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5 Small Style Tips That Pay Off Big

Our expert answers fashion and beauty FAQs from her Life List

Tiny Beauty and Style Tips That Payoff Big

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Styling with a long scarf can pay off big!

En español |  I keep a running list in my head called "100 Things Every Stylish Woman Should Know by 50."

And as our looks and lives evolve, so does my Life List.

Most of the items on it are solutions to the sort of random questions that pop up every day as we try to sleep, watch TV, get dressed, commute to work, grab a coffee or walk the dog. Weighty Matters aside — because that's a completely different list, as well as the subject of a later column — we wonder: "Would I look fab or frumpy with short hair?" or "Can I still wear leggings as pants?" or "Are French manicures still cool?"

So let's get started and knock five entries off my list. My goal is to make you a know-it-all in no time:

1. Should I cut my hair?

A tousled pixie, a curly crop or a chin-length bob is sexy and chic on some mature women — but totally wrong on others. To tell which camp you might fall into, perform a mirror test: Face front and hold a pencil horizontal at chin level. Now "hang" a ruler vertically from the bottom of your earlobe so that it forms a right angle where it meets the pencil. If distance from lobe tip to pencil is 21/2 inches or less, a short cut might work for you.

Now check your profile. If your jaw line is firm, or at least crisp at the sides (you can ignore any loose skin, or that pad of fat under the chin), then I say go for it. But if you honestly lack a defined jaw, or your measurement above exceeds 21/2 inches, your best short-hair look will probably fall 1 inch below the chin, whether layered or blunt, textured or sleek.

2. Can I still wear leggings as pants?

Unless you are exercising in a gym or standing in your kitchen, it's time for an upgrade.

Washable faux suede or leather leggings provide all the substance and style you need to look "dressed." Consider a rich, dark neutral — such as olive, brown or charcoal — to make the distinction and texture clear. For flattery (to say nothing of basic social etiquette), add a long, tunic-length sweater that covers your rear. Then layer on a blazer, a biker jacket or a quilted vest. Finally, a pair of tall boots will provide a polished, pulled-together effect.

3. How do I style a long scarf indoors?

Start with a soft, lightweight fabric — not a bulky, ribbed, outdoor scarf. Holding the scarf horizontal, center it in front of your neck. Now loosely crisscross the ends behind your neck, then pull them forward to dangle in front (extra style points if one end is slightly longer than the other). Alternatively, wrap as above, then softly knot the two ends at one side of your neck; as a final fillip, flip one end over your shoulder.

4. How can I look 5 pounds slimmer overnight?

Let your togs do the tightening:

Open your neckline; this instantly elongates your upper body. (The move is especially effective when you're seated at a table, where you're most visible from the waist up.)

Try this time-honored trick used by photo stylists: If you're wearing a shirt, cardigan or blouse, undo one extra button, then gently pull the top open to create a V. The more neck and upper chest you expose — without baring any cleavage, of course — the taller and slimmer you will look.

If you're wearing a V-neck blazer or jacket, you may be able to remove your high-neck top and then position the resulting V above bra-reveal level. If not, keep a scoopy tank in your desk, car or closet for exactly this kind of fashion emergency.

When all else fails, bend at the waist and run your hands through your hair for separation; the resulting tousled look will keep the viewer's focus up top.

5. Should I do a French manicure?

Mais non! Now and for the rest of time, resist the urge to get a so-called French manicure: A true Parisienne would never be caught rocking pale pink fingernails with white tips!

French women occasionally opt for outright red, but most simply buff their own nails to a fresh, rosy gleam. If you want to do the same, whiten your nails first with a mixture of 1 tablespoon peroxide and 2 tablespoons baking soda, applied as a 5-minute mask.

Or if you can't wait for Halloween to be wicked — in a good way, natch — opt for a dark, spicy red along the lines of Essie Fishnet Stockings or Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Rhapsody Red.

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).