Loose Style Guidelines for Women Over 40

over 40 style
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 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.

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.

Originally posted 2010-02-18 06:39:00.

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78 Responses to “Loose Style Guidelines for Women Over 40”

  1. La Historiadora de Moda

    Oh, Uggs. I don't like them for any age, but I would suggest anyone over the age of 20 should abandon them.

    I'm still puzzling out how I feel about lumping women into style brackets by age. It somehow grates me. For me it's not too different from insisting that women dress for their body type, which I think only promotes negative self image, etc.

  2. Meli22

    I am not even over 25, but here are my thoughts…

    I see a lot of women in these age catagories around me who focus on their families, jobs, kids, and don't give themselves the time of day. They dress in old, unflattering clothes, and rush from one thing to another.

    I wish more women would take the time to think of themselves too, as much as they do about the husband and kids. I wish they would see themselves worthy of looking pretty, of investing time and energy into themselves, and to not feel guilty over it.

  3. evanadine

    love the lead photo — anjelica huston is a gorgeous babe!
    and i think the overtone of mixing one or two "young" pieces with an otherwise classic wardrobe is spot-on (not that im in my 40s or 50s) — the older women whose fashion i notice the most are the ones who do just that!

  4. Deja Pseu

    I think you've hit the important points. There's definitely a balance we all have to find: you don't need to radically change your style just because you've hit a certain age. *But* one also doesn't want to be seen as trying to dress like a teenager. Now is the time when we can embrace elegance and sophistication. But we needn't give up some edgy, humorous or whimsical elements if those are an essential part of our style.

  5. Lesa

    I find it kind of funny that almost everyone who answered had to use the disclaimer that they were not yet in this age bracket.

    Well I am 48, proud of it and try to be stylish without too much trend. I know if it is in forever 21 it is probably not for me. I also know that if my 15 yr old daughters are wearing it –probably not so good

    I do fall into the soccer Mom thing sometimes but I try really hard not too. I would NEVER wear all white sneaks or Mom jeans.

    For going out I have a lot of flattering wrap dresses and one beautiful black sheath, which we all know you can do anything with.

    Where I might fall into the funky danger zone is with shoes, but i seem to get compliments so I must be okay.

    I have the big bags, and totally agree with this. If you can only afford a teeny designer purse, take yourelf to kohls or a great Macy's sale.

    Broaches grouped together look younger than just one-less stodgy.

    And don't worry beautiful ladies, 48 is fun!

    I have a new blog-it is about books, but I'd still love to talk fashion.


  6. RiAnge Creations. Ltd.

    Hi there. Thanks for this post. I'll be 49 this year and sometimes I do wonder if I dress appropriately for my age. Wrap dresses, sheaths, high heels, pencil skirts and big bags are definitely to my liking. Always worn with a gele (headwrap).Uggs…never did them. Forever 21…fabu accessories. Bypassed babydolls, loose fitting tunics and the 60's retro look. I look at everything and I am always searching for something to enhance my style. I think that's key as opposed to age appropriateness. Finding your style and sticking with it, no matter your age. Lesa, I'll be visiting your site often.

  7. Angela Pea

    Like Lesa, I think it's hysterical how posters are starting their comments with "I'M not that old….". Enjoy today – you can't stop the inevitable!

    I've been rethinking my own style the past few years. I'm finished with the soccer mom stage, and am hurtling at the speed of light towards prospective in-law-grandma stage. I see women who are desperately grasping at youth, sharing their teen daughters' clothing, squeezing into too tight tees and flashing more bling than a Hollywood starlet on Oscar Night. I do NOT want anyone to look at me and think the ugly things that I'm thinking when I see these women.

    However, I'm stuck. I'm trying to pay more attention to the clohting and accessories of older women I admire, but they are TOO far into the Grandma look for my tastes.

    Thanks for the advice, Sal. It's a place to start.

  8. Diana

    I haven't hit thirty yet, but I really love this post. I love it because, while you give guidelines, you make it very clear that everyone is different, and you don't set hard and fast rules. I hate lists that say things like "Never wear mini-skirts after thirty" and things like that. I think your approach is much more balanced.

  9. Denise

    The best thing about style over 40 (and I just turned 47) is letting so many things go, while really getting to like yourself. Epictetus said something like, "Know yourself, and dress accordingly." One of the joys of growing older (and older!) is knowing ourselves better. I love looking at the trends, and then finding a new color or accessory to wear with my navy wrap dress (or not). For me, even as I add more routines as I age, like hair color, facials, etc., it's really been 'less is more'. I don't need (or want) fifty necklaces: I need three or four fabulous ones that I wear all the time. That paring down makes each thing I do own well worn and well loved.

