Fashion Tips for Women Over 50
Published: 22:11 BST, 22 February 2015 | Updated: 12:53 BST, 23 February 2015
Alyson Walsh (pictured) demonstrates the best looks for those over 50
Have you ever looked at another woman and thought ‘I’d do anything to look as stylish as her’?
There’s rarely something specific you can put your finger on, but rather a host of thoughtful touches: perhaps a rolled-up blazer sleeve that artfully shows a flash of bright blouse, a diamond necklace paired with something unexpected, such as a sweatshirt, or a classic, Breton top worn with flair.
In reality, though, it’s not any of those things. The truth is that these woman have got their hands on the most important accessory of all — complete confidence in their clothes.
It makes them walk a little taller, speak a little more boldly and draw the eye of everyone in the room. Julianne Moore has it, as do Amal Clooney and Helen Mirren.
But the good news is that this confidence isn’t dependent on wealth, size or age — and it’s not innate; you can learn it.
Which means that, even if you think you’ve lost your way when it comes to fashion, you, too, can be that woman — whatever your dress size or budget.
I’m 51 and have spent a lifetime in the fashion industry working for glossy magazines. Six years ago, I launched That’s Not My Age, an online style guide for the older woman that champions generation FAB (that’s Fifty And Beyond).
As a result, I know it takes only a few clever tricks and secrets to get back your style mojo.
After all, we women of a certain age are all the rage. From high-end designers such as Dolce & Gabbana using older women in their adverts to headlines about High Street retailers’ desire to capture the lucrative middle-aged market (it’s worth £2.5 billion), we’re now having our moment in the spotlight.
The truth is there’s never been a better time to fall back in love with fashion as the High Street finally takes us seriously.
At last, we can find affordable, flattering designs (and yes, there’s been an explosion in dresses with sleeves) that follow the trends, but still work for the middle-aged. There’s simply no need to be confined to frumpy, basic or boring.
But that’s not to say it’s easy. Women often tell me they find shopping demoralising and confusing because they don’t know what to look for, or buy armfuls of clothes and then realise nothing quite works together. They’ve lost their inspiration.
Fashion should be fun — not something to make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Nor should it be about a set of stringent rules. A decent hairstyle and well-applied make-up go a long way.
Add the right clothes — a few basics and the right styles for you — pepped up with a few tricks of the trade, and every woman can look gorgeous.
Alyson says the key accessory is complete confidence in your clothes, something which Helen Mirren (left), Amal Clooney (centre) and Julianne Moore (right) all demonstrate
And, what’s more, I’ve proved it by doing hundreds of reader makeovers as the fashion editor of Good Housekeeping. That’s why I’ve written a handbook to middle-aged glamour, Style Forever — a sensible, intelligent guide to all aspects of appearance — in which I share the best of what I’ve learned.
Think of it as the secrets to falling back in love with shopping and, more importantly, getting the confidence that makes any woman look stylish.
BUILD YOUR BASICS
Certain items provide the basis to a brilliant wardrobe, mainly because they’re so adaptable: they’ll work for myriad occasions and outfits, so you’ll never feel you’ve ‘got nothing to wear’.
Knowing exactly what you’re looking for on your next shopping trip will also stop you from buying items just for the sake of having something new.
So, here are the five items no wardrobe should be without:
1. A HERO JACKET
Wear for work, throw on with jeans to smarten up an outfit (roll up the sleeves for an insouciant touch) or pair with a cocktail frock to dress down a la Helen Mirren. It’ll be the hardest-working item in your wardrobe.
Because of this, it’s worth spending a little more — with tailoring, you get what you pay for. A cheap jacket is always going to look cheap. Sometimes, that’s fine, if you want something trend-driven for a year or so.
But mostly it’s worth investing in a superior fabric and fit. On the High Street, try Banana Republic or Zara. If you can afford to pay more than £150, look to Joseph, Jigsaw and Jaeger.
Whatever the price-tag, the fit across your shoulders is paramount and should be the first consideration.
Jacket length is down to your body shape — a blazer is excellent for most figures, but opt for a semi-fitted style if you’re curvy. A cropped, collarless, Fifties number suits petite frames and pear shapes.
2. THE RIGHT TROUSERS
You can make buying trousers pain-free by doing a simple changing room routine.
