Adult and juvenile dermatomyositis share the hallmark features of pathognomic skin rash and muscle inflammation, but are heterogeneous disorders with a range of additional disease features and complications. The frequency of important clinical features such as calcinosis, interstitial lung disease and malignancy varies markedly between adult and juvenile disease. These differences may reflect different disease triggers between children and adults, but whilst various viral and other environmental triggers have been implicated, results are so far conflicting. Myositis-specific autoantibodies can be detected in both adults and children with idiopathic inflammatory myopathies. They are associated with specific disease phenotypes and complications, and divide patients into clinically homogenous subgroups. Interestingly, whilst the same autoantibodies are found in both adults and children, the disease features remain different within autoantibody subgroups, particularly with regard to life-threatening disease associations, such as malignancy and rapidly progressive interstitial lung disease. Our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie these differences is limited by a lack of studies directly comparing adults and children. Dermatomyositis is an autoimmune disease, which is believed to develop as a result of an environmental trigger in a genetically predisposed individual. Age-specific host immune responses and muscle physiology may be additional complicating factors that have significant impact on disease presentation. Further study into this area may produce new insights into disease pathogenesis.