Ah, 40. It shouldn’t be that scary, but this age tends to give a lot of women anxiety about how they dress, how they do their makeup, and how they’re perceived by others. You don’t want to look too old, but not too young, either. The balance isn’t easy.
If you are a woman over 40, you need to know that you can be just as sexy and vivacious as your younger counterparts. To get the best fashion tips for this age, we talked to style expert Kim Johnson Gross, creator of the Chic Simple line of books. According to her, it just takes looking at your wardrobe and beauty habits with a critical eye and finding what works for you.
One of the most challenging aspects for women over 40 when it comes to fashion, is how to dress for all the changes that are occurring. “Our bodies are in transition. Our lifestyles are changing. We may be becoming empty nesters, divorcing, starting new jobs,” said Gross.
“As your body is changing, so must your clothes,” she said. You have to learn how to flatter your body without doing a style overhaul.”
And even if you are in the best shape of your life — Gross gives 50-something Oprah as an example— your body is physiologically changing no matter what, from thinning hair to softer, duller skin with less natural glow.
The key to dealing with the changes and being your best is to refresh your look, said Gross, who is currently working on a book about style over 40. “Shoes and bags are the quickest way to update your look,” said Gross. “Women over 40 need to learn how to adapt trends that will work for them,” she said.
Most of all, you need learn to not hang onto what worked before; undergo what Gross calls a “style evolution” and learn to dress for your new assets.
Gross said there are a few guidelines that will help you look your best:
- Don’t dress too young. “The worst thing you can do is to dress younger than you are,” said Gross. “It actually makes you look older.”
- Unless you’ve got gams like Gwyneth Paltrow, no miniskirts, regardless of how great your legs are, said this former model (who is thinking about making pillows out of her minis).
- Skip baggy clothes and in favor of pieces that give you shape like a-line skirts and dresses.
- Try to avoid some of the colors you wore in your 20s (at least not against your face). Softer tones, black and white, navy, are all good options.
- Don’t pick colors from color charts; experiment by trying on different colors when you go shopping. “You’ll know it when you see it instantly,” she said.
- “Trendy is no longer attractive,” she said. “Don’t worry about the trend of the moment.” Instead, she suggested you find a print or a bold piece of jewelry and develop a signature look.
Gravity takes its toll on women of a certain age, but Gross said fashion tricks can camouflage most of these problems:
- Wrinkled neck: Turtlenecks or turn-up collars, according to Gross, are a great way to cover that area and bring focus to the face. She mentioned Candace Bergen in “Boston Legal” as a good example of making that look work for her. (And Diane Keaton, too!)
- Straight figure short on curves: Add jackets and pieces that will give you shape, she said.
- Thinner hair: “Your hair has to suit you. Get a fresh cut,” she said. She also said shorter hair gives more of a lift and the variety of new products can improve your hairstyle.
- Focus on shoulders and legs: They are the slowest to age, she said. That doesn’t mean wearing miniskirts, she said, but you can bring attention to legs with a knee-length skirt and high-heel pumps and sandals.
- Change in coloring: Gross reminded women to lighten up. One tip she got from a chic former fashion director was to always wear a bit of white close to the face. Soft colors — pale pink, white, beige, ice blue — bring light to the face as well, she said.
Gross shared a few tips for how women of all ages can start looking their best now, to make the transition into your 40s less jarring and more stylish.
- Look at mature television and movie actresses you admire and emulate their look, said Gross.
- Shop at stores that cater to stylish, mature women. Gross listed Chicos, Nordstrom, Giorgio Armani, St. John, and Escada as a few of the manufacturers and designers who offer great selections for women over 40 years old.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. By the time you are 50 you have some sense of what your style is, she said. You probably have the basics down and now it’s time to add pizzazz like adding bold glasses or wearing a collar turned up.
- Recycle pieces from your closet (with caution). Gross said that some trends can come back and you can revisit them with a twist. She says chain belts are a good example. But she said the classics — trench coats, Pucci prints, animal prints — are the best pieces to keep pulling out because they have timeless appeal.