First, make sure you can bend over comfortably in them (try to touch your toes). Then, check the rear view in a mirror — if the fabric sags under your buttocks, the trousers are too loose, so try a smaller size; if it’s pulling too tightly, go up a size. Finally, sit down — on the floor if you have to — to make certain they don’t dig in.
Straight-leg trousers are versatile, suit most figures and look great with an oversized shirt. Tailored, wide-leg trousers can balance out hips and lengthen the leg: these look fantastic with brogues, while heels create a long, lean line. Try wearing them with a simple, silk blouse instead of a dress for an easy evening look.
3. A PERFECT FROCK
As you get older, there’s nothing like a dress for forgiving middle-age spread and making you feel confident. That said, there’s no need to swathe yourself in baggy styles.
Try a tunic dress paired with opaque tights and heels or flats, or a nipped-in shift dress with structure to hold you in: Cos and Whistles do great ones, mostly with sleeves, as does Marks and Spencer for a cheaper option.
I love it when women with curvier silhouettes wear a wrap-over dress that nips in at the waist to enhance their hourglass shape — try Hobbs and Boden for fail-safe options.
4. COMFY SHOES
Comfy doesn’t have to mean ugly! I embraced ‘comfy’ shoes when I developed a foot problem in my 40s that led to wearing orthotics for a while.
You want shoes with proper support: nothing too flimsy, such as light, canvas shoes or the dreaded Ugg boot.
Mannish styles are brilliant for older women — and they are everywhere on the High Street. Try brogues, slipper-like styles or a penny loafer (again, it’s worth spending more money here — try Russell & Bromley for classics that, if cared for, will last a lifetime).
The good news is that kitten heels are also back. L. K. Bennett is always good, and Boden has a great, bright selection this year, many with supportive, high sides.
5. CASHMERE SWEATER
Every woman should have a grey, cashmere sweater (V-neck if you have a big bust, round neck if not), as comforting and soft as a hug, for the days you just need to put something on and go. It works with absolutely everything — just add jewellery if you want to liven it up.
M&S is the classic destination to buy one, but it’s also worth trying Uniqlo, where they start at £59.99 (and are surprisingly high quality).
Online, asos.com (which has hundreds of styles) also do good cashmere and cashmere mixes; prices start from £30. Navy, black, camel and bright pink are other great cashmere colours.
Once you have these basics in place, here’s five more brilliant buys to build on them:
Pea coats suit taller women, while belted and A-line styles will look great with curves. Choose something colourful, but don’t be tempted by white: you’ll never keep it clean.
PERFECT PAIR OF JEANS
Choose dark washes, but steer clear of bleach and rips. Denim these days is made with a far more flattering stretch, which accentuates curves.
You might think Topshop is only for young people, but they do jeans brilliantly in hundreds of styles — it really is worth venturing in.
LOVELY, BLUE SHIRT
Pick one that’s soft, not shiny, and slightly oversized. Wear it with everything.
CHIC FOREVER BRETON TOP
Petit Bateau (petit-bateau.co.uk) is my favourite place for stripey tops in a wide range of colours.
SLINKY, SILK BLOUSE
There’s nothing sexier. Here, go up a size. Keep your blouse crease-free by spritzing it with water, then ironing it with a clean pillowcase over the top.
DON’T BE SCARED OF COLOUR!
Wishy-washy pastel hues have no place in a grown woman’s wardrobe. Too insipid. Too mother-of-the-bride.
Faded denim is the nearest to a sugar-coated shade allowed.
For pastels may not kill you, but they will make you look 20 years older.
Instead, make like a Mondrian painting and wear blocks of colour. Monochrome plus a primary colour creates a powerful effect. Orange, turquoise, hot pink and emerald green also look fabulous with black and white. And even better if you’ve got grey hair.
For the brave, stick to one colour head-to-toe in different, subtle shades. Yes, you will look great.
TIPS THAT TAKE IT UP A NOTCH
Every outfit needs a showbiz item: a leather jacket, printed shirt or kimono top or fabulous shoes. Think maximum impact, minimum effort.
How do you find these? Easy! Every time you see picture of a celebrity or model wearing something you love, tear it out and keep it or save it into a folder on your computer.
Look at these pictures just before you go shopping, so you have the style you want fresh in your mind. It’ll inspire you to buy something out of your comfort zone that you’ll want to wear until it falls apart.
