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Fashion Over 40

With Style Expert Kim Johnson Gross


Lady browsing through a clothes rail of dresses
Paper Boat Creative/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Are your pleated pants giving away your true age? What about your "stuck in a beauty moment" makeup or hair that hasn't been updated in years?

If you are a woman over 40, you need to know that you can be just as sexy and vital looking as your younger counterparts, according to style expert Kim Johnson Gross, creator of the Chic Simple line of books.

It just takes looking at your wardrobe and beauty habits with a critical eye and finding what works for you.

Big Changes

One of the most challenging fashion aspects for women over 40 is how to dress for the changes that are occuring.

"Our bodies are in transition. Our lifestyles are changing. We may be becoming empty nesters, divorcing, starting new jobs," said Gross.

"As your body is changing, so must your clothes," she said. You have to learn how to flatter your body without doing a style overhaul.

And even if you are in the best shape of your life -- she gives 50-something Oprah as an example -- your body is physiologically changing, from thinning hair to ruddier, duller skin.

The key to dealing with the changes and being your best is to refresh your look, said Gross, who is currently working on a book about style over 40.

"Shoes and bags are the quickest way to update your look," said Gross. Women over 40 need to learn how to adapt trends that will work for them, she said.

Most of all you need learn to not hang onto what worked before; undergo what Gross calls a "style evolution" and learn to dress for your new assets.

Fashion Sins for Over 40

Gross said there are a few guidelines that will help you look your best:

  • Don't dress too young. "The worst thing you can do is to dress younger than you are," said Gross. "It makes you look older."
  • No miniskirts, regardless of how great your legs are, said this former model (who is thinking about making pillows out of her minis).
  • Skip baggy clothes and look for pieces that give you shape.
  • Don't think you can wear the same colors you did in your 20s (at least not against your face).
  • Don't pick colors from color charts; experiment by trying on different colors when you go shopping. "You'll know it when you see it instantly," she said.
  • "Trendy is no longer attractive," she said. "Don't worry about the trend of the moment." Instead, she suggested you find a print or a bold piece of jewelry and develop a signature look.

Fashion and Beauty Fixes

Gravity takes its toll on women of a certain age, but Gross said fashion tricks can camouflage most of these problems:

  • Wrinkled neck - Stand-up or turn-up collars, according to Gross, are a great way to cover that area and bring focus to the face. She mentioned Candace Bergen in "Boston Legal" as a good example of making that look work for her.
  • Thick in the middle - Add jackets and pieces that will give you shape, she said.
  • Thinner hair- "Your hair has to suit you. Get a fresh cut," she said. She also said shorter hair gives more of a lift and the variety of new products can improve your hairstyle.
  • Focus on shoulders and legs - They are the slowest to age, she said. That doesn't mean wearing miniskirts, she said, but you can bring attention to legs with a knee-length skirt and sexy shoes.
  • Change in coloring - Gross reminded women to lighten up. One tip she got from a chic former fashion director was to always wear a bit of white close to the face. Soft colors -- pale pink, white, beige, ice blue -- bring light to the face, she said.

Get Started Looking Your Best

  1. Look at mature television and movie actresses you admire and emulate their look, said Gross.
  2. Shop at stores that cater to stylish, mature women. Gross listed Chicos, Liz Claiborne, Giorgo Armani, St. John and Escada as a few of the manufacturers and designers who offer great selections for women over 40.
  3. Don't be afraid to experiment. By the time you are 50 you have some sense of what your style is, she said. You probably have the basics down and now it's time to add pizzazz like adding bold glasses or wearing a collar turned up.
  4. Recycle pieces from your closet (with caution). Gross said that some trends can come back and you can revisit them with a twist. She says chain belts are a good example. But she said the classics -- trench coats, Pucci prints, leopard prints -- are the best pieces to keep pulling out.
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