Ever since Eve arranged her first fig leaf, women have been figuring out what to wear—with some degree of interest, if not obsession. We begin in girlhood, with the rite of passage of choosing our own clothes, and as teens, defiantly informing our mothers “Yes, I am wearing that!” We cultivate our wardrobe to coincide with life goals and walk a line between expressing our individuality and fitting in with the dictates of fashion and society at large.
So, what, this sartorial sensibility goes out the window once we hit 50 and we fall headlong into frumpiness? Not according to the recent NextTribe Fashion Survey. Most midlife women still care what we wear, despite a recent survey that found eight out of 10 women our age feel ignored by the fashion industry. Throw in the way our wants, needs, activities and bodies have changed, and it’s clear that dressing at 50-plus can be more of a challenge than ever. But there is an alternative to the burlap sack! Read on as a bevy of style pros offer solutions to our clothing conundrums and share how to make fashion — even shopping — rewarding and fun again.
How can I be on-trend and attractive without coming off like I’m trying to look young?
“Rather than copy trends straight from magazines and fashion sites, pick what you like and make it your own,” says style blogger Nancy Baten. If today’s deeply plunging square-necked tops display more décolletage than you’re cool with, pop one over a turtleneck. If an animal print pencil skirt won’t do, tie on a silk scarf in a leopard or snakeskin pattern—both wildly popular now—and dare to wear it with a striped top for a trendy mismatch.
Remember, less is more. “Don’t dress in a head-to-toe trend—that’s hard for a 20-something to pull off, let alone a 60-something,” says style blogger Beth Djalali. “Take a trend you like, shop your closet for a classic piece and put the two together. That will be appropriate for any age, and that’s really what we’re going for, timeless, ageless chic.” Case in point: A 10-gallon hat, denim jacket, prairie skirt and cowboy boots would make any woman look like an extra from Oklahoma! But a Western-inspired belt with five-pocket jeans? Yee-hah!
I’m making some lifestyle changes—downsizing into a smaller place, doing more traveling. How can I streamline my wardrobe to get by with less? What are the new must-haves? What should I have in my travel wardrobe to look fresh straight out of a suitcase?
“Streamline your wardrobe by first identifying favorite pieces you find yourself wearing often—consider this your go-to ‘capsule collection,’” says NextTribe fashion editor Kimberly Cihlar. “Include archetypal basics: white cotton shirt, white and neutral tees and tanks, dark jeans, black leggings, a little black sheath dress—and don’t discount clean, pristine tennies that look great with virtually anything.”
Cihlar also stresses the importance of a signature color that looks great on you, enhances your skin tone, and simply makes you feel good, worn monochromatically or teamed with neutrals. “It keeps dressing simple and creates a ‘wow!’ style statement,” she explains. As far as right-now, must-have essentials, Cihlar cites a long wrap, preferably in a bold color, and ankle booties with” a cool, sculpted heel low enough to walk blocks in.”
For travel, Cihlar praises knits and fabrics like Lyocell, a type of rayon, that are soft, eco-friendly and wrinkle-resistant. “When packing, roll rather than fold clothing to keep wrinkles at bay and take up less room in your suitcase,” she says.
What are some style strategies to disguise my post-menopausal midriff chub?
To solve a midsection fashion crisis, choose cuts that flatter your figure. “When it comes to pants, mid-rise is best,” says fashion consultant Jasmine H. Chang. “Low-rise will guarantee a muffin top and high-rise will accentuate bulk.” And don’t think you can hide under baggy clothes. “Without a doubt, fitted is better! Fitted doesn’t mean tight, it means that it skims the body,” says Chang, a fan of Eileen Fisher’s cool column dresses.
If you can’t live without a loose top, pair it with a fitted bottom (a tunic over leggings is ideal). But if you’re going body conscious, with a knit or jersey dress, “Invest in quality shapewear to minimize your middle,” says Baten. Generally woven of nylon and spandex, these compression garments press in to smooth out lumps and bumps, mimicking the effect of sucking in your stomach. Just be sure to buy your correct size. Shapewear should feel good, not constrictive; too-tight compression garments have been associated with breathing problems, acid reflux and even blood clots.
I’m retiring soon so I won’t need my professional wardrobe anymore. How can I achieve a chic-yet-casual look?
“Split up your suits,” Baten suggests. “A suit jacket over jeans is stylish but casual, especially with a pair of moderate heels.” Instead of the button-down blouse and pumps you wore to the office, wear a suit skirt with a chunky sweater and boots. Suit pants with a tailored denim shirt, tucked or untucked, have an unexpected level of cool. Even dresses can be dressed down. “Try a long wool cardigan and cowboy boots with a dress,” Baten says. What’s left from your boss lady wardrobe can be donated to women coming up; check out the awesome non-profit Uncommon Threads, started by stylist Susan Kanoff.
