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Dressing well over 50 in the work place

colour me beautiful back to workArticle by Veronique Henderson

It used to be that once a woman reached her fifties, retirement was around the corner.  Not anymore!  Women live longer; the retirement age is increasing and many women are no longer willing to give up an enjoyable and/or remunerative job just because of their age.  The major challenge that women face is understanding how to keep their look updated without looking like ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.

Wearing the right fit, style and colour of clothes becomes even more important as we get older, both in and out of the workplace.  You want to stay looking vibrant and current without giving the wrong message.  You will probably have a wardrobe full of clothes but perhaps you need to retire some items and replace them with more current pieces.  Women’s fashion trends run in five-year cycles, so examine anything that you have had in your wardrobe for more than six years and ask yourself whether it is still current.

It is well documented that 93% of a first impression is based on how we look and sound and only 7% is based on what we say.  For those of you who need more statistics, it takes 7 seconds for someone to form a first impression of you!  No one noticed Theresa May (the then Conservative Party Chairperson) until she wore her animal print Russell & Bromley kitten heels.  And let’s stay with Mrs. May for a second, why do you think she keeps wearing a light blue jacket?  It’s because it is the right colour for her!  She feels it, she knows it and it gives her the confidence she needs to work those long days without wearing a man’s uniform.

Dress to fit in with company policy and culture

Work wear has a number of factors and dilemmas, the biggest factor being company policy and culture.  In professions where dress code is formal, your choice is limited so dressing well for your colouring and shape and age can be challenging.

If you work in a profession where a suit is required then your natural choice of suit colours is likely to be black, grey or navy.  Some people look great in black, usually those with very dark hair and eyes, we categorise them as having a ‘Deep’ colouring , and also those with salt and pepper or silver hair, ‘Cool’ colourings in Colour Me Beautiful language.  As you get older, however, your skin tone changes and loses some vibrancy so you want to wear shades that make your complexion look healthier and younger.  So, even if you carry black well at 55 (Joan Collins at 80 still looks stunning in a black suit – she is a Deep colouring), you will find that certain colours give you a more vibrant, youthful look.  The trick is finding out the colours that flatter you most and how to combine them with neutrals (black, white, grey etc.) to the best effect without overdoing it.  If you work in a formal environment you may be limited to adding colour, but ideally, you want to wear colours that suit you best close to your face.  Even a small shot of colour will make all the difference.

 The colours you wear give out signals

Whatever industry you work in think that the colours you wear will not only affect the way you look, but also will give signals to those you are working with.  Dark colours say: authority; medium –depth colours or a tone-on-tone look, say: approachable and less threatening.  Light colours have no credibility in a formal environment but are ok  in a more casual workplace as they say that you are  fun and interesting.  Black is the most authoritative colour anyone can wear and when teamed with white the contrast is even more forbidding.  The customary black suit looks severe and unapproachable and for many colourings, grey and navy are a far more suitable alternative.  Dark navy still looks authoritative but less threatening and greys are much softer so depending on your role and colouring, you can go dark to light for different effects.

When you reach your 50’s and beyond you need to be more selective about the styles and fabrics you choose.  You still want to look modern and show your personality in your clothes, but you should be choosing good style over fashion.  For work you should invest in some quality suits or separates that you can update with current pieces.  Cheap material will gape, bag and lose its lustre quickly when you wear it week in week out, not a look good at any age.   All your clothes should fit well and flatter your figure. If you can wear a fitted pencil skirt, by all means do, but make sure it is fitted rather than tight!   A tailored work shirt might seem an obvious smart piece for work but it can create all sorts of issues. It will look fabulous on someone with a straight or neat hourglass figure, but for women with curves and a larger bust, the tailoring is too restrictive and works against their body shape,  stiff shirts over a fuller bust will always gape, you are better off wear a flattering top with a scoop neckline (not too low).  There is also the issue of transparency, flesh-coloured bra or no, colleagues and customers do not want the embarrassment of trying to avoid looking at what’s beneath your shirt!

Do your research and find the shapes and cuts that work for you and where to shop for them. By the time you reach your 50’s you should know what suits you and have your own style. When you know how to dress well for YOU then it will make it easier to put together work outfits that are not only appropriate but comfortable and stylish too.

For further information on how to dress for success at work, look out for the fully revised and updated Colour Me Beautiful book (Hamlyn) launching early February 2014.

About the author:

Veronique Henderson is  Managing Director of Colour Me Beautiful.  (www.colourmebeautiful.co.uk)

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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  1. Gill Ashby

    February 12, 2014

    A very interesting article and I would say spending time with a stylist if you find shopping a dreaded experience is very very worthwhile. It has certainly changed my attitude of clothes and shopping.

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