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DRESS TO IMPRESS

Today’s blog was contributed by the fabulous Andrea Pflaumer.

Dress to Impress after 50

Every time you step out the door, you make an impression. It can be a good impression, a bad impression, or, Heaven forbid, no impression. Invisibility is too often the fate of many older women who have just plain given up.

So let’s examine the ways you can dress to make an impression that will be better than bad or indifferent.

YOUR “AUDIENCE”

The most important question is: who do you want to impress? Making a good impression on a potential partner is considerably different than wanting to impress someone else. Be it a future daughter-in-law, a client, or the members of a club you want to join. So you need to consider the kind of impression you want to make. 

Do you want to be seen as:

  • Attractive? 
  • Approachable? 
  • Fun-loving? 
  • Dependable? 
  • Sexy?
  • Competent? 
  • Energetic?
  • Sophisticated?
  • Wise? 

Come up with whatever terms suit how you want to be seen. Every term implies a style that conveys that impression. But it’s important to know your own basic style. This way, whatever you wear doesn’t push you too far away from your essential style expression. 

Regardless of your audience, the best impression you can make is that you know yourself and have self-confidence.

AN EXERCISE

So here’s a little exercise that can help you understand your fundamental style. Choose three words – either some of the ones listed above or come up with any of your own – that suggest how you want to be seen. Either in general or for a specific occasion. 

Then, use those same words as you go through your closet. Are there some items in your wardrobe that accurately convey those words or ideas? Ideally, there should be. Otherwise, you’re either planning to put on a persona that isn’t really you, or you have been shopping outside your style for way too long. 

Now, if you aren’t sure how to describe your style, try the reverse tactic. Go through your closet and describe the qualities of your favorite pieces in a few words. Then see how many items you have that suggest those same qualities. Some patterns and similarities should emerge.

Have an Impression in Mind

Once you do this, ask yourself if those words represent the impression that you want people to come away with after meeting you. Now, we all do this subconsciously. But doing it intentionally is very enlightening. And particularly helpful when choosing what to wear, especially for an event.

Maybe your fundamental style and the clothes that express the impression you want to make are really very different. In that case, keep in mind that we are all multi-faceted. There’s no harm in choosing one aspect of your personality to emphasize.  

For example, perhaps you are hat lately has been coined the “coastal grandma” laid-back type. But today, you want to put on a little glam! You can add some more showy accessories, like dangling earrings or a pair of colorful slides, or low-heeled summer sandals.

Or, if you want to be seen as more feminine. (A lot of older women feel they have lost their femininity.) Wear a softer textile or something in a red shade that suits your coloring. Or try on a different hairstyle or makeup regimen. Then, do a gut check to see if you can confidently “own” that outfit, style, or change.

A “DONE-FOR-YOU” IMPRESSION

Most stylists will say that simple classic pieces will always make you appear impressive. It’s just practical to have some basic, simple, well-made separates (and maybe a perfect lbd). Especially in neutral colors as throw-on-anytime wardrobe staples. You will always look pulled together and chic. And you can always bling them up.

Now, another effortless way to make a big impression is by wearing expensive designer clothing or accessories. Designer clothing is made from higher quality textiles, has better finishes, and stitching. Not to mention they’re longer lasting. It also often has interesting detail.

So, who are you going to impress by wearing designer clothing and accessories? Most likely, it’s those people who recognize the designer or appreciate fine quality. If that’s your goal, and if you can afford it, sure, go for it. Why not? 

Well, it depends on the kind of impression you want to make. It’s one thing to look sophisticated, chic, or knowledgeable about high-end clothes. Especially if you are in an environment and among people who dress this way as a rule. But it’s quite another thing to look snooty or worse: a “wanna-be.”

A Little Trick Called High-Low

So, how can you dress to look more high-end without reaching beyond your personal or financial comfort zone? Beyond your “tribe” or your fundamental style? Here are a few ways. 

You can pair less expensive jeans, as long as they fit perfectly with a beautiful designer blouse or jacket in a fabulous textile. That’s called “high-low” dressing (or, in this example, “low-high.”) It’s a smart and very approachable way to dress. It also prevents you from looking like a label junkie.  

Or, you can accessorize a simple outfit with a fabulous designer bag. Or add your best quality pearls, a chunky gold necklace, or a great cocktail ring. These things say that you understand quality and know to wear it when it counts.

