head look. If you’re a man losing your hair, consider just shaving your head rather than adopting the dreaded comb-over. A study this year found that bald men are seen as more confident, masculine and dominant than men with hair. Can you say Bruce Willis?
  • Be realistic. There were nearly 1.6 million plastic surgery procedures performed last year, so if you’re planning to take some vacation time and return with new breast implants or a face lift, be prepared that people are going to notice  — and talk.  You need to decide whether you can deal with having people talk more about your brow lift than your abilities.  If you’re over 50, it’s going to be noticeable if you get Botox and your face is as smooth as a baby’s behind.
  • Update your wardrobe. As you get older, it’s more important that you wear clothes that are of good quality and fit well. That doesn’t mean you need to drop $500 on a pair of pants, but it does mean that shopping on the cheap in junior departments isn’t a good idea. Women can hide sagging necks with chunky jewelry that frames the face. And even if your aching feet demand no more 5-inch heels, choose cute ballet flats or kitten heels so you won’t stray into great Aunt Edith territory. Men should get clothes tailored so that if they wear pants that fit around an expanding waistline the rear view doesn’t look like they’re hauling around a parachute. For men and women, pay attention to trends and try to incorporate some of them with accessories such as a stylish belt or tie.
  • Brighten your smile. You can either choose to go to the dentist and get a professional whitening job or choose one of the at-home kits. But yellowing teeth don’t do anyone any favors, no matter the age.

No one wants to believe that they’re not as valuable as they once were because of a few gray hairs. But as more people decide to stay in the workforce longer because of passion for what they do or because of economic necessity, they may want to consider whether they’re sending the right message to colleagues and leaders. If they want to be seen as a vital piece of a company’s success, it may be helpful to ensure that the outward appearance matches the spark still within.

What tips do you have for looking younger at work?

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  • Farah Hussain

    This could use a follow-up: how not to look young at work!

  • Take another look at the colors you wear. Complexions change as you get older and the colors that were flattering when you were young will often look harsh. “Color Me Younger” or any of the books in the Color Me Beautiful line can be an inexpensive way to figure out how to use color to highlight your best features. Many of them are out of print and the images are dated but the information is still relevant. You can find used copies on Amazon.

  • Anita Bruzzese

    That’s an excellent suggestion. You can also visit a personal shopper in a department store and they’re usually well versed in colors and can help you select the right ones. Thanks for adding such a great idea!

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