When you hit your 40s, the best thing about aging is that you know yourself better than ever. You want to look good and feel great for yourself.
With fashion, you could fill a room with all the clothing styles you’ve tried in your life. Some are now permanent elements of your personal style, and 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 great 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 while sharing 20 style tips for elevating and honing your personal style.
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 helpful 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 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. This will help you get clear about how to put together outfits you love and develop your own unique style. Save pictures of everything you like and start trying to replicate the looks to see how they feel on your body.
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. Do they push up their sleeves? What jewelry and accessories are they wearing?
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 with artistic statement necklaces.
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 a new trend. Clothes that fit perfectly convey confidence and a sense of personal style.
3. Identify your signature style.
In her book How to Get Dressed, costume designer Allison Freer says to identify the essence of your personal style. And select a few words that capture it. Stylist Allison Borstein takes this process one step further in her book Wear it Well and suggests you select three words that capture your unique style. The first word captures the essence of the go-to styles where you feel most at ease—words like sporty, tailored, or casual. The second word is aspirational and inspires and excites you as you put together looks—words like whimsical, edgy, bold, or elegant. The third word says how you want to feel in your clothes– words like classic, playful, understated, or comfortable.
My signature style has evolved over the last three years. I started out thinking I liked Boho looks. But over time, the looks I love remind me of elevated, Ralph Lauren equestrian style. I love timeless, tailored blazers, crisp button-down shirts, horse-bit details, brown leather, and quilted coats. Right now, my three words are equestrian + upscale + classic. These words help me stay true to my personal style when I’m purging my closet and shopping for new pieces.
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 started this blog, I didn’t use my body measurements and ordered tons of jeans to find some that fit. None of them did. It turns out I am hard to fit with 43-inch hips and a 31-inch waist.
If you feel 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 four spots on your body.
First, around the widest spot on your shoulders.
Then, for your bust size, around the fullest spot on your chest 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.
If your body is changing in midlife and you’re struggling to feel good in outfits, learning about your body type can help. There are five body types. The triangle, inverted triangle, oval, hourglass, and rectangle. Using strategic styling, you can highlight the parts of your body you love and de-emphasize parts you don’t.
Check out How to Look Good in Your Clothes by Dressing for Your Body Type to discover your body type and the best way to dress it.
I’m a triangle body type. I’m smaller up top and larger on the bottom. At 160 lbs., wearing size 12 jeans with a 36-B bust, my goal is to balance the proportions of my upper and lower body. Here, I’m wearing an oversized white blouse with slim-fitting kick crop jeans to create the illusion of a balanced upper and lower body.
6. If you have a hard time finding jeans that fit, look for jeans with stretch.
Nothing beats a great pair of jeans. But so many of us struggle to find the best style for us, me included! 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 need jeans with more stretch. I cannot wear a jean that’s 99% or 100% cotton (unless they’re wide leg). I need around 94% cotton (or less) in my jeans. With the rest going to a stretchy blend of fibers (polyester, elastane)
Now my success rate with ordering pants and jeans is nearly 100%. Read the product description to find out the fabric content of jeans before ordering them.
For some time, skinny jeans were the best option if you were looking for stretchy jeans. But in the last few years, the stretchy jeans options have exploded. My post, 6 Best Denim Styles to Wear Instead of Skinny Jeans, can help you explore other styles of jeans. Learn my favorite brands and ways to style them.
7. Go to the stores just to try on different styles.
With your Pinterest mood board in mind, go to the store just to try on new styles. Try pieces on and make full outfits 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.
Pay attention to what you like and what flatters your body shape. This insight will help you pinpoint the key pieces that should form the foundation of your wardrobe
You’ll want your wardrobe essentials to reflect your lifestyle and 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, go to an office, run after little kids, or attend formal events.
A basic outfit formula generally includes a bottom, a top, a completer piece like a cardigan or other sweater, blazer or jacket, plus shoes. Those pieces become wardrobe essentials.
Have great fitting basics in your closet, and you’re on your way to building complete outfits.
- A good pair of jeans that fit you well. Find the jean shape that works for you, whether straight leg, flare, kick crop or wide-leg jeans. Dark wash hemmed jeans without distressing, whiskering, or bleaching are 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 a t-shirt and cardigan.
- 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. A white button-down shirt is a wardrobe essential for many women, along with a perfect white t-shirt and a white tank top. Wear the white button-down shirt under a blazer to work or with jeans for a sharp, classic look. A white tee goes with everything from jeans to trousers, 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 tops in different colors that make your skin tone pop. If bold and bright colors feel like you, add them to your wardrobe.
- If it feels like your style, go for a beautifully cut, high-quality fabric blazer that works with your trouser pants for work. Or with jeans and a graphic T-shirt for casual Fridays.
- Have a cardigan sweater that easily pairs with dresses, skirts, trousers, and jeans.
- Consider a denim jacket or black leather jacket that easily tops off your trousers, skirts, and dresses.
For ideas about how to style denim and leather jackets, check out these posts:
20 Best Outfit Ideas for How to Wear a Jean Jacket
30 Cute Denim Jacket Outfits: Best Jean Jacket Ideas
18 Outfits: What to Wear With a Black Leather Jacket
15 Really Good Outfits: How to Wear a Brown Leather Jacket
This Houndstooth blazer is a favorite from J.Crew Factory.
