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This week, I’m sharing how to have great style at any age. It feels like a lot of women feel they have to forget about being stylish once they turn 40 or 50, or beyond…not true, ladies! Not true at all.
I also share why I think midlife is the best time to lean in to your personal style, and I address a few myths and misconceptions about being stylish as we age.
In vocabulary, we discuss the difference between jackets, parkas and coats.
Links & Resources From the Show
Read the New York Times article on legendary designer Pierre Cardin.
See my picks for non-boring Winter outerwear.
Listen to Six Style Mistakes That Age You.
Join the Style Circle now to get the latest masterclass, Dress Your Body Shape, and get ready for the Spring Capsule Wardrobe Guide, coming next month!
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Read the full transcript below:
Hey there! Welcome to another episode of the show that tells you everything your mom never taught you about style! Lately, I’ve been interviewed and asked a lot about staying stylish as we get older, and honestly, this is a topic I love to talk about. Maybe it’s because I started my style career at Chico’s, a place that caters to women of a certain age, and I saw how stylish women could be at any age.
It feels like so many women believe they have to hang up their style hats once they turn 40 or 50, or 60, or whatever…like we’re just supposed to forget about having fun with style, and stop caring about what’s current. Lots of women believe that there are special stores you have to shop at, once you become a woman of a certain age. You can’t shop there before you hit that point, and you can’t shop anywhere else once you do. Ladies, that is all nonsense, and today, I’m going to be sharing how to be stylish at any age.
But first, we have a vocabulary word. If you’re keeping track at home, which I sincerely hope you’re not, you’ll know that we haven’t done a current events segment in a long time. I tried this week, I really did…but friends, there’s not a lot to talk about. There’s political conflict in Myanmar which will likely have an effect on their textile industry, but that seems a little weighty for this show, and there are some new sustainable denim practices being tried out, but unless you love a long, technical discussion on fabric production, it didn’t seem to be a good fit. The initial wave of covid bankruptcies and closures has settled down, people are still shopping online, and designer Pierre Cardain died in late December at the age of 98. Perhaps we should have Mr. Cardain a bit more of a spotlight, as he was really a pioneer of ready to wear, making high fashion available to the masses, but I didn’t. Instead I will link to a very fascinating article about him in our shownotes, and you can learn all about Pierre Cardain, may he rest in peace.
Instead, we are forging ahead with a Vocabulary, and we’ll put current events in when there’s something to share.
Today we’re talking about outerwear. Specifically, the difference between jackets, coats, and parkas. The reason I’m talking about these this week is that this is a great time to be buying outerwear. Winter clearance is in full swing, as retailers want to make room for spring merchandise, but for a lot of us, there’s lots of winter left, so you’ll get some use out of your purchase before you put it away for next year. I actually think there will be some really good deals out there, because people weren’t going out as much. Not going as many places means not buying things like outerwear, which means good deals for you.
Ok, let’s talk about jacket vs coat first. Again, like lots of our vocabulary words, these terms do have technical definitions..but whether or not websites and retailers use the correct term is another matter. The main difference between a jacket and a coat is the length. Jackets hit at the hip and above, coats are longer than hip length. That was easy, right?
Except, weight also plays a part in it….we tend to think of jackets as lightweight and coats as heavier, warmer things. But I just go by length–because I have a short puffer jacket that is very warm, and a long trench coat that isn’t warm at all. But you may see those terms used in referring to weight and warmth.
Now, let’s talk about parkas. Parkas officially are a type of coat–meaning they are longer than hip length. But they’re also usually built for warmth and weather as well. Not many people have spring parkas. Traditionally, parkas have hoods that are trimmed in fur for extra warmth. As I was researching, I came across two definitions of what parkas are–from the same retailer, one under men’s, and one under women’s. Under men’s, it says that parkas are any coat or jacket with a hood, removable or not, and under women’s it had a much more detailed description, which is “Whereas jackets and coats can be differentiated by length, parka classification is tied to a garment’s silhouette and style. Parkas typically have more pockets than a coat, and often feature several different styles of pocket”. That’s from Lands End–I’m not going to give you links to throw them under the bus, but that second description does seem to be more accurate. When you search for parkas online, there do seem to be a good variety of pockets.
So, like often, there are differences to these things, but retailers can’t agree, often on their own site, what those differences are! So why do I share these words? A big reason is that one question I get asked a lot is “what do I search for if I want to find…. Fill in the blank”. The only way to know what to look for is to know a lot of clothing words, and that’s why I share these…also to show you that looking at the pictures is often more helpful than a description.
Before we move on, I want to encourage you to have a little more fun with your outerwear. If you are stuck in a basic black outwear rut, it’s time to bust out. Explore color, or pattern, or an interesting silhouette…winter is dreary enough…shake things up with a fun coat. If you need some ideas, head over to our website, where I’ve got a whole bunch of options for you. You can go to our main page and click wardrobe, or through podcast, and the link will be in these shownotes.
