Lawrence Laundry: How to dress when you’re 50 without looking like you’re 80


Submitted by Ali Edwards

Carolda Edwards, mother of Ali Edwards.

My mom, Carolda Edwards, is a beautiful woman. She’s in her late 50s, and her simple, practical style and the way she wears her clothes with such ease leaves people regularly saying in bewilderment, “You’re how old?”

She and my dad have been married for 37 years and still live 10 miles from the small town they both grew up in. He takes care of the farm. As a nurse, she delivers babies at the local hospital.

He has grease stains on all his clothes; she wears designer jeans she gets on sale at Dillard’s. Despite not living in a city with plenty of trendy items for sale and eclectic street style to mimic, my mom is the one I think of when it comes to true Midwest style.

Naturally, when I decided to write about style for 50-something women, she was the first person I called.

Classic styles, clean lines

Style for women over 50, according my mom, should start and end with comfort. If you’re walking out of the house and already tugging on your blouse or readjusting your belt, you probably shouldn’t have put it on in the first place.

Go for classic styles and choose clothes that create clean lines like A-line dresses, a trouser and button-up shirt combination, or skirts that hit just below the knees. Tailoring becomes increasingly important with age — the older you get, the more essential it is that clothes fit well.

Have a closet full of staple pieces, and adapt accessories to trends instead of buying an entire new wardrobe each season.

Wear rich colors

Usually, if the color can be described as a food, mature women will look good in it (plum, wine, chocolate, champagne).

Don’t hide the bad; accentuate the good

One of the biggest wardrobe mistakes mature women make is wearing big and loose clothing because they believe it makes them look slimmer and hides figure faults. Wrong! Despite not having the body you once did, draping yourself in tons of baggy clothing actually makes you look less fit. Instead, emphasize your favorite features. Accentuate toned legs with skirts that end just below the knee, a slender waist with a skinny belt or a slim neckline with a scoopneck shirt.

Don’t overdo the makeup. Lots of color on a mature woman’s face actually makes her look older. As you age, putting on makeup should take about twice as long but should look like you’re wearing half as much.

Never forget about the waist

Of all the advice you can hear, this is one of the most important points: Never forget about the waist. It’s the smallest and one of the most feminine features of a woman’s body and should always be highlighted.

Dressing younger does not make you look younger

In our 50s, we can no longer get away with wearing jeans with holes in them, short shorts, college t-shirts (unless it’s game day!) or really light denim.

When you wear jeans, make sure to wear dark denim. If you want to add a little pizzazz to your jeans, a couple rhinestones are okay, but don’t overdo the flashiness. Maximalism is in right now (big chunky jewelry, layering clothing, etc.), but it’s important to keep the glitz in check.


verity 11 years ago

Thanks for addressing this issue. I'm over sixty and don't want to wear "old lady" clothes, but find it hard to find suitable clothes.

"One of the biggest wardrobe mistakes mature women make is wearing big and loose clothing because they believe it makes them look slimmer and hides figure faults." Yes, yes and not just older women---that goes for all ages. What you say about make-up is also very true. I didn't believe it when I read that older women should wear pink lipstick because pink is not on my color chart (spring), but I found it is true.

Another thing that seems counter-intuitive is that older women should wear V-necks and not turtlenecks. If your skin is sagging and wrinkled (and the neck, of course, is the first to go) or you have more than one chin, turtlenecks make you look like a turtle while V-necks draw attention away from the neck.

I will disagree with you on one point---colors to wear. While one's coloring changes as you age, the colors you mentioned are not necessarily flattering to everyone. Unfortunately, the terrible lighting in most stores makes anything look bad, so you need to try colors out in daylight or under normal lighting conditions.

The biggest problem I have is finding jeans to fit. Contrary to "common knowledge" about aging, my figure has not changed all that much, but the fit of jeans has. Lands' End used to have jeans that always fit, now they have a much larger choice, but most have waistlines that are inches too big for me (same size I've worn for decades). With the low waistlines, the result is disastrous and uncomfortable. (Nobody wants to see the---well, you know what---of a 60+.) I've also noticed that now so many young women carry large stomachs---looks like they're pregnant, but months later they still look the same, so I assume they're not. What's with that? I guess the jeans are made to fit them. Does somebody know a brand where the waist is not as big as the hips?

TheEleventhStephanie 11 years ago

What a well-dressed lovely woman. Good advice, too.

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