Women over 45: Time for a fashion ‘Comeback’
Christopher Hopkins, known as “The Makeover Guy," says that as women age, the more beautiful they become but often the less attractive they feel. In his new book, “Staging Your Comeback,” Hopkins uses his 20 years of makeover experience to help women who are over 45 years old rediscover fashion that helps them look their best. An excerpt.
Chapter three: Second act essentials
"I just don't know what to wear.”
This sentiment is expressed daily by women around the world. I understand. I don’t know what to wear half the time either. I question myself: Is it outdated? Am I too old? Does it age me? Does it look just plain wrong? If I’m having a good day when my skin looks great and my hair is just right, I feel I can wear trendier, less classic clothing and hairstyles. A week later, the outfit doesn’t work and it’s a bad hair day. So I’ll resort to classic khakis and a blazer, and I instantly feel old.
A client of mine once came to me for her appointment reeling. She had just been at a department store where a young man was looking for a present for his nephew. He stopped her with the sentence, “You look like a mom ... what would you suggest buying for a ten-year-old boy?” She wanted an entirely different haircut that day.
Part of the problem is that we aren’t given a realistic guideline to follow. Fashion magazines, even those that cater to women over forty, skew younger. The information they give doesn’t necessarily work for women with unbalanced proportions and a limited budget. We need realistic guidelines and a personal sound bite to remind us what is right for us. This chapter offers some essentials that will help guide you to hair, makeup, and clothing choices that are best for you.
Fads, trends and classics
New sells. Hot, new, “the latest” makes almost anything more enticing. Consequently, we can get sucked into the frenzy of being “with it” or having the latest look when it just isn’t right for us. When offering image advice, I avoid talking about fads. I want to give advice that you can use for the rest of your life. If you’re perpetually excited about the latest fad and want it, there are hundreds of magazines, websites, and TV shows in which you can lose focus and spend all your extra time, money and energy.
Many younger women are fad victims. I often hear “That’s so cute!” when it’s absolutely awful. Whether it is a fashion fad, a hairstyle or hot makeup look, it might be new, but that does not mean it’s flattering. It might be interesting on bone-thin celebrities and models, but it is rarely appealing on someone with less than “perfect” proportions.
Trends are another matter. Fashion trends usually develop slowly. If a trend is something that is flattering to you, be the first to discover and wear it! If it’s not good on you, don’t waste your time or money.
Case in point: One year, I bought my grandmother black leggings and an oversized black-and-white plaid shirt when that was the trend. I thought, Hey, let’s show her great legs! However, she was very busty and had skinny legs, so the outfit made her look as if she were about to tip over at any minute. I learned. Not only was it inappropriate for her body type, it was inappropriate for who she was. Lois was a Classic. When we went for a walk she wore the outfit to please me, but she never wore it again. I still have a photo of it. What was I thinking?
I did the same with my mom, who is A-shaped. I figured that an oversized sweater over leggings would cover the large part of the A, if you get my drift — and it would, if a person didn’t move. Once you walk, however, the diagonal line from skinny ankles to wide hips, catching the drape of the fabric, is immediately apparent. Though as a Dramatic she could pull off the trend, the look was just too of-the-moment to be comfortable as a frequent wardrobe staple.
Finally, classic clothing is always in style. You can’t go wrong with it. You’ll rarely be embarrassed when you look back at photos of yourself. Classics are the items in which you invest: a little black dress, a white shirt, a trench coat, a great pair of jeans, a pair of black high-heel pumps, a string of pearls.
Classics are universally flattering to everyone at any age. They will never be wrong or inappropriate. Spend money on them, and they’ll serve you well for years. Add your personal style or current trend in the color, line, pattern, texture, and accents that flatter you. That’s the key to looking current and attractive, always.
Symmetry: Your key to wow
sym•me•try (n.): 1. balanced proportions; also: beauty of form arising from balanced proportions; 2. the property of being symmetrical; especially: correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts.
I like that. In almost any haircut, makeup application, or wardrobe that I do, it is the creation of balance that is ultimately appealing. We are attracted to balance. We feel good when things are in balance. If you want to look good, you take your extremes in proportion and balance them through illusion. That’s all there is to it: creating symmetry where you are not symmetrical.
Five fundamentals every woman should know
I call them the big five. They are the source of every fashion, hair, and skin-care beauty tip. If you understand these, you will then understand the fundamentals of beauty that apply to any art form, from flower arrangement to architecture. Looking beautiful is an art, particularly as you age.
