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Conversational Threads

Age-appropriate tops

starzoe | Posted in General Discussion on

I like to keep on top of current styles, particularly in blouses and tops for myself. The shape of the so-called baby doll tops is perfect to disguise a tummy but my thinking is that at my age – almost 75 – those tops are not age-appropriate. There is an old Brit expression “mutton dressing as lamb” which explains it perfectly.

I can see wearing these beachcombing or at home. I bought one because I wanted to make a pattern from it but have never worn it because it looks just too, too young, even under a jacket. I guess maternity tops come to mind.

To justify the expense of the rtw one I bought I will use it as a pattern and sew just one – it’s the challenge on the bias.


  1. Digi | | #1

    I couldn't agree with you more.  I also feel that they are for the "kids", but still am not fond of them on anyone ...except someone who is pregnant.  As you said, they look like maternity tops at best ...and bedtime wear as well.  Most of all, they are not for someone in her 70's or even 60's or ...you name it if she's over 20!  (IMHO)

    Vogue has some lovely tops though, for women in "our" age group.  I'll dig some patterns out if you like and give you the numbers.  I've got to run for now, as we are having house guests come Friday, that will be here for at least two weeks ...and I need to get into the kitchen to get ahead the cooking.  Frankly, I'd rather be sewing.

    1. Ralphetta | | #2

      I agree with both of you. It seems to me the people who look best are pretty thin. If you don't have a thin ribcage, there is a lot of excess fabric around the middle which adds as much weight as it supposedly hides. As with all fashion, there are a few body types that it flatters.

  2. Josefly | | #3

    I'm chiming in here to add my voice to yours. The baby-doll, or empire-waist tops (and dresses) look plain silly in my opinion, and I never liked them even when I was young, oh so long ago. My daughter, in her early thirties, also says she feels like she looks pregnant in them, and she hasn't yet had an opportunity to wear and get tired of maternity tops. So I wonder - to whom do they appeal?

    I do like a sort of folkwear style that has a front yoke that comes to just below the bust, but then the midriff part of the top which attaches to the bottom of the yoke is not gathered and full, like the baby doll style, but straight and flat, continuing to a tunic-length hem. The rectangular yoke is inserted with seams like shoulder-princess lines, and that vertical seam adds some illusion of length, which I like a lot. I have a rtw blouse made like this, which I recently altered because it had narrow ties attached to the seam at the bottom of the yoke, meant to extend to the back and tie there. Even without the gathering, those ties looked too baby doll to me, and I removed the ties, and used them to bring the trim further down the front of the blouse and put a second horizontal strip below the button placket. The blouse is black so it may not show up well in the attachment.

    1. starzoe | | #6

      Yes, I like your top, very neat, slimming trim. I'll take a photo of the one I bought, it looks very nice on Ms. Diana.

    2. rodezzy | | #29

      Beautiful tunic.  I don't like those baby dolls and empire waist shirts either.  Never did.  Especially now that I'm old and puffy (giggle).

      Edited 4/14/2008 1:06 pm ET by rodezzy

    3. MaryinColorado | | #30

      That top is darling, I like the changes that you made in it very much.  Kwik Sew 2787 dress and 2498 Tops turned out well for my over 50 summer tops, just changing the length to suit me and using wide straps so I can wear a bra.   I also made some of McCall's M4968 of lightweight fabric and they turned out well so far.  I'm still working on my summer wardrobe and hope to finish this week so I can post some photos.  I'm mostly using fabrics I have on hand, so they don't co ordinate with each other. 

       I also feel that the baby doll tops are for the very young ladies or expectant mothers.  Some might be okay if hemmed much shorter than the tunic lenth usually shown.  I found a cute vest that can also be worn as a summer top or under a jacket in Sew Beautiful Magazine, issue 101/2005, made with heirloom techniques. 

