I’ve had several wonderful women write to me requesting advice for dressing stylishly in the fourth and fifth decades. And first of all, I’d like to say that I’m HONORED by these requests. I am beyond flattered that women with more life experience than I want me to boss them around when it comes to style!
Secondly, I have written a handful of posts that delineate style for women of various age groups, but overall? I think it’s all down to the individual. How comfortable are you showing serious skin at 56? Do you feel confident and awesome in trendier styles, or like a total poseur? The only person who can really say what is appropriate for you at this age is YOU. Just you. So take every word written here with a grain of salt, and remember that you’re in charge. At any and every age.
Angie wrote a fabulous post recently about why the topic of age-appropriate style is so sensitive, and I thought she was spot-on. Labeling women by age and telling them what they can and cannot do based solely on that age just seems … well, odd. But since I’ve been asked for advice on this topic quite a few times and urged to post about it, I’ll share with you all what I shared with my e-mail correspondents. I am loathe to give you a big long list of “don’ts” because – as I said above – I believe that only your personal taste, your environment, and your unique personality can dictate what is “age-appropriate” and what is not. But I can provide some loose guidelines that would apply to most women over 40 … or anyways the ones who don’t have Madonna’s physique, ones that worry a tiny bit about looking like mutton-dressed-as-lamb. You can mull them over and customize as you see fit.
- If you dig graphic tees, do a college shirt here and there or something with an all-over abstract design. Cutesy Paul Frank-style stuff probably won’t fly.
- Embrace super dark-wash jeans. They’re still jeans, but they’re classier than light washes and hella classier than pegged, destroyed boyfriend jeans. Flares, widelegs, even skinnies will look polished and perfect in a deep, dark wash.
- Also try white jeans – especially for summer. Paired with citrusy brights and simple jewelry, they look smashing on women of all ages.
- Stick to skirts that hit right around knee-length. For the majority of body types, anything lower is unflattering, anything higher might be verging on immodest. Now, if you’ve got a fabulous set of gams and aren’t ready to cover ‘em up, more power to you. I will never say, “You’re over 40 – no more miniskirts.” I will merely say, “Don’t wear a miniskirt unless you’ve got the confidence to truly rock it.”
- Find a signature style of dress. Wrap dresses come in a thousand comfy variations, but sheaths are eternally classic, too. Nothing says “sophisticated and wordly” like a gorgeous woman in a perfectly-fitting dress.
- Carry a stylish – and relatively large – handbag. I’m not talking a massive boat tote from LL Bean … I just mean that as women get older, they tend to carry smaller and less interesting handbags. Seek out something fun and biggish to keep your look fresh.
- Study photos of Kate Hepburn in her heyday. That widelegged, high-waisted trouser look is SO chic, and very current. Even if her style isn’t quite yours, I bet she’ll inspire you in some way … even before she hit 40, she was a hell of a sophisticate and a true original.
- Try merging some of your work wardrobe with your weekend wear. Take the top half of an office outfit, and stick it on top of those dark wash jeans. Pair a cute work skirt with a fitted white tee. I used to think I needed to do scrubby sweats on the weekends, but felt like I had a split personality until I started merging my work and weekend wear.
- Indulge in shoes. Aside from Uggs, there are relatively few shoes that I consider off-limits for age reasons. If you see a trendy shoe you adore, try it out! Balance it with more conservative pieces, but don’t be afraid to splash out with your footwear. A chic 43-year-old in rockin’ platform gladiators, a knee-length denim pencil skirt, and a belted white button-down is almost too sexy to bear.
Finally, here’s a video I did a while back on looking stylish at any age.
Again, you really have to be the one to make the call. Don’t be afraid to experiment: If a style calls to you, try it out. If you feel wrong or foolish in it, try something else! It’s down to your self-confidence and comfort level in the end. Women of all ages rock all styles. They just need to have the chutzpah to do so.
Am I right, ladies? You who are in your fourth and fifth decades, how do these guidelines strike you? Are there other styles you just can’t abide after a certain age? Do you believe there ARE hard and fast style rules for women that are solely contingent on age? Do you still dabble in trends? Who are your celebrity icons? What’s the best thing about being over 40, stylistically speaking? You under-40s, how do you feel about the topic of age-appropriate style overall?
Anjelica Huston image courtesy Rankin.