  10. KJ

    Well, from the perspective of a 56-year-old … actually, I think it becomes much more important to be attentive to the body itself than to what you put on it. Because boy HOWDY, things can go south fast once you're past, say, 45. Upper arms that might have had "firm enough, even if not chiseled" as their default state suddenly turn to flubber. Slouchiness, which can have a certain farouche charm in a twenty-something, now makes you look like a victim of early-onset dowager's hump. All those decades of coffee have done one's nice pearly teeth NO favors. And so on. All the well-chosen outfits in the world won't make up for prolonged neglect of physical self-care.

    That said, I wouldn't quarrel with any of Sally's tips. (Although if you can tell me where to find wide-legged, high-waisted Hepburnesque trousers, I would bless your name, because damn, all I can find is the tight low-rise stuff.)

    • Mame

      I love what KJ said, its the God’s honest truth, as they say! I am 61, and took the past year to tackle about 30# that had been coming on for awhile. Weight Watchers once a week really has helped, and I also decided to get my hair colored monthly. I went gray by 45, so its been quite a lift to have worked out a hair color and cut that is modern, and be at a healthy weight. I actually enjoy clothes more now than a couple of years ago, because I am not duking it out with a belly anymore. I like tunics that really fit in the shoulders, and have some flow or sweep with a cut in waist, because pants tend to look bunchy in the front, no matter what I do. Sal, I love your blog!

    • Maria Allen

      I found high-waist straight cut jeans and wide-leg wool tweed pants at Talbots. Wait for one of their many sales.

  11. poodletail

    I'm 55 years old and thank you for this thoughtful post. While I feel happy with my personal style I'd be hard-pressed to put suggestions into hints for others my age.

    I will suggest that a woman who's about knee-high to a grasshopper can sport a slightly shorter skirt without looking goofy, only because it's in proportion to her height.

    Also, I'm not a fan of the wrap dress for women of any age who have extra boobage. It just looks trashy.

  12. Elizabeth

    I spent my twenties and thirties dressing like all the other moms and now think that was a total waste and has contributed to my feelings that I am not enough. Now at 48 I like to wear flattering, form fitting clothes, heels for work. I don't wear super low rise pants because my hips are curvy and it doesn't look right. Same for tops which expose my stomach. I wear bikinis, short shorts ( without the butt hanging out). and tank tops. If I feel good in a garment I wear it.

  13. MLE

    I read your blog daily and I love it — your style is fun (I've been trying some new, more daring outfits thanks to you!) and your posts about body image are thought-provoking, so thanks!

    This is my first post, but I just wanted to say that I think a lot of your advice here kind of applies to women of any age over 25. I especially like your advice about mixing work clothes and casual clothes. I definitely get more wear out of my work clothes that way, although I do occasionally get questions about why I'm dressed up, especially when I'm around my family since they are all very casual.

    Like another poster said, I agree that there are some women who just don't take the time to focus on themselves. My sister is a stay-at-home mom of three, and she almost never buys anything for herself. She pretty much only buys clothes for her kids and her husband. Of course, that could partly be due to her negative body image — I should direct her to your blog!

    One comment — I'm in my mid-30's, which means I'm in my 4th decade. So women in their 40's or 50's would be in their 5th or 6th decade.

    Thanks for another interesting post!

  14. Sheila

    I'll be 43 this year, and I try to look my best and dress as flattering as I can for my body. I look after my health so that I can show off my arms (yes!) and legs and feel confident. KJ's comments about that are bang-on.

    I still have a couple of short skirts, but I have found lately that some styles (babydoll tops, too trendy looks) just don't work on me anymore. I don't want to be one of those women who gives you a shock when you look at her face because it doesn't "match" her clothes.

  15. Jane W.

    Outstanding post! I agree with KJ that the "fundamentals" become more important after 40 (I'm 41): diet and exercise first and foremost. I'd add add grooming and fit to that–polished makeup, neat hands/nails, and nicely-fitting clothes.

    • Joyce

      Gotta echo the voices for good self-care! At 42, I can attest that nothing enhances your look more than good health and conscientious grooming. The years are being kind to me because I insist on regular exercise, healthy food, and enough sleep. And when fall down on these things, I forgive myself and get back on track. I will not deny that I have to make sacrifices that hurt a little in order to spend the time on myself. But I find that self care can be done for very little money.

  16. j.p.

