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Flattering Fashion for Women Who Weren’t Born Yesterday

The very best advice for those over 50.

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Women in different fashion outfits
Elena Lacey
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The equation for fashion that flatters women of a certain age hasn’t changed much since we first wore bell-bottoms. The same colors still look better with some skin tones and hair colors than others. The same dozen fashion personas — Bohemian, romantic, classic — are still rotating trends. And the fashion ABCs — accentuate, balance and camouflage — still prevail.

What has changed is us. We may have become paler as we discovered the hazards of the sun. Or darker as we found the joys of gardening, boating or hiking. Our hair color may have changed to a whole different hue. We have become bolder in our style choices and more willing to experiment. We no longer worry about coloring outside the lines, but instead ask ourselves how far out we want to go.

“There are no clear lines about what you can and cannot wear at 50, or 60 or even 70,” says Wendy Packer. The 67-year-old California trendsetter focused attention on that topic almost 10 years ago with her groundbreaking Fashion Over Fifty blog and continues the cause on Facebook and Instagram @fashionoverfifty.wendy.

“It’s your life, and you get to decide how you want to present yourself.”

Women who weren’t born yesterday understand that the more they know themselves, the less they need to care about the “appropriate” rule book.

“We’re at that point where we can say, ‘This is who I am. This is the statement I want to make,” says Jan Tuckwood, a 64-year-old journalist who covered fashion in the 1980s. Today, she’s collaborating on the memoir of HSN’s 75-year-old jeans queen, Diane Gilman, who’s sold more than 17 million pairs to home shoppers. “Think of fashion as costume design,” Tuckwood adds, “and you are the character in your movie.”

An Honest Look

To truly benefit from the fashion ABCs, we need to be honest with ourselves. How else will we find those physical assets to accentuate, balance or camouflage? Some women have great legs or well-toned arms they can draw attention to. Others will need to create the illusion of longer legs with nude-colored pumps and a curvy kitten heel.

“It’s an ideal shape and height for women over 50,” says Packer, “because it elongates without being uncomfortable.” And all of us on the far side of menopause can camouflage a thicker waistline with a belt that adds color and definition.

“Balance is all about proportion, like wide palazzo pants with a slimming, wrap top — or a loose, flowing blouse over slim pants,” Tuckwood says. Proportion also applies to the prints you choose. Balance larger hips with a print on top, or wide shoulders with a print on your lower half. Taller women or those with a larger frame can pull off a bigger print that would overwhelm someone more petite.

Occasionally there are those shapes that are universally flattering. As prime examples, Tuckwood points to V-necklines and empire waistlines, which hit right below the bust and flow gently to the hem. It’s a forgiving style, she says, that can camouflage a multitude of figure challenges.

Fashion’s ABCs are especially relevant when it comes to swimsuits. “There’s no reason a woman over 50 can’t rock a bikini,” says Packer. “Many women have worked out most of their adulthood and maintained a wonderful figure.” In that case, accentuate it. Ditto a voluptuous bust.

Camouflage also plays a role. Shirring and ruching — both similar to draping — are popular for swimsuits this season, in part because they hide rolls and bulges. Longer tankini tops offer midriff coverage, too, and can be paired with a skirted bottom to camouflage thighs.

The Extremes

Although the lines are fuzzy for fashion over 50, there are some hard stops at the extremes — trying too hard and not trying at all.

“Women over 50 don’t want to do trendy,” says Packer “There’s no need to change the style you’ve been comfortable with your whole life. You can update it, but you don’t have to change it — unless you want to. The key is to look put together.”

At the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t make any effort and simply give everything up for comfort, “you’re sending a message that you don’t care what other people think about you,” says Tuckwood. “There are comfortable clothes that also look like you’re still in the game. If you want to be current, you need to look current. Your clothes can still say now, even if your face says then.”

Finding Inspiration

For fashion savvy and versatility, Packer’s go-to piece is a blazer. “You can do so much with it,” she says. “You can look very put together by just adding a simple white shirt and jeans. This summer, pastels are big, so that would be an easy update.”

She also points to accessories like scarves and quality purses as good options to keep your look current. A pop of color — such as adding a red belt or shoes to a black-and-white outfit — can lend fresh flair. And don’t forget your lip color — it’s an accessory too. “You’re never too old for red lipstick,” says Packer. Over-50 women whose style she appreciates include Maye Musk, Lyn Slater (aka the Accidental Icon), Jennifer Lopez and Angela Bassett — all of whom can be followed on social media for future inspiration.

For Tuckwood, inspiration comes with the flip of the TV channel. Like many during the pandemic, she joined the legion of home shoppers and especially appreciates the way HSN and QVC feature models in real-world shapes and sizes. Besides Gilman’s DG2 jeans on HSN, she’s a fan of the bestselling DG2 easy tank. Constructed with a knit back for stretch and comfort, it features tiers of silky polyester in front to disguise tummy bumps. On QVC, the LOGO brand by 64-year-old Lori Goldstein is another Tuckwood favorite. She’s partial to the collection’s prints and bright colors, another plus for women over 50.

On the day we chatted, Tuckwood sported a LOGO cardigan with wide, tie-dyed stripes of yellow, bright pink and coral paired with boyfriend jeans and yellow sneakers. “I call this the ‘extra’ period of my life,” says Tuckwood, using her daughters’ term to describe the dramatic and flamboyant. “Clothes help you fit in or stand far out. And you get to pick where you want to be on that scale.”

Ultimately, the best advice on flattering fashion for women over 50 is both simple and complex: whatever makes you feel like you.

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