The Secrets Of Ageless Style

Emblem from Symbolicarum quaestionum.
However appealing, naked is rarely a practical option! Image via Wikipedia

Any woman over the age of 40 (and it starts younger for many) knows the feeling of utter dread.

What do I wear now?

I  work in New York, surrounded by skinny, wealthy women with a lot more time and money to spend on their appearance, grooming, accessories and wardrobe. My mother was a model for a while and my skinny, elegant late step-mother had entire garment racks filled with very costly clothing, so I had beautiful and terrifyingly confident women around me as role models visually — but advice on how to look as great as they did?

Not so much.

I read all the fashion magazines for ideas and guidance, but can’t afford $1,500 handbags and $900 shoes. Nor am I a 15-year-old from Lithuania, on whom all clothes look amazing…

Here’s a video link to an interview with my favorite fashionista, Stacy London, of the TLC show “What Not To Wear”, who says, wisely: “Fear is a real detriment to great style.”

(She even has her own stylists. No wonder she looks so damn great!)

Here are some of the ways I dress well, at 54, on a budget:

A la francaise

French women think long and hard before adding something to their wardrobe. Is it chic? Flattering? Well-made? Americans have too many stores, are overwhelmed by too much choice and keep buying poorly made garments. Having lived in Paris and returned many times, I stick to French-style shopping — buying, and keeping for many years, fewer and better-made pieces.


The simplest black T (well-cut!) and trousers (ditto) can look totally different, thanks to accessories. I look for sales, vintage, antiques and, when possible, buy the very best I can afford at the time. I shop high when possible (Hermes, Manolos) but often low. Two chain necklaces from a super-cheap store in New York have won me multiple compliments. I buy cord and ribbon to make my own necklaces with lockets and other things I’ve picked up along the way, from an Atlanta boutique to a Toronto flea market; this New York store is a treasure trove of gorgeous ribbon.

Men can always up their game with great socks, beautifully maintained classic shoes (penny loafers, brogues), a silk pocket square, a fabulous tie. Fit matters! Watch the break in your trousers and the length of your sleeves. Details, gentlemen!

A tailor

Never forget how much good a good tailor can do. When I needed a black-tie outfit, I scored a gorgeous teal taffeta floor-length skirt at Loehmann’s, a local discount chain, for $80. A tailor removed the waist and altered it to fit beautifully. Very few clothes come in the exact size and shape that we do, especially as we age.

Men, too! “What Not To Wear’s” male star, Clinton Kelly, swears by them — and is opening a new set of retail stores.

Consignment shops

Rich ladies (and men) wear their silk and cashmere for about 20 minutes. They get bored. Or they never even wear it once. I have a few shops in a nearby town that have helped fill my closets with Ferragamo loafers, triple-ply cashmere and never-worn sandals from Prada and Sigerson Morrison. No one needs to know where your clothes and accessories come from.


This is a tricky area, as so much vintage clothing reads costume-y or fits poorly. But you can add a huge hit of style with the right choices, with styles, materials and workmanship often now priced out of reach. I love my fab black mohair hat from the 40s and a silk Genny dress I scored at this amazing Manhattan shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m in my fourth year of wearing it year-round and loving it.


Cut and color. Manicures and pedicures. I’m not fan of obsessive age-fighters like Botox or Restylane, but paying consistent attention to detail really matters as you age. I see far too many women my age simply give up, sliding into matronhood with horrible hair color, choppy cuts and dumpy, unflattering clothing.

Men — nose and ear hair trimming is crucial. Pluck those caterpillar eyebrows. Stylish women love the company of equally stylish men. My Dad, at 82, still dresses with panache and care, as does his partner.

Check out these photos from Seth Cohen’s fab blog Advanced Style, of super-stylish women in their 60s, 70s and beyond for inspiration.


I’m a size 16, hoping get back to a 12. In the meantime, I still have toned legs, strong and shapely shoulders, pretty feet and a waist still clearly defined. That’s enough to keep me from despair.

I was recently photographed (!) for the cover (!!) of a magazine, (oh, all right, Arthrtitis Today),  with 750,000 readers, which was crazy. A crew of five people: makeup/hair, wardrobe stylist, art director, photographer and assistant came to my small New York apartment from New York City, Atlanta and Chicago to take my photo. It required four hours’ standing, posing, smiling, high energy.

But I was told my confidence was appealing and unusual. I know what they meant — for my size.

A personal shopper

Every department store has one, and you don’t have to drop a fortune. Having total strangers examine your shape and offer you some fresh new choices can boost your confidence and blast you out of your style ruts. This happened to me twice in the past six months, and it’s made a big difference in how I think about my appearance.

Here’s an interesting blog post on this vexing issue of how to change your style as you head north of 50 — although the comments are much more interesting! — from the British newspaper The Guardian.

And you, o stylish ones around the world — dish!

13 thoughts on “The Secrets Of Ageless Style

  1. Arthritis Today is a surprisingly sexy publication, madame, brava!

    Good points, all, especially shopping a la francaise. But don’t judge me when I confess that I haven’t washed my hair in three days, please…?

