Forget daffodils. White jeans and pants are the real first sign of spring. They look cool with our black tops, add je ne sais quoi chic to striped boatnecks and turn any old blazer into a sophisticated duo worthy of a Ralph Lauren ad. But the joy is mixed with archaic jitters. Wearing white anything still puts us on high-stain alert (coffee dribbles! red wine! makeup smears!). And who doesn't secretly wonder if black pants or dark wash jeans wouldn't be a better dress-slim choice? Here's how to ditch the anxiety, amp up the benefits and let our empowered 50-something selves wear white with confidence head to toe.
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1. Straight leg high-rise ankle jeans give us all a great shape. Whether you're a size 12 or 28, skip the skinnies and opt for a pair of cigarette, relaxed or “slim boyfriend” jeans in white. You want a fit that's trim but not skin-tight or baggy, with a nine- or 10-inch rise that covers your belly and prevents muffin tops. Fabric content is key. A hefty dense denim with stretch won't ripple or look too rigid (so no 100 percent cotton jeans, either). The classic cotton/two percent spandex blend will move with you and hold its shape and yours. For extra stretch and comfort, ease up in a high-tech mix of cotton, lyocell, elastomultiester and elastane (often called four-way stretch or lift-and-tuck fabric). No thongs necessary either way. The thick fabric makes hipster, brief or girl short undies (even in black) undetectable.
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2. White pants should be ankle cropped and semitailored. Sorry, but let's agree on no drawstrings, elastic waistbands or long pants that drag on the ground. We're done with excess fabric at the belly and booty, as well as dirty hems. Keep the waist defined, the shape clean and sharp, and the length anywhere from above the ankle to at the ankle. Width is up to you — from A-line culottes to slouchy and gently pleated, with cotton, polyester or rayon that moves but has a crispy defined shape. Look for a real waistband (with fly and zipper) that sits at your natural waist. You can tuck in the top, do a half-tuck in front only (aka the “French tuck") or wear a toned-to-match white top or tee as an “outie."
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3. The best white dresses are those in your favorite tailored style. A simple sheath, coat dress, fit and flare or A-line shift that's above or at the knee looks classy and stylish. You want a substantial fabric with some weight and texture like a stretch lace, boucle or ponte knit, crepe or pique with a hint of spandex to minimize bulges and sweat stains. Go by how it looks and feels since the fabric tag will likely say polyester/spandex. The less frill and froufrou in white day dresses the better, or you risk looking like a bridal party leftover. Check it in daylight for opacity, and consider a skin tone shapewear slip for extra control and density.
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4. Throw a white blazer over brights and darks to “summer-size” them. It's a quick way to reenergize all your dark year-round dresses, tops and bottoms without making a major investment. Choose a jacket with notched lapels or a shawl collar with a subtle nipped waist in a hip or thigh-grazing length. A light-medium weight smooth polyester, viscose or rayon stays fresh and looks chicer than linen, which will rumple and wrinkle.
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5. A white pantsuit is a guaranteed slimmer. Still stuck on the extra pounds and weight thing? Let me tell you a fashion secret. Wearing an entire white monochromatic outfit — top and bottom — still creates an elongated vertical line and stretches your shape. It doesn't have to be black or navy to work. This is why a tailored white pantsuit makes sense as a wardrobe addition. Plus, you can break up the pieces to wear separately, of course.
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6. Frame white with a contrasting cardigan or jacket. You can whittle your silhouette even further just by adding a long third piece in a contrasting color to frame your body at the edges. The combination is a simple, effective trick that shaves away bulges in seconds. But remember: The fit is what makes white flattering. Toss skirts that are too short and too tight, T-shirts that are oversized, and boxy pants and blazers.
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7. Wear white T-shirts with emblems, logos and images to foil stains. Aside from the fun part of making a statement, supporting a cause or showing your individuality, white T-shirts make “oops” moments less of a big deal. Besides, we've been wearing plain white tees for 30 years — let's give it a break. And you can always stash a long, light draped scarf in your tote to disguise serious damage till you get home.
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8. Wear white near your face for a giant radiance boost. No matter your skin tone, there are days and nights when we all look tired and stressed, and makeup just won't do the trick. This is the time when a white top or dress is your most powerful ally. It reflects light on the face and makes skin appear dewy and glowing, and blurs lines, wrinkles and all those pain-in-the-neck doodads into oblivion. Celebs know this for sure, and you should, too. Party? Big meeting? Neighborhood celebration? No problem.
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9. Do the unexpected. To prevent white from looking boring or plain, look for unusual pieces and then mix up feminine and tailored, tough and soft, sexy and ladylike. You might throw on a denim jeans jacket with a white pleated skirt; a basic white shirt with a leopard skirt; or a pair of wild, fringed white pants with a sophisticated jacket. You could shock that white pantsuit with a blue silk blouse and blue suede shoes, or wear a black bra under a lacey white top.
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10. Don't forget the jewelry! White really sparkles when you add some bling. Piling on pearls always works, whether you're in a white T-shirt and jeans or a white cocktail party dress. Then again, so do gold or silver hoops, stacks of bangles and eye-popping necklaces. Make those nails part of the deal with ivory and iridescent pearly polish that looks edgy after summers of dark navy and turquoise.
My last word: You should carry a spot-removal pen for small stains when wearing white, but it also doesn't hurt to know these quickie 911 actions.
*Dilute the effect of red wine splatters by instantly pouring white wine on top and blotting the edges.
*Pour table salt on oil-based grease stains, wait 15 minutes and scrape/brush off the absorbed excess.
*Dab coffee/tea stains with dishwashing liquid and white vinegar, and then rinse off.
*Take nonwashables to the dry cleaner ASAP and launder washables to prevent stains from setting.
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