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There’s a phenomenon we all know, one where women reach an age where they’re no longer seen as viable.

Watch a movie or television show, and you’ll see it: fewer older actresses, more bright young things. As this concept of invisibility kept popping up on social media or in articles, I felt I was missing something. To be invisible, an individual must have garnered some attention in the past. You have to first be a participant to then experience a lack of participation. What kind of visibility—the admiration of peers and the attention of men? Perhaps it’s the reflective sort, being able to see the semblance of oneself in the media, be it advertising or the aforementioned actresses.

Sonya is wearing: Acer Cardigan by Kirsten Kapur in Beaverslide Merino Worsted; 100 Acts of sewing Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1.

I must admit, the whole invisibility thing remains puzzling. I can intellectually understand, but it remains truly foreign to my own personal experience. Growing up mixed race, it was unusual to see an actress or model with black hair like my own, and the rare example would usually have blue or green eyes. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I discovered the Hawaiian word hapa, meaning half. From an early age I would rattle off my half-Australian/half-Filipino heritage. More significant than having a single word to designate my identity was finding other people who fit that descriptive category.

Hermaness Worsted hat by Gudrun Johnston in handspun by Kim Andersen; Gold Rush Shawl by Amy Christoffers in Rowanspun DK; Tunic no. 1 Jacket Modification from her Creativebug class; Skirt no. 1; and Pants no. 2. 

As an adolescent, I started filling out faster than up, beginning my alienation from the vast majority of bodies portrayed on the page or screen during the mid eighties. When your body shape is deemed not correct and unsightly, you try to change it, because the desire to fit in is very strong. You may also attempt to hide your body, using the subterfuge of dark colors, big shirts or squeezing into shape wear. How many women have followed advice to minimize themselves, to hide part or all of their bodies? Raise your hands.

Nette by Julie Weisenberger in Habu Nerimaki Ito; modified Dress no. 1; Simple Skirt pattern from Robert Kaufman; and Pants no. 2. 

I rarely felt I had anything to flaunt and spent much of my life actively invisible. Making my clothes turned that upside down. In particular, it was the shift from passive consumer to active producer. I decided what I liked and could go about trying to make it. I have confidence now that I never knew in my twenties. As you can see from the photos, there’s nothing revealing about my clothes. I personally don’t think body positivity must be synonymous with skin tight. To that point, I layer to disguise my bulges like nobody’s business.

Knitting Pure & Simple Neck Down Cardigan # 9725 by Diane Soucy in Manos Classica; Dress no. 2; and Pants no. 1. 

Women feeling invisible is fed by a dangerously narrow view of beauty. We need to upend that by celebrating women of all shapes and ages. We need to feel good in the clothes we wear. We need to care about what women make. Knitting and sewing have traditionally been seen as women’s work, so it’s more than apt that we raise up our needles to create the world we want to see and be seen in.

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Thank you for sharing your journaling and thoughts. I have occasionally realized this aging thing of invisibility but not too much, at least thus far. I used to say I am a force to be reckoned with, so perhaps it’s been there at times. How appropriate as we approach Mother’s Day! Celebrate you!

    • Thank you so much Jan and I love your attitude of being a force to be reckoned with. I am standing in my power in my 40s much more than I did in my 20s and 30s. Better late than never!

      • Love that you are now “standing in your power!” It made me happy for you, and also made me think of The Velveteen Rabbit. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”

  • Great article! I loved the insight into this topic.

    • Thanks Patricia, glad you enjoyed it!

  • I hear you! As I approach 60 (this May 30th!) I struggle between feeling fabulous to have made it this far versus the perception that I am becoming invisible as gravity invariably takes its toll (as with ALL of us). Rock on, love your color spunk and creativity! Thanks so much for putting into words what has been rumbling around in my head!

    Chris Austin
    Asbury Park, NJ

    • Very true words about gravity. The things we need to appreciate when we’re young and pert! Thank you so much for your kind words and wishing you a very Happy Birthday on the 30th.

