Fifty may be the new 40, but it's not an excuse to raid your daughter's closet. Let's face it, as women age, formerly toned body parts begin to sag and shift. Even if you're in your 50s and you haven't gained an ounce since your 30s, clothes just don't fit the same. And for those still wearing the same outfits they wore 20 years ago, it's definitely time for a wardrobe update.
The first thing any fashion expert will tell you is that dressing younger does not make you look younger. People-watch at your local mall and you'll notice that most women over 50 are not "Forever 21." But that doesn't mean they can't look good and have fun with their wardrobe. Fifty should not mean frumpy; it's about comfort and elegance.
There's nothing a good haircut and a great outfit can't do to make you look and feel fantastic. Let's take a look at your professional wardrobe on the next page.
Remember when trousers were forbidden at the office and pantyhose were a must? Well, those days are gone. The workplace has become progressively more casual, and, to be honest, it's often difficult to tell what's appropriate.
Today's office looks run the gamut, from jeans and flip-flops to outdated power suits and pumps. Dressing somewhere in between those two extremes is the best choice for female professionals in their fifties. Suits are out; separates are in. Mix, match and layer wardrobe essentials and accessories; you'll not only look chic, you'll expand your wardrobe while saving money.
First, update your styles and your style rules. For example, ditch the boxy blazers with shoulder pads and accept that it's OK to wear white after Labor Day. Next, invest in tailored pieces that flatter your figure and are made of quality fabrics like cashmere, wool and cotton. Talbots, Ann Taylor and Jones New York are good sources for these wardrobe basics.
Some classic pieces for your wardrobe:
- Crisp white shirt
- Wool pants with some stretch in black, navy, gray or khaki
- Year-round leather jacket
- Four types of shoes: a low-heel sling-back in black, a flat for work and comfort, an evening shoe, and a casual shoe like a moccasin for weekends
- Pencil skirt fitted for your body-type that hits mid-knee
- Trench coat
Now, mix it up:
- Do mix prints, but match them according to color tone.
- Don't match your handbag and shoes.
- Do mix in bargain pieces (accessories, tops) with quality basics.
When it comes to giving away your age, one of the biggest pitfalls is casual dress. Unfortunately, many women tend to fall into these two categories: those who dress like a 20 year old and those who wear the same outfits they wore 20 years ago. Let's face it, ladies, neither strategy works.
One thing you can wear in your 50s (and at any age) is a nice pair of jeans. Until recently, the choice for women in their fifties was limited to elasticized "mom jeans." Fortunately, manufacturers are now designing jeans for every body type, making it easier to find a flattering fit.
A pair of well-fitting jeans is worth the investment. Take the time and try on a variety of sizes and styles to find the most flattering, age-appropriate fit. Be aware of the following five areas when you choose a pair of jeans:
- The rise from the crotch to the top of the waistband should fall between the low-rise teenage cut and the high-rise "mom jean" cut.
- The color should be true blue or a dark wash; avoid tears, holes, embellishments or embroidery.
- The cut or shape of the jean will have an impact on your shape. The boot-cut, with a slight flare at the bottom, provides balance to the hip. And trouser jeans are flattering, with a wider leg, wider waistband and flat front.
- Cotton denim with 2 to 3 percent Lycra allows for stretch and is more comfortable than 100 percent cotton, which can sag after a few hours of wear.
- Pocket size and placement as well as stitching finish off the look. Check your backside.
Once you have the perfect pair of jeans, complete the look with a classic top, a fun accessory and the right shoe. Keep in mind, the narrower the leg opening, the more delicate the shoe. And never wear tennis shoes with jeans. That's an outdated look.
There's no reason to go out for a night on the town dressed like the mother of the bride. For most black-tie events, long is no longer the rule. Dress lengths for women in their 50s range from floor-length to knee-length and everywhere in between.
Finding the perfect dress for a black-tie event is always harder when you wait until the last minute. Plus, you tend to spend more. Keep an eye out for the dress of your dreams year-round so you'll be ready when the invitation comes along; or you can always fall back on that famous wardrobe staple, the little black dress.
For women of any age, a black dress is perfect for an evening out, and the perfect black dress is one that is versatile enough to take you from business functions to the red carpet. Follow the guidelines for choosing a style to compliment your body, and dress it up with jewelry, shoes, an elegant evening bag and a wrap. Be careful not to go overboard with too much bling.
Getting older is a tough reality to face -- literally. A look in the mirror reflects a person you hardly recognize, which makes it tempting to avoid mirrors altogether. Luckily, hair and makeup can go a long way to make you look young and fresh.
The hairstyle that looked so perfect on you when you were in your 40s may no longer be suited to the 50-year-old you. Styles change and so does your face. If you've had the same style for years, consider adding layers or angles, changing the length or doing something as simple as switching your part. Adding a soft fringe of bangs can do wonders to hide a wrinkled brow. Bangs also draw attention to your eyes and away from a sagging jowl.
It goes without saying, gray hair makes a woman look older, even if it's a great platinum mane. If you plan to color your hair, go several shades lighter than your natural base color, which helps to lighten your face and de-emphasize any lines or wrinkles. Count on touching up every four to six weeks.
Hair color is not the only thing that can affect how old (or young) you look. "Helmet head," or hair that doesn't move, and up-dos are outdated. Don't think that hitting 50 requires you to have short hair. Long, shiny, well-kept locks are a sophisticated look.
When it comes to makeup, soft and subtle is the way to go. Accentuate your eyes without going overboard. Gone are the days of heavy foundations, streaks of blush and bronzers that are supposed to make you look tan. A dewy face with a natural blush is best. Choose paler shades of lipstick and nail polish.
Perhaps the reason women go crazy for stylist Lloyd Boston is that he celebrates their positive features and encourages them to try new things, so they feel fabulous at any age. His sound advice not only applies to women in their 50s, but also to those in their 30s and 70s. Among his recommendations are...
- Do try warm jewel tones, which usually work with every skin tone.
- Don't match shoes with a bag.
- Do emphasize the silhouette not the skin.
- Don't wear sleeveless or capped sleeves if you have flabby upper arms.
- Do wear an interesting brooch instead of necklace if you have a "chicken neck."
- Do have a professional bra fitting.
- Don't shop by size; shop by fit.
- Do emphasize your waistline to show off your curves.
- Do belt a sheath dress to distract the eye from the belly.
- Do check yourself out in a three-way mirror.
- Don't buy a piece of basic clothing unless you can wear it three ways.
- Do edit your closet every few years to get rid of pieces that are out of date or no longer fit.
- Don't wear baggy or tight clothes, choose waisted jackets, scoop necklines and fitted tops.
- Do stick to classic pieces and accessorize with seasonal trends.
- Do make your legs look longer by wearing a nude shoe.
- Don't wear a floral print on a body part that you want to downplay.
- Don't wear panty hose with open toe shoes.
- Don't go out of the house wearing something that feels too tight.
- Do consider a wrap dress, which will work with your curves as they increase or decrease.
- Do remember size and age are just numbers.
A woman who dresses in well-made, well-fitting clothes can feel confident and that confidence will make her look better than anyone else in the room.
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- Krupp, Charla. "How Not to Look Old." Stonesong Press. 2008
- Gunn, Tim. "A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style." Abrams Image. 2007
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