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10 Ways to Give Classic Clothes a Trendy Lift

Easy fashion tricks to add more wow to your wardrobe


It's not so much what you wear. It's how you wear it. That's why pretty basic clothes often look appealing on retail sites and in ads and magazines, but blah in real life. There's nothing wrong with them; there's just no fizz. Fashion stylists use a closetful of tricks to give everyday clothes a style boost, spice up classics and expand versatility. My quickie master class of 10 tips will turn you into a pro, too.

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Rene Russo, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Aniston, Isabelle Huppert
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1. Mix summer whites with winter wools.

Most women store spring and summer clothes away at the first chill. Savvy dressers resist, and wear white jeans, pants, tees and tanks all year long as a bright, cheery base for button-down shirts, sweaters, tailored jackets and their all-purpose black leather boots and bags.

spinner image Martha Stewart , Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman
Martha Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman
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2. Style your clothes instead of just wearing them.

It's the little things that count. Every time you get dressed, adjust your clothes for fashion impact. You might untuck or half-tuck a top, open one button on your blouse or shirt to create a flattering V-neckline, turn up and scrunch jacket sleeves, roll your jeans to above the ankle, or belt your tailored blazer.

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Jamie Lee Curtis, Christine Baranski, Carol Middleton
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3. Tailor dresses for your legs and bust.

On photo shoots for retail sites, magazines, advertising and catalogs, an expert seamstress nips and tucks classic sheaths and A-lines to give them a current look and a couture-like fit. Even a half inch makes the difference between frumpy and fabulous. Ask your neighborhood tailor to raise the shoulder line for a smooth fit over the bust and to hem dresses at your perfect at-the-knee length. Then add nude pumps (matched to your skin tone) for a leggy, energetic look.

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Sarah Jessica Parker, Martha Stewart, Sharon Stone
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4. Layer clothes in a contemporary way ... imperfectly.

Forget about looking too neat, pressed and buttoned up. Allow T-shirts and tanks to dangle in plain sight beneath sweaters or jackets, and let tanks and camisoles be visible under wide or deep necklines. It's cool to let linen or silk shirts crease, and to give cuffs an irregular rollup. The only things to avoid are stains, loose threads and body odor. Relaxed, but fresh, is the idea.

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Diane Keaton, Annette Bening, Meg Ryan
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5. Play with proportions.

Think about the shapes your clothes make and aim for contrast. Vary the scale. Pair oversized tops with slim bottoms and vice versa. Wear short, wide items over long, narrow ones. Layer long tanks and T-shirts under shorter, wider relaxed ones. Try a cropped sweater or jacket over a long tank with a skirt, and wide full pants with a tucked-in turtleneck. Give a boyfriend blazer or tunic blouse a narrow base like slim jeans or a pencil skirt. How it looks on the body — not the hanger — is what counts.

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Sarah Jessica Parker in grey silk shirt, grey jeans, metallic silver booties; Martha Stewart; Jaclyn Smith; Catherine Deneuve
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6. Wear one color head to toe for a polished look.

This is what fashion people call “tonal dressing,” or a monochromatic look. It helps to keep your closet organized by color — no regard for fabric, season, texture, solid or print, tailored or casual. You'll increase your outfit options and cut dressing time in half, as well as look longer, sleeker and more pulled together. Don't try to be matchy-matchy. The subtle differences in fabric give you a wider range than you think from light to dark.

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Sharon Stone, Geena Davis, Lisa Kudrow
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7. Pair or layer colors creatively.

Don't play by the rules. Combine colors of the same intensity to spice up an otherwise conventional look. You might wear navy and brown, olive and gray, mint green and pale blue, bright yellow and red. In these pairings neither color jumps out at you, but they blend in a trendier way. Or you can do a monochromatic look and then add a contrasting coat, jacket or duster to frame the one-color column beneath.

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Marcia Gay Harden, Beverly Johnson, Jaclyn Smith
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8. Mix sporty and dressy, evening and day for a modern look.

Blurring the boundaries between our usual categories is what really makes clothes look modern now. It can be as simple as wearing a feminine cropped jacket or a bow blouse (undone to a V, of course) with jeans or a pleated midi skirt and cool sneakers. If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and make animal print blouses and accessories part of your repertoire. They are now classic prints (yup, just like stripes and plaid), and kick the stuffiness out of tailored skirts and serious pants.

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Alana Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marisa Tomei, Sharon Stone
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9. Add some whimsy to an otherwise classic outfit.

Show your personality with accessories that provide a cheeky contrast. You might slip into bright blue Mary Jane pumps with a green dress or neutral topcoat, add a logo T-shirt to a suit, or make a collection of bright scarves your signature add-on for a closetful of basic clothes.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern, Regina King
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10. Wear a trench coat irreverently.

Treat your trench as an all-weather coat — not just for rain. Throw it on over anything day or night, and you look modern. Just tie the belt in a knot or bow or even at the rear, and and push up the sleeves. Add colorful accessories, your best hair and makeup, and pumps or booties to glam it up like a Hollywood star.

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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