  • Penguin pants, love ’em!!! Thanks for sharing some color with the world, I look forward to your posts and your great smile. It feels like you’re letting us in on a secret 🙂

    • You are so sweet, thank you! And yes, the penguin pants are definite crowd pleasers.

  • Seeing a new column by Sonya always gets my day off to a good start. I love all that you wear, Sonya, and am especially taken with your penguin-print pants and the star-covered? spangled? shoes that go with them. And the colors. Wow. Thanks.

  • So many hearts and stars for this article. Thank you!

    • You’re so kind, thank you and glad you enjoyed it!

  • I just plain and simply love every word of this.

    • That makes me really happy to hear, thank you Judith!

  • Hello Sonya! I look forward to seeing your articles and even more so your photos. I love how you play with colour and mixes of pattern and shape, and your smile seems to light everything up, so that I can’t help but feel joyful when I see them. Thank you for sharing your beauty with the world.

    • Oh Anne-Laure, you have just made my day. Thank you so much for the sweetest comment!

    • I’ll second that!

      • Thank you!

  • Love Sonya, she’s a kindred spirit in thought, word, style, and form! When I grow up I want to be just like her, if I ever grow up.

    • Well now you’re making me blush. And growing up is over-rated. Stay undecided and keep trying things on for size!

  • ❤️

    • Thanks!

  • Greeting from Perth WA
    Thought provoking article.
    Love the clothes.
    Take care.

    • Thank you so much Jacqueline. I was just in your lovely state earlier this week and my goodness, do those azaleas and rhododendrons put on a show! So inspired by all the color.

  • I might love this one the best. As an older woman with older friends, the topic of invisibility comes up a lot and I am surprised by how many women make it a conscious choice not to be noticed. I look forward to your posts as an exemplar of the opposite: a visible woman who seems always happy in her clothes and as her own true self. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much Ellen. You’ve hit the nail exactly on the head – the conscious choice not to be noticed. I am really curious about that and feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic. As for myself, it’s taken me a long time to get to where I’ve found who I am and how to best express that.

  • thank you Sonya for a great article! as brilliant, as you, as thoughful as your clothes!

    • Thank you Benedetta, you are too kind. Really glad you enjoyed it!

  • As a 50 something mom of five who’s kind of struggling with body image issues, this well written article spoke a lot of truth to me. Sonya, I want to make my own wardrobe now! ❤️

    • You are so welcome Diana. As for making your own wardrobe, it’s something I highly recommend. All the care in the choices made along the way and the amount of skill evident in every stitch – it continues to radiate out. At the risk of sounding completely “woo” there truly is some magic in wearing clothes you’ve made yourself.

  • Thank you!! This is a GREAT article.

    • Thanks so much Vicki, really glad you enjoyed reading my words!

  • Sonya, you are fabulous and bold. I will never be the knitter you are but you will surely be an inspiration. Happy, colorful knitting to you!

    • Thank you Maria, you’re so kind and I think we can all aspire to make the world a more colorful place!

    • Goodmorning Sonya! Once again you have made my morning. What a fabulous, superbly, written article! Again I can totally fit in to your thoughts. You express yourself so eloquently. Your sense of style is just fabulous Sonya, you speak for so many of us. This morning when I looked at my e-mail, I was so happy to see you, and see each of your outfits! “Marvelous darling, simply Marvelous” I smile to myself, ideas dorian (at 65, grand ideas, makes me so happy heehee) continue to have a glorious day, Sincerly dorian

      • Oh Dorian, the feeling is absolutely mutual. You’ve made my morning and if I could reach out through the screen and give you a hug, I would. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, filled with many more ideas!

  • Such a great article, as usual. The movie, RBG, brings up this issue of invisibility. Judge Ginsberg is another example, as you are, of a woman battling the status quo.

