Life Audit

Age Appropriate

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Robin Stinson is a woman of a certain age. Problem is, she does not want to look like that sort of woman. Nor does she want to embody the alternative: the woman so desperate to defy her age that she dresses like her children’s favorite pop tart.

But Stinson doesn’t know where that leaves her, wardrobe-wise. Her office has a strict formal dress code, so she tends to favor a conservative look of dark, solid-colored suits set off with a simple strand of pearls as adornment.

Yet Stinson feels this stern look doesn’t reflect her true spirit. A recent divorcée, she feels energetic, hopeful and full of verve. She admires the stylish pantsuits and fresh colors that younger women in her office wear, but she is not sure how a woman of a certain age can pull them off. Her goal is to find a middle ground—a balance of the two styles that would be “appropriately youthful.”

Of course, she also wouldn’t complain if her newfound style magically shaved off a few pounds here and there.

Stinson’s issues with fit and fashion are common, says Life Audit professional attire expert Clinton Kelly. In fact, he says, “it is a pretty typical story for women over 40—they find that their bodies start to change a bit, their metabolism is changing. They’ve put weight on. They don’t know how to dress.”

Kelly says Stinson is stuck in a rut with both the traditional styles and harsh neutral colors she is choosing to wear. “Nothing ages you more than a rut. It signifies a lack of freshness or ideas,” he says.

But just because a woman is over 40 and the sand in her hourglass has shifted a bit does not mean she cannot be fresh and stylish. The key to dressing appropriately, Kelly says, is finding the right styles for her age and shape, rath­er than following the latest fashion fad. “Trends,” he says bluntly, “are for women in their 20s and 30s.”

The Kindest Cuts

The first step to stylishness is making sure Stinson’s clothes accentuate her assets and minimize her flaws. In fashion speak, her body shape resembles more of a pear than an apple. This means anything that isn’t cut to flatter her figure—like the boxy jackets and long skirts in her closet—has to go.

So, too, do her longer jackets, which she bought believing the extra fabric would camouflage where her body got bigger. Wrong, Kelly says. That longer length adds extra bulk and width. She should opt for jackets that end midhip, bisecting trouble spots such as rear ends. “Don’t try to cover trouble areas,” Kelly says. “At­tack them.”

What does work? Kelly says pear-shaped figures look best in jackets that are shorter and more structured because these cuts really show off one of the best pear assets: the small waist. “Get as close as you possibly can to your rib cage. Showing off your waist is more youthful,” Kelly says. Fabrics with stretch help, he adds.

Stinson also needs to get over her fear of pants. She chooses skirts because she believes that pants don’t flatter her legs. Not so, Kelly says. A properly fitted wide-leg, straight trouser will actually be more flattering than a skirt, he says. But he cautions Stinson to stay away from pants that taper at the ankle. “We call it the ‘ice cream cone effect’ because all you get is a narrow angle,” he says. When shopping for pants, he advises, “go wider and straighter. It’s a simple fix—instead of emphasizing hips and legs, it makes you look like one long, straight leg.”

That doesn’t mean skirts are off-limits, Kelly says. But the long styles that Stinson has been wearing are out. “They just make you look like a pilgrim,” he says. Instead, keep them straight and to the knee. If Stinson is self-conscious about a shorter straight skirt, then she should opt for one in an A-line style or one with soft pleats. These, Kelly says, do a much better job of camouflaging the rear.

Once Stinson has found the styles that are right for her, she must make sure everything is tailored to fit her body correctly. Jackets must fit at the natural shoulder and be able to close. Go up a size to get a blazer to close properly and then let a tailor take it in to fit at the shoulder and sleeves, Kelly says.

Minding The Details

Stinson’s wardrobe currently consists of lots of dark neutrals, which Kelly says are wrong for women of a certain age because they can be harsh. “Get out of black,” he instructs. “As you age, you lose a lot of the natural glow from your complexion. It’s a normal thing, and black intensifies it.” (Black still works for evening, however, because women can get away with wearing more makeup.)

Instead, Kelly wants Stinson to opt for softer neutrals like brown and charcoal gray. In the spring and summer, tones can be lightened, but he advises to avoid pastels. “After a certain age, you do not want to do the baby pinks, yel­lows and blues. But there is no reason not to do great, rich, saturated colors. So instead of pink, try fuchsia; [choose] turquoise over baby blue.”

Kelly also wants Stinson to make some bold choices with her accessories. “After 40, you have certain God-given rights, and one of those is the right to wear bolder jewelry and not have to apologize for it.”

Bag the strand of pearls, he says—it’s prissy and definitely not stylish. Instead, consider beads or semiprecious stones in vibrant colors. “And do multiple strands. Not just one little dinky piece of jewelry,” he says.

Finally, make sure to look down.

Kelly says that many women who consider themselves conservative dressers often wear “nurse shoes” with thick heels that just make their legs look thicker. Lighten up, he says, and go for a narrower profile. He likes pumps with “kitten heels” because they give the illusion of lightness. “You want to give the impression that you are floating just a millimeter above the ground.”

Stinson shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, he says. After all, she’s got nothing to lose except that image she’s been wanting to shed.



Robin J. Stinson Position Partner with Bell, Davis & Pitt in Winston Salem, N.C. Age 46 Goal To inject youth and style into her wardrobe while maintaining a professional look


Clinton Kelly

Clinton Kelly is co host of TLC’s What Not to Wear. He also is the co-author of Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That’s Right for Your Body.


Avoid Trends

Leave the latest head to toe looks to the MTV generation. If you must follow fads, do so one at a time—wear the velvet blazer or the cropped pant, just not together.

Be Bold

Experiment with bold color choices. Swap pastel pink for fuchsia, change baby blue to a vibrant turquoise. Bag the delicate jewels and go for bigger, chunkier pieces.

Get Fit

With your clothes, that is. Don’t expect clothing to fit off the rack. Have everything tailored to your body.

Show Off

Try fitted jackets that nip in at the waist and bisect problem areas.


Your clothes may say “total babe,” but what about your hair? Life Audit professional attire expert Clinton Kelly says nothing can derail a woman’s attempt to add youth to her appearance like having stiff hair. Hair must have movement to project youth and vibrancy. So lose the hairspray and get a cut that adds some bounce it’ll take years off your image.

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