When you hit your 40s, you know yourself better than ever and you want to look good and feel great for yourself.
With fashion, you could fill a bathtub with all the clothing styles you’ve tried in your life. Some are now permanent elements of your personal style, others were quickly donated.
But now you may wonder how you can strike the right balance, not looking too young or older than you are?
How can you find your style and look good after 40? And, what can you wear over 40?
In this article, I’m going to answer the questions that are top of mind for you about style over 40.
I’m not big on “shoulds”. This blog is called “Be So You” for a reason. But I also know that to feel confident, it’s good to know some basic style guidelines. Then you can intentionally break them to feel like yourself.
I’m a firm believer that age should not dictate what you put on your body.
If you saw J.Lo perform at halftime of the Super Bowl at 52, you know we define midlife differently today than our parents did.
We can wear what we feel good in without apologizing.
If you’re struggling with body changes. Are in a style rut. Or have been too overwhelmed by taking care of other people to spend time on yourself, investing in your style can be a great way to reconnect with yourself.
What you wear changes how you show up in the world. And how you feel in your own skin.
Style is a way to show that you’re still you as your life goes through transitions.
This is the best time to build an intentional wardrobe that represents who you are now!
Are you ready? Let’s do this!
First up, how to find your style after 40.
How do you find your style and look good after 40?
Your style should reflect items you love! And that you feel good in. Here’s how to figure out the pieces that are right for you.
1. Make a style mood board.
Figure out what you love by making a style mood board.
Back in the day we’d grab a stack of fashion magazines and clip pictures. Now you can build a board of fashion inspiration on Pinterest. Save pictures of everything you love. And follow me while you’re there!
2. Hone your eye for details that make an outfit stylish.
Notice the people around you and on TV that look stylish. See how they put together an outfit. And notice the little touches that make an outfit stand out.
I love the cooking show Zoe Bakes. Zoe always looks well dressed. She’s not trendy. With a nod to her hometown of Minnesota, she wears mostly plaid button down shirts tucked into wide leg jeans. Usually with an artistic statement necklace.
With her natural curls and graying hair, she has a consistent sense of personal style that’s just her being her. And her clothes fit her impeccably. How your clothes fit you is more important for looking stylish than wearing something that’s trending. Poor fit isn’t flattering.
3. Identify your signature style.
Costume designer, Allison Freer, in her book How to Get Dressed, says to identify the essence of your personal style. And select a few words that capture it.
My signature style is “Minimalist Boho Audrey”. I’m a bit of a free spirit, but with an eye towards classic and clean lines. I love understated natural Boho elements. And also Audrey Hepburn’s 1954 iconic and classic look with tapered pants, a black top and flat shoes. Remembering “Minimalist Boho Audrey” helps me to stay true to my personal style when I’m in the stores.
Why not pair flare jeans and clogs with a classic white button down shirt? It’s the perfect combination, in my mind.
4. Take your measurements to identify your body type.
If your body has changed, the idea of measuring it is the last thing you want to do. But it’s also the key to creating outfit formulas you’ll love on your body.
When I first started this blog, I didn’t use my body measurements and ordered tons of jeans trying to find some that fit. None of them did. Turns out, I have a hard to fit bottom with 43-inch hips and a 31-inch waist.
If you’ve been feeling like nothing fits your body, I’ve been where you are. Start by taking your measurements.
Grab a cloth measuring tape and, in your underwear, stand in front of a full-length mirror. Wrap the measuring tape around 4 spots on your body.
First, around the widest spot on your shoulders. You may need help for this one.
Then, for your bust size, around the fullest spot on your chest going under your arms.
Next, measure around your natural waist. When you bend to the side, it’s the part that pivots.
And last, measure at the widest part of your hips.
Once you know your measurements, you can see your body shape. Are you smaller on the top or bottom? Or straight up and down? Knowing your body type, you can dress to balance your proportions.
