For most of us, what we wore in our 60s was not all that different from what we wore in our 50s, at least not through much of our 50s. Maybe that’s because, as a savvy friend of mine suggests, the demarcation lines of how we see ourselves and how we are seen in the world tend to be drawn at the half-decade mark: 45-55, 55-65, etc. Certainly, the physical changes that occur with menopause would corroborate this idea for our 50s.
With that in mind it’s important to consider how our bodies change over time. That will give us clues about how to update a wardrobe after 70.
If you’ve searched for items online lately you may have encountered one of those questionnaires that asks for your age before suggesting the ideal size for a garment. This is because as we age there is often a change in the distribution of our weight.
The fit and drape of an item can look very different on two women of the same size but of very different ages. Gravity can displace busts and bottoms. Another thing about gravity is that we all tend to shrink, hence, the importance of keeping our bones strong.
Then there are the parts you just may no longer want to show. Veiny arms or legs, fleshy or sagging underarms, crepey or wrinkled skin, and skin discolorations are usually the ones most women complain about.
Personally, I admire women who have no insecurities about showing their battle scars and signs of aging. But if you feel that any of those elements is a problem, just avoid any trend that will reveal them.
And there’s the subject of posture. Clothing is designed for an upright body. If you have hunched shoulders or are starting to get a rounded back, now is not too late to start working on your posture. Yoga and regular gentle stretching can do wonders for this. (It also helps all your organs function better because you will take the compression off the front of your body.)
So, do an honest assessment of your body’s shape and the areas you feel you must cover before you shop for a new garment.
When I’ve polled my readers about shopping as they age, I always ask how they want to be seen. They consistently use words like sophisticated, hip, and self-aware. They also want to be “current,” meaning fashion-forward but not overly trendy.
But the biggest mistake I see among them, especially among retired clients, is that they have trouble letting go of the colors and styles they are familiar with, regardless of how those suit their current lifestyle and body. It’s hard to let go of the familiar. But the value is that updating a wardrobe can be a real mood elevator.
I once did a closet clearing for a woman who hung onto oversized (she was tiny, even then) very “cutesy” dresses that were over 30 years old and that were considered extremely fashionable at the time. They also reminded her of an enjoyable phase in her life.
We analyzed the details of those dresses to determine what it was about them that she loved. Then we applied those criteria to several of her more current wardrobe items and created a wish list for what to add. She loved the new version of her style.
So, do some careful analysis of your closet. Be honest with yourself about whether you will ever, realistically, wear each of the garments again. But take note of what you like about certain pieces because there is always something more fashion-forward that will incorporate those elements.
When you update, be sure to go for higher quality garments. If money is tight, there are always sales on the better brands, especially now when retailers are scrambling for customers. And be willing to look at current trends, even those aimed at younger women. Once you understand what you need, you can apply the criteria of what you like to the trend and find something in a color or textile that you would enjoy wearing.
A change of climate or very different social environment might require a bigger wardrobe overhaul. But if you have always been a buttoned-down classic type, it’s not likely you will become a sarong-wrapping vamp overnight.
Or if you have always been something of a free spirit or quintessential bohemian type, you aren’t going to give up your layers of accessories and loose flowing garments and suddenly embrace a minimalist wardrobe. (Actually, you will likely just become an admired, more iconic version of yourself.) In either case, it might just be the textiles that need updating to suit that new climate or environment.
So let’s look at how to experiment a little with new or slightly different versions of the garments you already wear.
Some women as they age – especially those with brighter, peachier coloring – can still wear a lot of multi-color prints. But for many women over 70, particularly those with more subtle or more rich-toned coloring, a mono-color or tonal outfit (two shades of the same color) will create the most elegant, sophisticated and hip look.
That might be a combination like olive green slacks worn with a lighter shade of olive (or a similarly yellow-green toned) blouse or sweater. Or, for example, if your darkest neutral falls in the purple range, a deep purple suit with and orchid sweater or top could be spectacular.
The truth is, older women, regardless of coloring, look terrific in mono and tonal outfits. If you want to bring some brighter color to a darker monochrome, tonal, or all neutral look, accessorize with another color. But preferably, choose one that also incorporates one of the colors in the outfit. That could be a two-toned bag, shoes, or multi-colored scarf.
Your darker neutrals can be any in a range from black to charcoal, aubergine to burgundy, forest green to dark olive, brown to tan. But lately we’ve also started seeing a lot of white and ivory in slacks, jeans and outerwear for the fall and winter. That puts to rest the old adage that “you can’t wear white after Labor Day” (the first Monday in September in the US).
You can wear these darker neutrals with other neutrals in sweaters and tops and outerwear for a very sophisticated look. Or, for a really “wow” look, try pairing them with an exactly matching shade of white. This is an especially great option if your hair has turned white or silver.
