When was the last time your arms, legs and torso saw the light of day? For many women 50-plus the wistful answer is “not recently.” This means shorts are a memory. Sleeveless tops and bare sundresses, too. Somehow body positivity is easier when we’re dressed ... and covered. If the sight of your not-so-firm flesh, varicose veins and sunspots sends you running for a caftan, these 10 tips will set your body free.
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PHOTO BY: Lands' End; Coldwater Creek; Kohl's
1. Do it gradually
Going from full coverage clothes to a show-and-tell summer wardrobe is always a shock for mature women. After all, aside from your mirror, dermatologist and significant other, who gets to see the stuff you usually hide? Simply exposing more skin at your neckline, forearms and lower legs instantly gives you a “barer” and more open look. Switch right now to V- or boat-necklines, three-quarter or elbow sleeves and cropped pants with sandals to get started.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Talbots; Everlane; Boden
2. Swap fitted clothes for looser-fitting ones
Exposing more skin feels better when clothes flow, billow, drape and give the body some space. Look for items with wider or looser proportions that blur body contours, especially those in breathable, lightweight fabrics like linen and gauze. Not only will you feel more comfortable, but any concerns about bulges (sorry, but even we body-positive fans have issues) will dissolve. Avoid body-hugging tops and bodysuits, tailored dresses and leggings. Instead, look for relaxed A-line shape dresses like the Knox Rose Women’s Puff Short Sleeve Tiered A-Line Dress in Blue Paisley or Yellow Paisley ($35, target.com), tops with airy dolman or wide sleeves like the Boden Linen Wide Sleeve Top in Butter Yellow/Passion Bloom ($98, bodenusa.com), full skirts like Everlane's The Easy Button-Front Skirt in Goji Berry or Pewter Green ($78, everlane.com), and wide-leg pants with a stretchy waist like the Talbots Plus Linen Wide Leg Crop Pants in Indigo Blue or Flax ($109, talbots.com). Sizing up in proportions means you’ll feel less sweaty on sticky days, avoid so-called “chub rub” between the thighs, and enjoy having that ice cream cone with sprinkles!
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PHOTO BY: Target; Dermstore; Amazon; Sephora
3. Power up with body makeup
If you wear face makeup or even blend on a body lotion, you can apply this like a pro! In fact, if discolorations like broken capillaries, brown spots, varicose veins or any skin condition that affects pigmentation stand between you and summer clothes, it’s time for a quick tutorial. Designed to resist high temperatures and humidity, sweat- and water-transference (so clothes, seat cushions and car seats stay pristine) formulas like Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs Makeup in Fairest ($22 for a two-pack, target.com), Dermablend Leg and Body Makeup ($37, dermstore.com), Westmore Beauty Body Coverage Perfector ($39, amazon.com) or Dior Backstage Face & Body Foundation ($40, sephora.com) stay put until you remove them with a makeup wipe or soap and water. All come in diverse skin-tone shades, so select your closest match. Here’s the drill: Use a makeup sponge to stipple body makeup on in thin layers, quickly blend and then let dry a minute; build up extra coverage as needed.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Alex Mill; Kohl's
4. Make a midi skirt your gateway to bare legs
Don’t go straight from pants to shorts. That’s like jumping from a bathrobe to a bikini! Give yourself time to adjust mentally and physically to revealing more skin. A full-skirted mid-calf midi — like the Nine West Women’s Printed Pull-On Challis Skirt in Ocean Dabs ($36, kohl.com); Alex Mill June Pull-On Skirt in Vintage Khaki, Black or Deep Navy ($135, alexmill.com); or Universal Thread Women’s Plus Gauze Tiered Midi A-Line Skirt in Orange ($25, target.com) — is the perfect partner for tees and tops and gets your legs used to the new sensation of air, sunny warmth and freedom. Don’t be surprised if your hemline rises to knee length and you crave shorts as the season progresses and your gutsy attitude sets in.