Good style is all about balancing proportions with clothing that fits you well.
5. Aim to balance your proportions based on your body type.
There are 5 body types. Triangle, inverted triangle, oval, hourglass and rectangular. Read the description that applies to your body shape to learn how to balance your proportions using clothes.
Triangle (also known as pear shaped)
If you’re smaller on the top and larger on the bottom, you’re triangle or pear shaped.
Play with styles that enhance your upper half and draw the eye up.
Pocket shirts, puff sleeve tops, boat neck and striped shirts, and flutter, muscle or cap sleeve tees can all make your upper body look more in proportion to your lower body.
Try high-rise pants and jeans in a straight cut, boot cut, flare or wide leg that help to balance the top and bottom half.
This is my body type. I have a size small top and size 12 bottom. I love a puff sleeve or striped top that enhances my smaller upper body. Paired with a cropped flare jean, my bum looks straighter and my top and bottom are more proportional.
If your shoulders and back or bust are wider than your hips, you’re an inverted triangle. Your goal is to dress the upper body without adding visual weight up top. And to enhance the bottom and draw your eye down.
Keep it simple up top. Avoiding ruffles, patterns or extra embellishments. Choose fitted button downs, scoop necks, v-necks, wrap and peplum tops.
Try boyfriend jeans, boot cut, flared and wide leg jeans to balance your upper half. Pair skinny jeans or leggings with a loose top.
If your shoulders, bust, waist and hips all have similar dimensions, perhaps with a little extra in the middle, you’re a round body type. Your goal is to create an hourglass shape by defining your waistline, creating strong shoulders, and elongating your body.
For tops, choose pieces that end above or below the widest part on your hips. Choose v-necks, scoop necks, wide or deep necklines, wrap tops and long tunics that cinch in at the waist and flare out gently.
Look for straight or bootcut jeans in a dark wash with a bit of stretch and minimal details or embellishments.
Hourglass (also known as curvy)
If you have equal width at your shoulders and hips, with a defined waist, you’re hourglass or curvy. You naturally look proportional. Wearing belts is an easy way to play up your natural waist. You look great in garments that skim your body to showcase your natural shape. Stay away from clothes that add bulk or hide your natural curves or make you look boxy.
Look for fitted but not tight v-neck, scoop and round neckline shirts. Wrap tops and fitted button downs also look great.
Go for high-waisted jeans and pants in boot cut or flare shapes to balance out your curves. You can also do a straight fit and wide leg jeans.
Rectangular (also known as straight or athletic)
You’re more straight up and down. Your shoulders, waist and hips are nearly the same width.
Your body looks great in just about any style.
You want to choose clothes that create curves. If you’re wearing a fitted top, pick a wider-leg bottom. If you’re wearing an oversized top, pick a slimmer, tapered pant.
Try scoop and round necklines, flutter and puff sleeves, wrap tops, and button downs.
Wear a belt and high-waisted jeans and pants to enhance the waist. Try skinny, straight, boot cut and wide leg jeans.
If you don’t fit into one type, it’s possible you’re a mixture of two types.
6. If you have a hard to fit bottom, look for jeans and pants with stretch.
1 in 3 women are larger on the bottom than on top. This is me. I’m 5’6”, 160 pounds and a size small on top and 12 on the bottom. After studying jean sizes for one popular store, I was stumped about why none of their jeans worked for me. So I wrote to customer service for help.
Turns out, I needed to select jeans with more stretch. I cannot wear a jean that’s 99% or 100% cotton (unless they’re very wide leg). I need around 94% cotton (or less) in my jeans. With the rest going to a stretchy blend of fibers (polyester, elastane)
Knowing that, my success rate with ordering pants and jeans is nearly 100% now. I have really good luck with Gap High Rise Kick Crop Jeans, J.Crew Mercantile High Rise Boot Cut Jeans, Levi’s Mid Rise Classic Straight Jeans, Loft Curvy High Waist Kick Crop, and Loft Curvy Straight Jeans. They all fit true to size.
