Fashion Tips for Women in Their 40s

How can you make sure your clothes reflect your timelessness?
How can you make sure your clothes reflect your timelessness?
Jenny Acheson/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

You've met with and moved forward from the big 4-0. You're all grown up. It's time to make some fashion changes that reflect your maturity.

Mature doesn't mean old, of course. It's vibrant, powerful and dignified. In our fitness conscious society, it's possible you look as good now as you did when you were 20. Still, the flirty, skin-revealing fashions from the junior department don't really suit you, even if they still fit.

Sure, your body's changed with time. But the need for a new style runs deeper than how clothes fit your mature curves. It's not enough anymore to get noticed. You've got to connect intellectually. You need to be taken seriously, appreciated for your accomplishments and respected for your experience.

For this to happen, you need to look the part from head to toe. See where to start on the next page.


Lighten Up

Think about a how a new hairstyle could change your look.
Think about a how a new hairstyle could change your look.

In the past four-plus decades, you've lived a lot, learned a lot and experienced many changes. Some of those changes are plain for all of the world to see. Gray hair and darkened teeth may show your age, so think about brightening your hair and whitening your teeth. While you're looking at your hair, ask yourself if it's time to cut those long tresses and get a sophisticated new style.

During the teen years, girls typically use makeup to look older. Now that you've achieved the look naturally, it's time to lighten up and go with more natural colors. A good concealer, lash-lengthening mascara and a sheer blush may be all you need for daily wear.

You don't want to dress like your mom, and you shouldn't dress like your daughter. See tips for creating your own style on the next page.

Livable Style

A fitted jacket will allow you to switch from casual to sleek in a flash.
A fitted jacket will allow you to switch from casual to sleek in a flash.

Some things are worth suffering for. Fashion isn't one of them. At this busy stage in your life, your clothes need to function for you. But people expect you to look elegantly respectable no matter what you're doing. Certain wardrobe essentials will help you make that seem effortless.

A black dress is a must. Best is one that can go from season to season and serve any appearance, whether it's a formal business occasion or a night out with good friends.

You should also invest in fitted jackets in summer, fall and winter weights. A classic, tailored jacket adds power to business attire and instantly elevates casual outfits -- even jeans.

It's tempting to pick one designer and buy pre-matched ensembles. Don't. Mix, don't match. Build your own style with personally appealing, interchangeable essentials and accessories from several different designers. And opt for quality over quantity.

Elegant Evenings

Spring for something elegant that will turn heads when you're out on the town.
Spring for something elegant that will turn heads when you're out on the town.
Jeremy Maude/Photodisc/Thinkstock

You're over 40 -- you're not dead. You've still got energy, sex appeal and interest in the night life. Timeless colors like black and navy complement your timelessness. But you need more support in some areas, and support bras and spaghetti straps don't harmonize. For evening wear, look for dresses and tops with straps wide enough to conceal your bra. If necessary, buy new foundations to suit your after-hours wardrobe.

Accessorize just enough. You'll shine plenty without piling on your entire collection of jewelry. Select two or three spectacular pieces to complement your dress.

Use a similar high impact minimalism with your makeup. Choose one feature to be the star for the evening. Play up your lips with red lipstick, or make your eyes dramatic, but don't put a spotlight on every part of your face.

Casual Weekends

Jeans aren't just for youngsters.
Jeans aren't just for youngsters.
Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

You can look stunning in jeans. Stop shaking your head -- there are many more options now than there used to be. The trick is getting the right fit and having them shortened to the perfect length. To pull this off, you'll need several pairs of jeans, adjusted to several pairs of shoes: flats, medium heels and high heels. And your jeans should look new -- dark, crisp and whole, not holey.

Opt for plain, feminine cut T-shirts or simple, beautifully structured sweaters. Get rid of the old logo and rock band T-shirts and sweatshirts, or pack them away with other souvenirs from your youth.

Understated jewelry lets everyone see you know how to relax without letting yourself go. Go with stud or hoop earrings and a fluid chain bracelet to look both comfortable and polished.

Solid Foundations

Choose heels with a bit more support.
Choose heels with a bit more support.
Polka Dot RF/Thinkstock

We've all orchestrated the perfect outfit, only to have it fall apart over the wrong shoes. Viewed in isolation, the differences between two pairs of shoes might be subtle, but when you're relying on them to complete a look, the impact is significant. That's why we need so many shoes.

But we need to be practical, too. Strappy, tottery stilettos are for kids. Well, they probably aren't smart for any age, but they're defiantly something women over 40 should leave for special occasions. Oh, and limit the flip-flops to the gym shower. They don't belong anywhere else.

To complete the mature-chic look, build on a solid foundation -- shoes you can walk in confidently. Black and brown flats, pumps, and boots that combine lower, broader heels with a supportive, flexible structure and feminine shape provide tons of options.

On the next page, pull your new style together with the right accessories.

Accessorize with Style

Eyewear can still look stylish, not stuffy.
Eyewear can still look stylish, not stuffy.

Just because you're dressed doesn't mean you're ready to leave the house. It's often the small, final touches that take an outfit from "nice" to "wow!" A bright scarf adds punch to a dignified dark suit. Cinch in a dress with a wide belt to emphasize your femininity. Enliven a turtleneck with a chunky necklace in a contrasting color. Slip on a bracelet watch for an evening out. But don't hang the half-glasses around your neck.

If you need vision correction, don't let your eyewear date you. Have your bifocal (or trifocal) lenses mounted in up-to-date frames, and do the same with sunglasses if you can afford it. If readers are all you need, get several pairs in different styles -- serious, playful and bold -- and leave them in places you're likely to need them.

The last thing you pick up before leaving the house is your handbag. Make it a good one. You've come far enough to own the real thing.

For lots more information and related articles, see the next page.

Related Articles


  • Garcia, Nina. The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.
  • Kelly, Clinton and Stacy London. Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your Body. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.
  • Krupp, Charla. How Not to Look Old. New York: Springboard Press, 2008.
  • Levin, Jenny. Harper's Bazaar Great Style: Best Ways to Update Your Look. New York: Hearst Books, 2007.