too skinnyIt seems like I’m constantly stumbling across references to “The New 50.” “50 is the new 40″ articles and posters crop up online and on Facebook seemingly by the minute, assuring us to whom it matters that we may be 50-something, but we can look 40-something. Not as easy as it sounds.

For many of us, our 50s are an age where we begin to struggle with issues that seem to have cropped up overnight. (I swear I gained 10 pounds the day I turned 50, and they’ve permanently parked themselves across my midsection with the tenacity of chewing gum in a toddler’s hair.) Suddenly phrases like “age-appropriate” filter into our clothes shopping, makeup we’ve worn forever now looks somehow wrong, and we’re wondering if we should grow our super-short hair into a more flattering length, but aren’t quite sure what that is.

Having been in the retail beauty business since the invention of lip gloss (I was teaching for Estee Lauder in Canada the year they introduced the first Clinique counter into the country. God, I’m officially older than dirt), I’ve learned that the best source of beauty advice is, not surprisingly, other women. Women are wonderfully willing to share insider secrets and tips, and I’ve yet to meet a beautiful woman who’s tired of being asked how exactly she got that way. I’ve collected dozens of tips over the years on how to age well, and what I’ve learned is that what you don’t do is as important as what you do. So I’m sharing my most-repeated advice from gorgeous women with you (because I’m generous that way).

Top 10 Things to Avoid to Not Look Old:

1. Mom jeans. High-waisted, tapered or cropped at the ankle, and made of heavy denim that adds the equivalent of a backwards fanny pack right where most of us need it the least. The belly. You don’t need to pay $175 for flattering jeans, but you do need to shop at stores whose names don’t end in “Mart.”

2. Bad bras. Ill-fitted, with not enough support for two Chiclets, much less gravity-assaulted beagle ears. By your 50s, it’s time to start buying bras that actually fit and that get ‘em up there. Keep the lacy, dental floss styles for the bedroom.

3. Overdone makeup. Heavy foundation falls into the cracks, red lipstick bleeds, and thick eyeliner starts looking a little “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.” Lighten up. You’ll look years younger and your pillowcases won’t look like a four-color Rorschach test every morning.

4. Mall hair. If your bangs resemble a large cauliflower floret attached to the center of your forehead, it’s time to rethink your stylist. I’m not sure why hair schools teach that unfortunate cut, but they must, because it’s everywhere in rural America. Repeat after me. Bangs should not look like they sprouted from your forehead, independently of the rest of your hair.

5. Baggy, oversize clothes. If you could fit a hamhock up under your shirt, I guarantee you that you look heavier and older than your years. Baggy clothes don’t hide middle-age weight gain. They draw attention to it by suggesting you’re actually filling up all that space. Think maternity clothes. What woman ever looked thinner in anything called a “smock”? Find a style that flatters your shape, then buy every color they make.

6. Conversely, your daughter’s clothes. This is a epitome of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Yippee for you (and I mean that. Really, I do) that you’re 55 and still wear a size 2, but this does not give you free rein to root through your size-2, 17-year-old daughter’s closet for what to wear to your high school reunion. Trust me, everyone will know how tiny you still are, even without the midriff-baring top and the vagina-peeking skirt.

7. No sunscreen. Very few things turn our faces into the backside of a saddlebag faster than sun exposure. Wear a minimum of 15 SPF. Every. Single. Day. And don’t be saying, “Well, I use sunscreen in the summer.” Swell, except that 80% of premature aging comes from UVA rays. The year-round ones that cut through clouds and glass, that we’re exposed to when we go get the mail. In February. And for those of you still using tanning beds… STOP THAT.

8. Church Lady clothes. Skirts longer than your va-jay-jay doesn’t mean a drab A-line down to your mid-calf, and less cleavage doesn’t mean buttoned up to your upper clavicle with a white Peter Pan collar and matching self-belt. If Laura Ingalls Wilder wore it to church on Little House, you shouldn’t be wearing it, ever. There are lots of choices out there that celebrate our shapes and sexuality (gasp!) without shoving it all up people’s business. If you’re not sure, grab a well-dressed girlfriend to go shopping with you and agree to try on every single thing she brings you. You’ll both have a ball.

9. Too thin. I added this one because I love you. Yep, too thin can be aging. The body and face need a little padding to soften lines and smooth the skin, making us look healthier and (there is a God) younger. After raising six kids, my mother mastered the art of brevity in life lessons and told her girls, “At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her face and her ass.” Bless you, Mom. So have a piece of cheesecake. And a glass of wine. Your face will thank you.

10. Woman on Top. Then there’s my Grammy, whose pithy wisdom I still miss every day. Years ago, she instructed me to grab a large mirror and lay it on the floor, then kneel over it on all fours. Look down. That’s what your partner sees when you’re on top. (Go ahead and try it. We’ll wait.) If your face skin falls forward like a TV ad for the Life Style Lift, or your boobs dangle like two sock puppets on a clothes line and your belly drops low enough to sway to the beat, it’s time to get underneath or consider dimming the lights. Hubs and I have been doing it in the dark since I was in my 40s. He blames it on childhood nightmares. He has no idea.

(Author’s disclaimer: I don’t follow all of these rules, so don’t take lessons from me. Most of the time, I’m an insecure mess who does as much wrong as right. But fortunately, I have a lot of beautiful friends.)

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