At 5’6″, for straight jeans, I prefer short length or cropped so they show my ankle and work with ankle booties for cold weather.
7. Go to the stores just to try on different styles.
Armed with ideas for styles you want to try, go to the store to investigate what works for your body. Try things on with no pressure to buy. Read labels to see the fabric content and stretch.
Take selfies in the mirror with each item you try. Seeing yourself in a picture gives you a different perspective.
Make note of what you like and what works for your body. You’ll use this research to identify wardrobe essentials.
You’ll want your wardrobe essentials to reflect your lifestyle and your style aesthetic.
8. Stock your closet with the wardrobe essentials to put together great outfits.
Your clothes need to work for your real life. Whether you work from home or go to an office. Or if you need to run after little kids or go to formal events.
But generally, a basic outfit formula will include a bottom, a top, a completer piece like a cardigan or other sweater, blazer or jacket, and shoes.
Have great fitting basics in your closet and you’re on your way to mixing and matching outfits.
- A good pair of jeans that fit you well. Whether it’s skinny jeans, straight leg, boot cut, flare or wide leg, find the jean shape that works for you. A dark wash hemmed jean without distressing, whiskering or bleaching is a great choice for casual Fridays at the office.
- A pair of well-fitting trouser pants. They can be dressed up with a blazer or dressed down with a t-shirt and cardigan over top.
- A black skirt. An A-line, straight or pencil skirt could take you from the office to a night out with a change of shoes and accessories.
- The perfect white shirt. Consider a white button down shirt, a perfect white t-shirt, and a white tank top. Wear the white button down under a blazer to work or with jeans for a sharp classic look. A white tee goes with everything from jeans to trouser pants, to skirts. Wear the tank top with a skirt in summer or layered under a sweater in cooler months.
- Mixable tops. Try black, neutrals, and solid color tops that make your skin tone pop. If bold colors and bright colors feel like you, then add them to your wardrobe.
My favorite white tee is the Vintage Soft Tee from Loft. Wearing a flesh tone bra keeps the bra from showing through.
- Go for a beautifully cut, high quality fabric blazer that works with your trouser pants to mix and match for work. Or over jeans and a graphic t-shirt for casual fridays.
- Have a cardigan sweater in a neutral color that easily pairs with the dresses, skirts, trousers and jeans you own.
- Consider a denim jacket or black leather jacket that easily tops off your trousers, skirts, and dresses.
This navy blazer is a favorite from J.Crew Factory.
A great pair of shoes elevates an outfit. Shoes are a big deal. And cheap shoes can sink an outfit. Choose the ones that fit for your lifestyle. Here are some to consider.
- A white fashion sneaker to pair with everything from jeans to skirts, dresses and trousers.
- A pair of ankle boots to go with you ankle length jeans.
- A pair of black flats or black pumps. A shoe with a pointy toe is a great way to make your legs look longer. Pair them with jeans, trousers, dresses or skirts.
- A pair of tall black boots that can be dressed up with a skirt or dress or worn over skinny jeans.
- Consider adding in shoes with animal prints that read like a neutral but add a pop of fun visual interest.
Here I’m wearing a versatile black d’Orasy pump. It’s two-toned with suede on the front and leather on the back so it works with jeans or dresses.
- A dress with a silhouette that you feel great in, that you can have on hand for unexpected invitations that require you to dress up. This could be a black dress, if that feels like you, or it could be a colored dress that lights up your skin tone.
Here’s an A-line Herringbone dress I’m loving for the colder months.
- The trench coat is super versatile and works for day or night, with trendy or classic pieces and when you’re dressed up or going casual.
- A long winter coat if you encounter cool weather. Consider a classic wool, tweed, or cashmere coat with a good and weighty fabric.
This list will give you a solid wardrobe foundation.