    I am rapidly approaching 40 and am also planning (with my husband) to attempt first-time motherhood this year. If successful, I will be mom to wee ones in my 40s and teens in my 50s. Neither do I want to be mistaken for their dowdy gramma (classy/funkified gramma is okay) nor for the type of woman to which Angela Pea has made reference.

    I have fun dressing each day and am extremely creative when doing so. I am already careful to be appropriate. I have, however, begun to wonder if and how "things" would need to change if I were to be a ma of little 'uns in my 40s & 50s. I have no idea what such a lady should dress like and still have all the fun of…being me?

  17. La Belette Rouge

    Fantastic post! I will admit to misreading the title and thinking it was a guideline for "Loose Women over 40".

  18. Sal

    Anonymous: Oh, doll, THANK YOU. I feared that I'd end up enraging everyone … "rules" posts, even ones with loads of heartfelt caveats, often do that.

    La Belette Rouge: HAHAHAHA. The idea of a woman being loose is still hilarious to me. Like, once caged, but now ROAMING FREE.

  19. Tarryn

    What a great post! My mom asked me to go shopping with her this weekend for some new work clothes and your hints have been so helpful! I will definitely share them with her!

  20. Tea Lady

    Yesterday while at the DMV (of all places) I saw THE most stylish woman who looked to be in her 70's. I had serious style-envy! This lady had a Katherine Hepburn-ish look to her.

    She had silvery white hair in a chic ear-length bob. A well cut black jacket/blazer. Well cut black trousers with an obvious flare at the bottom (almost bell bottoms!). Wedge Heels. A black chanel-lookalike purse. This lady looked lovely. Now thats style!

  21. Charlotte

    Sal, your advice is–as usual–salubrious and wise. You're going to make a great Older Woman, which I am now, I guess, at 53. About 6-7 years ago, I was at Target one day trying on tee-shirts and jeans, and realized quite suddenly…wow, I needed a new look. Clothes I'd always worn, that looked good on me, suddenly didn't look so hot. I felt bummed out about it for a while, and yes, "old," but now that I've found a new look, I'm having a lot of fun putting it together. As a college professor I'm constantly surrounded by beautiful young people who never get a day older (they just graduate)and it's easy to see why certain clothes that look terrific on them look just plain silly on me. Dowdy is bad and sad, but looking like you're trying too hard to hold on to your lost youth has a Blanche DuBois pathos that can come off as kind of creepy. Hepburn is a great style icon but she was kind of butch. That gorgeous Michelle Obama has a great style, and it's inspiring, but not quite mine (her scale is so different). It's no revelation to say that your clothes convey a great deal about you before you even open your mouth. My students have to sit & look at me for three hours at a stretch. I try to wear clothes that are interesting. Color becomes very important, and it HAS to be comfortable. I want it to be a little playful without being cute (not "a teacher dress") and sophisticated without being stiff. Another big thing I did a couple of years ago was stop coloring my hair. It's streaked with silver now, and I really like it! I think the silvery hair also allows me to be more adventurous with my style because it immediately announces, "Yes, I know I'm no longer 30. . ."

  22. Christy Sews

    I'm 44 and in the process of building a new wardrobe (after a decade of putting everyone but me first) to reflect the new me (so to speak), which is a sophisticated/playful (I still have to be me). I think your comments are on target. I also believe in mixing the work/play wardrobe. Dark wash jeans — absolutely. My favorite weekend look? Black skinny jeans, funky high top Ed Hardy sneaks, graphic t-shirt and (the most important item) a boyfriend sweater (and a newsboy cap). Now some may say "that's a little young", but I love it! I'm very careful in my t-shirt choices (but I can't help but love 80s band shirts so I can say "I was there way before you kids" and yes, I have a Twilight, New Moon and Alice in Wonderland t-shirt, but there will always be a bit of goth girl in me and she likes to come out and play on the weekends). As for work, I love the classic pieces funked up with bold jewelry, scarves, bags and shoes. I have noticed that the older I get, the less likely I am to purchase cheap or ultra trendy clothing — I prefer to rock the trends in my own way by looking at the fabrics and colors of the season and then incorporating them with my "blank palette". Cashmere sweaters and pencil skirts? Absolutely!! But in the jewerly or belt department, the sky's the limit – accessories are my trendy item of choice, not clothing. I do find with age comes a desire for better quality clothing–sometihng that will last for years to come and wil hold up to washing/dry cleaning (like my London Fog trench). My clothes also have to be funtional and versatile, not to mention the most important part — flattering and WELL FITTED. The tailor is my new best friend! Now, I will say that I've definitely ditched the mini skirt and spend a good chunk of change in the lingerie department (poor foundation garments can wreck a look). I also use multiple hemlines — just above the knee, just below the knee, mid-calf (it's a dowdy length, but it works for church and looks fabulous with boots!) and a couple of maxi dresses because the hippie in me says I must have them.

