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How do we carry off youth-centered styles without looking dumpy?

2012 July 18

Should there be rules . . . or should we wear whatever the heck we want? FOF Chief Pundit Barbara Grufferman investigates.

A few years ago, around the time we both entered our fifties, Ellen Barkin was profiled in O magazine. I was eager to read what she had to say, because she’s always seemed so wise and worldly to me with her sexy, crooked smile. Scanning the article, I nodded frequently in agreement, until I came to her “Ellen’s 10 Rules for Life After 50” list.  Not a fan of rules in general (I much prefer guidelines), I remained open-minded  — until coming to this: “No blue jeans to dinner out.”

Huh? No jeans? Just because we’re over fifty? Barkin conceded that black jeans were “okay” — but definitely not blue. I had just dished out $168 plus tax on a new pair of 7 For All Mankind (this was before I discovered the fantastic $39.99 version from Uniqlo). The 7s were dark blue, beautiful, and had been out to dinner many times. This demanded further research.

Barkin’s declaration made me realize that by the time we hit 50, a lot of us would benefit from a wardrobe re-evaluation. Our bodies, faces, and lifestyles have changed over the decades, but our fashion choices haven’t always kept up. And while I think I always look presentable (and sometimes even downright hip — though my two teenaged daughters might roll their eyes), I still have a lot of questions about what’s considered “acceptable” for women in midlife. I don’t want to live by strict fashion commandments, but I do want some guidelines for achieving a good look. That said, I don’t have the time (or interest) to devote to shopping often, so I want to streamline my style without fussing — or going broke.

When researching and writing The Best of Everything After 50, I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of fashion-savvy women — Diane von Furstenberg, Ginny Hilfiger, and the fabulous team at Saks Fifth Avenue’s personal shopping department. Their combined expertise pointed me in the right direction, and I ended up spending a lot less money on a lot more clothes, all of which can be worn together. I learned a lot from my dream ‘fashion team’ but specifically they advised me to buy clothes that are:

  • Classic enough to be worn for more than one year
  • Easy to mix with my existing clothes and with each other
  • The right material to wear for two or even three seasons
  • Not too young looking, but not dowdy either

And finally, here are a few tips born of personal experience:

  • Try stuff on.
  • Go through your closet and see how each piece makes you feel. Give away anything that doesn’t make you feel good.
  • Spend time with fashion-savvy people who can show you different styles for your body.
  • Go to department stores and work with a personal shopper, or a fantastic salesperson.

See what works and what doesn’t. Once you understand this, the rest will be easy.

Oh, and by the way: Diane has seen Ellen Barkin in jeans many times.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Terry Hesse permalink
    July 19, 2012

    Barbara,

    I recently bought your book, The Best of Everything Over Fifty and am really enjoying it and learning some valuable things in the process. Thank you for this book and your columns in my favorite website, Fab over 50!!!

    Terry

  2. Elena Evans permalink
    July 19, 2012

    Barbara:

    What does an over 50 wear to fly? I am taking a trip on airplane that is over 5 hours and would like to be comfortable without looking dowdy or under dressed in a warm up suit. Jeans are too uncomfortable, what is left?

    Elena

  3. July 19, 2012

    Elena, for travel I usually wear a pair of flair-leg (like boot cut) black yoga pants, ballet flats, a fine-weave or cashmere pullover and a long-sleeved, hip-length sweater wrap. I carry a pair of soft sleep socks to slip on in the plane. Set it all off with a jaunty scarf. This looks polished, doesn’t wrinkle, keeps me warm during the flight and, most important, doesn’t bind or dig!

  4. DELIA SADLER permalink
    July 19, 2012

    I BELIEVE THIS IS CALLED “CLASS.” (OR COMMON SENSE!!) MONEY CANNOT BUY CLASS, NOR DO YOU NEED TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY TO LOOK/BE CLASSY. I ALSO BELIEVE THAT THE “ALLURE” CAN BE SEXY AT ANY AGE. I.E., WHAT ONE CAN’T SEE IS ACTUALLY MORE SEXY/INTRIGUING THAN WHAT YOU BARE. LOVE THE ONE ABOUT NOT SHOWING YOUR KNEES. SO TRUE. CAN’T WAIT TO GET THE BOOK.

  5. dana permalink
    July 19, 2012

    I’m 51 and I love hats, AND accessories. maybe it has a lifespan, but for now, I enjoy it and don’t care what people think about how I dress.

  6. Louise permalink
    July 23, 2012

    If you need rules to dress, then use them. But if you’re a confident FOF, wear what looks good on you, is comfortable, and looks chic. I avoid youthful trends such as skinny jeans and spike heels, but if I like something and feel good in it, I will buy it. I am mature enough to shrug off the “do’s and don’ts” of dressing and accessorizing. I have a hat and I wear it not only for sun protection but also because I think it looks great on me!

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