Dress for Delight – Self-Expression Never Goes Out of Style

“An older woman looks more interesting than a young girl, because a young girl is still trying to figure out who she is.” – Anna Martinsen

At this point in your life, you know who you are.

(Hallelujah, right?)

And since we’re all getting older, why not get a little bolder? That goes for many choices, but what better way to express our boldness than with our clothes? That’s how great personal style is born!

Our younger selves often worried what others would think, but now we know that what we like is what really matters. We have the freedom to express ourselves, and say “Hey world, watch out, we’re here and we’re not hiding!” (Of course, if you prefer muted hues to bright colors, that’s OK, too.) The bottom line is that from Seattle to the San Juans, people are throwing out the rule book on “age-appropriate” dressing and creating styles that are uniquely their own. And being ourselves is a sign of generosity, since it gives other people permission to be themselves, too.

It’s interesting that so many large stores tend to ignore the 50-plus woman, often using junior-size mannequins and fashion models who look like they’ve barely escaped puberty. But flying under the radar of the marketers and merchandisers might be a good thing. It gives us more freedom to enjoy ourselves on our terms.

In her corporate days, Benita Horn had to toe the line wearing the buttoned-up suits, Peter Pan blouses, and little bow ties of the 1980s. “I dressed to make myself as invisible as possible,”  she says. Today, at 70, she leads her own consulting firm, and she wears colorful tops, shawls, dresses, and jewelry that remind her of her African heritage. By expressing herself through her clothes, Benita sends a message of encouragement for cultural diversity in the workplace.

Anna Martinsen, 74, a former image consultant and personal shopper at Nordstrom, loved working with her older clients since (as she notes in the words opening this story) they were more secure in their sense of personal style. Still, when some clients came into their personal shopping sessions complaining about their hips, waist, or legs—or promising “to lose five pounds”—Anna helped them to see themselves as beautiful just as they were and learn to play off their best features.

Does having style mean spending a lot of money? Not at all!  Equipped with a few good-quality, base pieces, you can inexpensively customize your look by finding jewelry and accents that will add color, variety, or a bit of bling to your wardrobe.  Plus, it’s fun to look for accessories at thrift stores, vintage shops, smaller boutiques, or even at big-store sales.

Anna keeps many classic, timeless pieces in her wardrobe, knowing they become her and will never go out of fashion.  She might start with a simple black tunic, add leggings, and finish the look with a striking (but not necessarily expensive) piece of jewelry to be comfortably elegant for a night at the opera or dinner with friends.

Benita also keeps a backbone of neutral basics in her wardrobe, then indulges her love of textures, colors, and fabrics. Some days, she’ll throw open her closet doors and—borrowing an expression from a favorite friend—ask, “Who wants to come with me today?”  Maybe it’s that big amber pendant from Kenya. Or a beaded necklace made by a member of the Maasai tribe. Benita knows the best clothes often come with a great story.

“As we age, we can downplay what we’ve lost, and flaunt whatever’s good,” counsels Anna. Do you love high heels and enjoy wearing them? Have fun! Prefer more grounded comfort shoes? No problem. Wear a scarf for a bold splash of color around your neck, and no one will notice your shoes. Or add some bright red laces or multicolor socks to announce, “I’m going my way.”

In the end, it’s not just about clothes, it’s about freedom. And fun. You’re the star of your own life, so act like it, and feel free to treat each day as a performance.


Sally Fox is a coach, speaker, podcaster, and owner of Engaging Presence, a firm that helps individuals and organizations develop and share their best brand stories. She is currently working on a book about finding your creative work in the third act of life. Find her blog at engagingpresence.com and listen to her podcasts at 3rdActMagazine.com.



Anna’s Tips for Style at Any Age:

  • Fit is everything. Alterations are your friend.
  • Sizes are deceptive. Try on everything.
  • Get a great haircut.
  • Don’t buy something saying, “I’m going to lose 5 pounds.”
  • Pay more for quality clothes you’ll be wearing for a long time. Think cost per use!
  • Remember, you’re your harshest critic. We all have assets we can maximize and enjoy!



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