Sling the Spanx. To me, control knickers are an object of torture. Yes, they’re designed to make us look thinner.
But better to invest in quality tailoring to sculpt the figure or a Winser London miracle dress — made from a natural, viscose jersey with a clever, two-way stretch that fits and flatters (from £135, winserlondon.com).
Don’t waste money on cheap clothes that won’t last. Experiment with what you have, try new combinations of outfits and figure out what you need before you go shopping.
Buy French lingerie — it’s expensive, but it’s the best. Experts say you should replace bras every six months, but I keep mine for at least a year. The brands to look out for include Simone Perele and Chantal Thomass.
Don’t save anything for best. It’s all about 24-hour casual glamour. This is a mixture of go-anywhere items (such as my Jaeger tuxedo jacket on the left) — part daywear, part eveningwear. Wear trainers for running around.
Avoid matchy-matchy — looking too coordinated or try-hard appears dated. Aim instead to look effortless, modern and fresh.
But mix it up. Team leopard print boots and a khaki leather handbag; a denim shirt and a sequin skirt; a cashmere sweater and leather leggings.
You’re never too old for ...
SILK PYJAMAS: They make you feel like a movie-star. I have a navy pair from Lands’ End that I love lounging in.
KOOKY SUNGLASSES: Perfect for nipping to the shops without make-up and hiding tired eyes. Try Linda Farrow, Cutler & Gross or Miu Miu.
DENIM: My current favourite jeans are J.Crew’s ankle-length Toothpick, Eileen Fisher’s coated black and MiH Phoebe.
LEOPARD PRINT: I’m coveting L. K. Bennett’s Simi ankle boots (£350, lkbennett.com).
A NEW LIPSTICK: My favourite is Chantecaille Sardinia (£32, net-a-porter.com), a lovely coral.
Style Forever: The Grown-up Guide To Looking Fabulous by Alyson Walsh is published by Hardie Grant Books on March 13, price £12.99.
FIVE FAB LOOKS TO TRY
Jacket, £225, jaeger.co.uk
Top, £27, hush-uk.com
Trousers, £171.70, eileenfisher.com
Sandals, £225, lkbennett.com
A relaxed blend of day and evening wear, this effortless look goes everywhere. A few fashion items are worth spending money on and a decent jacket is one of them.
It provides a finishing touch when thrown on over trousers and a T-shirt for business meetings. And when things start to slip southwards, decent tailoring can help restore a little structure and conceal the dreaded middle-aged spread.
LOVE THOSE LAYERS
Shirt, £35, and sweater, £45, marksandspencer.com
Skirt, £35.99, zara.com
Coat, £450, lkbennett.com
Sandals, £55, office.co.uk (available from March)
With layering, the aim is to appear effortless. But outfits need to be thought-out, as the look can easily flip from elegant and swish to frumpy.
Choose colours that complement each other, and go for garments in good quality, well-cut fabrics, such as this beautiful coat, as they drape better and last longer than cheaper alternatives.
Jumpsuit, £195, reiss.com
Sandals, as before
The jumpsuit is my new favourite. The all-black all-in-one makes getting dressed in the morning a doddle, and looks so chic (it’s also surprisingly warm). Better yet, it really does suit every size.
If you’re not keen on black, try khaki or chambray denim, but always go for plain, never patterned. No one wants to look as if they’re out in their nightwear.
As for shoes, try mid-heel pumps, ankle boots, sandals or trainers. Finally, you can wear big earrings to add sparkle.
Milano coat, £250, winserlondon.com
T-shirt, £28, jigsaw-online.com
Jeans, £79, and Derby shoes, £149, hobbs.co.uk
Confidence comes from finding clothes that work in real life, not just on catwalks or in glossy magazines.
When it comes to adding a flash of colour, the easiest way is to layer a beautiful, eye-catching coat over figure-flattering wardrobe essentials.
As well as being easy to wear, this luxurious knitted wool coat is the perfect way to dial up an outfit a notch or two.
THE POWER DRESS
Colour-block dress, £45, marksandspencer.com
Shoes, £129, reiss.com
As someone who usually spends her life in trousers, this dress was way out of my comfort zone.
But having said that, it’s a neat way to wear colour without looking crazy. The combination of monochrome plus a primary colour creates a powerful visual effect.
Rather than taking the obvious route and going for frills or floral prints, I think this kind of power dress is the modern way to approach a special occasion.