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Style after 40: dos and don’ts

Categories: basics


Show of hands: How many of you are 40? 40-ish? 40-something? 39 and holding? I thought so.

I’m turning 45 in a few weeks (cupcakes for all!) and I’ve been thinking a lot about what the rules are for style after 40. Should I still be wearing shorts? A bikini? Hot pink?

Julia RobertsJulia Roberts says, “What UP, 46?”

Fashion is so confusing. Especially when you’re not the target demographic for most fashion editorials but still want to look fabulous. Because who doesn’t want to look fabulous?

I do. And I assume you do, too. Right?

So what are the rules for women over 40?

DO: Wear what you love.
Are you a fan of the bikini? Shorts? Maxi skirts? Then make those pieces a part of your wardrobe. There’s no rule that says specific things are off limits after a certain age — or that other pieces are a requirement of your 40s. Wear the things that make you happy.

DON’T: Limit yourself.
Don’t assume that certain things won’t work for you because of your age. This is not to say that you can wear anything, but don’t base your choices on the year in which you were born. Instead, opt for a wardrobe that fits your body and your lifestyle. Find a swimsuit that fits, in a style that you love, and then wear the hell out of it.

DO: Dress like a grown up.
Borrowing clothes from your tween? Well, stop. Your 40s are a time to cultivate your own style, one that reflects who you are right now. Not who your middle schooler is.

DON’T: Sell yourself short.
Love the floral dress trend? Try it on! Fun patterns and bright colors aren’t just for the under-30 set. In the right cut and size, you can wear any trend — just make sure you’re not trying to look like a kid.

DO: Own your age.
Repeat after me: 40 is not dead. 40 is also not old, so stop dressing like you’re on your way to the retirement center. If anything, you’re finally old enough to wear all the things your mother said were off limits in high school. So act — and dress — your age.

DON’T: Dress like your 20-year-old self.
Neon is back, which is fun for those of us who were in junior high and high school in the 80s. But it also means that we need to really think about how we approach this trend. Don’t try to relive your glory days by recreating your younger look. There are grown up, sophisticated ways to wear neon, but they’re not the ways you wore it 20 years ago. Branch out!

DO: Wear what fits.
Your body at 40 is not the body you had at 20. This is just a fact. You may have a better body now, but it’s different, and you need to dress this body, not the one you’re nostalgic for. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid certain pieces, but it means they need to fit. And that might mean rethinking the sizes and styles you’re wearing.

DON’T: Assume that if you can zip it up, it’s ok to wear.

Look at all the cute things in the juniors department! And look at you fitting into them! Yeah, put it back: Just because you can get your body inside it, that doesn’t make it ok to wear. Junior sizes are not imagined for women’s bodies. Think about what you’re liking in the juniors section — the colors, the prints, the attitude — and then look for clothes that do all those things and are cut for your body.

DO: Have fun.
At 40, you’re the boss of you. Getting dressed should be fun — and knowing you look good is always fun. Always.

DON’T: Give up.
Yoga pants are truly awesome — unless that’s all you’re wearing. Up your game! Be daring! Push your comfort zone! And then at the end of the day, snuggle up on the sofa in those yoga pants. Nothing wrong with that.

What’s your style-after-40 secret?

Photo via Zimbio

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8 comments so far...

  • Excellent! Printing this out as we speak. Great tips.

    Jeannine  |  April 8th, 2013 at 11:55 am

  • I have trouble finding stores that cater to the easy-going clothes I need as a stay-at-home mom. I feel like there have to be other options than my go-to of Gap and J.Crew….

    Nicole  |  April 9th, 2013 at 5:52 am

  • 41 year old here and I love these tips. I feel like I’ve finally found a fashion groove - I call it quirky edgy. I am pretty sure that I am much braver than when I was younger and would have worried what people thought of my outfits. Now I’m all “this is me, take it our leave it.”

    Cass  |  April 9th, 2013 at 7:14 am

  • Yes yes yes!!

    Especially points #1 and #2.

    (I’ve been trying to take this advice myself. To wit:

    Heidi/Frantic But Fabulous  |  April 9th, 2013 at 12:12 pm

  • Great post - we need more age appropriate style resources like this! :) On FitandFabLiving, we just wrote a piece on age-appropriate spring dresses -

    Hillary  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 1:18 pm

  • “Just because you can get your body inside it, that doesn’t make it ok to wear.”

    That cracked me up.

    This post is awesome. Sharing it with my favorite over-40 friends. :-)

    Miss Britt  |  April 29th, 2013 at 6:10 am

  • I box tipped over in the basement recently (oh cats) and as I was picking stuff up I was pondering, will I ever really wear this again? And the answer is some yes, some no, so time to clear out the nos. Just because I loved that outfit 10 years ago doesn’t mean I’d love it if I put it on today (and probably why I haven’t put it on in 5 years).
    Shorts, absolutely. Above the knee skirts? Of course. But now I’m measuring up from the knee rather than down from the derriere to decide my comfort level ;-)

    Mich  |  April 29th, 2013 at 8:24 am

  • Nice post with great tips, I’m 51 and am comfortable in my sense of style but have seen others not so much. Happy Birthday! My blog is Fashion and Fun after Fifty, let me know what you think.

    Antionette Blake  |  April 29th, 2013 at 3:18 pm