When we come back, we’re going to talk about staying stylish as we mature.
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Ok, let’s talk about getting older and staying stylish!
We’re going to cover a few things today. First, some of the common questions slash myths I get asked about or hear regarding style over 40. We’re just going to call it over 40 for simplicity sake.
Then, I’m going to share with you why I think this is actually the best time of life to lean in to style, and finally, I’ll share a few tips for aging stylishly. If you think I’m going to give you a checklist like cut your hair, don’t wear short skirts, you couldn’t be more wrong…you should know by now, that’s not my style.
Let’s start with some of the things I hear about style over 40, that drive me absolutely bonkers.
The first one is from women who are afraid they’ll look too young. It was a common theme when I was working one on one with clients–I don’t want to look to young. I don’t want to be trendy and look too young. Now, I get emails that say “will your capsules make me look too young”? Always with the too young. Let’s address this one. What you’re afraid of is looking silly, not looking young, which we’ll talk about later. But what I find most fascinating is that in the quest not to look considerably younger than they are, these women end up looking considerably OLDER than they are. Friends, if given a choice, I’ll choose too young any day of the week! But the good news is you don’t have to choose. You can look stylish and age appropriate, but living in fear of looking too young almost always results in looking older. If that’s not what you’re going for, you may want to rethink your goals. I have an episode about style choices that age you, which I’ll link to in the show notes.
The second thing I get is “What stores should women over 40 be shopping at?” Friends, this one drives me bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. It’s kind of like asking where pears or apples should shop, and just like I tell them, that’s now how stores work.
Talbots doesn’t card you at the door to make sure you’re old enough, and you won’t get tossed out of H&M for trying on a sweater. The best stores to shop in are the ones that sell clothes that fit your body, and represent your style. I have pieces from H&M and American Eagle–and Chico’s and Talbots.
I look for PIECES that I like, or that work well for me rather than depending on one store, or a small set of stores, to have everything I need. If you tried to do that for any reason, be it age, or body shape, or personal style, you would struggle to get dressed. Women want this magic forever 42, or forever 55 store because they think it will make getting dressed easier, but in reality, it would be incredibly limiting and make style more difficult.
So be open to everything. Look for pieces you like, not entire stores, or even entire outfits. I was shopping with a client once, who was young, like in her 20’s and she was tough to fit for pants. I knew that the pants she needed were at Chico’s, because I had just been there with another client of similar size and shape the day before. She refused, saying it was for old ladies-and so we struggled through our shopping appointment, unable to find great pants. At the end of our session, she went her way, I went mine, but I ran into her in the mall later on and I said, will you just come with me and try–you know it bothers me when I can’t solve a problem–and she did. She tried on one pair of pants and we nailed it. She did the whole “what will people say if I’m wearing pants from Chico’s?” to which I responded, don’t tell them if it bothers you. This isn’t a conversation I regularly have with my friends. The moral of the story here is that getting the right pieces is more important than finding the right stores, and don’t limit yourself because of some age parameters you’ve imposed on yourself.
The last thing I want to talk about is “can a woman over 40 or over 50 wear that”? We just talked about this one a couple of weeks ago in my unanswerable questions episode, but the answer is again of course, yes, of course you can. A better question is do YOU, not a woman your age, WANT to wear that? That’s the question. And if you do, and you like the way it looks on you, have at it. If you don’t, or you don’t like the way it looks on you, don’t. It really is that simple. I wanted to talk about this one again in this episode because we kind of draw this line in the sand when we give things this age deadline–and its always the milestone birthdays. No wonder women dread these! My next milestone birthday, in a few years, will be 50. And if someone said, after 50, women can’t wear shorts or graphic tees, or leopard flats, I’d be super sad and I would dread getting older if the things I love had to be put away or I’d look silly. But what I know is that I won’t wake up the day I turn 50 any different than I was at 49 and 364 days old. Why should I have to go pack up the stuff I love because a calendar page changed? That’s a punishment, not a celebration!
Aging happens slowly, over time–just like the progression of style evolves slowly, over time. One day, I may want longer shorts, and plain tees, and basic flats. Not today, but someday. And when I want those things, I’ll buy those things. When I’m ready to move on from things I love now, I will, because I am always evolving style wise and as a person. I think often women get stuck in a fashion rut, sometimes for decades, and don’t let themselves evolve—so when they think about updating things, it does feel like a huge shock and an overhaul, and I can see where you might question the appropriateness of things. But if you’re constantly evolving slowly and naturally, there isn’t this huge leap into mature dressing. Loving your style when you’re in your 60’s starts with loving your style when you’re in your 30’s and 40s, and when you approach style as a lifelong evolution, those hard lines in the sand won’t mean anything.
