40 fashion rules for the over 40s
Ladies, it's time to join Cameron Diaz in throwing out the tube top. Shane Watson offers dos and don'ts of dressing your age
Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30
The one thing Cameron Diaz will never wear again ("No way"), according to an interview in the latest issue of 'Harper's Bazaar', is... a tube top. This is good to know. But as fashion tips for the post 40-something woman go, it's disappointing. Most of us over 40s last wore a tube top (or, as they're better known on these shores, "boob tube") on a holiday in Greece two decades ago.
When glamorous women make age-appropriate dressing statements (part of the deal once they hit 40), we hope for something more relevant to our daily lives: ideally, cracking tips that will cut through all the confusion.
Forty is nothing, by the way. It's the new 50, and Fiona Bruce is 52. You barely have to make any adjustments, but it's a bit ostrich-like to pretend everything stays the same forever, and this is as good a point as any to take stock of your options going forward. So here are 40 things every woman over the age of 40 woman should know about fashion.
Time to grade up:
1 Your shoes
Do not go quietly into the navy mid-heel pump, or the plain loafer, or the really useful (so comfy) trainer. You can always do a fun shoe and display a well-turned ankle. More to the point, a shoe is where you score your fashion points when you are past Sex Pistols T-shirts and floral coronets (which you are).
2 Your hair
The just-got-out-of-bed, beach-bleached hair days are on the way out. Conditioner is everything now. And whatever you do, don't over-trim. A bob at this stage could put a decade on you instantly.
3 Make up
But not foundation. Watch out for the plaster-textured complexion that occurs when women panic that they need coverage, but haven't got their glasses/replaced the light in the bedroom.
4 Your sunglasses
As a rule, you want to go less mean and edgy, and more glamorous. LAPD. Bono. Billy Idol... these are all looks to avoid, as is Tony Blair in some very hot country, wearing white linen.
5 Your smile
I know that sounds creepy. But the sulky, not bothered expression that you may think cool (see Victoria Beckham) will start to look sour and a bit "my back is killing me" in your 40s. Perk it up.
Watch out for:
6 Your knees
Everyone goes on about arms. It's your knees that will let you down (see Kate Moss, above).
So boring to be told to ditch black because it's draining on older skin. Happily, it's not quite true. Dull matte black is draining, but lush black is fine (for a few more years, especially if it's glossy satin or velvet), so long as you ramp it up with splashy earrings and red lipstick.
8 Popcorn-coloured highlights
Only because you will start to look like every other greying 40-something in the Western world. Why do you think J Law and Taylor Swift (above) have gone punky bone-white blonde? Because safe blonde is the colour of middle age, that's why.
9 Going braless
Just saying it works for some, but don't cling to the free spirit ideal at the expense of a sloppy silhouette. Sorry.
I like rough teeth. I missed Bowie's after the refurb. But there is no doubt that yellowing teeth are not youthful.
Some youthful things you needn't put away:
11 Wearing bikini tops under clothes in summer
Sounds mad. But it does inject a certain carefree, barefoot vibe. (Don't try this at work; it works best when you are gardening.)
12 Espadrilles and flip-flops
Similar result. But, as of now, these must be worn with a pedicure. The unwashed look is no longer a runner. (This applies equally to men. David Beckham post-match easily tips over into Rhys Ifans the morning after a very late night.)
You are never too old for the latest jeans if you look good in jeans. Same goes for leather trousers (but you need the legs).
14 Shortish puffy sleeves
Quite flattering on the older arm, contrary to rumour, especially if not too puffy and not too short.
You wore them in 1976 and you are wearing them again.
Say 'No' to girly and cute:
Hair bows. Bows on shoes. Bows on shirts and dresses.
19 Anything involving a bib
We're all tempted by dungarees, especially those of us who have very happy memories of the 70s/ Bananarama. And obviously Cate Blanchett (pictured above) gave them a go the other day - but in our opinion it doesn't work. A jumpsuit is quite different. Less cute.
20 Dolly prints
As in Scottie dogs or bananas or strawberries.
21 Mary Janes
Some are not so strict on this one. I say anything Alice in Wonderland does, leave it well alone.
22 Waisted, full-skirted summer dresses
Other than tailoring, and definitely lace, as in broderie anglaise and guipure.
24 Pie-crust collars
No no no. Anything Di would have worn, nyet.
Leave it to the kids:
25 Victim jeans
As in uber-ripped and shredded or covered in sew-on patches and embroidery.
The whole maxi thing is a bit of a lottery. It can work, but if it's too folksy, too floaty, too flouncy, too 70s ambassadress, all can add roughly 10 years. Never, ever go for long sleeves and a long hemline.
27 The extreme ethnic purchase of the moment
Now it's those hand-embroidered, pompom-tie jackets in Zara. Also traditional Ukrainian Vita Kin blouses and dresses, which may look great on Pandora Delevingne's friends (she sells them), but will always look better on her daughter Cara.
28 Embroidery on backs
Probably. Also numbers.
29 Cut-off denim shorts
You can wear denim cut-offs forever. What you want to avoid is those very tight and high-cut Daisy Dukes that your teenage daughter is currently trying to get away with.
30 Then again... don't stop going to the kids' shops
You just never know. Kirsty Wark is 61 and she is frequently dressed in a bit of Topshop as well as the groovier shores of Me + Em.
Instant small cheats:
(that work from 40-something to forever)
31 A splash-out scarf
Pashmina dimensions, good-looking and bold. Sling it on over anything plain and you get instant cool points, plus colour.
32 Silver shoes
Or gold. Just a bit of "oooh, not quite so boring then".
33 A bare 7/8th
Lower calves and ankles on show at all times, very rejuvenating.
34 Switching the black leather biker
For the olive green one and then the suede jacket.
The 'No Ways' that sneak up on you:
(and all you can do is keep checking)
I had a black satin dress that I looked fine in until precisely the age of 48. Thereafter, horrible. All black dresses. It's almost like a chemical reaction, and it'll hit you right out of the blue.
36 Same for hats
Used to wear them to weddings (fab!). Now look like the mother of the bride's mother.
Sometimes okay in small doses. But definitely one to watch. You were Kate Moss; you are now Abigail at her party.
38 Leopard print
Tips over into blowsy any day now. Do as Carine Roitfeld (above) does and wear snake print instead.
39 Very high heels
All good until you get the bulging snake-bit foot. The only solution is to go lower.
40 By way of a footnote...
... Elle Macpherson (pictured above, now 52) broke all these rules in one day on the school run - so rule 40 is, it's different for everyone.
© The Sunday Telegraph