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PHOTO BY: Chico's; Kohl's; Nordstrom
5. Find your most body-friendly shorts
Skip trendy short shorts and clingy biker styles unless you’re training for a marathon and head for classy capris and Bermudas that balance bare-ability with coverage. Capris (these used to be called clamdiggers) cropped just at or over the knees like the Croft & Barrow Plus Size Classic 17-inch Pull-On Skimmer Pants in Medium Wash ($40, kohls.com) or Chico’s 17-inch Pull-On Denim Capris in Calypso Coral ($75, chicos.com) are the longest “short” and suit women who like the idea of shorts but not the reality — or their knees. Bermudas are cropped above the knees and are the casual sisters of knee-length skirts. They trim your thighs but make the most of shapely lower legs. Choose a pair that are sleek and tapered like the NYDJ Plus-Size Bermuda Shorts in Feather ($69, nordstrom.com) to wear with slides and mules.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); LOFT
6. Let bare dresses do the hide-and-seek work
If there’s one summer item that women of all sizes and shapes can depend on when it comes to baring skin, it’s a dress. Two styles are the most useful. Topping the list is a spaghetti-strap loose shift such as the A New Day Women’s Plus Easy Linen Tank Dress in Magenta or Orange ($20, target.com) — a throw-on that works on its own, over a tee or swimsuit to run errands or lounge around the house and under a cardigan or jean jacket. The second dress has a V-neckline, a defined waist (at the waist or above it in a baby doll or empire look) and an extended cap sleeve — like the Ava & Viv Women’s Plus-Size Short Sleeve Tied Dress in Metallic Gold or Red ($30, target.com) or Loft Striped Tie Waist V-Neck Dress in Blue Multi ($85, loft.com). It’s a fuss-free way to go bare but still feel pulled-together and neat in the heat.
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PHOTO BY: Bloomingdale's; JCPenney; VENUS
7. Pair air-conditioned sleeves with jeans, pants and capris
Some of us just want a summer top that hints at bare skin. If this is you, fast forward to off-the-shoulder tops — like the CeCe Printed Off The Shoulder Top in Rich Black ($89, bloomingdales.com) — and peek-a-boo sleeves — such as the Venus Plus-Size Cold Shoulder Top in Red or Black ($36, venus.com) or the Bold Elements Women’s Keyhole Neck Long Sleeve Blouse in Verve Violet ($38, jcpenney.com) — that provide a way to feel beach bare even when fully dressed. These styles are delightful for evenings out or summer parties.
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PHOTO BY: Kohl's; L.L.Bean; Eloquii; Target
8. Go sleeveless confidently
We can’t ignore the elephant in the room ... sleeveless tops. Many of us still obsess about our flabby upper arms and refuse to show them (but secretly long to!). Two tricks solve all. The first is to choose halter-neck tops like the Eloquii Halter Neck Top in Soft White ($50, eloquii.com) and cutaway racerback tanks like the All in Motion Women’s Essential Racerback Tank Top in Black, Charcoal Heather or White ($12, target.com) or L.L.Bean Women’s Beyond Soft Tank in Terra-Cotta ($30, llbean.com). The sculpted and indented shape reveals extra scoops of skin at the upper chest and shoulder, which in turn creates the optical illusion of longer, trimmer upper arms. Be sure you have a T-back, racerback or strapless bra on hand. The second trick works if you’re in a dress mood: Head for an off-the-shoulder style like the LC Lauren Conrad Plus Size Off-the-Shoulder Tiered Maxi Dress in Yellow Beach Stripe or Watercolor Garden ($64, kohls.com). The ruffle provides subtle arm camouflage and diverts attention to your fabulous shoulders.
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PHOTO BY: Target (3)
9. Make self-tanner a seasonal habit
Let a DIY self-tanner blur discolorations and create a more even skin tone from head to toe. It bumps up the background color of your skin for less contrast with spots, veins and discolorations. However, the important thing to know is this takes consistent use head to toe on all exposed skin. Otherwise, you end up with tanned legs and pale arms and neck or tan lines that wreck your look. All it takes is a gradual self-tanner with hydrating ingredients like the Bondi Sands Pure Gradual Tanning Lotion ($22, target.com) with hyaluronic acid or the Hawaiian Tropic Sunless Tan Tanning Lotion in Gradual Tan ($15, target.com) with aloe applied daily or every other day. Try blending with a soft, dense kabuki makeup brush like the Beauty by Earth Self Tanner Blending Body Brush ($18, target.com) for seamless application and no telltale border lines at thighs, ankles or neck.
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PHOTO BY: DSW; Privé Revaux; Ulta Beauty; Nordstrom
10. Use accessories as your allies
Trust me: No one is looking at the spots you’re so hung up on, but here’s a final tip for extra insurance. Pack on some eye-catching extras to grab the spotlight and forget about your less-than-perfect parts (we all have them!). It’s a chance to break out of a clothes rut, too, and makes baring your body less of a risk and more of an adventure. Start with colorful nail polish, sparkly sandals, sexy sunglasses, an inspirational bead bracelet ... and don’t forget the sunscreen.
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.
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