All I want is to look stylish and feel comfortable at the same time, which shouldn’t be diametrically opposed goals! What are the most comfortable styles and fabrics, and what’s up with this whole “athleisure” trend?
“The casual sport look isn’t as easy as you might think, because casual can slide into sloppy very easily,” warns Chang. “If you want to wear workout clothes beyond the gym, don’t pull on those basic baggy sweatpants. Instead, choose slender cuts with a stylish detail like side stripes or try a chic drop-crotch pair.” If topping it with anything fitted, like a graphic tee, check your reflection not just standing but sitting and bending. Exhibiting too much of your good thing? Opt for a slouchy, oversized sweater instead. And rather than ugly gym shoes, sport a cool sneaker like easy-on Vans or classic Adidas.
For a step up from athleisure, Cihlar loves “a flow-y tunic dress in a knit or linen blend that gives you ease in the silhouette and looks great day into evening.” Baten believes comfy meets classic with stretchy material like Lenzing viscose or scuba fabric (the fashion version of neoprene). “A dress or skirt worn over tights or leggings is warm and stylish,” she says. Ease adds to the beauty of these dresses, as you needn’t deal with clunky zippers or buttons. Ah, but when it comes to simple style you say you’ve always been a jeans girl…?
Shopping for jeans is the worst! I finally got used to low-rise and now it seems high-rise is back! And what leg style is in style now—skinny, straight, boot or flare? Any tips for finding the perfect fit—and any brands between $50 and $100 I should try?
While jeans brands put out “new” cuts and styles every season, don’t let that rattle you. “Forget what’s in, and wear what looks best on your body type,” advises Chang. Shop wisely you’ll find a range of rises and leg styles. “We’re in an era where just about anything goes,” says Djalali. “Boot cut is flattering for every woman, because the wider bottom balances your hips, and flares are making a comeback, too. But skinny and straight leg jeans will always a wardrobe staple.”
Accept that finding jeans you love is not something you can squeeze into a half-hour errand. Dedicate an afternoon to the endeavor, go with a trusted shopping partner and try on as many pairs as possible. For decent denims that won’t tear a major hole in your wallet, consider Old Navy, American Eagle, NYDJ, Aritzia, Gap and Uniqlo, as well as good old Levi’s. And consider brands like Jen7–by the makers of 7 For Mankind–that are made especially for the body changes that come with aging.
Wait, it’s bra shopping that’s the worst! How can I find the perfect fit? And are there any styles/brands that offer support without that awful underwire?
All our style experts agree: It’s about time you got fitted by a bra pro at a lingerie shop or better department store. “Breast size fluctuates with weight, hormones, medications, exercise and a slew of other factors, yet most women wear the same size bra, even same style bra, for most of their adult lives,” says Lori Kaplan, the top “fairy bra mother” at NYC’s Bra Tenders. “The proper size, well-fitting bra is the simplest way to immediately improve your appearance.”
According to Kaplan, the two biggest mistakes we make is buying the band too big and the cup too small. “The band should be snug around the rib cage, and parallel to the floor in both front and back,” she says. “The cups should be aligned with the armpit, and the bridge (center gore) should be flat against the chest wall. Each breast should be nestled in its cup without spilling or bulging anywhere.”
Playtex, Bali, and Vanity Fair make wireless bras, as do more upscale brands like Parfait and Le Mystere. But Kaplan believes that underwire bras offer better shape and support. Perhaps, with right size and style, you won’t object to being wired.
I don’t want to spend a lot on clothes, but when I shop end-of-season sales, not much of the good stuff is left. Any bargain-hunting strategies that outsmart this situation? What about brands that won’t break the bank?
End-of-season isn’t your only off-priced opportunity. Baten points to mid-season sales where inventory is decent even if prices aren’t rock bottom; check the rear of the store for discounts. And while Cihlar advises “haunting” nice-price places like Marshalls, TJMaxx and Nordstrom Rack, she also lists the following brands as reasonably affordable: Ann Taylor, J. Crew, Zara, Anthropologie, White House Black Market, and H&M. You can go digital for discounts too, at eBay and such sites as The RealReal, Poshmark and ThredUp; there may be a small restocking fee if you’re not in love with a purchase, but returns are fairly easy. And all of our experts encourage the recycling of “pre-loved” clothing. If thrifting isn’t your thing, attend or host a clothing swap with friends to keep dated duds out of landfills. As Cihlar puts it: “When fashion becomes trash, it creates an environmental climate that’s anything but stylish!”