    All in all, I love the age that I am and love the fact that, finally, I don't care about trends or what other people say I should wear (how can a man in New York tell me what to wear in a mid-sized town in Florida? He can't!!). I take what I want from fashion and leave the rest. I already have my looked planned for my 60s (Chico's look out–in 15 years, I'll be knocking down your door!!).

  23. Peldyn

    Just so you all know I will be 46 the end of this month. I adore clothes of all kinds and decided to ignore fashion rules regarding age. If it looks good on me I wear it. It is very liberating. I used to worry way to much about what was right for my age (this was when I was in my 30's) Once I hit my 40's I gave up and figured I was an adult and could do what I wanted and who was to tell me what was right for me? I do try to keep the bits covered, LOL. Good taste is always in style I say.

  24. Alli (One Pearl Button)

    I love this post -excellent advice for women of any age! Thanks, Sal!

  25. Pattern Junkie

    As someone who's just recently entered their 40s (I'm 41), I find "age-based rules" grating — do I have to give up all my wonderful vintage clothes because my age begins with a "4" instead of a "3" now? And the words that always pop up with "age" guidelines — "elegant" and "sophisticated" — really set my teeth on edge for some reason. While there are times I might want to look elegant or sophisticated, that's not who I am overall. I'm playful. Creative. I go thrift store shopping, love horror movies and currently have a scrape on my nose from where I did a face plant when I was jogging with the dog yesterday. "Elegant" and "sophisticated" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be a museum piece behind glass. Just put a light on me and I'll be unobtrusive and quiet; you don't have to pay attention to me if you don't want to. After all, I'm a woman of THAT age.

    Whew. Rant over. I didn't know I had that in me! At any rate, it's taken me this long to accept and like my body for what it is — so at this stage in my life, it's about refining my own style and wearing what flatters me and makes me feel great. Thanks Sal for a great post!

  26. Anonymous

    I'm in my late 30s, and I find that fit is becoming more and more important as I age. I've seen fabulous grannies in everything from miniskirts to those matched jogging sets that practically scream "granny" and the one thing they all have in common is that their clothes FIT, and fit well. My own grandma rocked 70s polyester until her death last year because it FIT, and she looked smashing in it.

    I'm trying to follow that lead, but it has become challenging as I get older — for one thing, my waistline has started hiking up, and for another, I still have young kids at home which requires that I wear clothes which can take some abuse. So a lot of dressy or tailored clothing is just plain OUT. I like the descriptions some people have given of their typical outfits, they all sound great and I'm getting new ideas here!

  27. Linda

    I agree a bit with Pattern Junkie–most "rules" seem to assume that all women are going to start converging on one particular style profile as they pass 40, but why? Our body types and personality types don't get any more similar to each other's as we get older (I'm 43), so why should our styles? Maybe all those "rules" are really meant for a subset of women who all had the same body/style type in their 20s, too. I think fashion magazines etc. tend not to acknowledge that a vast number of us even exist.

    I like that your "rules" are about things you should particularly embrace as you get older, not things you should avoid. I've always tended to ignore the avoidance-based rules because, to me, they often seem to presume a woman who in the flush of youth had a body that could wear ANYTHING and look good, thus necessitating a reminder that no one wants to see X part of one's body in public anymore. Well, I never had that body. There were always loads of things that didn't look good on me, and I don't have to stop wearing them now, because I never started wearing them. But at the same time, my style is a bit girlish and not "crisp and polished." My person is not getting any more shiny and straight-edged with age, and I just don't think my style is either.

    Not sure what I'm really trying to say here … just that I'm glad you didn't tell me to lay off the colored tights.

    • thegoddess

      Insisting that women dress a certain way at a particular age is a form of ageism.

      “Ageism is the notion that people cease to be people, cease to be the same people or become people of a distinct and inferior kind, by virtue of having lived a specific number of years. Ageism is a prejudice based on fear, folklore, and hang-ups of a few unlovable people who propagate these images…”

  28. betsy and iya

    I love everything that you're doing here. EVERYTHING! What an inspiration!?!

  29. Judy Goss

    I'm 42 and agree with everything but the Uggs…I don't wear them to dinner, but I still do like them because I live in NY and it is very cold. I also don't wear them with a mini skirt, so I don't think I'm breaking any rules….just to run errands or drop my girls off to dance class.

