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Dressing for the Age You Are

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I became invisible on May 14, 2010.  It was a while before I realized that I had achieved transparency, but it became even more apparent to me as I read my monthly allotment of magazines:

People Magazine – Beauty by the Decades : the decades always ended at age 59, with either Meryl Streep or Sigourney Weaver interchangeably shown as the token “older woman.

More Magazine – Dressing for Your 50s and Beyond : ever see a model who was actually “beyond” fifty?  Also, would any sane woman beyond fifty wear the stiletto heels, mid-thigh pencil skirts, and spangled tops with high designer price tags that were displayed.

Prevention Magazine – A New Reason Menopause may Come Sooner Than You Think : menopause has come and gone, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  It came right on schedule, thank you very much.

Chicos  Catalog —  This one killed me more than any other.  After years of being a faithful shopper, I discovered that Chicos had started making their clothes and models more and more youthful.  Anyone who gets Chico’s catalogs knows that they have one token gray-haired model, a rail-thin and elegantly tall woman.  I never see women like me on their catalog pages, anymore.

People over 60 make up approximately 13% of the population and, as Baby Boomers surge past the mid-life point, more and more of us will achieve invisibility because the media cultivates the spending habits of our children and grandchildren.   It is as if our dollars and tastes count for nothing in the fashion market.

I used to be a black-belt shopping mall shopper, but years of discouragement (and decidedly less income) have forced me to reevaluate my dressing needs and my shopping habits.  Now instead of getting my exercise walking from the car to the mall, I focus on essential clothes and most of my shopping is done on-line.  However, even when I was still actively shopping in stores, I had adjusted my habits to better serve my needs.  I have no credentials as a fashionista other than people saying I dress well, but I want to share some tips with you and, perhaps, start a conversation about how older women can dress for visibility.

A few years ago, I looked into the fabulous walk-in closet that I used to have and discovered that there were very few articles of clothing in there that I wanted to wear.  When it comes to clothes, I am a hoarder.  It causes me serious pain to throw out anything that might come back into style or that I might lose enough weight to wear again.  But when we moved north from Florida ( wrong direction, I know, but that is a whole other story), I decided to restructure my wardrobe in a way that made more sense.  One of the first decisions I made was to weed out all the odd colors and patterned clothes I had accumulated and stick to primarily black pants and skirts, dark wash jeans, and button down blouses.  I did keep clothes in red which has always been my “go to” color for feeling better about how I look. In the past year, since I let my hair go gray, I have added lots of teal and turquoise because I get the most compliments when I am wearing those colors.  My theory is if others tell you that a color looks good on you, believe them.

I am still a working woman, so I have a “workday” wardrobe and a more casual wardrobe.  Gradually, the two have melded because, as a Children’s Librarian, I spend a lot of time on the floor and I hate to ruin good clothes while crawling around with kids.  I also find that I really no longer enjoy wearing skirts.  There are several reasons for that decision.  You need very specific types of shoes to wear with skirts, shoes that I can no longer wear.  Also, I have liberated myself from the world of pantyhose.  They were a pain to wear, before, and they are an unnecessary expense, now.  I have jackets that I can wear with pants to dress them up, if I have to, but even for a job interview (not that anyone interviews women in our age category), I prefer clothes that are more fluid.  Stiff fabrics emphasize flaws more than rayon acetates and knits.  Clothes that move with you rather than stand up straight are both comfortable and flattering.

A few years back, someone took a picture of me wearing a t-shirt tucked into a pair of khaki pants, and that was the last time I ever tucked in a shirt.  I don’t care what the “kids” are wearing (the new style of the partial tuck absolutely defies common sense, looking neither neat nor “pulled together&rdquoWink. Honestly, forget diamonds.  A tunic is a woman’s best friend.  You do need to be careful of proportion, and that is tricky.  On a nearly five footer like me, almost any shirt or top is tunic length unless it comes in petite.  That’s both a blessing and a curse since I occasionally look like I’m wearing a nightshirt instead of a blouse. Try to find finished bottoms on shirts or tops because they really look better and, if you miss a defined waist, you can create one with a belt over the shirt.  As a short woman, a belt closer to my hips gives the illusion of a longer torso.  Taller women can wear a more defined waist if it suits them.  Otherwise, skip the waist definition so long as your clothes are sized properly and you aren’t swamped by fabric. Scarves are back, as are chains.  Pulling attention up toward your face is a great way to emphasize your best features.

