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The United States of … Pantsuits?

This fashionista swore she'd never wear one — but then came The Election That Changed Fashion

Lois Joy Johnson: The United States of Pantsuits

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No longer frumpy, the modern pantsuit can be at once sleek, sexy, and serious.

Except for one brief fling in the 1960s — a navy velvet Biba tuxedo was involved, replete with tails and flared pants — I have never wanted, or worn, a pantsuit in my life.

But Hillary Clinton has changed all that, flipping my POV on pantsuits from frumpy to fabulous. By favoring classy, conservative ones (notably Ralph Lauren numbers, which would bust most voters' budgets), the potential first female president has sparked an unexpected fashion frenzy: Could a pantsuit be about to power its way in among the dresses in your closet?

Here are five reasons why — and how — to suit yourself.

1. If not now, when? Dresses: We love their ease, flattery and fun, right? No one is debating (ha ha!) that, but why not add a little diversity to your closet? At a time when gender inequities are in the news yet women are brimming with newfound confidence, the pantsuit is reemerging as a fashionable symbol of strength, authority and energy. (And how ironic is it that as late as the early 1990s, women could not wear pants on the floor of the U.S. Senate?)

But forget politics for a moment — you'll be happier — and let's talk practicalities: Not only does a pantsuit solve the bare-legs-in-winter issue, but its crisp, tailored profile makes shapewear unneeded.

2. Browse consignment e-tailers. Yes, our bodies have changed along with our styles, but hear me out. Classier sites such as TheRealReal.com and SnobSwap.com sell designer pantsuits — Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander — for $150 to $200. Talk about cheap chic! And high-end vintage labels offer luxurious fabrics (and quality construction) at a fraction of what a new designer pantsuit would cost at retail. (Just make sure to have a good tailor in the wings.)

3. Nip and tuck. An experienced seamstress can rejuvenate a vintage pantsuit, contemporizing and custom-fitting it to your 50+ shape. Make sure you:

  • Minimize shoulder pads to line up with your own shoulders
  • Slim the sleeves
  • Take up the shoulder seam (the neck-to-shoulder topline of the jacket) for a smooth fit across the bust
  • Nip the jacket waist to give your upper body a firm, sculpted look
  • Give the pants (whether slim, wide or in between) a quick update by cropping the legs at the ankle bone

4. Slow down around "fast-fashion" pantsuits. If your priorities are "new" and "affordable," sites such as Zara, Asos and H&M are pushing low-cost, trendy duos in stretch-fabric blends. Be aware, however, that the fit often doesn't sync with mature bodies. Womanly curves at 25 are not the same as those at 55 or 65. And then, of course, there's the waist issue. By the time you pass 50, it has "relocated," changing the spot on your body where jackets curve or end and where waistbands sit.

(FYI, your natural waist is not at your navel; it's at the slimmest part of your torso. And if you "lost" your waist at menopause, just bend from side to side in the mirror; the point where your skin creases and folds is your new natural waist.)

5. You're never too hip for a pantsuit! Subject yourself to Lois's Instant Updating Equation: 1 pantsuit + 1 slouchy T-shirt + 1 pair of sneakers = Ms. Hipster. Just be certain you also follow Lois's Three Secret Corollaries:

  • Stick to ankle pants — slim, kick-flare or wide-leg versions (no long, floppy, pleated styles, please)
  • Wear flats, booties, loafers, lace-ups or sneakers — anything but pumps
  • Keep jewelry small and personal: a long, delicate chain with a charm or two, a watch, unmatched studs (no brooches, big bracelets or dangly earrings)

Now look what you've done: You've made me all nostalgic for that Biba tux!

For more beauty and fashion tips, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 (full disclosure: I wrote it!) as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine (available on iPad).

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