You’ve passed the 40-year-old milestone people once referred to as “middle-aged,” a term than conjures visions of a woman past her prime. Maybe you have teenage daughters who now get the attention you used to attract. The answer is not to dress like a teenager yourself just because you can; that only makes you look older. On the other hand, you don’t have to look like a frump with elastic pants and sensible shoes. As a 40-something, a wonderful world of fantastic clothes is just waiting for you to explore.
What to Avoid
Fashion guru Tim Gunn says that once you turn 40, avoid six items: low-rise jeans, capri pants, double-breasted blazers, horizontal stripes, jackets that hit mid-thigh and pleated pants. These rules, however, only apply to heavy women. If you are toned and slim, you can wear some of Gunn’s don’ts. For example, if you are in shape and have long legs, you’ll look good in capri pants. The same goes for a double-breasted jacket — go ahead and wear one if you are slim. If you are thin with small breasts, you can wear horizontal stripes. Low-rise jeans, however, are best left for young women. That doesn’t mean you have to go super high-rise, a la “mom jeans,” however. Choose a pair that hit you around your belly button or just below. Jackets that hit mid-thigh are not flattering for any woman, and neither are pleated pants, especially for anyone with a tummy.
Instead of purchasing a lot of inexpensive or sale items, buy quality items that you can wear season after season. Gunn offers advice for this as well, recommending that every woman have 10 pieces to make a complete wardrobe: a basic black dress, a trench coat, dress pants, a classic shirt, jeans, an any-occasion top, a skirt, a day dress, a jacket and a sweatsuit alternative, meaning something comfortable but not sloppy, such as yoga clothes. Take this list with you when you go shopping.
Know Your Shape
Try on different styles of clothes to determine what flatters you and what doesn’t. Bring a friend if you find this difficult. Women with big breasts, for example, should not wear high-necked sleeveless tops. Wear a top with a wide-open neckline. Choose a dress that is tight around your waist and loose around your breasts — think corset or wrap style. The opposite goes for small-breasted women. Wear a high-neck sleeveless tank top or a halter-style top. If you have big arms, avoid cap sleeves and spaghetti straps, and wear a top with a three-quarter length or a fluted sleeve instead. A delicate bracelet looks better on a big arm than does a thick cuff. Cover a big butt with a pencil skirt instead of an A-line.
Because jeans are the informal uniform of American women, know which kind to buy for a classic look. Ditch the old “mom jeans,” the ones that are super-high rise with a medium to light wash, tapered ankles and a baggy butt. Choose jeans in a dark wash that flatter your body and hug your bottom, but not too tightly. Choose a medium rise, to around your waist or just below. This helps to hide a “muffin top,” the roll of fat that can protrude above your jeans’ beltline. Choose a wider leg, either straight or with a slight flare, or a narrower straight leg. Unless you are thin, avoid skinny jeans. Also, avoid trendy jeans with embellishments on the pockets or ripped jeans.
Go to your nearest department store and get a makeover so that you can learn the colors and types of makeup that flatter your skin, hair and eye color. Throw out all your old makeup, especially if it’s bright, such as blue or glittery eye shadow, frosty-pink lip gloss or colored mascara. Spend your money on good-quality base products, such as a moisturizer and a foundation that covers imperfections but doesn’t look like a mask. Pay attention to areas you might need to hide, such as dark circles under your eyes or blotchy skin, by using a concealer. To help define your lips, use a lip liner the same shade as your lips before you apply your lipstick. Many women’s eyebrows become sparse as they age. You can define them with an eyebrow pencil or powder that is close to your hair color. Pick a neutral eye shadow, and use a brown, not black, eyeliner to define your eyes.