  2. Excellent post and I think the most underrated point is tailoring for well fitted clothes. So many people don’t go to a tailor/seamstress anymore unless it’s common in their community and even worse, so many of us just don’t know how to sew anymore. People don’t have sewing machines let alone a small area or small room for sewing anymore, it’s barely taught at home and not in most schools even though it’s really an essential skill. That’s the side effect of cheap sweat shop and factory clothing, and the idea of ‘dispensable’ clothing where people only wear items for a season or sew and throw them away (much less recycle it or give them to charity). The quality of clothing has deteriorated as well overall but still, with a little of care they can last much longer than they usually do but people don’t really treat their clothes as well anymore either unless they’re designer. Also, even though many clothes are machine washable, it’s not wise to them that way but many people won’t hand wash items or dry clean, even the items that say not to machine wash.

    I think the point about confidence is interesting; I believe if people has appropriate confidence about themselves (not too much or too little) and were aware of what flatters their body shape in different circumstances such as gaining or losing weight or their skin tones in Summer and Winter then there would be less confusion with sizing in vintage and less need for personal shoppers. Many people can’t visualize enough to see how things would look on them, or even with a mirror it can be hard to be objective, hence the need for a personal shopper (as well as personal shoppers being very helpful for fashion knowledge and being efficient if you’re low on time and patience). If people were more aware of their bodies rather than conscious of them, if that makes sense, after a while they’d probably know instinctively what would suit them and what wouldn’t and what would fit and what wouldn’t just by looking at an item, even online, and wearing it would be a confirmation of that.

    In regards to the photo shoot experience you had in the Confidence section – in photography and modelling I can see why they would say/think that way, however in real life at least here in the UK, half of the women are size 16 or over and with fashion realizing the profits to be made there has been a shift. Many size 16 and over and plus size women I’ve come across, in the UK and other areas of the world, are very confident about their looks, they feel gorgeous, sexy and in many cases feel they are moreso than mid-size or thin women. They have also latched on to the word ‘curvy’, it apparently doesn’t mean bust/waist/hips ration any more, it means plus size and everyone else is ‘tiny’/’small’/’petite’. The terminology is shifting to incorporate plus size as normal and the small sizes as the ones patronized. The same with the word ‘petite’ – which apparently doesn’t mean short anymore, it means ‘thin’/’slender’, so anyone of any height can be petite.

    Oh well, that’s people – people are people wherever and whenever they are. I think your tips are great and helpful to all ages and budget.

  3. jacquelincangro

    I like your suggestion about following the French footsteps by buying quality pieces. It took me well into my 30s to come to this conclusion. I spent so much time and money buying things that wore out within a season. Now I’d rather focus on quality instead of quantity.

    1. I think it also depends how you were raised and where you grew up.

      I grew up in Canada — many fewer stores, lower salaries, higher taxes and so shopping was never necessarily just for “fun” or a time-filler, but something one generally did for a reason. I always bought fairly classic pieces and fully expected (as I do!) to wear them not for a season or two, but years…even decades. Great pieces last a long time and there are years I don’t wear some things, then pull them out again and enjoy them. I should not admit this, perhaps, but I have a fab pair of red patent loafers (Saks) and gorgeous monk-straps in burgundy (Fratelli Rossetti, both bought on sale) — from 1996. They look fantastic and I still get compliments on them.

      The larger challenge with clothes — not accessories — is weight gain or changing your shape…I hate having gained 30+ lbs and am trying hard to get rid of at least 20 of them. I should (ugh) lose 40, but I doubt that is realistic and impossible to maintain.

      I also just don’t find shopping very enjoyable at all so I don’t do it very often. Crummy service (or none), high prices or low quality…everything looks the same. I buy a few pieces and then mix them up with older things. I’m loving my black wool knit sweater coat from…2000? Can’t remember when I got it, but it looks great year after year.

  4. I’m not at all “stylish–” but overall style matters to me a lot. You’ve offered some excellent tips–ones I might want to link to some time, assuming that’s OK. In the meantime, good for you! I’m not an AT subscriber, so please do post the cover when it’s out.

    Much good luck,


  5. I have found, rather surprising, that the older I get, the bolder my jewelry gets. Tiny and delicate seems lost on me now. Give me a big chunky watch, and a mutiple strand of beads.

    1. Absolutely! I only started wearing long (think opera-length) necklaces in the past few years and love them. Jose gave me a an oversize silver-tone watch with a bright red band. Love it!

      I think — as we should — we get bolder as we age as we gain confidence in our choices and style.

  6. One of my least favorite things is trying/buying/doing anything related to clothes. I’m just missing that gene where it’s fun and I love clothes shopping… I kind of dread it. Luckily I’ve been about the same size (size 16) all throughout my life pretty much, but still am tempted to get rid of the weight and be like a size 12. I’ve lost weight, but still stay in the same size range though.

    1. It is VERY difficult to find truly fab clothes in larger sizes; only in the past two years has J. Crew even added 14 and 16. I buy a fair bit of stuff on-line, as I dislike most stores and never use dressing rooms.

      I can’t over-recommend going to a decent department store and asking for a personal shopper to help you. Even if you’re only able to spend a few hundred $$ (I doubt they would do it for less), they know their stock inside out and a good one will find and pull things you could never find on your own.

      For the first time in my life, (equally frustrated and hating to buy clothes), I spent some serious coin this spring at Neiman-Marcus, but it was worth every penny to walk in, have someone BRING me stuff that fit, that I liked and I could buy a whole wardrobe in one morning. It took (!!) 3 weary hours, lots of cold water and granola bars, Jose and two sales associates. But we did it!

  7. Pingback: The Secrets Of Ageless Style « Broadside – Plus Size Clothing For Women

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s