The five fundamentals are line, proportion, color, texture, and accent.
The eye follows a line. The faster the eye moves across the line, the longer and slimmer the line appears. Anything that breaks or stops the movement of the eye along a line shortens and draws attention to the break. If you want to appear as tall and slim as possible, you want as few breaks in line as possible.
Line is created in the entire silhouette of your body and in each individual part that makes up your silhouette. There is the hairline, the neckline, the jawline, the brow line, and the lip line. You have garment lines in seams, hems, and lapels. How these lines interact and flow will determine where the eye rests. You must determine where you want the eye to rest and use line to direct it.
Whether it’s in relation to your makeup, hair, or clothing, these ever-lasting rules will help you to look your best:
- Diagonal and vertical lines slenderize
- Round adds pounds
- Horizontals add heft
- Square evokes masculine
- Oval evokes feminine
Balance, scale, proportion — the human eye is attracted to symmetry and balance. Studies confirm that even babies are more attracted to a face that is balanced and proportionate.
The eye is drawn to the culprit of disproportion. Imbalance creates disharmony, and wherever it is, we notice. Whether it’s your hair in relation to your face, your hips in relation to your shoulders, or your eyes in relation to your lips, balance in figure and features is a desired goal.
Color incites feelings in us all. Our eyes are drawn to color. Wherever you put color on your body, the eye will rest for a moment. It makes the most sense, then, to have color near and around your face, because that is where the attention should be.
There are entire books on color analysis, how we react emotionally to color, and what colors combine well together. This is an emotional topic, wide-ranging in focus, so I try to keep it very basic in my explanation. Think warm and cool. Most people look best with either warm colors or cool colors near their face. It is to your advantage to understand what warm and cool colors are, and which look best in your hair, your makeup and the clothing near your face.
It’s not just color; hue and intensity also create balance. When you paint a room dark, you create the illusion that it’s smaller. When you wear black pants, your butt looks smaller than when you wear white. People look at the light colors first. Use color blocking to your advantage. Whether in your hair, makeup, or clothes, use light colors on areas you want to look larger or get more attention, and use dark colors on areas you want to look smaller or get less attention.
Textures range from smooth and flat to bulky and rough. Texture can accentuate or minimize. It can add heft or slenderize. By increasing texture where you want fullness, and decreasing it where you want slimness, you can create balance and proportion.
The bulkier the texture, the heavier you’ll look. From fur and feathers to flat matte knits, the more texture, the more fullness. Texture can also hide or reveal any flaws. Take wall paint, for instance. Flat paint hides the flaws, and gloss reveals them. So too, wearing anything shiny or sparkly will instantly reveal and draw attention to any imperfection.
Texture can also be created with pattern. Large patterns expand what they are placed upon, and small patterns diminish. Texture draws the eye to or away. Adding texture to a haircut will give movement and help to create the illusion of more fullness. Too much texture, however, adds fullness but eliminates shine. When it comes to hair, too much texture is not a benefit.
As one ages, the texture of the makeup one wears needs balance. Dewy draws attention to wrinkles and uneven texture faster than satin over cellulite. Too much matte will remove any glow, creating a look akin to a corpse. Balanced texture is always flattering.
Keep in mind these texture tips:
- Avoid shiny or frosty makeup. Bid adieu to dramatic frosts, extreme gloss, dewy foundation, and sparkly bronzers and blushes.
- Consider adding texture to hair for fullness and bounce, or minimizing texture for shine.
- Choose flat matte clothing texture for the most slenderizing look.
- Wear bulky textures where you want to increase focus and fullness.
- Consider that shine and sparkle, which catch light, are best worn over a smooth surface.
Accents are the ultimate attention getters. They give any outfit a boost. Accents include buttons, scarves, jewelry, bows, metal ornamentation, stones, fabric, prints, glass, and ceramic. You can make any outfit come alive with the right theme of accents.
Accents take the other four fundamentals and put them into one big focus. Think strategically about the placement of accents. Use them to attract or distract; to add excitement and interest; to create a mood, feeling, or attitude.
