Rule #1: Thou shall not have long hair after age 40
No long hair-or short skirts-after 40? No white after Labour Day? No, thank you! It’s time to stop thinking of fashion in terms of the 10 Commandments, and start thinking in terms of the Golden Rule. As What Not to Wear’s Stacy London puts it, “It’s not about should I wear it, it’s about, does it look flattering on me?”
Writer Dominique Browning set off a cyber-firestorm of comments when she wrote about having long locks at 55 in The New York Times, asking “why can’t middle-aged women have long hair?” The only reason anyone could come up with is tradition. “It used to be, once you became a mother you’d have to do the June Cleaver,” says Amy Tara Koch, a Chicago-based style expert and author of the style guide Bump it Up! “It just makes you look so old!”
REVISE: After 40 you absolutely can wear your hair long, or super short, or whatever style flatters your face. “The problem is when you date yourself with a style or a non-style, that actually ages you instead of making you look youthful,” says London. So skip the inch-high hair-sprayed bangs you did in high school; instead, have your stylist layer your long locks into a face-framing shape that’s past your shoulders (provided your hair is strong and lustrous). In fact, says Koch, long hair is sometimes even more flattering as we get older. “A lot of actresses use bangs to cover up wrinkles on their foreheads,” she observes. “Look at Goldie Hawn.”
Rule #2: Thou shall always match thy shoes, bag, and belt
We’ve all heard it said by an authority figure, often one looking askance at our sandals: “You can always tell a lady by her coordinated, shoes, belt, and bag.” While that was true once, says Koch, “That time is so over.” Even Jackie Kennedy, who worked the matching hat-and-suit, shoes-and-bag rule to such success in the early ’60s, abandoned the “coordinated set” look for sling-backs and totes large enough to carry the manuscripts she was editing once she was known as Jackie Onassis.
REVISE: “Matching your hat to your shoe to your bag, or your necklace to your earrings, has a tendency to look dated,” says London. “Mixing up your accessories adds interest to an outfit, and can make you look much more modern and polished.” Your accessories should complement your outfit, not carbon copy it. “If you’re wearing a dress with a really bold print, then your bag and shoes should be solid,” says Koch. Conversely, if you’re wearing a neutral outfit, pick a shoe, bag, or shawl with a print. Look to accessories to modernize things you already have in your wardrobe.
Rule #3: Thou shall not mix black and navy (or black and brown)
You know the theory: Pick one neutral and accent it with bright colours, because two basic colours will clash over which is dominant, resulting in your basic wardrobe power struggle. But in a post-Cold War age, can’t we all just get along? Even our navy shift and black jacket?
REVISE: To get a little existentialist, when it comes to mixing black and navy (or brown), it’s the intention behind the pairing that counts. What does that mean? “You want to wear them in a healthy dose of both colours, so it’s clear you did it on purpose, not like you got dressed in the dark and wore brown shoes with an all-black outfit by accident,” says London. Or, in the words of style expert and host of MSN’s Beauty BFF Jenn Falik, “make sure everything has another anchor; if you’re wearing black with one brown piece, throw in another one.” A brown dress and shoes with black tights and a black belt would be ideal, for example.