      1. Josefly | | #33

        Oh, Mary, when you mentioned an heirloom-technique vest I immediately thought of one shown in the March 2005 issue of Sew News. I only subscribed to that mag for a couple of years but the picture of that vest has stayed in my mind. This one looks as if made with a couple of layers of handkerchief linen or batiste, and is embellished with Madeira applique. It is so fresh-looking, simple and elegant. Don't know if I could achieve that perfect applique, but it stuck in my mind as something to try someday.

        1. MaryinColorado | | #35

          I gave most of my magazines to my daughter in law, but I will definitely try to find that issue!  Thanks for letting me know.  I might have to buy it from Sew N Shop if I can't locate it.  Heirloom tops seem easier to alter at the "last minute" when necessary.  I like the idea of the Madeira applique on a top.  Thanks again!  Mary

  3. Teaf5 | | #4

    I agree that the baby dolls are best left to the babies! And, after two very long pregnancies, I never want to wear anything that reminds me of maternity wear.

    A new style that works much better for me is McCalls 5522; it has a horizontal seam just under the bust with soft gathering above and seaming below. The gathering works for full bust, and the seaming slims and lengthens the torso while skimming over the tummy left by my 10-lb. second baby.

    I have two RTW tops in that style and received so many compliments about them that I was happy to find the exact style in a pattern. I plan to size the pattern to the tops and make some more in different fabrics and colors.

    1. Josefly | | #5

      Yes! that looks like a great pattern. Thanks for pointing it out.

      1. Teaf5 | | #22

        Caution on that pattern McCalls 5522; I just spent two hours fitting the tissue, and there are three major errors in the pattern:  one of the lower fronts is marked as a lower back piece, the button band is not long enough and has the notch in the wrong place (even turned the opposite way),and the pattern came with two sheets of one set of pieces (fortunately, it's extra, and not substituted for another, missing sheet!)

        Maybe I'll get to cut out a muslin tomorrow...

        1. Josefly | | #23

          Wow, those are big errors. Thanks for the warning. I remember someone had a similar problem with a button band on another pattern, fairly recently on this forum. I don't remember though, if it was another McCall pattern. I look forward to hearing further about your blouse. Which sleeve are you planning to use?Would you consider letting McCall know about the errors on the button band? And the mis-marked pattern piece - that could really be confusing for someone less experienced than you are.Edit: I just saw that you found the other thread discussing this problem with the button band, and it WAS another McCall pattern. Hmmm.

          Edited 4/13/2008 12:46 pm ET by Josefly

          1. Teaf5 | | #26

            As a full-busted tall woman, I'm definitely NOT going to use the balloon sleeves (although I was interested in how they constructed them) or the full gathered sleeves, as either of those would make me look a mile wide on top. 

            I plan to use the straight slim sleeve but make it 3/4 length; it's cooler than long sleeves in the heat, but better than short sleeves for a/c and for writing on the board when I teach.

            Now, if only these precious weekends would stop flying by so that I can get my new shirts cut out!

          2. Josefly | | #27

            I vote for slower-moving weekends myself. The straight sleeve would be my choice, too. I find the other sleeves, on the right body, to be very feminine and pretty, but I don't like fussy sleeves that get in my way.I look forward to seeing/hearing about your results.

  4. Ckbklady | | #7

    Hiya Starzoe!

    I like modest and womanly clothing too. Baby girl tops are not my thing - I prefer a princess-seamed button-down shirt.

    I love the Vogue Patterns Sandra Betzina pattern #8151 for a goes-with-everything long-sleeved knit pullover top. I've made it in a couple of different fabric weights and plan to make a couple more. It's lovely under blazers, with jeans, skirts, anything. It's a classic style that goes with everything. Maybe you might enjoy it too.

    If you like current styles, watch for the upcoming Vogue 1050 inverted pleat pants pattern, also from Sandra Betzina. It's classy for all ages, modest and elegant. I saw it made up at a runway show at the big sewing festival here a few months ago.

    :) Mary

    1. starzoe | | #8

      I like the t-top, need the darts. As for the pants with inverted pleat, will give that a pass. Thanks though for passing them on.

