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This Is the Number One Fashion Rule of Summer 2024!

It's our summer style guide for sweaty older women.

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photo collage of woman patting herself dry from sweat and holding water bottle, fashion rule of summer
Elena Lacey
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In the summer, I flit.

Flitting is my only outdoor activity — as in, I “move swiftly and lightly, like a hummingbird” from one air-conditioned locale to the next because I live where heat and humidity regularly hit 90.

When I was young, I’d flit in shorts and flip-flops. Now I wear flowing dresses, sun hats and sandals with back straps.

I’ve entered my “Mrs. Roper” years. Remember Mrs. Roper, the wise-cracking landlady from “Three’s Company” who was fond of caftans and sexual innuendo? Audra Lindley was just 46 when she played Helen Roper, but she seemed 100 to me then. Perspective flits, too.

I live in West Palm Beach, Florida, where there are two seasons: the Season, from November through April, when snowbirds flock here and flit in bejeweled caftans and Lilly Pulitzer shifts (think costumes on Apple TV’s recent Palm Royale) and hurricane season, when locals flit to survive.

It’s so hot and humid here, only 5,000 people lived year-round in what is now Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties in 1900. Air conditioning was not invented until July 17, 1902. Thank God for Willis Carrier, who came up with the idea while living in Pittsburgh, a place they used to call “hell with the roof off.”

To avoid my own personal hell, I’ve developed a summer style strategy: how to flit with flair.

No Spandex. No zippers. No smocking. No cinching. Structure brings suffering. If an item of clothing requires a shimmy to yank it on, it’s out.

As style professional and TV personality Cameron Silver says: “Why would you ever wear something hot and sticky when it’s hot and sticky?”

I have become a connoisseur of the slip-dress — specifically A-line, strappy dresses in thin, natural fabrics that flow enough to cover my belly bulge and frump hump. (A frump hump is the tire of flab that hugs the high-hip area and morphs your torso from a youthful dewdrop shape to a senior-citizen square. I got one for my 65th birthday. Yippee.)

The best breezy dresses are made of breathable materials, like rayon and cotton gauze. A quick online search of “slip dresses” and “breezy sundresses” will toss up many styles and options, from pricey to bargains. However, be wary of those that can dip as low as $15 a frock: I ordered one, and it was made of stiff polyester. I threw it out. If it seems too cheap, it is.

Fabric matters. Choose natural fabrics — silk, rayon, Tencel, bamboo, cotton, linen. My go-to pair of summer pants are cropped, wide-legged linen, with a slight drop crotch. The drop crotch guarantees the pants “don’t eat right up your butt crack,” as comedian Leanne Morgan says. Those pants are as cool and comfortable as a skirt.

Speaking of the drop crotch … my summer denims are pull-up jeans with a button front and an elastic waistband in the back. They’re lightweight cotton and so baggy I look like hip-hop star MC Hammer. Yes, I’m an old lady wearing droopy drawers, and I love them so much, I have five pairs in various shades.

Hair up, hat on. Now that I’m 67 and speckled in sunspots from my reckless youth, I wear Milk Sunshine Skin Tint with SPF 30 on my face, then swipe Jones Road Miracle Balm in Flushed (a bright pink) on my cheeks, chin and forehead, add mascara and “hydrating lip tint” by Thrive Causemetics, and I’m done.

Each summer, I treat myself to a new hat. Last year, it was a Hat Attack packable straw hat with fringe. This year, it’s a bright yellow-brimmed cap by a woman-owned company called Ponyback. Here’s what’s cool about this cap style. The back seam is held together with magnets, so I can put my long hair in a top knot or a high ponytail, and open up the hat to let my hair poke out. My other fave is a Wallaroo, durable and a style that I keep in my convertible to keep my hair from flying.

Float like a butterfly: It’s the year of the caftan. "The caftan is the perennial silhouette of Palm Beach because it’s effortlessly elegant,” says style expert Silver, whose new book Caftans: From Classical to Camp delves into the fashion miracle that is the cool, flowing, forgiving caftan.

Caftans are basically slip dresses with sleeves — you pop them over your head, and you’re suddenly chic — or camp, if you’re Mrs. Roper. Remember: a house dress is not a caftan. (Confused? If your dress looks better with slippers than gold sandals, it’s a house dress.) If you’ve never tried a caftan before, Silver suggests starting with a natural fabric and a restrained print that’s “less whirling dervish and more Greek goddess.”

My prize caftan is a pricey silk number by Johnny Was, but affordable options abound — check on QVC, Soma and Lands’ End. Again, the key is fabric as caftans flow. They are not stiff like circus tents. If you sew, caftans are simple to make.

“Look at Elizabeth Taylor. She wore caftans when she was at her most svelte and also when she was at her most zaftig,” notes Silver. “There has been a caftan moment since Paleolithic man first crafted them out of animal hide. And now there’s a zeitgeist of people recognizing the universality of the caftan.”

So, go for loose, easy and breezy attire this summer … a way of flitting without fretting or sweating. And that’s what summer’s all about.

 
Do any of you wear caftans in the summer? Let us know in the comments below.

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