Style used to be all about wearing the latest thing. Being fashionable made us feel runway cool — until one day it didn’t. There are good reasons why. We now live in jeans or leggings and would rather splurge on an Apple watch, pet accessories or a dinner out at a fun new restaurant. But the biggest and most obvious reason: Fashion is not in sync with grownup bodies, tastes and lifestyles. So how do we get that old confidence boost back without jumping on the trend train? Easy! Here are 10 style tips for all.
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1. Swipe on a bold red lipstick
It creates a confident, sexy, straight-out-of-Hollywood effect … even on a bare face at 7 a.m. or with day-two hair and an old T-shirt and jeans. The range of reds is vast — however, true vibrant reds (not too red, not too yellow, not too dark) flatter all skin tones while cool reds help dingy teeth appear whiter. Just be sure to choose a shade and formula that feels right for you. High-pigment velvety creams and hydrating mattes deliver the richest color; sheer balms and stains give a softer look, and crayon styles make precise application easy, without having to use a liner.
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2. Layer and mix your necklaces
Recharge your classic pearls and edgy chains by mixing several necklaces of varying lengths and thicknesses for a style-boosting effect. You might, for example, group three delicate chains with charms (keep them around 2 inches apart in length) or wear a collarbone “statement” necklace as an anchor for longer ones. But there are no rules, so sling on a personal mix of charms, pendants, stones, lockets and pearls for an ever-changing signature. Avoid tangles and knots when wearing multiple fine chains by linking all together to form one long chain, before wrapping around your neck (a DIY way to vary necklace lengths when all necklaces are around the same length).
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3. Wear white pants instead of black
Sure, we all have a few pairs of black pants on rotation. They make us feel slim and work with any top, for any occasion. But do they merit a “Wow, she’s got style!” comment? Not usually. On the other hand, white pants are a year-round thing now and they make a statement beyond function. Seasonless fabrics with substance — like a cotton or rayon blend, a sturdy ponte knit or denim — are good choices, but skip the skinnies and leggings in favor of straight- or loose-leg styles. Pair white pants with any black top and black shoes for a sophisticated outfit, or add white jeans to a bright-color jacket or a sweater to stand out in the crowd.
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4. A white shirt or blouse
White T-shirts and tanks are humble but indispensable essentials for every wardrobe, but white blouses and shirts create star quality. Who can forget Sharon Stone when she paired a drop-dead-gorgeous beaded floor-length skirt with a white Gap shirt at the Oscars in 1998? No one! Whether it’s button-down, ruffled, pleated, puff-sleeve or oversize, a structured white shirt or blouse gives everything from a classic skirt to cargo pants a couture spin. Wear it pressed and crisp, undone to a V, with sleeves rolled or scrunched, or tied at the waist. And here’s a bonus: White tops reflect light, which adds radiance to a tired, fatigued face. Count on it!
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5. Accessorizing your jeans
Throwing on a pair of jeans makes us feel like a rock star regardless of the wash, brand or style. For some women, that’s good enough. However, swapping out the usual pairings for some polished pieces can elevate jeans enough for a night out or a day at the office. The big trick is to eliminate all athleisure and sporty elements, like sneakers and hoodies, and to add a blouse (yes, that white blouse in tip number 4 above is perfect!) or blazer, real shoes and a refined bag. While these celebrity examples give you an idea of how this works, loafers and low kitten or chunky heels — rather than sky-high heels or double-strap casual sandals — are a better choice for real life.
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6. Wear show-off shoes
Most 50-plus woman know that “nude” pumps and sandals make our legs look longer, and that black shoes and booties go with everything. But when you want to raise the style bar, head for red. Just like the red lipstick in tip number 1, red shoes project an immediate aura of confidence and sass appeal. They spark any neutral in your closet (tan, khaki, navy, gray, white and, of course, black) with a pop of color, and can dress up your jeans in seconds. Red shoes also have the magical ability to pull together every other red wardrobe piece you own (from a red bag to a red V-neck sweater), as well as those with even a hint of red (for example, floral dresses with a few red petals or a red striped top), for a head-to-toe cohesive “look.”
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7. Add a trench coat
Did you ever see Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Lauren Hutton in American Gigolo? Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love? Joanne Woodward in Paris Blues? As all these women proved, a trench coat is one of the best style makers of all, and it has nothing to do with rain. They’re lightweight, practical and loaded with fashion vibes, so consider a trench your ultimate layering piece to throw over anything — from a cocktail dress to leggings. Tie (never buckle) the belt in front for a little shape, knot it in back for a casual open look, pop the collar and add a scarf for extra glamour, and add it over layers of tanks, tees and sweaters for warmth without weight all year long, day or night.
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8. Dare to wear attention-getting color
Buy that reunion dress in lemon yellow instead of black, wear a peony-pink blazer over a violet top with your black leggings, or simply pair cool blue and steamy orange. You’ll stand out like a bluejay or cardinal in a flock of pigeons … in a good way. Though we sometimes opt for a colorful wallet, swimsuit or scarf, many women resist wearing strong colors in everyday clothes. If we do wear color, it’s often a pale pastel rather than a kaleidoscope hue. Consider brights as your mood-boosters. And, like red lipstick and red shoes, use them to personalize a predictable outfit and to make you memorable. Bet you get compliments.
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9. Bold black glasses and sunglasses
No matter what your face shape, hair color or skin tone, black frames are practically a superpower. This is another example of a quick way to add a hint of glamour and compensate for a slew of situations — from day-three hair to a sleepless night. Pop on a pair, and your entire face seems more defined and stylish, whether you choose a cat-eye or angular shape (two of the most popular frame shapes for just that reason). Glasses with squarish frames firm up facial contours and help counteract any saggy skin at the cheeks or jaw, while modified cat-eyes, with their subtle uplift, work like eyeliner to define and lift your peepers.
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10. Wear lots of rings
Most women wear an everyday ring or two in the wedding band/engagement/commitment ring ballpark or to celebrate some other personal life milestone. But we also have strays — rings we picked up at flea markets and consignment shops, leftover vintage ones or ones that are cheap, slim and chunky. Thanks in part to constant cellphone use and what feels like a universal obsession with manicures, rings are now major style players. Try wearing rings on unexpected fingers like the pointer, thumb or pinkie instead of your ring finger, and mix band widths and styles, real and fake, delicate and ornate. Stick to all one metal or pile on gold and silver. Just remember to stagger big stones and bulky rings so that they sit more comfortably on your fingers.
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.