A great pair of shoes elevates an outfit. Shoes are a big deal. And inexpensive shoes can sink an outfit. Choose the ones that fit 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 your ankle-length jeans.
- A pair of black loafers is comfortable and easy to pair with jeans, pants, dresses, or skirts.
For ideas about pairing shoes with clothes, check out these posts:
23 Fresh Looks: How to Wear White Sneakers All Year Long
The Best Shoes to Wear with Different Types of Jeans
How to Easily Wear Ankle Boots with Straight Leg Jeans
30 Best Classy + Cool Loafers Outfit Ideas (2024)
Chanel-inspired cap toe flats easily elevate a simple leggings outfit.
- 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 a colored dress that lights up your skin tone.
This is a short-sleeved shirt dress that I can wear in warmer or colder months.
- A trench coat is super versatile and works 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 heavy fabric.
For ideas about wearing coats, check out these posts:
20 Stylish + Chic Ways to Wear a Trench Coat Right Now
15 Stylish Coats and Jackets to Wear With Dresses
This list of wardrobe essentials will give you a solid foundation for getting dressed. 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. This post, 10 Outfit Formulas To Create Fresh Statement Looks, can give you some ideas.
My favorite outfit formulas are elevated casual and pair casual bottoms like jeans with statement blouses, sweaters, or blazers.
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 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 look at the current trends for fresh colors to mix 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 are good-looking and draw your eye up and down, creating a slimming effect.
A button-down shirt 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 is a very simple outfit that’s more interesting thanks to the ribbed texture on the dress.
Look for clothes with good quality fabrics and interesting textures and patterns.
12. Focus on how clothing fits you to look stylish.
You heard me say it before, but 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.
Build a wardrobe that’s 80% classic staples and 20% trends. Adding in trends keeps your wardrobe looking fresh. A great thing about putting together stylish outfits after 40 is that you’ve seen many of the fashion trends before. Keep an open mind about them and try them even if you didn’t like them in the past. You may be surprised by what you like this time around. Our taste has evolved since then, so giving them a second look is worth it. If jeans are a wardrobe staple for you, adopting the latest jean styles is a great way to keep your look current.
In this look, I’m wearing a trending classic Chanel-inspired tweed cardigan sweater with classic and trendy wide-leg trousers.
14. Know where to splurge and where to save.
Spend on classic pieces with quality fabrics that you’ll wear year after year. High quality lasts. The tailoring, cut, and fabric make a difference.
Spend more on staples you’ll wear every day. And less on items you’ll rarely wear.
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.
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 hairstyle.
If you’re in a style rut, freshening up your hairstyle can help. If you’ve had the same haircut for the last 20 years, ask yourself, 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. Wear it straighter, or create a subtle beachy wave with a curling iron to freshen up your look. Or wear your bangs longer and swept to the side.
The most important thing is to follow your personal preference and wear what’s right for you. A middle part is on trend right now, but a side part is more flattering for me, so that’s what I prefer to wear.
Gone are the days when women get short haircuts as they age. Having long hair does not drag down your face. With the right hair products and care, long hair can look healthy, vibrant, and flattering.
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. If you hesitate about your outfit, ask yourself: Is this hesitation because the style is new to you and feels unfamiliar, or because it’s truly inappropriate?
Anytime I try on a new style that pushes me out of my comfort zone, I have this little voice in 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.
Wondering if you can wear something over 40? The way we dress differs from how our mothers dressed at this age. You don’t need to stop wearing shorts, start covering your arms, or give up crop tops. The truth is, you can wear anything you want as long as you feel confident in it. As I say that, I know that response doesn’t help when you’re in the dressing room feeling unsure about what you’re wearing. So, let me address some common conundrums.
When the topic of ‘age appropriateness’ arises, many of us immediately consider skirt lengths and the suitability of short dresses. For that reason, I’d like to share a straightforward trick to help you determine the right skirt length for you.
19. Measure the length of your skirt by the tip of your middle finger.
For skirt length, maintaining a hem that is proportional to your body type is essential for achieving a stylish look while eliminating concerns about the skirt being too short.
There’s a quick test you can use 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 this very cute ruffle-neck cotton dress that hits a few inches above the knee.
Dress (sold out) | Belt Bag
This dress works because it has a relaxed swing silhouette.
While short and tight outfits tend to attract attention—a style many of us intentionally embraced in our 20s, often associated with nights out clubbing—such choices can evoke different reactions as we age. On someone 40 or over, it might prompt speculation about whether they’re attempting to reclaim their youth.
20. Look chic wearing slim-fitting outfits.
Absolutely, you can continue to wear form-fitting bodycon or sweater dresses if they make you feel confident and comfortable. To achieve a chic look, two aspects are crucial.
First, as previously mentioned, is the length of the dress.
Second, the choice of footwear plays a significant role. Opting for very high heels gives off the impression that you’re heading out for a date night or a night of dancing. If that’s your intention, then by all means, embrace it.
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 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.