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8 Secrets for Updating Your Style After 40

What worked for you in your 20s and 30s may not work now

Illustration of three women wearing different types of fashion

Jan Buchczik

We spend decades figuring out our personal style: what to wear to work, how we dress on weekends, which colors and accessories look best on us, which style of jeans is most flattering.

Then our 40s and 50s hit, and suddenly those choices don't seem quite right anymore. We look in our closets and have nothing to wear. What does this mean?

That your personal style needs an update.

"Women over 40 are often going through transitions,” says Tracy Gold, a personal stylist based in New York. Their bodies may have changed after childbirth or menopause, or they may be going through a life transition: a divorce, a new relationship or a new phase of their career.


"They think, Whose clothing is this anyway?” she says. “They're starting to feel lost at a time when they want to be current."

Tania Sterl, founder and CEO of Sterl on Style, sees a similar pattern among her clients. “There's a change in their lives, and women are thinking, I have a new sense of self, and the outer look is not matching the inner perspective.”

If this sounds like you, Gold and Sterl offer this advice for reinventing your personal style.

Create a style vision board.

"Before you can look at your closet or go shopping, Sterl says you need to ask yourself, ‘What's my role and what's my goal? How do I want to look and feel?’ “

Include images of TV and movie characters or real-life women you look up to. “Use Pinterest,” she adds. “Devote an hour, make yourself a latte or pour a glass of wine, and look for the colors, shapes, prints and accessories you love.” Then ask yourself what is it about that style that is so appealing? Is it clean and classic, or is it fashion-forward? That's your baseline.

Take a ruthless look at your closet.

Gold advises going through your closet and pinpointing what you feel good in — what you're loving and what's feeling right for you at this moment. That's your personal style right now and what you should keep and build on.

Then identify the things you're not wearing — things that don't fit or don't make you feel good. “Let go of the stuff that doesn't work for you,” Gold says. “This helps you get dressed in five minutes because you're only keeping the stuff you love."

Make money from letting go.

If you have clothing in good condition that you know you'll never wear again, take it to a consignment shop in your town or sell it through an online shop like ThredUpThe RealReal, or Poshmark. Same with jewelry: Sell it through a brick-and-mortar auction house or an online service such as Worthy. “The money you get for the things you're not wearing can help you buy something you really do want,” Gold says.

Identify your signature piece.

Going through your closet will help you pinpoint the statement pieces that are really “you.” Maybe it's a jacket in red or another bold color. Or a beautiful printed dress you can dress down with flats or dress up with heels. Or jeans that fit your body and you can wear with lots of different tops. “You can create several outfits around that one piece,” Gold says. “If it's your personal style, it doesn't matter if people see you in it often.”

Break out of a color rut.

Many women rely on black, navy and gray because those colors are safe. “They keep wearing black, from head to toe, and there's nothing wrong with that,” Sterl says. “But there's a whole world of color out there.” Start by identifying one color that makes you happy. Incorporate that into your wardrobe in a scarf, blouse or handbag. Build on that until you've created a palette of your five best power colors. “If you stay within that range, then everything in your wardrobe mixes and matches."

Know your silhouette.

"Pants are one of the most difficult things to find,” Sterl says. “Every brand has its own fit, and a bad fit kills your mood and your day.” She advises going to a personal shopper or stylist at a store you like, whether Ann Taylor or Anthropologie. “They're trained to know how every pant fits.” Once you find the right style for you, invest in a great-fitting pair of pants, dark denim blue jeans and black jeans. Add colors and fabrics over time.

Same with finding the perfect dress. “If you figure out the shape of dress that's right for your body, whether sheath or fit and flare, you put it on and add shoes, earrings and a handbag, and you're done,” she says.

Look for tops under $100.

"When worn over a solid pant, a blouse in a fun color or pattern is an instant feel-good update,” Sterl says. Instead of a corporate-looking jacket, try a bomber jacket or “jardigan” [a collarless blazer that's a cross between a jacket and a cardigan]. “One or two fun, updated jackets will make your look instantly modern.”

Don't forget what goes underneath.

"Clothes can only look good on top if you have the right foundation underneath,” says Sterl, who recommends getting a professional bra fitting every year. “And not at Victoria's Secret,” she says — but at a local boutique or high-end department store such as Bloomingdale's or Saks Fifth Avenue, where the salespeople are trained to help a broader range of ages. “If you feel comfortable, your clothes will fit better and look better.”


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