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How to Dress to Flatter Your Shape

6 easy steps to look and feel your best


spinner image from left to right brooke shields then oprah winfrey then sheryl lee ralph
(Left to right) Brooke Shields, Oprah Winfrey and Sheryl Lee Ralph
Photo by: Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic; Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for ESSENCE

Remember “dress slim” and “dos and don’ts” columns? These once-popular topics have pretty much vanished from women’s sites and magazines in the wake of body positivity, size inclusivity and a more freewheeling attitude toward dressing for all. But even the most confident 50-plus women (celebs and regular folk like us) still benefit from practical tips that turn “what to wear/what not to wear?” wisdom into a superpower. Here are six to count on right now.

spinner image from left to right kim cattrall then viola davis then garcelle beauvais
(Left to right) Kim Cattrall in a sleeveless jumpsuit with deep V-neck; Viola Davis in an off-the-shoulder floral knee dress; Garcelle Beauvais in a short dress with high neck long sleeves
Marc Piasecki/WireImage; Leon Bennett/Getty Images; Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for WIF (Women In Film)

1. Bare bosom, shoulders or legs … not all three

Of course, celebs on the red (or, rather, champagne) carpet can get away with extreme exposure, but real life is not an awards show. The dilemma is, how much skin is too much when the old “age-appropriate” rules no longer apply? The fun of wearing a plunging V-neckline, a thigh-high slit or a sassy short skirt at 50 often means dealing with practical issues like a sun-spotted cleavage, leg veins or jiggly thighs. Do your body and psyche a favor and select one body spot you love (regardless of what anyone else thinks!). Then show that off and keep the rest under wraps.

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spinner image from left to right ellen pompeo then brooke shields then jennifer grey
(Left to right) Ellen Pompeo in monochromatic beige turtleneck, skirt and coat; Brooke Shields in a bright pink jumpsuit and blazer; Jennifer Grey in all black: jacket, top, trousers, boots and glasses
Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images; Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic; Michael Kovac/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty Images

2. Go monochromatic … instead of mixing and matching

Want to look taller and slimmer fast? Just work a one-color tonal look from head to toe. Many women break the look at the waist by wearing a colorful top and black pants. However, an uninterrupted flow of color (and this can be anything from basic black to white or a medley of blues) elongates the body even when you’re wearing flats. Varying the shades and adding some texture and prints helps create an eye-catching effect and expands your wardrobe options.

spinner image from left to right lisa kudrow then rita wilson then dame kristin scott thomas
(Left to right) Lisa Kudrow in a belted tunic top over flare jeans; Rita Wilson in fishtail midi pencil skirt and hip-belted turtleneck; Kristin Scott Thomas in a belted flowing maxi shirtdress
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images; Karwai Tang/WireImage; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Apple

3. Define your shape with a belt … and stop hiding in layers

Who doesn’t love the ease of wide-leg pants with elastic waists, oversized tops and tunics, and long midi and maxi lengths? Still, too much of a good thing can leave you looking shapeless and boxy. Pairing loose tops and bottoms with narrow, body-skimming pieces helps. But instead of changing clothes, just sling on a belt at the waist or hip to suggest a firmer silhouette lies beneath. And yes, this works regardless of weight, shape or size.

spinner image from left to right mimi rogers then rhea seehorn then dana delany
(Left to right) Mimi Rogers in a bright, bold floral print midi dress; Rhea Seehorn in a bright print flowing maxi dress; Dana Delany in a black tailored print pantsuit
Steve Granitz/FilmMagic; David Livingston/Getty Images; Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

4. Let prints blur bulges … instead of shapewear

It’s an optical illusion of course, but all-over prints, from florals to swirling geometrics, effectively hide extra pounds, bloat and bulges wherever they threaten your style. While shapewear, bike shorts and bodysuits do work, the squeeze is not only uncomfortable, it doesn’t embrace the new philosophy of body positivity.

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spinner image from left to right cate blanchett then molly ringwald then oprah winfrey
(Left to right) Cate Blanchett in a gold sequin sweater, leather ankle pants; Molly Ringwald in a black sequin blazer, black dress; Oprah Winfrey in a shimmery taupe tailored pantsuit
Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images; Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

5. Elevate outfits with shimmery clothes … not statement jewelry

Fashion runs in cycles, and right now the bling is on the body, day or night. There’s nothing wrong with big dangly earrings and stacks of necklaces, bracelets and rings, but this kind of overload is feeling sort of dated. For an update, add a new basic — like ankle pants, a blazer or a pullover — in metallic or shiny sequins to wear with everyday clothes. If you already own some of these pieces and save them for evening, start adding them to your everyday rotation for a major on-trend style bump.

spinner image from left to right tori spelling then sheryl lee ralph then shaun robinson
(Left to right) Tori Spelling in a blue wrap dress with asymmetric hem; Sheryl Lee Ralph in an apricot maxi shirtdress; Shaun Robinson in a black-and-white wrap dress
Raymond Hall/GC Images; Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for ESSENCE; Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

6. Match dress shape to body shape … not design trends

Here’s a common scenario: A woman chooses a trendy dress and then tries to make it work for her body instead of opting for a specific style that enhances that body. If you agree that the rash of slip dresses and sheer, crocheted, tube-shaped or cut-out looks are a challenge for mature bodies, here’s the solution. All kinds of curves benefit from wrap-style and fit-and-flare dresses. Your figure will thank you for the flattery.

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