Fashion advice for the over-40 woman seems to always lack substance. “Don’t wear mini skirts!” “Skip the belly shirts!” “Don’t wear tube tops!” You simply find basic tips full of negativity, full of what you can’t do—nothing substantially relevant to a woman’s vibrant professional, social, and family life. And do you need to follow those brazen statements anyway?
According to Diane Pollack, a New York City-based wardrobe consultant, the answer is a resounding “No.”
… Confident women are always beautiful.
“I believe that there is no magic number that, when you turn that age, you must then change how you dress,” she says. “I do believe it depends on your personal style, body type in general, and if it has changed over the years.”
With that good news comes more good news: If you are an over-40 woman simply looking to flatter your figure or tweak your personal style, these fashion experts provide sound advice actually worth following.
Dressing for Your Body Type
According to Melissa Jarred, founder, lead image consultant, and personal stylist of Transition Your Image and Life in Ajax, Ontario, Canada, “Women in their forties and beyond should focus on the areas of their body where they would like to create the illusion of having more curves by strategically using color and styling techniques with age-appropriate clothing items that will further enhance their natural curves.”
Why does body type matter?
“A woman over 40 who understands her body shape will have an advantage in choosing the most flattering looks that work best for her,” says Nancy Tran, a fashion designer. When a garment showcases a woman’s best assets, “She will feel more confident, and confident women are always beautiful.”
Jarred outlines the best styling options for 40-plus women who have the desire to enrich their body’s best features according to body type:
If you are a woman over 40 with a rectangle shape, you probably have a straight, athletic physique with little to no curves. You have minimal waist definition, a petite derriere, and lovely, long legs. Here are our tips:
- Fabrics that drape and gather on your body will create a softer, curvier silhouette.
- Don’t be afraid to incorporate color into your outfits, especially toward the bottom half of your physique. This will create curves near your hip area.
- Textured fabrics add volume. Tasteful ruffles and pleating are best worn on the upper part of your body near your chest, which will add softness and fullness to your bust area.
- Accentuated sleeves and soft, floaty material will also contribute to the illusion of a curvier figure.
Women over 40 with a round shape have shapely legs and a natural, full bust. Women with this body type will want to minimize the tummy area and focus on creating balance and definition of the waist.
- Invest in tops that have V-necklines, as it will give the appearance of an elongated torso, and this further enhances your bust.
- You can also create V-necklines with scarves if you don’t have a variety of V-neckline tops on hand.
- Play with accessories. The key to enhancing the round shape is in creating the illusion of vertical lines by draping scarves, using long necklaces and earrings that have length.
- Wear darker, neutral colors closer to your body for the inside layer and lighter colors on the outside.
- Create a visual focal point that draws the eyes upward toward the neckline, which will make the waist look more defined.
- Empire waistlines look best on this shape. It further defines bust lines and makes your legs look longer.
- Opt for tops that are slightly fitted against your hip and waist, which will add definition to your midriff area.
Women over 40 who have the triangle body type, also referred to as the “pear shape,” have a defined waistline and shapely derriere. You will want to minimize fullness below your waist and add the illusion of balanced shoulders up top.
- Around your bust area, experiment with textured fabrics such as pleating and tasteful ruffles.
- Subtle embellishments near or on the shoulder area will give the appearance of balanced shoulders instead of sloping ones.
- Cinched tops that are appropriately fitted and finish at the top of your waist will further add definition to your waistline, which, in turn, creates the quintessential hour glass shape.
- Choose wider neck lines like bateau, squared, or cowl necks to show off neck line and shoulders.
- Wear lighter tops/scarves on the top and darker colors on the bottom.
An inverted triangle body type means you have long, lean legs and a swimmer’s back that is slightly broad and lean. With this body type, you will want to emphasize curves in the lower half of your body and minimize your upper torso.
- Wear darker colors on top and lighter colors on the bottom.
- Experiment with horizontal stripes and patterns in tops, which guide the eye down to your long legs.
- Embrace your swimmer’s shoulders by wearing halter tops.
- Wear tasteful, fitted clothing to emphasize your waistline and show off your athletic features.
- Choose wide-legged pants, especially with the flowy material.
Keeping Up With Trends
Judy Miller, owner of Monkee’s of Columbia, an upscale women’s clothing and accessories boutique in Columbia, South Carolina, says that as women age, they tend to chase the latest trends and buck staying true to their own style.
Miller says you can easily adjust trends to fit your age. The key is incorporating major trends into your wardrobe while remaining in your comfort zone. If an off-the-shoulder top with bouffant sleeves is too much for you, she says, try a nice blouse with a smaller, less dramatic bell sleeve. Not comfortable in velvet skinny jeans? Then go for a pair of black booties with touches of velvet.
Miller says as women age, they often under-accessorize, as they feel comfortable with their smaller, fine jewelry pieces.
She advises women over 40 not to fear wearing large, statement pieces. As an example, a smaller strand of pearls might look elegant, but in some cases, a multi-strand of over-exaggerated pearls would accentuate your look and complete your outfit.
You should also consider belts, or, alternatively, invisible belts if you do not prefer this accessory. “Women often need a belt, but they don’t like the bulky buckles, so often go without one,” says Elise Wilkins, owner of isabelt.com. To combat this, Wilkins and her two sisters created a company that manufactures an “invisible” belt made from thin plastic with a small clasp. She says they work for women in their forties who don’t want the added girth from a belt buckle.
As women age, metabolism slows down. “If your body has changed and you are carrying a little more weight in areas than you used to, you may have to reinvent some ways of dressing,” says Pollack.
Devoreaux Walton, an image consultant at The Poise Pursuit, agrees: “The correct fit of clothing is important for women of all ages, but specifically 40-plus because it can make or break an image.”
- You might no longer like the feel of a clingy top. Try draped and shirred tops that will cover a belly.
- If you want to cover your arms, you can find tasteful longer-sleeved options, like cardigans and shrugs, to do this. You can also find an undergarment called “Sleevy Wonder”, which has various sleeve options you can wear as a layer under your shorter sleeve items.
- Wear a choker necklace or scarf to draw attention to your face and away from other areas.
- Never dress in clothes that are too baggy; it will actually make you look larger. Walton says sizes too large—and too small—can make your body look frumpy and unflattering. She recommends counteracting this by ensuring you purchase the proper size and by getting your clothing tailored.
Women over 40 often fear colors—black is slimming, after all—but you should not feel timid in splashing up your wardrobe.
- Make sure your nail polish is a sophisticated color as opposed to neon, urges Pollock. If you choose cool colors such as blues and greens, make sure that they are toned-down versions.
- Wear bright colors and prints in areas where you want to draw attention. Do the opposite to areas you want play down, Pollack notes.
- If you have beautiful eyes, pick colors that highlight them, says Tran.
Confidence and attitude never grow old.
“For most women, maintaining balance on family, career, and health is always a struggle, but facing challenges with an affirmative attitude makes a difference,” says Tran.
She recommends having a support system of family, friends, and colleagues. By maintaining these relationships, women over 40 “will find improvement in how they feel, how they look, and, as a result, how they appear to the rest of the world.”
The experts have spoken: Women over the age of 40 can still dress trendy, throw on excessive pearls, and wear bright, bold colors. But above all, they should be sure to maintain a positive attitude and wear a smile—this will help them display confidence, which is the biggest fashion win of them all.