If you are carrying more weight, particularly in your mid-section, or if you are very busty, avoid anything with horizontal stripes, especially large stripes. They will add pounds to you and shorten you. Striped tees and sweaters are very popular again, but they mostly work for a more rectangle-shaped body or for women with smaller busts. Vertical narrow striped classic shirts will work for almost every style.
Whenever it comes to patterns, you have to take into consideration your height, weight, and the parameters of your style. Dramatic, flamboyant, or romantic style types, particularly taller women, can still wear larger prints in general, especially florals.
But be careful with novelty prints. Unless your wardrobe is still full of mostly quirky and playful things, they can make you look a little silly. Polka dots suggest youthfulness and playfulness, and work well if you have dimples and a fundamentally buoyant nature. But whatever your style, keep the dots on the smaller side.
Animal prints are a definite “yes” for women after 70: shoes, bags, scarves, skirts (yes, skirts!), even dresses. The only thing to watch for is the background color. If you have very striking coloring, lighter white or tan backgrounds are fine. If your coloring is more ivory, olive or pale, look for a toned down white or tan background.
If the idea of a tonal or monochrome outfit seemed a little boring to you, you can make it really sophisticated by mixing up the textiles and weaves. For example, wear one or two pieces with a weave, one flat. That might be a textured or cable-knit sweater with similar-colored flannel slacks. Or, it could be a garment with a patterned weave, such as a herringbone or houndstooth jacket, worn with plain weave wool pants that match one of the colors in the jacket weave.
And you can always add a bag, shoes or other accessory with even a third type textile, such as suede or tweed. Or you could accessorize slacks and a similar colored cotton sweater or blouse with a leather jacket or blazer, all in the same color family.
But for special events or to add a little shine and flirtiness (yes, 70-year-olds can still flirt) satin is another option. It’s extremely popular right now in everything from blouses to skirts and dresses. A midi-length satin slip skirt, even one in an animal print, could be the basis of a great look.
Pair it with a soft cashmere or alpaca cardigan (or “jumper” as they are known in the UK) add a pair of sling-back lower heels, small gold or gemstone earrings. Add a blazer and you have a pretty and very fashion-forward holiday outfit.
If you are loathe to wear animal skins, the newer versions of faux leather really look amazingly like the real thing. And softer real or faux leather is extremely popular this year. We’re seeing it in pants, jackets, dresses, shirts, and trench coats.
Now a little personal confession: when I wrote the first edition of my book, I discouraged older women from wearing leather pants. That’s because fewer of us over 70 have the body to carry this look off without looking a bit like we’re “trying too hard.” Also soft, fitted leather is often pretty revealing of the body underneath it. If you have a big bottom, heavy legs, or really thin legs, I don’t recommend it.
But I have been a bit chastised about this. One of my mentors told me that her step-mother looked fabulous in leather pants well into her 80s. So it’s your call. (BTW, I did edit that section in my book a bit!)
A dress, trench or longer blazer in leather is a fairly dramatic look. If you feel comfortable and authentic in it, that’s fine. But another option is a knee-length or midi leather skirt. This could be worn with flat – or flatter heeled knee high boots, tailored cotton or silk satin blouses or cashmere pullover sweaters, and a blazer, jacket or a longer cardigan. Our much-loved shorter cardigans will never really go out of style, but if your outfit is too prim or classic, consider the new longer cardigans for a more updated look.
Finally, go for as much natural fiber as possible in everything you wear. Woven bamboo or tencel drape beautifully, and wool, silk, cashmere, and linen last longer and are more flattering than synthetics. Just ditch any light weight cheap looking garment in polyester. You deserve better now.
In my 50s, a friend’s daughter (who taught middle school and therefore had to be a very good judge of personalities) said, “I get you – you want to be taken seriously.” Oh, was she ever right!
Because my underlying personality and style has always been a little bit quirky or playful, I often felt people didn’t get to see all of me. So, when I hit 70, I felt I had finally earned the right to own my more sophisticated side.
I went through my closet and tossed anything that seemed passe, required too many accessories to pull off, or just took too much work to convince myself that I could still wear it. I created a very wearable and much smaller wardrobe of very interchangeable items and kept a few of my hipper and edgier pieces and jackets to maintain the other facets of my style.
So, don’t let a number define you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are stuck with limited options because you’ve reached your 70s. It all comes down to how you want to be perceived at this stage of your life. Dress up and show up.
We’ll look at style icons over 70 next month!
How has your wardrobe changed since you turned 70? What have you stopped wearing that you used to wear? What new trends have you tried or are you considering? What has been your feedback about those?