    • Thank you so much Donna! You’ve got me blushing with the comparison. I will definitely need to see the RBG movie, I just saw a poster for it up in my local movie theater.

  • This might be my favorite column of yours yet, and that’s saying something.

    • Thank you Jolene. It really just wrote itself, it was kind of surprising. And I think I could keep going too!

    • Word!!!!! 🙂

      • Thanks Jane!

  • What a great article for us older ladies. I’ll be passing it along to my friends. I always look forward to your articles and your outfits. Thanks

    • Thank you so much Eileen, I’m glad you enjoyed it and want to share. I think the topic of visibility and invisibility is one we need to discuss and moreover question.

  • I also think this is my favorite column by you.
    I am almost 74 years old, feel like I’m maybe an awkward 16 year old. And yes, I know that feeling of being invisible.
    So I wear bright colors, have a great hair cut – on undyed silver hair – and make sure I can see myself, even if no one else does.
    Thank you for your wisdom .
    And patterns. Just cut out shirt #1. Just gotta sit down and sew it

    • I so relate to “feel like I’m maybe an awkward 16 year old” Jane, I’m 60 and still feel like I’m in my 20s, okay maybe 30s. Some days I find it hard to reconcile the inner me and the surface me. Having been a PIB all my life, it’s hard to switch to the amazing colors you wear Sonya and I love the way you’ve pulled all the pieces together. Thank you for having this discussion, you ROCK!!

    • Thank you so much for this comment Jane, as you can see, it’s really resonated with others. That idea of seeing ourselves, it’s as if ageing is this open secret. It happens to everyone, the way our body, face, hair, everything changes, it is ALL inevitable. But we don’t talk about it, instead the focus is on how to tackle or combat it. So much masking or covering up, all the creams with promises of miracles and age-defying properties. I’m getting off track. I hope you get some time to sew very soon. As for bright colors and a great haircut – it’s a winning formula!

    • Jane – what a wonderful turn of phrase “and I make sure I can see myself, even if no one else does.”
      Warmly seconded by a woman in her late 60s – thank you!

    • “- and make sure I can see myself…”. Now that nearly made me cry. Surely that one idea is the core issue for so many people, young or old.

      • I second that!

      • I also love that comment!!!

        • Yes!

  • Love every word (as always)! Love the Penguin pants too! I am wowed (again) by your article; thank you.

    • Really glad you enjoyed reading it Sherrie, thank you!

  • Being a woman of a certain age…65, becoming invisible has become my norm. Thanks so much for this wonderful article.

    • You’re very welcome Annie. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it, I feel like it’s a very rich topic and I have a lot more to say.

  • I love this so much! And I really needed to read it today…I struggle with these issues, even though my brain tells me not to…thank you!!! You are beautiful and I love your style!!!! Great footwear too!

    • Thank you Leah! And yes, I do love shoes as well as fabric AND yarn. Those issues of how we’re seen or not seen can be really deeply ingrained. It can be really easy to dismiss the feelings – being too this or not enough of that. It’s even harder if you’re naturally sensitive or empathic, raising my own hand. For me, wearing colorful clothes (and shoes) and then making more has really lifted me up in ways that I did not expect.

      • Sonya, you are an inspiration. I am raising my hand, too! I’m still reeling from my father’s rejection of a vintage fur cape that I wanted to wear to church in the early 70’s! Thank you so much.

  • I adore your style and the way you enjoy color. If I wasn’t living in such a hot area, I’d totally emulate your layering; unfortunately here in Texas, that would like to kill me. Rock on, and be seen! 🙂

    • That made me laugh Shelley! I need to layer because it can go from warm to windy and freezing in a heartbeat. But growing up in a hot and humid environment, I know wearing as little and light as possible is the name of the game.

  • I love what you do. Every design and combination screams BE HAPPY, HAVE FUN!

    • Thank you so much Renee! It really does and it certainly lifts me mood.

