The days of shapeless, frumpy clothing for seniors are over. With celebrities such as Helen Mirren stepping out in stylish designer dresses and chic suits, today's golden agers are more interested than ever in revamping their wardrobes and wearing the latest trends.
Brenda Kinsel -- the owner of Inside Out, a style and wardrobe consulting company, and the author of five books, including "40 Over 40: 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed" -- says to start defining your personal sense of style by looking at the objects around your home that are most "you," items you love. "Determine what it is about these objects, and (write down) words that describe these items," she says. "You might use words like elegant, luxurious, fun, dramatic, grand, regal, whimsical or charming, words that you'd feel flattered by if someone said that about you."
Kinsel says to keep those adjectives in mind the next time you go clothes shopping. As you try on new styles, "hold out for the garments that make you feel the way your style words make you feel."
Look for classic items, such as trousers, but in modern fabrics, such as organic cotton. Kinsel says, "A classic trouser in a modern fabric could replace an old favorite but be 10 times hipper or more youthful because of the fabric." For tops, a classic white button-down shirt can be a refreshing wardrobe staple, but choose one with a light curve at the waist to accent your shape. Stylists warn seniors not to give in to the temptation to dress in larger, shapeless clothing. Choose items that complement the silhouette of your body, especially if you wear a plus size. Larger, baggy clothing doesn't make you look slimmer; in most instances, the baggy look adds inches to your frame, and most people don't feel good in frumpy styles. "Look for items with some Lycra in them. It allows a garment to fit closer to our body and look shapelier," Kinsel says.
"It's very important for a woman to define at least half of her body," Kinsel advises in her book. A waist-defining top is stylish and trendy with a classic pair of pants or a skirt. Or choose a trendy piece for just your top or bottom. You can wear a bohemian-style top with a classic pair of trousers or a skirt, or you can choose a floral skirt with a solid-colored round-neck top.
Many seniors aren't used to body-defining clothing, especially if they've been dressing in oversize clothing for a long time. But fight your frumpy urges and be adventurous. Overcome your assumptions that dressing in such a way is "too young." Even 20-somethings and 30-somethings face the same challenge of adjusting to body-flattering clothing and avoiding oversize fashions.
Shoes are an instant wardrobe updater and a feel-good purchase. "Use my 50 percent rule," Kinsel says. "If platform shoes are in and the trendiest ones are 4 inches high, cut it by half and find the ones that are 2 inches high."
Challenge yourself to venture into different stores and departments to experiment with different looks. Your perfect new style might be in a shop you've newly discovered.
*Getting Styling Help
Many department stores employ personal stylists who will interview you about your personal style and the look you want, take your measurements and preselect outfits and accessories before your appointment. The service is often free, and stylists earn commission if you happen to purchase any of their suggested items. Look into these programs at your favorite department stores to see whether you can get the assistance of an experienced stylist with a trained eye in styles and colors you might not have tried on otherwise. "I never wore yellow before," says Lydia Engle, who recently had the help of a stylist. "And I was quite nervous when I saw a yellow blazer in the stylist's picks. But it looked great on me and is now my favorite new wardrobe item. I get lots of compliments on it."
*A Signature Piece
One way that a senior on a budget can give her wardrobe new life is to select a "signature" item of clothing, piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. Your signature piece will reflect your style, your coloring, your favorite hue or your favorite material.
When it comes to jewelry, Kinsel says it's important that you tailor it to your features. "If you have medium- to large-scale features, your jewelry should be the same scale. If you have delicate features, your jewelry should be delicate, as well."
Another signature piece might be a pretty scarf, in your signature solids or a floral pattern, bought inexpensively at a store such as Target. New fashions don't have to be pricey!