    2. Josefly | | #9

      The top pattern is very nice. Also the pants - I can see them made up in a nice-weight silk crepe, for elegant evening pants. What fabric was used in the ones you saw?

      1. Ckbklady | | #11


        In the runway show Sandra Betzina had made the pants up in a few fabrics. I especially remember a very lightweight wool crepe, which swung so prettily as the model minced down the aisle. It looked best in 'floppy', swingy fabrics. I'm betting the pattern envelope will call for crepe, rayons, that sort of thing. Your silk crepe would be sensational!

        Ms. Betzina said the pattern would be out in April, which I guess must mean now by the calendar, but actually is the July/Aug (is that right?) pattern catalogue. Whatever it is, this one is worth the wait.

        :) Mary

      2. Ckbklady | | #15

        It dawned on me that I could go to the Vogue website and check if the pants are out yet, and so I did and they are:


        In the show, Ms. Betzina had the models in a variety of tops with this pant, and none were tucked in. It made for a cleaner line to the pant. And yes, she calls for crepe and challis - lovely!

        I hope that tidbit is helpful.

        Happy sewing!

        :) Mary

        1. Josefly | | #16

          Yes, the way I saw the pattern after you commented on it was in the online Vogue catalog. I do think the pattern would be lovely for something really dressy.

          1. Ckbklady | | #17

            You know, dressy would be good, but I was thinking it also might be fun in a khaki crinkle cotton with sandals, a t-shirt and a big hat in the summer. I'm so pleased at the thought of making something a little different that I want the pattern to work for all seasons!

            :) Mary

          2. Josefly | | #18

            Oh, yes, the outfit you've described sounds great. Would you do the pleat in a contrast fabric, or the same fabric as the rest of the pants? I love the idea of the crinkle cotton. You've got me thinking now...hmmm.

          3. Ckbklady | | #19

            Hiya back,

            No, I wouldn't do a contrast pleat - the ones in the show were all one color and thus looked slimmer. Every little bit helps!

            But, yes, crinkle cottons and a rayon blend and and and....I want these to be my go-to pants for the season. Can you think of any other fabrics I should consider?

            :) Mary

          4. Josefly | | #20

            I'm thinking a very soft light-weight washable linen would be good. There are also some rayon-linen blends, and silk-cotton blends too, that are drapey. When looking at rayons, I'd also look at Tencel and bamboo. But I don't think I've seen bamboo in a woven fabric, only knits. I keep picturing the outfit you described, and thinking about an ecru linen with matching wedge-espadrilles - not too high a heel, cuz I prefer flats and I find an elevated heel painful after an hour or so.I think a sleeveless shell top, maybe matching or in a different solid color - white?- which comes just below the waist, would be a good accompaniment. Maybe some shell buttons for trim somewhere on the top.

          5. Ckbklady | | #21

            Oooh, great combos! All of the above sound great. I just saw bamboo knit in a local fabric store. It's pretty but it's heavy (like Slinky Knit-heavy). I bet it would work here with a petersham-stabilized waistband and stay tape on the seams (sides and crotch curve).

            I'm with ya on the low heels. Unless I expect to be sitting down for the bulk of the day/evening, I do NOT wear heels and marvel at those who can wear them all day.

            The sleeveless shell top sounds fantastic. Do you have a pattern you like for that?

            :) Mary

          6. Josefly | | #24

            I'll look up my pattern - it's one I've adapted. I've tried to get something like the Ellen Tracy shells of long ago. I like the high-hip length or just a little shorter, but there's an optimal length for me that doesn't expose skin when my arms are lifted.

          7. User avater
            purduemom | | #25

            I second the linen suggestion for these great pants and a sleeveless shell.  I have a couple of patterns I like for simple, sleeveless, woven tops.  The first is Butterick pattern #4830 from the late 90's - it reminds me of the shells Mary Tyler Moore wore on the old Dick van Dyke show!  Unfortunately, the other 2 are now out of print, Vogue 2817 and Vogue 2851. I find these to be easy, breezy tops that work up nicely in summery linen fabrics.  Most importantly, as I am now a proud member of the 50+ club, I find them to be very appropriate.

