"No, no, no, YES, no, no, no, no, no, maybe.”
En español | That's how fashion editors (like me), stylists and department store personal shoppers go through racks of dresses for photo shoots and clients. There's good reason to be picky. While thousands of women age 50-plus share the same dress size, we differ a lot in body proportions, weight distribution and height. Size 16 to 18+ is the new normal (with some brands expanding up to size 30!), but as an insider I know even full-figured women size 8, 10 or 12 wrestle with curves at bust, belly, hips, booty and/or thighs ... so c'mon, let's be inclusive here! We can all dress up with a body-positive attitude if you follow my 10 tips. Get inspired by these photos and dresses.
1. Fit on top, flow below — opposites attract the right attention
If you have a soft middle or nonexistent waist and a voluptuous lower body, it doesn't get better than a fit-and-flare dress. The trick is choosing a beltless style that suggests a waist by hugging the torso before expanding into the A-line skirt. A wide neckline like a boat, broad V or scoop with wide-set straps also is a good idea to help balance fullness at the bust and hem. Go longer to give the bottom of the dress room to sway — just below the knees for shorter women; a midi for taller ones.
2. Show your shoulders for body-balancing confidence
Remember how we loved shoulder pads? Off-shoulder, nearly off-shoulder or cold shoulder with sleeves and cut-out scoops give similar results by creating a strong horizontal shoulder to balance curves at the bust, hips or thighs. Keep attention on the neckline drama by choosing a solid color dress. Whether you're a statuesque 12, 18 or 22, these dresses are PC in their more modest modified versions. Save the full-tilt off-shoulder looks for weekends and evenings.
3. Wrap your curves to mold, hold and display contours
The wrap is the Houdini of dresses. Its list of illusions includes a crossover design that creates a bust-flattering V-neckline and defines your middle; an adjustable waist tie to fake a waist or amplify an existing one; a wrap flap of double fabric below that blurs tummy bulges and flashes a little leg for a body-elongating bonus when you walk and sit. Look for supple fabrics like viscose, polyester, or blends of cotton/silk, modal/ polyester or polyester/spandex that cling to curves but have some substance. If you have big breasts and a small rib cage or have lost body definition and tone — this is your shape-shifter.
4. Use color to deliberately play curvy spots up or down
The gist of a color-block dress is simple: light, bright colors attract and emphasize, dark hues de-emphasize. Look for a dress with black bands at the sides, midriff or waist, with white everywhere else for a simple neutral solution. If you love sheath dresses but want to minimize hills and valleys of your silhouette from the front or rear view, or just minimize your midriff bulge, a well-placed black stripe is all it takes.
5. Use crisp fabrics and straight lines to tone up your silhouette
A shirtdress is like a personal trainer. It whips curves into a firmer line fast, thanks to the sharp structure, button-down vertical front detail and fresh woven fabrics like cotton, chambray, linen, denim or poplin that hold their shape. Look for updated classics like full-skirted midis with a belt to nip the waist, and ruffled or dolman sleeves.
6. Let your dress stand away from the body
Not too loose, not too tight — the knee-length shift dress that swings out in a trapeze A-line shape is a perfect choice if your weight fluctuates up and down or you're going through a bloated phase. For women who find extra pounds settle below the waist, the clean minimalist flared silhouette liberates them from shapewear. The focus here is all on your face and legs, so makeup and fabulous shoes are all you need. Keep shifts fashionable by choosing dresses with subtle draping or statement sleeves.
7. Try a long feminine loose dress for a body-empowering change
Who knew ankle-length dresses would be a hit with well-rounded women everywhere? Maybe it's timing ... coming on the heels of the #MeToo and body-empowerment movements and the trend toward more conservative, covered-up dressing. Maybe we just want to wear a bralette and skip the Spanx 24/7? Or maybe we want to have our cake and eat it, too ... in peace. The key is to show some body definition so our curves are not altogether lost in fabric. You might go sleeveless (bare arms make up for lack of leg visibility) or sling on a belt, or opt for a gently elasticized or drawstring waist for a blouson.
8. Use statement dress sleeves as a diversion and style tactic
For years we've loved 3/4 sleeves for their flattery (every woman has relatively slim forearms and wrists!) and bracelet-stacking space. Time to upgrade with more special optical effects. For example: elbow-length sleeves make your waist appear narrower (try it!); tiered, ruffled and bell sleeves are volumizers that disguise full upper arms and frame the body for an illusion of slimness — so no jackets or cardigans for us.
9. Let a busy bold print do camouflage work
Know how a print sofa hides stains, dog hair and droopy cushions better than a solid color? An allover swirly, artsy, graphic, leafy, floral, dotted or leopard print works the same way in dresses. It camouflages anything that annoys you (and you can be body positive and still have issues; we all do) — bulges, jiggles or extra pounds — by keeping the eye moving. Small-scale print works better on fitted dresses and simple styles, while larger, lavish or louder prints work better on dresses with more volume and design details. Besides, prints are simply fun — and if we spill our tea, coffee or wine, no one will notice!
10. A V-neck is a power point that never fails to flatter
A pretty dress with the wrong neckline for your ample curves will never feel or look right. A V-neck increases the amount of exposed skin — so a narrow, long V-neck makes a short, wide neck and torso appear longer, while a wide V-neck helps a full bosom and hips look more balanced. If your dress has one, consider it a curve-curating home run.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.