    Thanks for the fashion advice!!

    I have a website I'm sure a lot of these ladies would enjoy, it's not fashion-oriented, but pretty much everything else about being "over 40"


    • susy

      I am 64 and have been wearing UGGs since the mid-’90s. I wear them around the house and erranding, but not with skirts or dresses. They are my most comfy shoes!

  30. Deja Pseu

    One more thought, my experience was that my 40's didn't prompt reevaluation of my style nearly as much as going through menopause and hitting my 50's did. Even with diet and exercise there are physical changes (some subtle, some not so much) that really start to manifest after 50 or menopause.

    To the person who took offense at the words "elegant" and "sophisticated," I was not suggesting that these should be everyone's style goals, only that they have always been mine and feel more achievable now than when I was younger.

  31. LPC

    The only thing I can say for sure is that where I used to rely on my own shape for pizzaz, now I need my clothes to have shape. Not that I have gained weight, or at least not too much, just that as we age we lose definition everywhere. Our clothes have to step up one way or another and give it back. Does that make sense, Sal? Am I being too abstract?

  32. rb

    I'm forty something and have five years experience being forty something. I can identify with what you're saying but as you know, there's a wide range of what constitutes a forty something woman. I would just say the two traps we should avoid as we age are two opposite ends of the spectrum – clinging to too-youthful styles, or prematurely aging oneself by opting for "comfortable" unimaginitive looks. Example of the former – a clingy, sheer blouse. The latter – a screen print sweatshirt. So shop neither at Forever 21 nor Coldwater Creek and I think you'll be OK.

  33. Sal

    LPC: No, I totally hear ya, and I think several commenters here feel similarly! I think utilizing clothing to define or alter figure shape is something women of all ages either embrace or reject. I'm a big fan myself, and have been for ages.

  34. Anonymous

    I'm only 20, but one thing I always notice, is whether a woman has a good bra. I need all the support I can get already, so I know that it makes a world of difference. Everything fits better, even if it's just a t-shirt. I finally talked an older family member into a proper bra fitting, even though she's never needed much support before. She couldn't believe the difference between her old bras and the new one.

    • Wendi

      You’re absolutely right! It makes a HUGE difference in how clothes look.

  35. Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP

    I'm over 40 but few people believe it, not because I dress like a 20 year old, I don't show anywhere near the amount of skin now that I might have back then, but because I don't dress old lady.

    In Australia I see way more certain age women (and even 30 year olds) dressing old, because they're worried about looking like mutton dressed as lamb. Though when I was in LA last year I saw SO much MDAL – so obviously there is a cultural context at play.

    Your points are good. I think when we dress to our personality, taking in to account our body shapes and proportions and all our lovely variations, with a hint of current trends, we'll look great, no matter what our age.

    Dressing with purpose and intent, rather than sticking any old thing on is what matters.

  36. V

    Thank God Judy said something. I'm in NYC too and I'll be 40 this year and you will pry my Uggs from my ice cold feet!

    For what it's worth, what I do to not feel like I'm trying to be an LA model-aspirant is I wear my jeans out and over them, so just the foot part shows, rather than tucking in jeans/trousers or deploying a short skirt. It's less of a look that way and I still get to be all toasty warm in lovely soft flat boots. (With a very pear-shaped bottom half I have yet to come upon a pair of genuinely flattering skinny jeans, so I wear narrow straight-legs and there's just room.)

    The whole thing is a little tricky but mostly I figure I have enough to do finding clothes I like that fit me that adding a whole other spectrum of judgment based on age level probably isn't necessary. I'm a size 16 Jessica Rabbit, so it's not like I have the option of blithely carrying on in juniors styles for the rest of my life. I've worn more womanly than girlish styles basically since puberty. So the whole thing is kind of whatever to me. Except that it pokes at the sore place OW OW I'M TURNING FORTY.

  37. The Waves

    I think your advice is spot on, I can't think of anything to add. The whole question of age appropriate dressing is a tough one. I hate the dress-right-for-every-age stuff Harper's Bazaar brings out every month. There is no point telling women one month that animal prints are only for women in their 20s and then next month recommend them for the 60+ bracket.