          8. Ckbklady | | #31

            Oh, thank you! I have to buy thread today, so I may treat myself to a pattern too. I'll look for the Butterick in case it's still in print, or will look for similar Mary Tyler Moore style (boy, I LOVED that show!).

            I'm in the 40+ club, and have gained weight (who hasn't?? :) so I like the style details you mention.

            :) Mary

          9. Josefly | | #28

            Funny about that shell blouse. The last shell I made, about 3 years ago, had sleeves, and I altered an old 1980's pattern, McCall's 4690, which is actually a button-front blouse, but I put the center-front on the fold of the fabric, and cut a slit in the front neck about 4-5 inches long, cut a facing to match, and made it thus into a pull-over. I also changed the bottom of the pattern to almost straight, from the pointed vest-type bottom shown on the envelope. I say "almost straight" because I actually curved the front bottom seam so that it's about 1/2 inch longer in the center than on the sides. I also had to take out the 80's shoulder style a bit by shortening and sloping the shoulder seam. The two changes there compensated each other so I could use the sleeve without changing it. (I ended up top-stitching several parallel rows of stitching around the neck, down the center-front, and around the bottom edge, continuously, because the navy rayon fabric I used looked too plain. The top-stitching satisfied me, but it's very subtle and hardly noticeable.)I have a newer pattern, Butterick 6016, which has a scoop-neck sleeveless version with a simple side-seam bust dart and a short slit at the bottom of the side seam. That's the one I want to use for a linen/rayon blend fabric I have. But I haven't tried it yet - it says it's loose fitting, and it looks boxy. I'll do a muslin first. I may need to add some vertical darts to bring it in a little at the waistline/midriff area, but I'd like to pull it over my head. Heaven knows when I'll actually get around to doing this. Too much going on right now.

          10. Ckbklady | | #32

            The boxy shell might get a bit more shapely with some added darts.

            The 6016 pattern must be out of print - I couldn't find it. And the 4830 is an out-of-print kids' pattern. Back to the drawing board I go.

            I did find a nice cowl sleeveless that might be pretty with the pants - check out Vogue 9771, the sleeveless view. With a light shawl it might be nice in the summer.

            :) Mary

          11. Josefly | | #34

            Sorry you couldn't find the pattern. It was a "Fast and Easy" pattern, not really very old, by my standards, but I guess they get rid of patterns fairly quickly, so they can recycle the numbers?

          12. Ckbklady | | #36

            Oh, no worries - there are lots of choices out there.

            I think they do recycle the numbers. If I recall correctly, the pattern number for my wedding dress became a slipcover pattern and then a men's vest.

            :) Mary

          13. dollmarm | | #37

            (sorrie) I laughed when I read this one about the numbers.  Age appropriate tops can go in so many directions.  This Is really for ALL  too ....  I  find it hard to find the fit to match the look w/o looking sloppy cause we are older or too skippy cause I am tiny.  I usually wear in the summer those sleeveless button down tops that come to the waist and or tie at the waist or longer over long shorts,Capri's or leggin pants. I also wear like those loose knit tops that have the bra built in them.   Walmart had those in many colors one year and I bought several and have enjoyed them. Just want some new for the summer and more dressy.  I have enough casual.However I do like that Vogue pants V1050 - that was the site was posted.-the Capri's would make me look like I have bird legs.   My capri's always have to be tapered or I look stumpy.  

            I have bought a top pattern in quite a while.  Haven't seen anything really new out there.  I wanna' find something really cute and feminine.  Any suggestions?  Sincere thanks,  :~) 

          14. Ckbklady | | #39

            Don't be sorry - it IS hilarious. I love that my wedding dress morphed into a slipcover. But I didn't gain THAT much weight!!! :)

            I haven't see a lot of new shirt patterns out there either. I end up in short-sleeved man-tailored camp shirts from Columbia or REI in the summer. Not a very pretty look, but comfortable when it's warm. Kwik Sew has this kind of unisex styling. Acutally, come to think of it, Kwik Sew just came out with some new summer tops. None really made me sit up and take notice, but check 'em out - maybe something will appeal:


            This is a two-page collection of their latest releases.