  • Testify! Growing up my brother was “the handsome one” and I was “the smart one.” This November I’ll turn 50 and in some ways feel more confident than I ever have about my appearance, even as my features recede and gray hairs appear. I think taking charge of what I put onto my body via making has had a lot to do with this. I’m a late bloomer sewing-wise, but better late than never. Your skin looks so lovely in that chartreuse cardigan, btw.

    • Thank you Jane! I think you’re absolutely right about the way we can get pigeon-holed from such an early age, either with our families or through school. But we change and thank goodness for that! I totally identify as a late bloomer sewing-wise as well. For me coming at it when I did, I had more patience and was also less hard on myself – a magical combination. And thank you for your sweet compliment, I do love a good chartreuse!

  • I read every single word. And then went back and read it all again. Thank you, Sonya. And thank you, Ann & Kay!

    • Thank you so much Victoria! That makes me so happy.

  • When Geraldine Ferraro was nominated VP (yes, I’m that old), I burst into tears; I hadn’t realized how excluded I felt until then. As a not-particularly-attractive woman, I’ve felt relatively invisible most my adult life. As an oddball who was teased a lot, I learned to “cloak” as a protective device, wearing rather plain clothes to blend in rather than stand out. Now that I am older, I’m learning to not care about the opinions of others, BUT I don’t know what my style is… yet. I have a feeling it won’t be found on the clothing racks, though. Good luck to all in their search for their own personal style!

    • I’ve read your comment a couple of times and it brings up new feelings with each read. Isn’t it strange just how much store society puts by a woman’s looks? But said woman walks a very fine line, because even being beautiful isn’t a wholesale guarantee, look too sexy and they are marked as slutty; not friendly and they are cold. It’s a minefield. An opinion minefield. Being invisible is protective. And thank you for bringing up Geraldine Ferraro, in this nation that’s so obsessed with looks and youth, we need to remember and hold up female role models past and present.

  • All of the wise words from this wise woman are so helpful, appreciated, and heartfelt. THANK YOU SONJA for sharing your vision, which provides a sense of belonging for all of us who have never felt we “belonged” in the world of fashion; for sharing your patterns, which provide a sense of empowerment, so that we can create the fashion we need; and for your positive outlook, which is a respite from so much negativity that surrounds the issues for women around age, appearance, and clothing.

    • You are so welcome Lauren. Thank you, thank you, thank you! It is truly what I want to do – foster a sense of belonging and empower through creativity. I am really glad my words resonate.

    • SONYA…my apologies on the typo!

  • Yes, those penguin pants are something! Treasure your pics and journaling. Thank you!

    • Thank you Marty! I cannot get enough of funky and fun prints like the penguins.

  • Love, love, love this! Your clothes are wonderful, as always. I also very much understand your puzzlement over the “older women are invisible” issue. As a woman of size, 5′ 10″ and always fatter than standard, I feel as if I have almost never seen myself portrayed. (Camryn Manheim and Queen Latifah are exceptions, and only came on the scene when I was well into adulthood.) Ironically, it is only now that I am post-menopausal that I feel I have come into my own. Of the Maiden-Mother-Crone goddess/woman archetypes, Crone is the first one that feels as if it really fits me!

    • Right on Laura! I am also all about welcoming the Crone stage. The variety of archetypes (and just plain generalized types) is all right there. Here’s to a world where we shine a light on more than just the Maiden.

  • Just felt thousands of hands go up. Sounded like the filling sails of a ship bound for glory.

    • What a gorgeous image Martha, love it!

    • Oh, such beautiful words!!

  • I love every word of this. BTW: your fashion sense is fabulous, and every one of these ensembles is gorgeous.

    • Thank you so much Regina!

