En español | Before celebrities stole fashion's thunder, a bunch of super-creative women designers made trends happen. They taught us to wear clothes with confidence and style. Now ages 53 to 80, these designers still dress ahead of the curve. Some of their clothes may seem extreme (hey, they are fashionistas!), but the ideas behind them make total sense. Here are 11 savvy new lessons from our legendary peers.
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PHOTO BY: Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images for Watches of Switzerland; Raymond Hall/GC Images; Theo Wargo/Getty Images
1. Opt for a midi length to look newer, fresher, more current.
Diane von Furstenberg: Her knee-length wrap dress is forever, but von Furstenberg, 72, now favors stretchy pencil skirts and straight shift dresses in a trendy midi length. Use her style trick of pairing longer hemlines with cool shoes and a cropped jacket to keep the look fabulous, not frumpy. Add booties, Mary Janes and T-straps with a low chunky heel or wedge (no flats!) for a sleek silhouette.
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PHOTO BY: Roy Rochlin; Steve Granitz; Dimitrios Kambouris
2. Pair big relaxed tops with narrow bottoms to balance your body.
Donna Karan: Her power suits wrapped and draped women to an hourglass shape, but today at 70, Karan leads her Urban Zen philanthropic brand in oversized draped tops, big cozy cardigans and statement accessories. Use her style trick of balancing volume on top with a slim dark base of leggings, tights or narrow pants. Then add a whopper necklace or chunky cuffs to grab the spotlight.
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3. Count on pantsuits again for a go-anywhere 24/7 urban uniform.
Norma Kamali: She gave us 1950s-inspired ruched swimsuits and slinky jersey dresses that made bodies of every size and shape feel glam. At 74, Kamali's cat-eye glasses, dark-fringed mane and stretch fabric suits are her new signature look. Use her new style trick of pairing longer jackets — thigh or coat length — with cropped pants or flares to make suits look unstuffy and modern.
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4. Wear an unexpected jacket and cage booties to trend up any dress.
Nicole Miller: Her affordable cocktail dresses have adorned everyone from Susan Sarandon to Sheryl Crow. Now 67, Miller wears her minis, maxis and everything inbetween, but adds a shimmery blazer, black leather biker or denim jacket and edgy cage booties for extra style. Use her style trick to brighten up a black dress; dress down after-five dresses; add an edge to sweet, ladylike dresses; or make sleeveless dresses wearable all year round.
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5. Mix feminine, edgy and glam pieces to contemporize your look.
Nanette Lepore: Her popular contemporary brand is a hybrid of feminine and rock star — and yet so wearable. Lepore, 55, is her own best advertisement for grownup bohemian clothes tinged with black lace, metallic, velvet and studs. Use her style trick of pairing florals with animal prints or denim and metallics with tailored clothes to expand your mix-and-match options.
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PHOTO BY: Getty Images (3): Mike Coppola; Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Nordstrom; Jamie McCarthy
6. Layer your clothes fearlessly in a surprising way.
Tory Burch: Her preppy-meets-downtown style grabbed us from the first show in 2004. Those logos, stripes, polo shirts, plaids, quirky blouses, shirtdresses and ballet flats made us ‘70s nostalgic ... in a good way. Burch, 53, sparks preppy basics with stripes, bicolored shoes and color combinations like orange and navy. Use her style trick to layer blouses under sleeveless dresses for an instant update that also makes your wardrobe seasonless and 24/7 versatile.
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PHOTO BY: Phillip Faraone/FilmMagic; Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic; Gary Gershoff/WireImage
7. Embrace your shape with stretchy clothes that spark joy.
Betsey Johnson: We have rebel Johnson to thank for our love of leopard, leggings and sequins. The designer at 77 is a breast cancer and recent open-heart surgery survivor, and all fun in wildly colored hair extensions and attitude (she still does cartwheels and splits on stage at her shows!). Use her tricks of wearing horizontal stripes to fearlessly emphasize curves, leopard to punctuate white T-shirts and sneakers, and sequin tops to dress up leggings.
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PHOTO BY: Getty Images (3): Andrew Toth; Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan; Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for AAFA American Image Awards
8. Simplify life with a black and white wardrobe.
Eileen Fisher: The launch of simple modern lifestyle clothes goes back to Fisher in 1984. Her modular line of simple shift dresses, tunics and pants in soothing neutrals gave working women an unfussy way to dress. Fisher, 69, still adheres to her own vision. Use her trick of sticking to black and white and layering wide-leg ankle pants, tunics, dresses and cardigans for a chic modern but minimalist look.
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PHOTO BY: Gotham/GC Images; Dimitrios Kambouris; Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images
9. Try bows, blouses and peplums to look posh.
Carolina Herrera: Her perfectly groomed look and restrained elegance showed us tailored clothes still look pretty. Herrera, 80, has stepped down as creative director of her brand to become Global Brand Ambassador, but her Latina-inspired ruffles, bowed blouses and peplum tops are thriving. Use her trick of pairing the new high-waist pants (or hi-rise jeans) with a bow blouse in white or black for instant sophistication.
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PHOTO BY: Getty Images (3): Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for Dia & Co; Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage; Gary Gershoff
10. Find what works, then repeat.
Tracy Reese: Her custom-made, sleeveless rose gold fit-and-flare dress made Michelle Obama a fashion icon, but Reese's retro-inspired dresses made this designer a star. Known for her cheerful feminine prints, bright colors and floaty fabrics, Reese, 55, launched the sustainable smaller brand Hope for Flowers in 2019 (currently available at Anthropologie) from her hometown of Detroit. Use her style trick of sticking to her best dress shapes and varying prints, colors and fabrics.
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PHOTO BY: Getty Images (3): Dimitrios Kambouris; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Related; Dimitrios Kambouris
11. Buy a coat that's not boring to make all your clothes pop.
Anna Sui: Her whimsical goth clothes — often in black — hint at Victorian and rock-star influences, but Sui's global business appeals to women of all ages — from Maggie Gyllenhaal to Sofia Coppola. Sui, always in eyeliner and red lipstick, chooses statement coats to give a boost to plain black outfits. Use her trick of adding a standout coat in a memorable print or color to a basic wardrobe, and you'll never feel blah or lost in the crowd.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Makeup Wakeup: Revitalizing Your Look at Any Age by Lois Joy Johnson and Sandy Linter.
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