The patina of wisdom
Maturity is a badge of honor to be respected with good taste. There simply comes a time when all the extra bling and fabulousness of fashion, hair, and makeup is best toned down. When you were a younger Alluring, Innovative, or Dramatic woman, those items of “Look at me, I’m au courant” stood for something — status, hipness, a woman in the moment who’s up on the trend — but wisdom carries with it a confidence and sophistication that allows you to do less and achieve more. A maturing face and figure carry a patina of wisdom. They make a statement in and of themselves that doesn’t require bright lips, over-the-top earrings, or a crazy hip belt to bring it forward. Less is simply more as we age.
To accentuate your second act best:
- Avoid drawing attention to your mouth with bright or dark lips.
- Avoid drawing attention to aging eyelids with frosted shadow.
- Avoid drawing attention to aging hands with bright nail polish and/or a multitude of attention-grabbing rings.
- Draw the eye to your face with neckline interest and earrings.
- When in doubt, leave it out.
The importance of being current
In 1986 I stayed with relatives in California whom I had never met before. I distinctly recall the odd feeling of nostalgia walking into that house. It was spotless and meticulously decorated in dark Mediterranean style with green shag carpeting and gold glass pendant lights. I had stepped back in time.
One evening this couple dressed to go out to dinner. I noticed that they both dressed in clothes that were fashionable and attractive — for 1974. He wore a gray polyester leisure suit, and she wore aqua polyester slacks with a floral patterned peach and aqua overblouse. They were in their fifties. It was apparent to me they had stopped paying attention to fashion and decorating around the time their children had left home.
Keeping current is undoubtedly a constant and not inexpensive challenge. With all the technology with which we are bombarded, however, we still have the old standby: the monthly magazine. Magazine subscriptions are one of the most effective ways of getting information you can absorb on your downtime. The whole experience of sitting down with and perusing a magazine that inspires is a ritual that endures. Magazines are the great equalizer. No matter where you live in the country, you have the same access to fashion, fitness, and beauty that the most upscale, in-the-know New York socialite has, because you get your W magazine the same time she does. When O comes out, you’re right there with all of Oprah’s associates on the hottest, latest, and most suitable fashion, food, fun, and inspiration you need that month. You just go to your mailbox, Oprah is waiting for you, and it’s your turn to dream.
What were we thinking?
We’ve all done it. We’ve all looked back at those embarrassing fashion photos and wondered, “What was I thinking?” I look back at my pin-striped jeans, permed hair, and parachute pants and think, “Hmmmm.” The more extreme the trend, the more risk of embarrassment. We can forgive the young, but it’s not so easy to forgive a second-acter in a leather mini.
A woman in her second act need never again wear:
- A micro mini
- Combat boots with formal wear
- White hose
- Frosted eye shadow
- Chunky platforms
- Dark brown lipstick
- Butterfly barrettes
- Extreme low-rise jeans
- Visible underwear
- A spiral perm
What’s age appropriate now?
In the second act it becomes difficult to find the balance between growing older and looking modern. Looking current and youthful should not translate into “mutton dressed as lamb.” I met a woman recently whose long, blond, permed hair was pulled up on one side and suspended with a comb. For height she created gravity-defying bangs with a curling iron and Spritz Forte. She wore a fitted navy knit tank; tight-tapered pale denim jeans; and a crocheted sparkly baby blue shawl tied around her hips. She was forty-eight years old.
I liked her and enjoyed hearing her tales of woe in raising teenagers, but as I listened to her I was continually distracted by her image. It just wasn’t working in her favor. It didn’t work because it was expressing only part of herself. I obviously knew who she had been, but as she talked, the more interesting, experienced, and attractive parts were hidden behind the facade of a fear of aging. Yes, she was attractive and sexy, but she was also a forty-eight-year-old single mother of teenagers who had quite a bit of sun damage, an advancing derriere, tan lines across her back, and thinning hair. The look did not make her appear younger; it simply made her look vulnerable and insecure. Our image must reflect the person we’ve become, not the person we were. That is age-appropriate.
- We’re drawn to symmetry. Creating symmetry with your hair, clothes, and makeup helps to make you your most attractive.
- Avoid fads; know and wear “your” trends as soon as you see them emerging.
- Update your classics regularly, with trends in color, line, and texture.
- Remember the big five fundamentals: line, proportion, color, texture, and accent.
- A little bling goes a long way. As we age, when it comes to accents, less is more.
- It is easy to become outdated; looking current keeps you alive and “in the game.”
- Age-appropriate is not expressing who we were but declaring whom we’ve become.
Excerpted from “Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for Women Over 45” by Christopher Hopkins. Copyright (c) 2008. Reprinted with permission from HCI Books.