  • Another thoughtful blog post from you. Always enjoyable. More than your words I enjoy looking at you fabulous smile and perky clothes! I do believe that what one gives out comes back. I have seen so many older people with no smiles on their faces. In fact one day an entire restaurant full of apparently grumpy faces, no smiles for the wait staff. Or each other, even in conversation. When I turned 50 (I’m 71) I decided to be about what I could not, not what I couldn’t…and I made a point to smile. Not only do I feel better, it often makes other people smile too…so I figure I’m doing my little bit to make the world a better place.

    • Those are absolutely words to live by – What one gives out comes back. I’ve read that there’s some science behind smiling, linking it with increased neurochemicals, so it stands to reason – the more you laugh and smile, the better you’ll feel. Thank you so much for sharing your insight, your smiling does make the world a better place!

  • I love the way you dress, the fun colors and nice shapes. I am unable to wear layers like you do because I’m so hot all the time. Thanks for freeing people to be themselves!

    • Thank you so much Pati! My husband and daughter tend to run hotter than me, so I’m constantly in a sweater and scarf while they’re just in t-shirts

  • Sonja, I am inspired to make something. I’m not a confident sewing machine user but I love the patterns and may have to make a little something for my wardrobe. I’m bored of looking like everyone else! Thanks for that. Go you!!

    • That makes me so happy to hear Lucy! Making one thing is a start, then when you make the second piece and the third etc, it all builds and your experience and confidence will grow along with your wardrobe. And hurrah for not looking like everyone else!

  • Hear, hear! Thank you, Sonya. I share many of these experiences and thoughts, and you gave me a light bulb of realisation – since I became a knitter (and now, just recently, a sewist), for the first time in my life I wear things that I hope will be visible, be seen, when usually I am happy not to be noticed. Thank you for your wonderful articles, and can I just say how awesome your penguin pants (and all your outfits) are? 😀 I have your T shirt and pants patterns, but am waiting until I’m more confident in my sewing before I tackle garments!

    • That’s so wonderful to hear Antonia! And I wonder how much of that desire, wearing things you hope will be visible, comes from the supportive nature of the knitting community. There’s nothing quite like going to a yarn festival, yarn store or knitting group, where you’re around people who appreciate the time, effort and beauty of a shawl or cardigan. And I encourage you to sew, get some fabric you don’t care about and get comfortable on your machine. That is the major difference between sewing and knitting – how the sewing machine can intimidate so much more than your hands and needles. Have fun and just laugh those mistakes and goof away.

  • Hear, hear! and thank you, Sonya! Well said and marvelously candid.

    • Thanks so much Tiffanie!

  • Love all the clothing……

    • Thank you Pat!

  • Well said! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much Rachel!

  • Bravo!!!

    • *takes a bow* Thank you!

  • Just wonderful. Truly, truly inspiring. Beauty has nothing to do with age, race or shape, it has to do with mind and soul.

    In my forties, I feel much more beautiful and confident that I did at 20, and I think that really has to do with making my own clothes and understanding that there’s nothing wrong with me and my body. It is as it is and I do love it.

    • Such an eloquent response Paula. I find myself nodding along as I read your words. It totally has to do with your mind and soul. I think there’s a passage in a Roald Dahl book (The Twits maybe) about how beauty has to do with what’s on the inside. I found the quote: “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” And here’s to feeling beautiful and making clothes!

  • I love your outfits and your posts. But I would like to comment on your point about the tv shows. How do you know if a tv show is from the US or UK (muted)? If everybody is young and beautiful – it’s US. If you see real people, big and small, old and young, beautiful and not so beautiful – it is probably British.

    • I think this is one reason I prefer British programming, too. The people look real and are far more representative of what I see in life.

    • You are absolutely RIGHT Elsbeth. I tend to favor British television shows (I am a fan of the murder mystery) and there is a far greater representation. Such a great point on the way popular culture really influences our thinking.

  • Wonderful words. It was only when I started making my own clothes that I realised most of my clothes had never fit me properly. Something always pinched or pulled, subtly niggling at my posture all day. Sewing forced me to look at my own body clearly, something I’d always avoided. Wearing clothes that accommodate my body and movements really does allow me to feel more present and more sure of who I am, and I’m slowly feeling more visible.

