Just as it’s never okay for a gal in her fifties to wear pigtails and a baby-doll dress, women in their twenties shouldn’t dress like card-carrying members of AARP.
Effortless style evolves with the changes in your body and your lifestyle, says June Ambrose, celebrity stylist and the author of Effortless Style. To look your (appropriate) best at every age, follow these tips.
Okay, since I’ve already told you that your style can and should evolve as you grow older, here’s a general age-related guide. Hardly all-encompassing to cover every taste and body type, but enough to illustrate the direction that should be taken as you roll through the years. If you’re…
IN YOUR LATE TEENS
You probably prefer simple things like tank tops and T-shirts. They’re easy. And when you want to be more fashionable and flirty but still classic, you can go for shorter items such as tennis skirts with polo shirts. In the winter, get creative by throwing your faux-fur bomber jacket on top of a suit or something dressier to achieve a kind of Royal Tenenbaums look: sporty mixed with luxury. That’s sure to get you noticed.
IN YOUR TWENTIES
You still have your classic polo shirt, but your skirts are now a little bit longer. Mix that polo shirt with a pencil skirt or something fuller. In your teens you desired to make really bold statements and to separate yourself from the masses. Individuality was the objective, and you weren’t afraid to take risks. People expected you to do crazy things. Many of those risks might still be on your agenda in your twenties, but you need to become a little more modest, especially if you have to consider the workplace.
This is the time to try a tight pair of jeans with a crisp, white button-down shirt, a bold and funky belt, and either a pair of boots or heels. If you don’t feel so sure about your figure, go for solid colors and a very classic silhouette — not necessarily the tight jeans, but maybe a pair of black stretch pants or younger fitted trousers; not too tight, not too baggy.
One thing designers have come to recognize is that a garment doesn’t have to be long in order for it to be evening wear, and it really doesn’t have to feel as debutante as it did before. You can add chunky jewelry to a very flirty young dress, whether it’s floral print or a tube, or you can contrast an adult, sophisticated fabric like lace or heavy brocade with a silhouette that is really, really young, such as evening baby-doll dresses (if you’re tall). This is a great way of mixing the two elements. At the same time, gloves are too costumey on a young girl, so stay away from them unless they are an intrinsic part of the look that you’re trying to create.
EVENING WEAR FOR THE YOUNGER WOMAN
It’s one thing trading on your youthful looks and vitality, but it’s quite another being able to look both fresh and sophisticated when you slip into something special for an exclusive nighttime event. I live for a strapless dress on a young woman, as well as spaghetti straps and off-the-shoulder. Those simple lines always enable you to add cute little accessories. Even if you’re top-heavy, they will minimize enough for you to throw a little sweater shrug on top — that way, you’ll still see neckline without seeing cleavage. (Just stay away from the pashmina wraps and beaded brocade throws that are both aging and unnecessary.)
IN YOUR THIRTIES
The twenty-something rules still apply. If your figure starts to head south, maybe after you’ve had a couple of kids, wear blousier but not baggy silhouettes. With extra curves you don’t want to wear anything that is too tight or fabrics that are too thin. Go for monochromatic separates that will give you clean and classic lines that can never be ruined. You can even wear these underneath flattering pieces that have vertical detailing in terms of color, texture, and patterns.
IN YOUR FORTIES
There’s a fair chance you now have that area of the tummy that you’re very conscious of — the kangaroo pouch that just won’t disappear. However, this can be redeemed by finding a great sports jacket. And, because you’re in your forties, you’ll match that single-breasted, one- to three-button jacket with either a pair of jeans or a pair of chinos and wear a crewneck top underneath. By now you should also be experimenting with hats and introducing more bold accessories into your life.
For those of you who feel like you’re stylistically out of touch — perhaps you’ve been busy raising your family — just remember that you now have more time (and money) to shop and catch up. Buy great things that appeal to you, and stock up on versatile jackets, cardigans, and shirts. And forget “middle age” beginning at forty. These days, that takes place when you let it. Beforehand, don’t shy away from dressing youngish. You may prefer a kitten heel to that four-inch stiletto, but it all depends on who you are.
IN YOUR FIFTIES
By now you know your body and should have settled into it. Still, you want to add a little drama to your life, so even though your bold pieces should still be very classic, your trench coat, for instance, might have a broader lapel or even an animal print if you’re on the frisky, flamboyant side.
Quite rightly, most women of your age are not buying skins — they’re not buying leather catsuits, they’re not buying suede, because they either already own them or they simply think they’re out of their lane. And they’re not buying silk dresses that cling to their body. Instead, as the emphasis switches from sexy to sophisticated, they are much more into cotton and cashmere, as well as dresses that have beautiful lace embroidery and subtle beaded embellishments. Also, plain, satiny silk tops with a more casual trouser can still be very acceptable, giving you a hint of imagination. Mix sporty with dressy. Remember, fit and attitude play a big part. However, steer well clear of baggy pants up to the belly button. They are just wrong in so many ways.
Even if you still have the shape to go form-fitting, the textures of the pieces that you buy should be different — I don’t want to see you in fitted, shiny, spandex leggings. Like a fine wine, your taste should age well, where your well-kept body is draped only in finer silks and durable fabrics with cleaner finishes, and you don’t care for clothes that shift too much on the body, but prefer those that are naturally clingy where they need to be held.
Instead of showing cleavage, wear great body forms under boatneck tops, button-down shirts with the second button undone instead of the third, or lower scoop necks to expose collarbone and look more sexy. I love seeing an open neckline on a woman who is a little bit older. The result is more of a silhouetted body. Even at this age, you want to be noticed and complimented without being compromised, and things that give the illusion of a sixteen-year-old body under a well-draped garment will keep the male admirers wondering and wanting.
IN YOUR SIXTIES…AND BEYOND
Beforehand, this whole process was about evolving, but now you’re done. This is your look. Yes, you might lose some weight and your body can still change, but even if you’re Cher, there’s only so much you can do. Accordingly, you’ll often just build around the clothes that you already have. You won’t need to do as much shopping — unless you have a healthy disposable income — and that’s why the pieces that you acquired in your forties and fifties are so important. They are the things that you fell in love with, so now try tying them back into your current wardrobe.
Some women pull out brooches that they had in their teens, along with vintage glasses and numerous other things that they’ve held on to. Well, it’s okay to have separation anxiety. Just like some people don’t want to leave the house they grew up in, some women feel the same way about clothing. You know, the “I’ve had this dress since I was in my thirties, and it still looks beautiful.” That may well be true.
The practical woman who ages gracefully is usually a smarter shopper. She buys only what she really needs, as opposed to the young college girl who’s burning up her new credit card. The older woman has her five classic belts, her silk scarves, and all of the other things that cost her a whole lot of money but are timeless. Even if she is going out to a black-tie event, she already has that dress.
With this in mind, go for silhouettes that are a little bit longer. They should be monochromatic or not too bright. Dual tones and very dark tones work much better. And they should also have great textures, like satin and silk, cashmere and wool, and the infamous knit jersey. At the same time, welcome more layers, but they should be thin layers — picture a car coat with loose-fitting trousers. You are working your way back toward easy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
June Ambrose, author of Effortless Style (Text copyright © 2006 by June Ambrose), is a celebrity fashion stylist/designer who has appeared on national shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Extreme Makeover, and on VH1 and MTV. She owns the full-service styling firm The Modé Squad, Inc., in New York City.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- Do Your Clothes Fit Correctly? 9 Fashion Do’s and Don’ts
- How to Find the Best Swimsuit for Your Body