Many women embrace leggings as a wardrobe staple and with tunic  tops which is a great look.  However, do not leave the house in leggings until you have actually looked at yourself in the mirror.  Clingy leggings are for people with the hard-to-achieve thigh gap.  There are many legging-type pants that don’t cling and give you the straight line that you need for tunics and longer blouses.  Check out Coldwater Creek’s ponte leggings and Lands End, both ponte pants and their knit Starfish line.  I prefer the Coldwater Creek pant because they don’t develop the dreaded baggy knee, but this is a personal choice based on fit.  As with everything I buy, I wait for percentage off sales or use on-line shopping portals.  I’ll share my favorites, later.

One thing I do splurge on is shoes primarily because I have terrible feet.  One of my earliest memories is having a full-out temper tantrum in a family shoe store because my mother wanted me to wear “corrective” oxfords for my flat feet, and I wanted  Mary Janes.  I’m sure I won that battle because my mother never talked me into oxfords.  Now I wear nothing but euphemistically named “running shoes.”  My mother is no longer here to know that I finally lost the battle..  Giving up “cute” shoes is one of those life passages that most of us hate but eventually accept.  One of the penalties of growing older is that you lose fat on the pads of your feet instead of a place you would like to lose fat. This makes high heels  or any shoe that throws your weight forward particularly uncomfortable.  Thanks to websites like Zappos and Shoebuy, I have a greater choice of comfort shoes and these two sites have wonderful “pre-paid” return policies so you can send shoes back and forth until you find the perfect fit.  For me, the shoe of choice is ECCO Biomes which are very pricey, but give me the support and comfort I need.

If I splurge on shoes, I save on purses.  I’m not a huge fan of expensive designer purses.  I know that some people see the “statement” bag as the keystone of fashion dressing. However, someone once said to me that it was silly to carry a purse with no money in it, and that makes so much sense to me.  When I do buy a more expensive purse, I pick out the one I want and then go to E-Bay to find it for less in a “Shop now” price (i.e. I avoid auctions, if I can.  It’s too disappointing when you lose).  One thing that buying purses on-line enables you to do is to check dimensions and weight of the bag.  Designer bags, in particular, tend to be fairly heavy.  Add all the “equipment” women carry in their bags and you may be carrying as much as twenty pounds on your shoulder or arm.  Because I live in the New York City area, I don’t like carrying a backpack.  In addition to making me look like I spend my spare time hanging around bell towers, a bag that is not in your sight is an easy target for thieves on the subway.

Another higher priced item, for me, is a good hair cut every five weeks.  I have what has been called by one hairdresser, “horse’s hair.”  I may be the only woman in the world who has more hair, post-menopause, than before.  Having gone back to my natural gray has made my hair more coarse which I didn’t think was possible.  Without a really good haircut, every five weeks, I bear a striking resemblance to a Brillo pad.  You may have other priorities but this is mine.

If, like me, you’ve decided to let your hair go natural, do reevaluate your make-up.  To me, your face, lines and all, is the most interesting thing that an older woman shows the world.  Make sure that you are wearing the right make-up for your skin, hair and age.  This may mean a trip to a department store or Sephora for a “complimentary” makeover.  Some counters, like Clinique, now require you to buy at least three items for a makeover, but you will probably do that, anyway.  This is not a monthly expense, and once you have your colors, you can shop around for better prices.

Never shop on-line without a coupon or a shopping portal.  NEVER!  If you’ve never understood that little box at the bottom of an on-line site that says “coupon code,” you are wasting money.  Go to either Retailmenot.com or another similar coupon code site, and enter the name of the on-line store that you are visiting.  At the very least, find free shipping which will save you around $10 per order.  Even better, sign up for Mrrebates.com or Ebates.com.  these are portal sites that will give you cash back on every affiliated site and also alert you to coupon deals to save you more money.

Dressing your age can be a liberating experience.  I have actually found that the further I move away from fashion, the happier and more comfortable I am in my own skin and the clothes that cover it. 

After Fifty Living™ was founded by Jo-Anne Lema, a genuine Boomer and member of the 50+ generation. As she likes to say, “Our enormous generation is charting new territory – we’re healthier, better educated, and more financially fit than any other generation at this time. And, as we march through history, 110 million strong – unique, new issues are developing. It’s exciting to be a part of the development and growth of AfterFiftyLiving.com. This is a historic solution for a historic generation.”

Jo-Anne spent many years in the financial and operations side of higher education after having received a doctorate in education management and administration from Harvard, and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. Launching out on her own, though, has been the fulfillment of a life dream. Jo-Anne believes that “AfterFiftyLiving™ will delight its visitors, catalyze its partners, and will significantly benefit those who engage it.”

Residing in New England along with her husband of 35+ years, she never ceases to brag about her two children and 4 grandkids!

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