Reader Request: Body-con Clothing for Older Women

tight clothes over 40

Reader Amy had this question:

I’d like to know more about how to find body-con clothing that is flattering and also doesn’t make it seem like I’m trying to look super young.

I’ve been getting lots of age-related questions lately! I love this one because, like another recent question about dark wash jeans and older women, it illustrates just how arbitrary our age-based style rules really are.

So let’s say you’re 26 and really happy with your body. If you wear body-skimming dresses and shorts no one will bat an eye. Or relatively few eyes will be batted anyway. If you’re 56 and really happy with your body, wearing body-skimming dresses and shorts will cause an alarming number of eyes to be batted. And why is that? What’s so appalling about seeing the thighs of a 56-year-old, or the outline of her figure under a slinky dress? Even if she conforms to the current beauty standard and is slim, toned, and hourglass-y some would still argue that she should wear looser dresses with more coverage and Bermudas or capris. And if she doesn’t, well, people love to police bodies and the policing of older bodies is practically a national past-time.

So, ya know, wear what makes you happy, no matter your age. Wear what makes you feel strong and vibrant and alive, no matter what other people may think or say. You’re the decider. Body-con in your 80s if it makes you feel like a million bucks.

Since Amy is asking specifically about doing body con without looking like she wishes she were a college co-ed again, I’ll offer a few tips. But, as always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. OK, now that we’re clear …

Watch your fabrics

Thin, drapey materials with any sort of a sheen will read as younger than thicker opaque ones. So a body-con sheath dress in slinky jersey might feel wrong, but the same dress in ponte knit might feel oh-so-right.

Consider your colors

Dark, dusty colors generally look more sophisticated than light, bright ones. If you want to make sure your body-con dress or top looks as chic and classy as possible, pick jewel tones or muted colors over primaries, neons, and even pastels.

Monitor exposure

I kinda hate to include this one since it’s so age-ist in a lot of ways, but if you’re looking for traditional advice here it is: Watch your necklines and hemlines since garments that are both body-con and revealing can read “mutton dressed as lamb.” A form-fitting sheath with a knee-length hem and relatively high, cleavage-covering scoop neckline may feel more appropriate than an above-the-knee frock with a plunge neckline.


And finally you can make slim-fitting garments look more grown-up by wearing them in layered mixes. A form-fitting top or dress can be just as flattering and fun under a nipped-waist jacket as it is worn alone.

Images courtesy Talbots

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10 Responses to “Reader Request: Body-con Clothing for Older Women”

  1. Lisa

    Seaming helps too, I find, in making a body-conscious dress feel sophisticated. I’m happy to wear some close-fitting clothes, but I admit that at 59 I no longer want to wear short dresses or shorts.

  2. crtfly

    I know you warned us, but I hate even reading that expression “mutton dressed as lamb”. Saying that a woman is dressing to try to look younger that she is, is bad enough. There are so many things wrong with “mutton dressed as lamb” that I don’t know where to start. For one thing, neither the word mutton nor lamb is gender specific, yet it is always used to insult women.


    • Sally McGraw

      Very true, Chris – do you know of any other ways to refer to this conundrum that feel less insulting? I’d love suggestions!

      • Kate

        I’d prefer to avoid cutesy expressions like this altogether – can’t we just say “dressed in a younger woman’s clothes”?

        I also find the “mutton/lamb” expression upsetting, mostly because it literally compared women to pieces of meat for consumption.

  3. Ginger

    I think this really addresses middle-aged women who’re no longer as trim and perky as they once were. Several fit issues of older women, such as dealing with sloped shoulders, bone loss that gives one a hunched over silhouette, bladder and mobility issues, weren’t mentioned at all.

    • Sally McGraw

      Hi Ginger – thanks for your input. Since the reader’s question focused on the “mutton dressed as lamb” issue, that’s what I concentrated on in my reply. I do my best to answer reader questions as fully as I can, but sometimes am unable to hit absolutely all of the marks! Do you have suggestions for dressing around the challenges you’ve mentioned here in your comment?

  4. Veronica

    I think it’s a good idea to evaluate fit every so often as our body changes. I’m still the same size as I was 20 years ago, but definitely a different fit, especially around the stomach, so the same things don’t look good on me anymore. With body con styles especially, often I see women wearing something that just doesn’t fit well, perhaps because it’s trickier to fit or maybe they’re wearing what they would have 20 years ago. I’m all for showing off at any age if you wish, but good fit becomes even more important over time I think.

  5. Emmy

    Definitely agree with all your tips, and in the comments. I’ll also add, colour blocking flatters and ups the sophistication factor. Finally if you need examples, Google ‘Claire Underwood’, played by Robin Wright in House of Cards. There’s nothing college co-ed about the character’s style. If, at 49, Wright is too young, look for Helen Mirren, who in my opinion shuts down all the young ingenues when she does bodycon style.