Those are 3 things I want you to change your mindset about when it comes to style over 40, and now I want to share 3 reasons I think this is the best time of life for style.
First, and most importantly, the greatest joy in getting older is letting go of what anyone else thinks. What a wonderful place to be, from a style perspective. Now, in my 40’s, I’m dressing for me, and nobody else. I don’t care what my friends, or my kids, or even what my husband thinks. I buy and wear things that simply make me happy. If I want to try something out of my comfort zone, I do. If I want to wear nothing but comfortable clothes for a week, I do! Let go of others expectations and do what you love. Wear what you want to wear. Even the question “will I look silly” is rooted in “what will others think of me?”, and I’ve got some news for you on that one. Other people really aren’t thinking about you. They’re concerned with themselves. But even if someone has an opinion about you, or your style, their opinion is really none of your concern. It doesn’t have to factor into your decisions at all. Release yourself from caring, and do, and wear what you love.
I do want to say though, “I don’t care what people think” can have a couple of ramifications. The first one is that you release yourself from others’ expectations and find joy in personal style. That’s the ideal one. The other is “I don’t care what people think” can turn into “It doesn’t matter what I wear”, and often, that’s accompanied by a less stylish look. If that makes you happy, go for it. But if it doesn’t, and you’re feeling frumpy, and bad about yourself, check your idea that it doesn’t matter, and you’re not out to impress people. You should feel good about yourself, and if you’ve taken “I don’t care” to a dark, sad place–maybe up your style factor a little. For yourself–not for them.
The second reason I think this is the best time of life for style is that usually, by our 40’s and beyond, we’ve been able to reclaim some resources for ourselves, after putting others first for a long time. I’m specifically talking about time and effort–and maybe even a little money Time is the big one. My kids are able to get themselves dressed in the mornings, which means I have my mornings back for me. I can take the extra few minutes to think about what I want to wear, rather than just throwing on something that’s clean. I can spend a little time on my hair because my kids can do theirs. You can spend more effort on yourself because you’re not mired in the minutiae of taking care of others.
And as we get older, hopefully, our finances have evolved, and we’re not paying for daycare, and preschool, and diapers. Also, a lot of women have gone back to work, or are in bigger positions, giving their families a little more financial freedom. Now, I know you’re saying, yes, but we’re paying for college, and dance lessons, and travel baseball. I get it. There will always be expenses, but statistically, families struggle financially the most when their kids are young. Hopefully, by the time your kids–and you–are older, you’re experiencing more financial freedom, and can enjoy using some of your family’s budget on your wardrobe. What this means is that you can evolve to higher-quality pieces, investing in some special things that take your style to the next level and really feel like you.
What I’ve found after working with thousands of women though, is that often we don’t reevaluate where we are in life.. We get stuck in this mindset that we don’t have time to focus on ourselves, because we have to do for other people–even though our other people are completely capable of taking care of themselves while we slap on a little mascara. We don’t recognize that we do have time to hand wash a sweater we love, because we’re so used to needing everything to be as easy as possible. I think it’s a good idea every few years to evaluate your life stage, and see if the reasons behind your choices are still valid. You may find you do have time to line dry a few things or to do a 5-minute makeup routine. You may find you are able to buy clothes you really love, because you don’t have to play on the floor, and you can afford them.
The last reason midlife is a great time for style is that by now, we know who we are. I know I don’t like frilly things. I know I feel best in bright colors. I know the shape of handbags I like best. What this means is that I can feel confident investing in things. When I find something I truly love, I know I’ll want to keep it for a while. I’m not looking for that fun, single-use going out top. I’m not as concerned about trying every trend. Over time, this means your wardrobe will naturally become more cohesive and of higher quality. It probably gets smaller too, which is a good thing. If you’re a woman in her 40’s and beyond, and you still have a vast wardrobe full of nothing to wear, it could very well be that you haven’t paid attention to who you are, style-wise, and given yourself permission to like what you like. That’s a really good place to start. If you don’t know what you like, our course, Signature Style will help you figure it out, and I’ll link to it in the show notes on the website.
Now that you believe that you don’t have to put style away as you get older, let me share 3 tips for aging stylishly.
First, don’t completely forget about trends. Remember, every single thing in stores right now is part of a trend, from the fabrics to the colors, and the patterns to the silhouettes. Trends are not here today, gone tomorrow things..those are fads. Trends are a 5-7 year process that’s more like a wave gradually rising and falling before disappearing. So it’s actually really hard not to participate in trends if you want to look current. With that in mind, there are some things that are higher on the trendiness scale, but you don’t have to avoid those things. The way I look at it, when you’re young, like teens and ’20s, you can do what I call the trend salad, combining lots of in-the-moment looks. A 20-year-old wouldn’t look out of place in slouchy straight leg jeans, a boxy cropped tee, and a grommet belt—but someone in her 60’s might. As we age, I encourage women to go for what I call the Trend Garnish, instead of the trend salad. This means picking ONE trend and working into an outfit made from great basics. Pick the tee OR the jeans OR the belt, and pair them with more grown-up items.