  38. Lynne

    Ok.55 here, and Australian (which means different shops, but also different climate and different — much more casual — dressing culture) I would say the chief way my age affects my clothing is that I'm less insecure about trends than when I was younger. Other than that I dress more for my body type (voluptuous, i.e. hourglass, large bust, size equal to an American 12-14, 5' 7", short body, long legs. I don't do wrap dresses or sheaths, never found any that fir well, but look good in a high waisted dress, with or without a wide belt. I love rich jewel colours, and don't mind showing some skin (this is Australia, after all)but more than a hint of cleavage isn't me. I don't need business wear, most of my time I live in casual to smart casual, that means a skirt and pretty T in summer, pants and a nice sweater in winter. Soft, flowy clothes, rather than stiff tailoring, is definitely my style. And i loathe pale jeans, they always seem to look dirty

  39. Wendy

    Sally, I don't have any argument with your guidelines (I've incorporated most of them already), but I want to add that, whatever your personal style, I think color is key to looking vibrant and fashionable after 40.

    Specifically, I mean learning, finding and buying only colors that truly flatter your skin/hair colors (at least for tops), and those might be slightly different shades than you used to wear when you were younger. Aging skin and hair may look better and more luminous with slightly less saturated colors, for example, and black may look too harsh.

    When I have just the right hair and makeup colors and am wearing my best colors, I look younger but also more powerful and authoritative at the same time.

    I would also argue for an emphasis on fit and structure–especially structured jackets of all types. There is a reason why Stacy and Clinton on WNTW suggest structured jackets to all their over 40 makeover subjects. I see way too many of my over 40 peers in baggy, oversized knits and pants w/ elastic waistbands.

    I also agree with others about taking care of yourself on the diet/exercise front, of course. Weight training, especially, can dramatically affect the shape of your body and help your posture, even if you don't lose a pound.

    I've been having more fun w/ fashion in my 40s (I'm 43) than I ever had when I was younger. It helps that my body fat distribution has shifted w/ age and with weight training. I used to have hips two sizes larger than my very small waist size, now my hips and thighs are smaller and my waist is thicker, but overall I'm more of a proportioned hourglass, and pants/skirts are much more likely to fit off the rack. That's a great feeling, and makes it more fun to shop.

    Other things I enjoy about my 40s…. not having a small child any more so I don't ruin as many clothes, having a better sense of my self and my own style, so whatever I wear I wear with more confidence. I also have a bit more disposable income to spend on clothing, and a bit more time and energy to shop.

  40. kristophine

    Anjelica Huston was one of the first women I was pretty sure I wanted to marry.

  41. Meg

    if you are looking for some "real" woman inspiration of a very funky, stylish lady…check out Lorimarsha on flikr…stunning!

  42. Marie

    I was just reading the other day about how large handbags (and all the stuff in them) pull on your neck and can cause pain over time. That popped in my mind as I read so I felt obligated to comment…

    I know an 80-year old woman who wears tighy jeans, short skirts and high heels, and pulls it off fabulously. I'm just amazed.

  43. Lady Cardigan

    I didn't start paying attention to how I dressed till I was in my 40s, but fortunately I don't feel I'm missing out on much because I never would have worn miniskirts and most other things theoretically reserved for young women. However, I am drawn toward ruffly sleeves and slightly glittery things, and I worry about looking as if I'm trying to be overly girly.

    It doesn't help that I fit better in juniors than regular sizes. Till recently I looked much younger than I was, but age is now catching up and it's an adjustment. I want to be myself, not some stereotyped Older Woman, so I'm trying(!) to figure out how to keep wearing what I like in an appropriate way.

  44. hollarback

    I have seen Angelica Huston from time to time (I'm in LA) and I have to say that she is a perfect example of age not affecting style. She always looks great and just exactly right somehow. Never overdone, just…right.

    I doubt she has changed anything about her wardrobe in ages, yet she always looks current, not at all trendy. She's figured out what works for her style and body wise and goes with it.

    I want to be her when I grow up.

    It isn't about age, it's about figuring out what flatters you. We all wear what is in style, flattering or not, while we are young. With age comes the ability to edit it down to the essentials that actually work for us.

  45. Vix

    Love the comment above about looking "current" vs "trendy." IMO Kendall Farr's "Style Evolution" book has a great breakdown of how to achieve this.

    I don't freak out about age-appropriate guidelines because a) guidelines and b) a useful tool for closet- and or self-analysis.

    I am with you on your guidelines, but I think the only true rule is that a woman should be self-aware. Versus delusional about or disconnected from how she presents.

    I have a ~70 y.o. pal who dresses in fast fashion/wears tons of trends at once and she knows it's a bit out there — she says she looks half raisin/half grape, and she knows this might unsettle people or cause them to want to see her in beautiful, streamlined, sophisticated clothes that let her be the focus [I'm sorry but I do, ha!] She doesn't flash much skin, though.