            :) Mary, not slipcover-big, but bigger than her wedding day! :)

          15. dollmarm | | #40

            Thanks for the site - nothing jumped out at me either.  Nothing seems to be new or unique.  I seem to find more at the Goodwill than I am finding in the pattern books.  I just would like to make a really nice top.  I hope to go to the fabric store next week and I take a look at the several different companies.  Thanks again,  I will  let you know if I see anything worth sharing,  Happy sewing,  :~) P.S. How did you drape it to look like a dress not a cover - teeheeheehee :~)

          16. Ckbklady | | #41

            Oh, ya know, I pin-fitted it around my sofa, slid it off and then just slipped it on - that's the trick! :) You gotta get the drape just right....

            I'm finding the same here - the Goodwill (actually the "Greatwill" because we're in a very rich city that is full of people who wear really nice stuff once and pitch it) has nicer things than the fabric stores. It's hard to work up the enthusiasm to sew when I can get nice clothes so cheaply. When we lived in Toronto, there were no great thrift shops or even bargain retailers that I liked, and the nice clothes were all really expensive. Now there I was motivated to sew.

            I'll let you know if any patterns jump out at me. Maybe I should be looking in home dec? :) Heehee

            :) Mary


          17. dollmarm | | #43

            Oh you do drape that so well I can't wait to see ! (teeheeheee) I know our Goodwill is a Greatwill too There is another one in a close little town where many in that town have old money.I know of one lady that puts all her things in after a season or after a wear or 2.  These things are very nice and the monies goes to the hospital for families that lose everything and or fall on hard timesSO w/ that I do not feel bad not sewing and buy it.  Many times I do have to hem, esp the pants.  But I would never pay the original price nor do not I shop at these really high end stores.  I do not even go to Macys.  I made all my clothes before I married, even made my Nursing Uniforms, but married and never finished school.  But that okay it was taking over my whole time.  I worked for a Medical Group  that all ate, drank and smoked medicine and I was a newlywed and that was 'tuff' to say the least.  I had enough schooling that I worked in labs and then I worked in the JohnF.Kenndy School in Ca; working w/ special needs kids.  That was great until I was pregnant with my first and had to quit.  But I receive alot of insight for my now Autistic son.  There were so many there that were just left for their families could no longer care for them.  I worked with the little ones and they were so so precious.  I spent so much time with them there was no mental time to sew.   I later learned to cross-stitch by a neighbor lady that lived above us when we were stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.  She was a Special education teacher and her home was filled with her cross stitch work and finger quilting projects and she patiently taught me and that has been the best craft for me.  It take your focus totally on what you are doing and you have to be careful.  I love the finished project.  Some look like photos and nice pictures.  With her teaching she shared some insight of her job.   Life is totally full of teaching and learning in every aspect - we just have to grab a hold of the pure and knock off the yuk - that is when we can and accept as the prayer states.  I looked at some interesting designs at IKEA yesterday.  Some just too plain.  Hubby, son and I spent the day out - nice time - yucky weather - rained the whole day!Thanks and continue to enjoy your draping - you will see the best design  yet  :~)

          18. Ckbklady | | #45

            Wow- what a busy and productive life you lead. So many experiences. I understand having no energy to sew after working with special needs kids. I did that in the summers during high school, and would fall into bed, depleted from the work. It was sure wonderful though. Those kids taught me so much about the little things. We have something to learn from everyone - they taught me that, too.

            A day of rain is yucky? Boy, you wouldn't love being here (near Seattle, WA, USA) - rain and darkness in the winter and, this year, the coldest spring on record. We actually had a little snow for the last few days! Eeeesh. I want to sew SHORTS! It's still too cold in the house to drape them. But how fun to look forward to it.