Obviously, I believe that every woman can wear exactly what she wants, but I understand the reality that a lot of women still feel uncomfortable and conspicuous in trendier items, so my best advice is to look at what stores that cater to women over 40 are doing. They might not be showing crazy slouchy high rise straight legs, or super crop tops, but believe it or not, there are trends for every age group. What I like to do is compare the new arrivals sections on websites of stores that I feel are appropriate for my stage of life, my lifestyle, whatever.. and then I look for common threads. Are they all showing the same color, or pattern, or same silhouette? Those are mature lady trends–that’s what keeps you looking current, and not like you’re trying to reclaim your youth.
The second bit of advice is that it’s time to invest in your wardrobe. Yes, I have some fast-fashion pieces, but they get paired with quality items, good shoes, a grown-up handbag. That girl in her early 20’s again, looks appropriate in an outfit that cost under $40 total, but as we age, it doesn’t work quite as well. If you haven’t heard my formula on where you should spend your wardrobe budget dollars, here it is– splurge on underwear and outerwear, spend on the bottom, save on the top.
Let me break it down a little more. You should splurge on underwear because those foundational garments will make everything you own look better. You should splurge on outerwear because we tend not to replace our coats and jackets that often and it’s worth investing in at least one high-quality outerwear piece. You should spend on the bottom–meaning shoes and pants. Shoes define your style, if you have a fabulous outfit, and frumpy shoes, you have a frumpy outfit. You owe it to your style efforts to make sure your shoes are comfortable, and stylish–and often that doesn’t come cheaply. You should spend on the bottom because pants show quality more than tops do, and again, we tend to buy fewer and keep them longer, so invest a little more in them. Finally, you should save on your tops. If there’s one area where it’s ok to go a little cheaper, it’s on the top. Tops wear out faster, and we want to update them more often, so unless it’s a really special piece, don’t let your tops break the bank. Spend your dollars elsewhere.
This is also the time to invest in the great basics you never seem to have to make the fun pieces you buy work. Whether it’s the perfect pair of black pants or great layering tops, you’ll find you can have more fun with style if you’ve got the right pieces to make great outfits. Also in the show notes today, I’ll put a link to download my checklist of 100 Wardrobe Essentials.
Third, incorporate more color, pattern, and texture into your wardrobe. One of the things I hear most often about women and aging is that we become invisible. That we start to face away. You don’t have to, and adding these things to your wardrobe will help make sure you don’t! First, color. As we age, we lose color–from our hair, our skin, our eyes, our lips–we just kind of fade. Adding colors into your wardrobe besides black and gray can give you back vibrancy, and help create a signature style. Especially when those colors are best for you. If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode with the Color Guru, you don’t want to miss it. And if you’re ready to work with a professional to find your best colors once and for all, I’ve got a link to her packages, along with the discount code in today’s show notes. I’m telling you, that is a great investment to make in your style.
Pattern makes your outfits interesting, especially pattern mixing. I want to offer a caveat on florals–they can be a little aging. Not all, but tread lightly. Instead, try dots, stripes, plaids, leopards, or geometric prints. In general, they’re a little safer! If you want to mix your patterns, but you don’t know where to start, remember to treat stripes as neutral, and pick another pattern that has the same color as the stripe. It’s that easy!
Texture adds tons of style to your wardrobe and makes things look expensive. Whether it’s velvet jeans, leather leggings, or a boucle jacket, adding textures gives your outfits dimension and depth. If you’re not ready to go all out, try subtle things, like suede shoes, a woven straw bag, or a quilted vest. There are lots of ways to incorporate this style hack into your wardrobe.
There are 3 easy ways to stay stylish as you move through the decades.
The last thing I want to leave you with today is the idea that style–at any age–isn’t about trying to recreate the person you were 20 years ago, or copy what women 30 years younger are doing. It’s about being the best version of yourself now–at your age, in your body, with your lifestyle, and creating a personal style that reflects that. If you’ve felt like you’re getting too old for style, you might need to change your mindset and realize personal style is for everyone, at every age.
That’s all I’ve got today. Your homework is to consider your beliefs on style and aging. Have you bought into the idea that style is just for young women? Do you think there are things you have to (not want to, but have to) put away when you get older? And finally, ask yourself how your style has improved over the years!
We’ll be back next week. Until then, head to the website to see my outerwear picks, and all the other fun stuff we’ve got for you!