    I've crossed over into 40 and dress much better than I did when younger (the bar, it was low) and most of that is due to understanding how to dress my body type/proportions to achieve the affect I want.

    I also understand that sometimes the way I choose to dress — the fit, the color, the silhouette, the accessories etc — may send a message about my willingness to conform or not conform to societal/subcultural expectations. Or what kind of person I am. And I'm ok with taking a hit on that.

    [I'm a pretty sedate dresser by most standards, but people have their biases.]

  46. angie

    Thanks for the shout out, Sal. You wrote a great post and I agree wholeheartedly with your fab suggestions.

    As you get older, no matter what your lifestyle, stepping up the sophistication level is bordering on “rule” (how brave was that!) That doesn’t mean that you have to dress up. Casual dress rocks too. It just means that you need to be more selective with your fabrications and fit, show less skin and add a certain amount of tailoring to your ensembles. Those key points will always fly no matter what.

  47. Anonymous

    I'm late to this post, but I'll chime in anyway. I am 42. My sister is 50, my mom is 74. All three of us wear clothing that suits our personalities (3 vastly different personalities) and our body types (3 vastly different body types). We look "appropriate" without looking "old", and are confident and comfortable in our choices. We choose clothing/colors/accessories/shoes that flatter what we have to work with. All three of us wear skirts an inch or two above our knees because it is a length that suits us. I wear knee-high boots,but my mom doesn't because they look wrong on her. My mom wears kitten heels (and rocks the look), but I don't, because my feet are ridiculously large and tiny little kitten heels look silly on me. I think the trick to looking good at any age is recognizing when something works or doesn't work for you.

    I will admit that recently I bought an Eileen Fisher dress. I know EF is "supposed" to be for "older" women, so I'd avoided the label, but I tried the dress on and found it very flattering. I thought to myself "hmm, do I want to be in my 40s and wearing EF?" and thought "if it flatters me this much, heck yay!"

    Thanks for a thought-provoking blog.

  48. Anonymous

    Hey man, stop hating on the Uggs!
    Okay, they aren't for everyone, but by no means are they only for the young. I'm fully aware that they are chunky and clunky, but paired with slim jeans or leggings they're cool and I'm nearing 60.

  49. Anonymous

    Yes, this comment is WAaaaaay after the fact, but i didn't see it anywhere: Along with all the other excellent guidelines for fashionable dressing at 57 (yikes!) I make it a rule never to wear a trend that was popular when I was a young thing. Examples: hip hugger jeans, babydoll anything, platform pumps. . .

    Great blog!

  50. Stephanie

    I am approaching 40 and wear uggs for warmth not for style. They are the only thing that keep my feet warm in the winter. That being said they are my winter boots, not something I wear with an outfit. P.S. I live in MN too.

  51. Robinson

    A little late to the party here, but I would like to echo Deja Pseu’s remarks. As someone who tends to dress “sporty” and casual, I have found that women’s bodies in their 50’s (post-menopause) are a whole different *kettle of fish* than in their 40’s. Most women in their 40’s still have “their body”– in the 50’s changes occur that make you wonder who that person is in the mirror. One time I saw myself in the living room mirror at a family function and for a second thought it was my mother. 40’s is still relatively young and in retrospect–I am now 59 although it rarely occurs to me–women should enjoy it and not worry so much about dressing for their age. When they need to, believe me, they will know.

  52. Sylvia

    Lovely post! I’m already 45 and trying to balance what I can and cannot do. I agree that there shouldn’t be any set rules but I sometimes do wonder: is this skirt not too short? Is this trend suitable for 40+ ers? It’s safe to always go for the classic options within the ‘rules’ but I’m trying to be a bit more adventurous. I’m trying to figure it all out and hopefully others will learn from it too.

  53. tothineownself

    Best style advice for over 40s EVER. I agree that what is appropriate is very individual. My only rules are for me show the assets, cover the flaws, stay away from extremes, bells and whistles or too classic looks – and be you. I am 43 and essentially my style has not changed much in 20 years. I live in jeans, boots, blazers and eye-catching jewelry and purses. The sheath is my signature dress and I wear cowboy boots and short leather jackets. I update my basics as the times and my tastes dictate. Knowing yourself is essential.

  54. Tracey

    So glad you were reporting over the holidays so I could discover this post. Spit on in so many ways. I am 43 and the advice I give other women is that they can incorporate trendy pieces. Just one at a time. A head to toe trendy look brings attention to the costume not the woman. Although that said I still struggle with that 80s match my socks to my top to my jewelry to my….. habit.

