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How we look says a lot about our attitude toward aging. Just like cars, TV sets, dating, frozen foods, vacuum cleaners, coffee and cellphones, we need updates, too. That means avoiding predictable clothing, hair and makeup ruts that make us appear stuck in a time warp. Sure, we’ve changed. We have grayer hair and a few more wrinkles but that doesn’t keep us from wearing leggings, leather and leopard, nor should it. Here are 10 ways to defy aging stereotypes and look cooler at 50 than you ever did at 25:
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1. Keep wearing a black leather jacket
Wearing black is one of our favorite things to do. It makes us feel cutting-edge contemporary, slim and sleek. However, adding a black leather jacket to any outfit says you’re sort of edgy, possibly a little rebellious and definitely have a gutsy approach to life. Everyone needs a black leather jacket, but which one? Choose a biker style heavy on the zips and studs for a sassy streetwise attitude, a sleek bomber for minimalist polish and a buttery blazer with notched lapels (harder to find but worth it when you do) for a downtown twist on a classic. Wear them with everything, day or night.
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2. Flaunt your long hair
Short hair from pixies to crops, bobs to lobs can be sexy (and solve many of our thin hair issues) but thick luxurious locks at 50-plus are among the age-defying things that turn heads every time. Whether the thanks go to amazing genes or a little extra help from the fake-it department, long flowing hair on mature folks is a look. Guys with a full head of hair should aim for a longish look that’s cut, styled and groomed to the nape. (Just skip the shoulder-length manes and stringy ponytails, please.) Women who want a Rapunzel effect can opt for temporary DIY clip-in extensions (and braids or ponytails) for under $200 or splurge on salon versions for about $600 to $2,000. These are taped, sewn or glued in and require a redo every six to eight weeks. Shhhh! They’re the reason so many mature celebs have long hair these days.
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3. Choose leopard every chance you get
Whether the print you wear is leopard, ocelot or cheetah doesn’t matter. The point is animal spots are an easy way to show your wilder side. For some confident women 50-plus, leopard is our go-to print. It’s feminine and easier to wear to wear than zebra, tiger or giraffe and mixes well with black, brown, tan, beige and red and with blue denim. Don’t worry about overload or looking trashy. Just wear one leopard piece at a time and stick to realistic shades. For the biggest statement, opt for a dress, jumpsuit or coat in a classic shape without lots of trendy details or wear leopard as an accent in shoes, a belt, scarf or bag to inject a basic wardrobe with sparks of style.
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4. Go for a pop of unexpected color
Queen Elizabeth II almost always wears candy-color brights. It’s a surefire way to stand out in any crowd but also another way to disrupt the concept of dressing your age. Women can try bold, energetic colors like red, yellow, orange or pink — which also give us a glow — while guys can opt for rich blues and greens for a similar freshening effect. Though fashionistas can get away with eye-popping pairings like yellow pants with a pink top, aim for one color at a time.
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5. Know how to look good in jeans
Most of us plan to never give up our Levi’s, Mother Denim or AG jeans. They’re a universal essential regardless of size, shape and, of course, age. But you can’t go wrong with straight-leg classic jeans in black or blue, regardless of gender. They should be sleek (but not tight) or a little slouchier (as in a boyfriend style) and sit just at or just below your real waist. And length matters. For guys, jeans should puddle at the hem (but not ridiculously so!). For women, an ankle-cropped length makes sense for varied shoe heights. Skip skinny jeans, tricky cuts with super-wide legs and distressed jeans with rips at knee or thigh that reveal skin. Here’s your best formula now: jeans plus any tee or light sweater (V to boatneck), your black leather jacket and sneakers and you’re good to go. For a cool dress-up version just do the half-and-half thing — add a flowy blouse and festive flats, kitten heels or chunky pumps for her, a blazer, button-down and lace-ups or loafers for him.
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6. Update your glasses, readers and sunglasses
Glasses sit front and center on our face and should make not break your looks at this point. Typical “age appropriate” glasses are rimless or wire-rimmed since they’re meant to be “invisible.” They do the job but unfortunately these clinical-looking frames make us look invisible, too — exactly what we don’t want. Keep your indoor and outdoor glasses unapologetically stylish. You can’t miss with bold angular frames in black or tortoise, though a subtle cat-eye for women provides the same lift as eyeliner and Botox. Try tinting your Rx eyeglass lenses a subtle blue or lavender — another way to look snappy and disguise under-eye bags and fatigue all day long.
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7. Style your clothes
Don’t just throw them on, though that’s exactly what most of us do. With a little effort and a few strategic moves, your clothes can jump from blah to breathtaking. It’s how stylists make basic items look so appealing in ads, displays and on the sites you shop online. Add these formulas to your how-tos: Vary the proportions by pairing big, boxy, long or full tops and jackets with slim bottoms; wear a fitted top with a full A-line skirt; do a monochromatic one-color theme head to toe and vary the tones and textures; or, easiest of all for guys, just add a scarf and eye-catching sneakers for a scene-stealing look.
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8. Give your hair a natural un-coiffed look
No matter what your hair length or style, or how many hot tools, treatments and products you’ve used to get the effect, keep it looking casual. Hair at 50 that’s too precisely done, too one-color, coiffed, stiff, slick or sticky is dated hair. Not-age-appropriate hair on the other hand moves, has choppy ends, subtle layers, wisps around the face, pieces, curls and waves that break up the solid look. It’s tousled and toss-able and looks like you could run your hands through it and not care. The color looks possible (in an elevated way, too) with smudgy darker roots and lighter ends, a mix of colors that’s been balayaged and streaked to mingle gray and fake. Take charge and make some changes!
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9. Show your shape
Our bodies go through phases of weight fluctuations and gains. So do bodies of every age. This is not the time to back down and start showing up in oversize, baggy or shapeless clothes. In fact, defining your curves and waistline is the fastest way to stay or get back into body-positive mode as millennials and Generation Z know only too well. It keeps you in the game, keeps you looking confident. Give your silhouette the spotlight in knits, wrap dresses, jumpsuits and high-rise pants that let you tuck or half-tuck to keep jiggles and self-esteem intact.
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10. Take a few risks
No reason to believe in “shoulds” or “should-nots” anymore, with a few exceptions. Skip trends from your past no matter how tempting. This includes T-shirts (yes, tees!) and jackets with extended shoulder pads, plunging V bodysuits and corsets (even Madonna has given those up!) and miniskirts or midis with high-rise thigh slits. Been there, done that. None of us wants to look like we are trying too hard to appear youthful. However, fashion can express more of your personality if you let it. Celebs sometimes take fashion to the limit so don’t necessarily do as they do, but get inspired to loosen your limits. Pile on the pearls, stack those bangles, add a hat and buy those red shoes. You’ll know when enough is enough.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.