When you have the essentials, you can mix and match them in interesting ways and create core outfit formulas.
9. Identify the top 10 outfit formulas you love to wear.
In Episode 72 of The Who What Wear podcast, stylist Erin Walsh, talks about identifying the outfit silhouettes you love to wear and can go to again and again.
Create your own style guide made up of your core outfit formulas.
Think about your favorite wardrobe essentials, the shapes of bottoms, tops and dresses that always work for you. So you can consistently create casual outfits, and outfits for work and special occasions too.
When you know the pieces in your style guide, you can shop for them again and again.
10. Choose core colors for your wardrobe so everything easily coordinates.
With core colors, all your tops and bottoms can be mixed and matched easily. This reduces decision fatigue.
How do you decide the colors to focus on? Ask yourself, what colors do you love? Look in your closet now. What are the top 5 colors in your closet? Consider your jackets and scarves in that too.
If you could only choose one color for your wardrobe, what would it be? If you knew you would run into an ex or someone you wanted to impress, what color would you want to wear?
Are you into neutrals and more of a minimalist? Or is it bold, bright and eye-catching colors that light you up and make you feel great?
You can also add a pop of trending colors, if they mix well with your wardrobe essentials.
11. Use patterned and textured fabrics to create visual interest in an outfit.
Stripes are a classic and easy way to make an outfit pop. A white and black horizontal stripe is a staple for a reason. Thin, closely spaced horizontal stripes draw your eye up and down and always look sharp.
A button down with a vertical stripe or checkered pattern can be worn year after year.
Fabrics with weaves like a herringbone, tweed or heavy weight eyelet are easily good looking and make an outfit more interesting.
This black blouse with clip dots makes the overall outfit more eye catching. You’ll also notice I’m pairing brown shoes with black. This is a color pairing that’s trending right now.
Look for clothes with good quality fabrics and interesting textures and patterns.
12. Focus on how clothing fits you rather than on following fashion trends.
You heard me say it before, how your clothes fit is more important for looking stylish than wearing something that’s trending.
If you have a body that’s harder to fit, I know what that’s like. It takes a lot of trial and error to find pieces that fit well. Keep trying. You will get there.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to make sure your clothes fit well.
- Is there pulling and gapping at the bust or in the buttons across your chest?
- Can you see visible bra or panty lines because fabric is pulled taught to the body?
- Is there gapping at the armholes?
- Is the fabric pulling tight at your stomach?
- Is the crotch drooping?
13. Lean into trends you’re excited about and ignore the rest.
A great thing about putting together stylish outfits after 40 is that you’ve seen many of the trends before. You know what to lean into and what to ignore.
I was pumped to see flare jeans back in the stores. I actually missed wearing them.
If you feel that way about a trend, jump on board. If not, let it pass you by.
14. Know where to splurge and where to save.
Spend on classic pieces with quality fabrics that you’ll wear year after year. I still have one of my first blazer purchases. It’s a classic black blazer from Ann Taylor. High quality lasts.
You and I both know how quickly 10 years goes by and in the blink of an eye, you’ve been wearing the same coat the entire time.
If you’re experimenting with a new style for the first time and don’t know if you’ll love it, buy a less expensive version to try it out first. And don’t pay a ton for staples like t-shirts. Or on items you rarely wear. I don’t love wearing shorts and I always regret spending a lot of money on them.
15. Use accessories to look current.
Wearing trending jewelry and the latest shoes or bags with timeless and classic pieces is a great way to keep your look up to date. Once you’re happy with your closet and have all the wardrobe essentials covered, keep playing with your style by swapping out your accessories.
16. Revisit your hair style.
If you’re in a style rut, consider whether your hairstyle may play a role in that. If you’ve had the same haircut for the last 20-30 years, is your style still current?