    • I love reading this Jesse, being present and sure of who you are – that is wonderful. I’m reminded of an interview I read with Jenny Rushmore who designs Cashmerette patterns, about how in sewing size is just a measurement and that the numbers aren’t bad or negative, they are information and a way to achieve an outcome – a garment that fits your particular body. What an incredible thing.

  • Wow! You are amazing!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    • You are too kind Nancy, thank you!

  • The penguin pants are my absolute favorite. I love your look and words of wisdom.

    • Thank you Marcia! I think they are my most popular pair 😉

  • I love seeing Sonya’s outfits and reading her posts. And thank you, Sonya, for your wonderful sewing patterns.

    • Thank you and you are so welcome!

  • You have a style to envy. I wish I had your colour sense and could convince my daughter than pattern on pattern is totally cool.

    • Another Sonya, hello!! Wear your favorite colors and have fun. As for daughters (mine is seventeen) they are a very tough audience.

  • That makes me so happy to hear Lucy! Making one thing is a start, then when you make the second piece and the third etc, it all builds and your experience and confidence will grow along with your wardrobe. And hurrah for not looking like everyone else!

  • Thank you.

  • Love this article. I have a theory about women between the ages of let’s say 45 and 65 being in a kind of fashion no-fly zone. What I mean is that there’s that moment when, as you’ve mentioned, you’re aging out of (or feeling like you’re aging out of) the notice of the general public, and one stops taking fashion risks. That’s one of the reasons I love the Advanced Style people – they’ve passed that and are on to the fun stuff!

  • I really love this post! In addition to all the excellent points you make, may I just add . . . I would KILL for your sense of style. I love every single outfit and would feel like I couldn’t “pull it off”. My thing is always feeling like I’m not cool or interesting enough to rock a really amazing outfit. I’m a “jeans and” girl. You rock every single look!

  • I love all your articles! I love what you say here. I am 59 and I don’t feel invisible at all. I understand why some do, mostly I think it’s a cultural/societal belief and I don’t buy in to it. With that said I have noticed that sometimes people in their 20’s don’t notice me…I understand that because I don’t really notice them! It’s ok! Yay! Don’t be invisible. Make what you love and wear what you make! P.s. love your craftsy classes too!

  • Oops! Creative big classes!

  • I love reading your column, you make a great deal of sense to me (an eternally plump woman now feeling the dumpiness of mid-40s limit made-to-wear options even further) BUT truly it’s your pictures that I take with me. Exuberant, energetic, vibrant, quirky, humorous, comfortable, confident: this is what I see in your photos! I think I’m going to try looking at clothes with those adjectives in mind, rather than “tummy-flattering” or “derriere-minimiser”

  • Love your designs & colorful nature. I find that I’m using color to become less invisible. One thing I’ve noticed from looking at Ravelry pics is that so many knitters knit these fantastic sweaters that just hang on them like a huge potato sack. I got a dress mannequin in my size & now fit my knits to her. I’m much happier wearing a sweater that actually fits me.

  • Ohhh, this hits home with me in all the right ways! Having lived in Hawaii, I was branded Hapa and always felt a little out of place being Filipino/Spanish and Irish everywhere else I’ve lived. And I never felt so dainty as my other cousins and family members looked. As I near 40, I’m just coming to real terms of body acceptance and how visible I want to be with the clothing I wear. Of course, there is no shortage of my volume though, since I stand just over 5′ tall lol I def like to be heard. I love your Wear What You Make Series. So fun, so vibrant, so very visible.

  • thank you so much for sharing information…..

  • Just discovered you (probably thanks to Pinterest’s AI machinations) and SO happy to find wonderful and fun fashions for the well padded ladies. So sick of seeing the lovely skinnies as the only representatives of women. THANK YOU for being and sharing yourself.

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