            Back to the couch/dressform! :)

            :) Mary


          19. dollmarm | | #46

            I love the rain at times - everything so green. Do not care for the gloomy days but that's life too.   I love to gain ideas looking at the items I would love to sew - yet no time, but love to window shop as well.  We always think we look better in some things than we do.  It has been a cooler spring for us too.  It is as if we going into fall instead of spring and then it will be hot.  Crazy weather patterns.  Well get back to that couch draping - there is much to come up - insights are ready to be discovered.  :~) 

          20. Cathie | | #47

            This is a good topic. I am 58, and thanks to stress of my life (LOL) I exercise a lot, so am curvy, but relatively trim. I adore Empire and the Baby Doll tops, and have a vintage pattern, that is a real Baby Doll pattern, except more discreet than the ones sold as street wear. I think that these patterns can be modified. Having a large bust, being fairly evenly proportioned, yet with very long legs, these styles always suited my taste and shape. I have been obsessing about should I wear these things. I saw 2 women, very well turned out, and older than me, wearing the Baby Doll style. But, we must make little changes, making them age appropriate. Maybe even wear the B.D. with a T (colours play together), and a jean skirt, etc. With good posture, a big smile, and some lipstick we will do fine. Just make some small modifications. And I will finish up my 2 Empire dresses (long sleeved), and make another, with shorter sleeves. Great ideas ladies.

    3. damascusannie | | #10

      I agree that a nice A-line blouse is much more flattering than the baby-dolls that the kids are wearing these days. My seventeen-year-old keeps showing me these tops and asking me if I think they are cute and I truly DON'T. I paid my dues with six pregnancies and NEVER want to wear something like that ever again!

      1. Ckbklady | | #12

        Annie, that's funny. Your teen will look back in her 30s and ask herself why she thought they look good. They're sure not my thing, and we have no kids!

        :) Mary

        1. damascusannie | | #13

          Oh, she won't ask herself, she'll ask me why I let her dress so weird! 8^)

          1. Ckbklady | | #14

            Yeah, you're probably right!

            :) Mary

  5. cskulmoski | | #38

    If you a large breasted they are even more hideous. My small chested friend looks stylish in hers. I think as I age (I'm 48) I tend to go for more tailored looks, they body skim to give some shape without being clingons.

  6. bybrook | | #42


    You may have already gone on to other projects but I thought I would reply to your post as my most recent creation is a baby doll top for myself and I am 37.

    I think what makes it work is that I chose a fabric with a dense pattern in a more mature color palette that has moderate weight so it hangs nicely.  The color and pattern really mute the baby doll cut so that it is not the first thing you notice about the shirt. 

    I fitted the shirt close in the yoke and started the gathers well above the bust point.  Also I only put only as much gather as needed for width (to hide the tummy - which it does do really well) .  That way the silhouette is not flared but more straight. 

    I kept it quite short (high on the hip) as that is what stops it from looking like a maternity top and I put a small subtle ruffle on the bottom which helps to keep it hanging nicely.  I often wear it under a suit jacket with jeans or dress pants and I have received many compliments.

    I plan on making a couple more of these as it is really comfortable and great for summer.

    1. dollmarm | | #44

      Hi, We do get off the path and at timesI like the way you took in that top and made it 'your own" and shortened it too.  That does make a difference.  I am in my 50 and very tiny and can wear those tops but am short waisted and look like I am trying to be a teen again.  I found one on clearance at Target and loved the colors, but when I tried it on - that was a different story.   It had too gathers and it was too long.  There is so much out there right now that is not flattering. I do wear the lower cut jeans so I like my tops longer but not where they make you look pregnant.   So I will need to get some sewing done very soon. Once I finish this cross stitch (making my 1st grandbaby a birth announcement) I want to get back to the machine and make me a really nice summer top.  Thanks again for sharing - would love to see a picture if you can,  :~) 

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