You may only need to change up your look a little bit. Perhaps shifting your part or going for a deep side part would update your look. Maybe go a little longer or shorter. Or wear it straighter or add in a subtle beachy wave with a curling iron to freshen up your look.
If you’ve been perming your hair and bangs since the 80s, that’s a look you want to update.
The most important thing is to always do what’s right for you. A middle part is on trend right now, but I’m not likely to part my hair that way since a side part is more flattering on me.
So often as we become mature women, we turn to short haircuts since they can be lower maintenance as hair texture and thickness changes. If that feels like you and you have the face shape for it, go for that pixie cut, short crop, or long bob.
For me, I have thick hair with some curly hair underneath. I tried a short hairstyle a while back and it made more work since I had to blow dry it with a round brush after every wash.
When it’s longer, I can just let it air dry with some products in it and then use a flat iron or curling iron on it the next day. But as I age, it’s harder to keep it looking sleek and vibrant. Long hair with long layers feels like me right now, but it also requires deep conditioning.
17. Move your body regularly to stay flexible, stand tall and move with ease.
We get an instant visual impression of someone’s age based on how they move their body. And from their posture, flexibility and gait. As someone who has slouched my entire life, and who spends all day in front of a screen, building and maintaining core strength and flexibility to stand up straight is something I’m working on.
Work on it now to have it later in life. Your future self will thank you.
18. Ask yourself, am I out of my style comfort zone or is this outfit too youthful?
Wear what gives you joy regardless of age. And also, if you have a moment of pause about what you’re wearing, is it because it’s a new style for you and it feels different and you need to get used to it, or is it truly inappropriate?
Anytime I try on a new style that pushes me out of my comfort zone, I have this little voice inside my head that says, “can I wear this at my age”? I get it.
If you’re standing in a Forever 21 store dressing room having that thought, the answer may be the latter. Clothing in stores geared toward 20-somethings is cut proportionally different from clothing in a store geared toward midlife women, like Loft.
Can you wear this over 40?
You can still wear shorts and crop tops if you feel great in them.
And if you’re worried that wearing cardigans ages you, they are a practical layering piece that can stay part of your closet. However, if you’re wearing one that’s long and ties at the waist, swap that out for a more current look that stops at the hip.
The way we dress differs from how our mothers dressed at this age.
When we think of “age appropriateness”, what comes to mind first is skirt length and short dresses.
But I have a simple hack for you to judge skirt length.
19. Measure the length of your skirt by the tip of your middle finger.
For skirt length, keeping your hem length proportional to your body is the key to looking stylish and to never worrying if your skirt is too short.
There’s a quick test you can do to check your skirt and dress length. Is your hem longer than the tip of your middle finger? If it is, you’re likely good to go.
I used this when I bought a very cute flared embroidered black swing dress that hits a few inches above the knee.
The reason this dress works is that it’s a loose swing dress.
Short and tight gets noticed. When we were 20, we did this on purpose. When you see it, you wonder if that person is heading out clubbing. When you see it on someone 40 or over, people wonder if you’re trying to recapture your youth.
20. Be cautious about wearing outfits that are tight all over.
If you are comfortable wearing a close-fitting body con dress or sweater dress, two things matter to hit the right note and appear chic.
First is the length, like we just talked about.
Second is the shoes you wear with it. With very high heels, it looks like you’re going on a hot date or out dancing. If that’s where you’re going, then go for it.
One other thing about wearing tight clothes, if you’re wearing tight on top, wear loose on the bottom and vice versa. You create balanced proportions. You also avoid looking like you’ve outgrown your clothes.
Great style for women over 40
Style is a way to show that you’re still you as your life goes through transitions.
What you wear changes how you show up in the world. And how you feel in your own skin.
Investing in your style can be a great way to reconnect with yourself if you’ve been too busy with work and family.
Learn to dress the body you have now and it may surprise you to discover that there are things you love about your body that you never noticed before.
Hone your eye for the little details that make you feel great.
And above all else, keep being you.