Forget the fashion ‘rules’ for over 50s: You can wear what you love… at any age

Forget the fashion ‘rules’ for over 50s – it’s easy to make any trend look fabulous. Fashion director Shelly Vella and the world’s most followed 40-plus influencers show you how

As a woman in her mid-50s, and one who works in fashion, people often ask me what they can and can’t wear as they get older. My answer? You can wear anything. Really, you can. The idea that there are specific rules for dressing which kick in on your 50th birthday is absurd. What definitely exists, however, are great styling tips that can make any look work for your body shape.

The other thing that I’ve noticed over and over again is that women buy into the idea that something doesn’t suit them (hot pink, for example) without ever actually having tried it. So forget all the don’ts – the ones you’ve been told and the ones you’ve told yourself – and take inspiration from these grown-up style influencers. Yes, you can wear… whatever makes you feel fabulous! Here’s how.

Voluminous dresses

Women often worry that these are going to make them look dumpy or matronly, but they’re so on-trend that you’ll be able to find an iteration that works for you. They’re great for bad body days! Go midi or long, unless you’re confident about your legs – in which case try a knee-length design. Think about whether you’d like it to flare out from under the bust or really draw in at the waist which concentrates the volume on your lower half.

A lot of women tell me that their bust and tummy get bigger around the menopause,
so find a dress that fits more around your ribcage, between the bust line and your waist.

Double denim

When I started my career, the idea that older women shouldn’t wear jeans was endlessly bandied about. Unfortunately, it’s stuck on some level and many are still nervous of denim. There’s no need, though. It’s a flattering, utilitarian fabric that you can dress up or down. Why not make the top a statement blouse? Have you thought about a vintage-look midi skirt (I love Boden’s take on these)?

Just a word on ‘mum jeans’ – as in very high-waisted cuts. Those aren’t flattering. Unless you’ve got a tiny waist, then really high waists just make your hips and middle look bigger. I’d focus instead on the leg and go for a boot cut or a flare to balance things out.

Sleeveless tops and dresses

If we’re talking about cap sleeves, I find the angle of the cap is the important thing. If the cap points upwards, that tends to draw focus to the bit of the upper arm that older women are self-conscious about. A cap which hooks over the shoulder (pointing downwards slightly) will draw attention to the lower, slimmer portion of the arm. It’s a subtle distinction but it makes quite a big difference. If we’re talking about straps, then – personally – I’d go with a camisole style which tends to draw the eye to the upper chest and throat. If you’re lucky enough to have gym-toned upper arms that you want to show off, then good for you. Do it!

 

Bright colour

I always feel as though a bold colour can boost both your mood and your look – it’s like a shot of wardrobe Botox. Find out what works for you and make sure you’ve tried something out before you reject it. I’m red headed and fair and for years I thought hot pink wouldn’t look good near my face, but actually it does.

Try contrasting bold tones or put a bold with a neutral or a pastel version of the same shade. If you’re only going to buy one colourful piece, go for a jacket. It’s such a wardrobe updater: great with denim, great with neutral tailoring and great over a dress.

Animal print

Animal prints, leopard in particular, have historically got a raw deal because they’re associated with that Bet Lynch, tight-dress thing. Really, though, when you think about it they’re just bold prints and these look great if you keep the rest of your look pared back and simple. A white, soft grey or black shirt works brilliantly against leopard as do tailored trousers and fine knits.

Keep an eye out for animal prints with a twist – maybe a modern, abstract pattern or a contrasting colour. I’m not a fan of telling women not to wear things but probably avoid bodycon leopard or anything sheer with a black bra underneath.

Dungarees

There are so many takes on dungarees out there, and they’re so easy and comfortable that it would be a shame not to try the look out. If denim just feels too young, then go for a softer fabric and put a pretty boho blouse underneath. You’ll still have the pinafore front but won’t feel like a children’s entertainer. If I’m having a ‘good-body day’ I put a belt around mine. If not, I just wear them loose. Don’t forget, denim doesn’t have to mean blue denim so you might find the look easier to wear in black, green or pastel.

Vintage

Because vintage looks, by definition, hark back to yesteryear, some of us mistakenly think they are ageing. Pinafore dresses, fair isle cardies, cropped trousers, florals, tweeds, peter pan collars, waistcoats… they’re all potentially flattering pieces that can lift a look. As an entry point, I’d experiment with a waistcoat. Everything about it is figure-flattering. From the fit at the trunk of your body (usually the area women don’t mind accentuating as they get older), points at the front which flatter the hips, to the tie at the back that flatters the waist and the V-neck that flatters the bust. My Zara waistcoat is one of my wardrobe staples.

Statement accessories

Women sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that as they get older their accessories need to get smaller and apologetic. Actually, statement accessories are often the thing that make your outfit look sharp and modern.

Take as evidence fashion icon Iris Apfel. She is nearly 100 and looks quite extraordinarily good at it! Sometimes you’ll notice that Iris’s outfits are actually quite classic and understated, but the thing that always brings her looks to life are the thick-rimmed glasses and a big necklace – occasionally a whole pile of them!

Perfect tailoring

A jacket and wide-leg trousers give super-flattering silhouettes as you get older. It doesn’t have to be double denim but please don’t discount this while it’s still on the hanger… you might well be surprised by how good it looks on. However, if you just can’t do double denim, how about a cream suit with a white T-shirt underneath? Think Bianca Jagger; nobody ever thought she looked dated or frumpy.

Grey hair as a style statement

It’s the big style conundrum, isn’t it? To dye or not to dye? As I’ve said before, my mantra is always to do what makes you feel good because when you feel good, you look good. If you do decide to let your grey come through, then make it a feature of your look rather than shying away from it. Change your thinking on grey and silver hair from an absence of colour to a highlight colour. Try neutrals against it to make it really stand out.

One shoulder

These silhouettes get a bad rap with older women and I’m never quite sure why. Maybe because they’re seen as a bit try hard? I made the point on page 15 about thinner straps being more flattering if you don’t absolutely love your arms.

So when you analyse it, arms covered – or partially covered – plus no strap over one shoulder is going to work well. With a one-shoulder top or dress, you can see the whole length of one collarbone which has the effect of slimming the exposed arm.

The same piece over and over

I know fashion people go on and on about capsule wardrobes but, especially as we get older, there really is sense to it. It’s much better to buy one good pair of trousers, for example, than three cheaper pairs. You can dress them up with heels or down with plimsolls. Wear a jacket and T-shirt on the top one day and a waistcoat and pretty blouse the next.

I’m not talking about a £500 pair but buying the best you can – look at brands at John Lewis or Hobbs. Cheap clothes (trousers in particular) are a false economy. The fabric will be thin, you’ll be able to see cellulite, a VPL and the outline of the pockets. You’ll never feel really confident in them so you won’t wear them as often or for as long. I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of clothes, trust me – I know.