Google “What Not to Wear After 50″ or “Fashion Do’s and Don’ts After Menopause,” and you’ll find a tsunami of advice articles. From Time Magazine’s commentary on current fashion trends to Tina Fey’s stand-up comedy, it seems everyone (I confess, including me) has an opinion on what works and what doesn’t after any given decade, marked by any birthday that ends in a zero. Trendy choices at 20 often look unsophisticated at 30. What works at 30 may look cougar-ish at 40. And what was flattering at 40 can look downright slutty at 50.
But there are certain things that don’t work well on any woman old enough to have a knee-jerk reaction when being referred to as a “girl” by her male boss. It’s not about chronological age. It’s about arriving at a time in your life when you want to be seen as a strong, intelligent, grown-up woman with something valuable to offer, and who’s not afraid to be seen. It’s about tossing clothes that make you fade away. Clothes that make you invisible.
Whatever your age (and whatever your weight), it might be time to ransack your closet and toss the following:
1. Oversize items or maternity wear to hide your weight. Nothing you can buy at Hilo Hattie’s House of Muu-muus has ever made a woman look smaller. No matter what your actual size might be, shrouding your body from head to toe in a pup tent says, “I’m fat, but I’m hoping you won’t notice.”
2. Tiny floral fabrics. Nothing screams “old lady in the background” like tiny floral prints that channel Grandma Bertha’s kitchen wallpaper in the old farmhouse.
3. Mid-calf skirt or dress lengths. Unless you’re a gazelle, with mile-long legs, skirts that hit you at the widest part of your calves will make you look shorter and chunkier (frumpier). Assuming this isn’t what you’re going for, hem them slightly above or slightly below the kneecap.
4. Ugly shoes. Boxy, clunky footwear. Yes, there comes that sad, sad day when we must relinquish our stilettos and consider shoe styles that don’t aggravate our sciatica, that allow us to cross the room without toppling over or spraining an ankle, and that don’t make us cranky all day because our feet are throbbing. Thankfully, there are now entire stores devoted to fashionable, comfortable flats and low heels.
5. Bad bras. Ill-fitting bras that don’t get those puppies back up there can make you look dumpy and frumpy. Remember Great-Aunt Hilda, from your childhood? She had a funny body, her boobs hung down to her waist, and she was old (definitely in her 50s).
6. Self-belts. Those tiny little belts that come with the dress or the jeans? Remove them. Preferably at the sales counter. High-quality, statement belts do not come as a gift-with-purchase. The ones that match the dress or add a little bling to the jeans are predictable and cheaply made, and look it.
7. Peter Pan collars. Especially if they’re lace. On dresses, blouses, or any other item of clothing if you’re over the age of nine. They make you look like an Amish schoolteacher. Which is great if you’re actually an Amish schoolteacher. But otherwise, a little too “sweet.”
8. Cheap, grandma purses, made from vinyl or “pleather.” Usually beige or black, with an adjustable shoulder strap and lots of compartments so you don’t lose your reading glasses, car keys, or your wadded stash of grocery coupons.
9. Sweatpants with elastic ankles. These do not make us look like Jeannie from I Dream of… They’re the quintessential “I don’t care and I’m not actually here” piece. The yoga pants of rural matrons.
10. Elastic waistbands. Worn nationwide by middle-aged women who say they’re comfortable. But bunching a yard of fabric around your waist acts like a life-size hair scrunchie. The only thing less flattering than a fanny pack (see #16).
11. Ruffles. There comes a time (no later than 30) when ruffles down the front of a blouse or around the collar leaves behind “girlish” and becomes 50-year-old Church Lady.
12. Lace. See Ruffles. And too much lace can make you look like a doily. Hard to be taken seriously when you look like you should be draped over the arm rest of Great Aunt Agnes’ couch.
13. Mom jeans. High-waisted, pegged legs, medium blue wash, in heavy denim with pockets that add 10 lbs to your waistline. If they’re available at a “Mart” and you paid less than $20, you’ve found them.
14. Mom jeans with white sneakers. Nothing screams “I just want to blend in” quite like this combination. Throw in a boxy, oversize top and mall hair, and you’ve nailed it.
15. Heavy pantyhose in “Nude” or “Skintone.” I’ve never seen real skin in those colors. If you must wear nude pantyhose, go to a store for a brand that offers more than light, beige, or oompa-loompa suntan, and doesn’t come in an plastic egg or a baggie.
16. Fanny packs. Yep, get all dressed and cute, then slap a large pouch of tent fabric around your hips. Very “country tourist in the big city.” And almost anything will perform the same function without looking like your ass has grown a goiter.
17. Square cable-knit sweaters. Great Grandma Moses. Are these still around? Excluding your “Ugliest Christmas Sweater” contest at your office (and understanding that these are unflattering and frumpy before you bedazzle them with light-up rhinestone Christmas trees), these should be given away immediately. To someone you don’t like.
18. Matchy-matchy. Bags and shoes that match. Sweater sets. Eyeshadow and clothing. It’s dated and uninspired. Shake it up a little. And have fun!