Although older women are becoming more visible in the world of fashion, I fear that we are also becoming somewhat fetishized in the press and on social media. I chalk that up to the enormous popularity of Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style Blog.
He features prominent and well-heeled older women of (mostly) New York, dressing in eye-catching couture outfits and often wild color and pattern combinations and accessories. In a city with a population of eight million people it’s almost a requirement to go to such extremes in order to be seen.
Now, I love edgy. I love cool and hip at any age. But I tend to recoil at the images of older women when I feel we they are being used as spectacle. I’m certainly not criticizing any of these women. Frankly, I admire them and the outfits they have put together.
Many are extremely artsy and interesting in their own right. And they definitely have opened the door for more of us to become visible. It’s just that we, as a group, have so much more to offer than what some these outfits would convey.
My concern is that, sometimes, these get ups clearly – and intentionally – border on costume. When they do, what they inspire is something more akin to “wow – look at those wild and crazy old ladies,” rather than “what an enviable group of women.”
Being chic, as opposed to wearing a costume, requires a little more finesse. It requires turning down the volume, visually.
As designer Alber Elbaz says, “It’s not about screaming, it’s about whispering. When you scream everybody hears, but not everyone listens.” The trick is to whisper in such a way that everyone has to, as the popular phrase goes, “lean in.”
So let’s break down some of the elements to consider when putting together an outfit that says: “I’m wise and interesting and you want to know more about me”, instead of simply “I’m wild and crazy and watch out world, here I come!”
Since hats are the attention-getter in many of these outfits, wearing one in the right scale is the key. If you’re going to wear a ginormous hat, make sure you have the height or overall body size to carry it off, and that the rest of your outfit balances its volume.
Big hats only work on those few people with larger-than-life personalities and/or bodies. And a hat that says “pixie” is most flattering to a face that has pixie-like features and bone structure. On someone with more natural features, or a more angular or a very oval face, it might look somewhat silly.
The same goes for accessories. In construction and silhouette – as well as in your accessories – it’s always nice to echo your facial features and bone structure. It complements your image. Also, piles of accessories on someone with a smaller frame can become visually overwhelming.
Coco Chanel’s suggestion to “always remove one accessory” might be helpful if, when you look at your overall image, you feel you just might be a bit overdone.
Many of these women are wearing strongly contrasting or brightly saturated colors. If you want to emulate their overall panache, make sure that you start with the right colors for your own coloring.
Keep in mind that wearing bright colors with strong contrast isn’t for everyone. Pulling it off successfully depends upon your skin undertone and the rest of your coloring. And as skin tone does change somewhat as we age we have to be particularly mindful about the colors we wear near our face so that we don’t get washed out.
Still, wearing some color near the face is a good plan as we age. It brings brightness. And wearing something in the red range brings an extra dash of spice to our faces. Just make sure it’s the right red for your skin tone. Some blueish reds will make women with warmer skin undertones look positively jaundiced; and some women with cooler skin tones will look ashen in bright, yellow-y reds.
The key with any color is to ask yourself: does the color “pop” against my skin, i.e. do I disappear behind it, or do my eyes sparkle and my skin glow when I wear this color? You want to look for the sparkle and glow that is created in your face, not just in the fabric.
The more delicate, muted or quiet your eye color, hair and skin tone, the more subtle your colors have to be. And if your skin, eyes and hair coloring lean toward the Rich and Warm end of the spectrum, keep the basis of your wardrobe warm, as those brighter, saturated colors will make you fade.
Then there is pattern. We are frequently told, at least in fashion magazines, that older women need to wear large bold patterns. But bold patterns aren’t for everyone.
The larger or taller you are, the more you can wear larger patterns and prints. And the scale of any pattern you wear – that includes things like stripes, florals and abstracts – also has to make sense in terms of your height and size. Just as with accessories, the scale of your patterns is crucial.
So, there’s no reason you can’t stand out from the crowd. Just be sure that none of what you wear makes you disappear beneath a flood of fabric, pattern, color or accessories. That’s where you start to move from style into the direction of costume.
One of my readers put it this way: “Less is the new more.” Now, if you truly do want to say watch out world, here I come, who am I to stop you? Have at it ladies. But if you do, PLEASE post a photo of yourself!
What do you think? Should we tone it down or should we go for all the gusto? Join the conversation below.