  55. Eliza

    Going to be 45 soon. Fabric quality is at the top of my must-haves. I didn’t think about that much in my 20s and early 30s. Like other women said here: mix in some young pieces…..I suppose I look at it in a different sense: upgrade the outfit with a few mature pieces, ones that act as a foundation.That means good fitting high quality jeans or slacks. Make sure the fit is good and the coverage is appropriate. Things like t shirts seem to be getting cheaper and thinner, or the cut is wrong. I stay away from those. The other expense that is SO worth it are a great pair of shoes. Now that I’m older and the hips are going I am worth spending the big bucks on supremely made shoes. Cole Haan is a new favorite. One well fitting pair of shoes can make a cheaper outfit “work”!

  56. Dortha Little

    Hey everyone, I have never worried too much about age appropriate. Now I am 69 to be 70 February 2013. I love Cowgirl Boots!! I have 3 or 4 pairs. I have some boot cut jeans and I wear them with them. I just purchased a pair of Lucchese Cowgirl Boots, at an extremely good price. I would like to show the boot off. Would it be too bold of a 70 year old woman to wear jeans that could be tucked into the boots. I figure if I begin wearing my boots around home and so forth, it will get easier to wear them most places. I live in rural Alabama and have a small working farm. I am becoming more comfortable in my boots. I have not stopped wearing my jeans, no matter the age. I guess I can take your comments. If I can’t, shame on me!!

  57. samantha

    I realise this is an old post – but I’ve only just come to Almost Pretty! I’m 48 – and frankly prepared to wear anything that I fancy so my age is immaterial in terms of my clothes choices – but my mother who is in her early 80s is the real subject of my post. She has always been a very eclectic dresser – never conservative, always creative (though not completely mad in case you were wondering!). She wouldn’t – at any age – have ever been seen in a ‘cute work shirt’ or a ‘button down’ – EVER! Knee-length skirts? Never. But then too – she has never owned a pair of jeans of any style… When I was 9, in the 70’s, my sister and I begged her to go to a parents evening in a navy skirt, white shirt and court shoes (basically like an air hostess). She laughed and said she owned no such outfit and never would. She was right – I have never seen any of those items in her wardrobe. She then swanned off in her maxi dress with the fringing and her new auburn wig. If I asked her now if she ever ‘dressed for her age’ – I suspect she would feign deafness. She still shops in any clothes shop she chooses and, as ever, selects what she likes regardless of fashion or ‘age appropriateness’. She’s quite unique – and the best dresser I know. Sam

  58. Bonny

    I would like to mention one thing. I am almost 42 and I am not ashamed of my age. In fact I don’t think about it that much and sometimes if I do think about how old I am I need to do the math from the year I was born. My comment to you is that from 0 – 10 is the first decade, isn’t it? Therefore when we reach 30 we are actually beginning the fourth decade, and so on. I don’t feel old or young, just alive with more experience to draw from and share with others than I did in my earlier decades. My style is to wear tailored clothes as often as I can and replace items if I get tired of them.

  59. Alice

    Love the post but why is nearly every post about style for women over 40 illustrated with a picture of a beautiful woman over 60? Angelica Huston was dating Jack Nicholson when I was in diapers. How about Rachel Weisz, Uma Thurman, Heather Graham, Aisha Tyler or other woman my age?

  60. Mary B

    I’m in my early 50’s and am having difficulty figuring out how to dress my “new shape,” aka “middle age spread.” The guidelines you gave are every helpful. I would add one more thing and that is addressing what’s going on between my bust and my hips. Commiserating with my 50’s girlfriends, that is a tough area to hide while not looking frumpy, slumpy and unfashionable.Love all the outfit pics. Is there was one area where I could access all of them?

  61. justin

    mygranma looks fantastic for 74 and dresses trendily , occasionally mini skirt and thigh high boots. always looks stylish .dating a teenager.

  62. katie

    I do find the idea of “going out”/ date clothes for women over 30 is very tough. i think it’s because society assumes we are home with our spouses. I have no problem managing casual day clothes or work clothes or even wedding/ party but what to wear on a first date on a saturday night at a bar? impossible. It’s gotten to the point that i avoid week end first dates because it’s easier to go in work clothes (as noted, there is nothing as sexy as a professional women in a well fitting dress and a sleek pair of pumps)

    i feel like a real house wife or my college age niece in leather jeggings, cleavage baring tops and almost all cold shoulder shirts. what to do!?