How to look sexy over 40
Stars like J-Lo and Jen may have the sexy 40-something look sussed, but does it work for rest of us asks Chrissie Russell
Jennifer Lopez's pop career may have dropped off the radar, but she still knows a thing or two about wearing an outfit that gets people talking. The internet was a-buzz when the mum-of-two stepped out last week in a thigh skimming, black and nude halter dress while filming her new reality TV show in Argentina.
But while the 42-year-old's figure hugging mini-dress drew approval from some quarters others were less than impressed.
"J-Lo, you're old, stop trying to look young," moaned one poster on a celebrity fashion website. "It's time for her to grow up and be a mom," added another, while a third wrote: "This may have been cute when she was 20 but the woman is 40 and a mother of twins. Now it's only pathetic."
Ouch. But J-Lo isn't the only woman in her peer group to have fallen foul of detractors, enraged by wardrobe choices deemed to be age inappropriate. Last month Jennifer Aniston sparked whispers of 'mutton dressed as lamb' when she wore a metallic Kaufmanfranco mini dress to the Elle Women in Hollywood bash.
And when SJP had the audacity to show up to Paul McCartney's ballet premier in a white lace dress it was lambasted as "too young and too doily". One commentator fumed: "She's showing way too much skin and seriously, white lace? Sarah-Jessica, you're 46, stop with the girlish, virginal, bridal skin bearing looks.
It seems everyone has an opinion on what women over 40 can, and more importantly cannot, get away with wearing. A poll earlier this year revealed that apparently bikinis should be ditched after 47, no mini-skirts post 35, no stilettos after 57, no boob tubes over 33, knee-high boots are out after 47 and you can kiss goodbye to sheer blouses on your 40th birthday.
Dublin-based senior stylist Natasha Crowley from fashionstylists.ie agrees that after the watershed of 40, certain rules come in to play. "You don't want to be dressing like a teen with minis and exposed midriffs," she laughs. "But neither do you want to be looking like a 90-year-old woman. Either extreme is bad."
According to Crowley the best looks for 40+ involve ditching baggy clothing and opting for a structured wardrobe of pencil skirts, high-waisted jeans and well cut jackets. She says: "Knee length works well as it highlights the legs -- the last area to age -- while statement jewellery and a pop of colour keeps personal style current. On the High Street I'd recommend H&M, Gap and Next or something more expensive like DVF printed wrap dresses and Roland Mouret tailored dresses as investment pieces."
But not all 40-somethings want to play it safe. Remember Helen Mirren (66) in that red bikini? Just last week Joanna Lumley (65) led a rallying cry urging her peers to dress like teens, saying: "I think it's important for women to be daring and not worry what people say. I love what people call the 'mutton dressed as lamb' shops. There's no reason we shouldn't go into Topshop because of our age."
A recent survey by Debenhams revealed that nine out of 10 women want to dress younger than their years and more than half don't intend to 'dress their age' until they're 70.
TV presenter Vanessa Feltz (49) probably put it best when she said: "What's worse than mutton dressed as lamb is mutton dressed as mutton. I would rather look like I was having a go trying at being a lamb and enhancing my lamb-like qualities."
And lets face it, there are plenty of reasons why today's 40-somethings don't consider themselves mutton just yet. They're running high-power jobs, have disposable income to afford great clothes and many, like Demi, J-Lo and Jennifer Aniston, have spent considerable time and effort honing a body they're happy to show off.
Many 40-somethings are more confident in themselves and willing to try looks their 20-something selves wouldn't have dared. Crowley says: "I see this all the time with my clients, the ones that are over 40 are much more willing to try new styles and will give most things a go."
She adds: "I think people have all these negative connotations associated with women in this age bracket because there's the whole menopause issue and a perceived loss of sex appeal. But it's complete rubbish as women over 40 are confident and sure of themselves and with that comes a stylish, sexy attitude. Women no longer morph into Mrs Doyle once they hit 40 and people are starting to realise this."