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Dress Your Age? No Way, Says Fashion Expert

This is the time to let your chic flag fly

Many years ago, somebody or other — some annoying self-appointed style guru — came up with the concept of age-appropriate dressing. The basic idea is as follows: The older you get, the more conservatively you should dress. Color and flamboyance are for young people. Restraint, propriety and formality are for elders. For some reason it was decided that once women hit 50, they should ditch that metallic snakeskin disco purse and start dressing like depressed librarians, circa 1940. Yawn!

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I've been in the fashion industry for decades, and this oppressive concept of age-appropriate dressing has never made any sense to me. In fact, I propose the exact opposite: I believe that the older you get, the more bold and playful you should become in your dress. Do not allow yourself to be inhibited by someone else's notions of good taste and bad taste. You have paid your dues. You have earned the right to sassy it up!

I am not suggesting that we all start dressing like circus performers, burlesque queens or pole-dancing hoochies. Au contraire! I am talking about injecting your style with fun and creativity, and — this is the really important part — I am talking about expressing yourself. We are living in a fashion-obsessed universe. Between H&M's trendy togs, Target's designer collaborations and those online flash sales, stylish clothing has never been more widely available, and it has never been cheaper. You can basically buy any item at any price, in any size, at any time of the day or night. (I just typed the words "leopard pants" into my search engine and got 29 million hits. The size ranges and price ranges will blow your gaskets!)

You may well find the array of options a little bewildering. Don't freak out. Reinvigorating your personal style is not as complicated as it may seem. There is an easy formula, whether you're a man or a woman.

how to dress your age getting older dressing better michelle obama

Michelle Obama stuns with sophisticated style for every glamorous occasion. Sophisticates bring to mind the polished outfits of Jackie Kennedy, Kate Middleton and Audrey Hepburn. — Getty Images

We'll start with the gals. Chances are that you, madam, fall into one of the following three categories: You are a Sophisticate, a Gypsy or an Eccentric.

Sophisticates first

Encompassing everyone from Katie Couric to Oprah, from Anne Hathaway to Carrie Underwood, this is by far the biggest category. Think Jackie Kennedy. Think Michelle Obama. Sophisticate style is about looking turned out and glamorous. It's feminine, it's appealing, and depending on the cut of your frock, it can be quite alluring. (I avoid the word "sexy." Call me prudish, but I think it reads "tacky" when it's set down in print.)

For the Sophisticate gal, fit and simplicity are the keys. Sophisticates love a tailored jacket over a well-cut shift. And then they accessorize. Big-time. Nobody loves a designer handbag more than a Sophisticate. She is unapologetically addicted to shoes. Sophisticates like to appear happy, prosperous and optimistic. Sophisticates get manicures. Sophisticates get their hair done. (Tip: This season every Sophisticate is going to be carrying a duffel-style purse. Whether it's Coach or YSL, the key thing is having that nifty duffel in the crook of your arm.)

But maybe this sounds like too much work. Maybe you would rather spend time making art or growing organic veggies instead of schlepping to makeup counters and nail salons. Maybe you are in the next category.

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