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How to dress when you’re in your 50s – written by someone who’s half your age

As a 26 year old you may feel that I have no right to tell someone in their 50s how to dress. You may be right. However, I feel you’re wrong.

The overwhelming consensus that I get from speaking to women in their 50s is that they struggle to find clothes that fit both their age and their style. They don’t want to look or feel like they’re embarking on a sartorial excursion sponsored by Saga but neither do they want to look like mutton dressed as mutton.

I feel that women in their 50s have been abandoned by the high street and this does not make good business sense as they often have the largest disposable income of any group of women. No longer constrained by a huge mortgage and with no requirement to provide for children, yet still earning good money, they can afford to splash the cash, but on what?!

My mum has recently embarked on her early 50s and spends a large amount of time bemoaning her options for both her working and casual wardrobe. A recent sort through her clothing rails told me that deep down she knew where she was going wrong but she was scared of taking those first steps because she wasn’t truly sure where she was going.

As a woman in her mid twenties with a very clear idea of where I should be going, this is where I was able to help her.

My mum and I suffer the same problems; we both want to be taken seriously as women in the work place and out, and much to my surprise, despite our age gap of 26 years, we both need to adhere to the same rules.

Rule 1: Find a style muse for inspiration.

Rule 2: Simple and classic trumps all.

My mum works hard at her figure. As a solid size 10 she has made my job a lot easier as this, rightly or wrongly, automatically gives her more options for the above two rules.

For your style muse pick someone of the same age bar 1-3 years, a similar body shape and a similar style. If your style is something you struggle to put your finger on or have lost your way with, start with the first two criteria and collate a selection of suitable women. From there go with your gut. You will know the difference between whose style you covet but is unsuitable and whose style you admire and feel is attainable.

Try to avoid red carpet pictures and glossy magazine shoots as your inspiration. These are unrealistic images unless you spend a lot of time at premieres. Street style and ‘off duty’ should be the key words.

For my mum we picked Sharon Stone.

Now sign up to Pintrest (seek guidance from twenty something if necessary) and start pinning!!

Now for rule 2: Simple and Classic.

Here are a few don’ts which should in turn lead you to the do’s:

1. Don’t be drawn towards fussy florals and prints.

These will age you. If you are of a larger dress size they will also make you appear bigger. Small fussy prints are too gypsy and girlish in their style. Try bold prints with defined lines instead. Better still, use plain colours and fabrics and layer up with colour blocking to add interest.

2. Stay away from frills and fussy details.

You are a no frills woman. Literally. Do not let them infiltrate your wardrobe. Frills are like net curtains, they are for people who don’t know better. For gods sake stick with clean tailoring. Not only do frills add bulk, but they look too try hard on a mature woman. Gold buttons will age you. Zips in the right places will not. Slogans, unless extremely witty, are also ill advised. Brands across the busom look cheap on any age group.

3. Skirts and dresses should be on the knee.

You can go just above the knee with tights, you can go below the knee with a kitten heel or higher. Mid length only works on tall women, otherwise it can cut you short or worse, make you look dumpy.

4. Don’t stick purely to boot cut. Skinny jeans are not just for kids.

If you have slim legs (and many older women will as weight tends to gather around the middle) then skinnies are your friend. Pair them with slightly longer tops and jumpers with a loose cut (not baggy! And not hoodies!) Whereas boot cut ruled the roost in the late 80s and 90s, wearing only this makes you look like a product of that era. If you have skinny calves and ankles, a non clingy top will give the illusion that you have skinny other bits too! Dark denim is most flattering but white is also useful for slimmer builds. I should not need to point this out but for the avoidance of doubt; floral stitching, rhinestones, diamantes and excess rivet details are only for girls younger than 18. Not up for discussion.

5. Avoid showing too much neck.

The neck suffers as we get older. Saying that, a turtle neck is the quickest way to make a portrait of a double chin. Instead favour scarves which add colour and interest. The right shades can lift your complexion and hide a multitude of sins, especially those related to tanning oil in your 20s and 30s!

6. Accessorise

Don’t wear it all at once, too much bling is too try hard/eccentric. The amount of necklaces you wear is in direct correlation to the number of cats you own. Jewellery with a modern twist can be a great way to show that you’re still style savvy without looking like you’ve taken tips from Miley Cyrus’ stylist (if she even has one!)

7. Black eyeliner and red lips are no longer sexy.

Harsh or brash colours will do your complexion no good. Instead favour browns around the eyes and avoid lipsticks with a blue tint. Pick pinky fleshy tones instead to inject warmth.

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Some of the clothes mum has decided to donate to charity. A number of florals in there but also some clothes that have simply lost their shape. As a woman in your 50s you should be able to look a lot more manicured with a lot less effort than a woman in her twenties. The effort part may be a myth but the difference is that you made all your mistakes, and now all your effort is going in the right place, not misspent on faddish trends that don’t flatter your body shape.

I hope I’ve helped, but if I haven’t just tell me to piss off and come back when I’m 50 and know more about my subject matter.

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2 thoughts on “How to dress when you’re in your 50s – written by someone who’s half your age

  1. You know what might be interesting? To revisit some old posts to see if you still agree with yourself. This post for example; I suspect your approach to this subject now would be less prescriptive and more “if you like it, wear it”. Not a criticism, just an observation.

    • I re-read this and was amazed by how funny I am. I felt like it was written by a professional. There’s that modesty again. To be honest I stand by all of those rules because they work for me, but yes there’d probably be more qualifications like ‘this works for me but not everyone’

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