HOW TO FIND DESIGNER QUALITY AT A BARGAIN

OK, so you want to wear high-quality clothing. Who wouldn’t? One possibility is shopping at higher-end outlets. That can be a lot of fun, kind of like a treasure hunt. And yes, if you search a bit, you might find a real gem. 

But let me dispel a myth. Many designers create two lines of clothing and accessories: one for brick-and-mortar stores and a separate one for outlets. The outlet items are often cheaper in construction and quality. So the alluring “50% off” label is a misnomer. You’re still paying some good money for something less than high quality. This is particularly the case for accessories.

The only way to get, for example, expensive designer handbags for much less is to keep your eye on sales. Both at your favorite designer’s shop or at a department store. (And don’t be hesitant to tell a sales associate to let you know when your favorites will go on sale.) 

You can also haunt the higher-end resale shops in your area or buy online at a high-end resale site. A slightly worn designer bag just says that it gets used a lot because it is terrific (nobody has to know WHO used it.) 

Now, if you have the discipline, you can save up your pennies, buy that one full price higher end item and wear it forever. That will make multiple good impressions for those who know you: that you are thrifty, disciplined, and have great taste. For those who don’t know you, they will very likely just plain be impressed.

THE INSIDER’S KEY TO IMPRESSIVE DRESSING

Proportion and Fit

Designer Donna Karan says that accurate proportions are the hardest things to get right in clothing. Proportion has to do with the relationship between the pieces in an outfit. 

Here’s a fundamental: Don’t cut yourself in half. When what you wear on the top half of your body is the same length and width as what you wear on the bottom half, you tend to look dumpy. 

If you wear something longer and wider on the bottom half, such as wide-leg pants or a fuller skirt, keep the top piece fitted and shorter. If you wear a bigger top, like a loose tunic or sweater, keep the bottom half fitted, e.g., big sweater, fitted jeans.  

It should go without saying that fit is crucial. So, unless you are one of the lucky people who can pull things right off the rack that fit, visit your tailor. This is important for all clothing but is especially true if you want to make a good impression. Ill-fitting garments can make you look uncomfortable or sloppy. Those words should never be in your “word/impression” list.

Textile

And then, of course, there is textile. Any garment that is 100% synthetic will never impress anyone. (Except for maybe a windbreaker you wear on your new beau’s yacht.) At least not in a good way. 

Cotton, wool, linen, and cashmere, however, do, and they last and look great. Make sure to keep your cotton or linen pieces ironed. Now, designers (e.g., Stella McCartney and several others) are going for the so-called “eco” friendly textiles. These have blended fabrics that incorporate some synthetics. They can be long-lasting, maybe even longer-lasting, although in some cases, maybe not quite as elegant. That’s your call, especially if they fit beautifully.

As for knits, go for the highest quality possible. Very inexpensive cashmere often pills and is generally thin. In general, pilling doesn’t make a great impression. It shows that you don’t pay attention to details or just don’t care how you look. 

Have a sweater “shaver” in your tool kit. Just make sure you don’t push the blades too close to the threads. You don’t want to make a hole in your sweater while trying to remove pilling. Holes in your much-loved old sweaters can be charming. If, for example, you’re cuddled up reading a book by the fireplace on a rainy Sunday with a cup of cocoa. They don’t convey the same thing when you’re trying to impress someone.

YOUR CHECKLIST

Finally, before you step out that door to meet that new person or group, or entertain new acquaintances, go through a mental checklist. This should include all the areas of your image. 

  • Does this outfit represent who I am? 
  • Does it express what I want to convey? 
  • Is my hair clean and styled nicely? 
  • Is my makeup on point – or is it overdone or underdone? 
  • Are my shoes and bag clean and well-maintained? 
  • Do my accessories appropriately add to the outfit? 

If yes to all the above, brush your teeth, grab a mint, and step out the door. And now, go wow them!

Do you have a plan for dressing to impress? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Andrea Pflaumer is the author of the Amazon best-seller Shopping for the Real You: Ten Essential Steps to a Perfect Wardrobe for Every Woman: Fashionistas, Fashion-phobes, and the Over 50 and She’s Got Good Jeans – a guide for how to shop for and where to find the perfect jeans for your body and budget.

Her new online course is called: Discovering Your Inner Style: An Adventure in Dressing Authentically.

Andrea does in-person and online wardrobe and shopping consultations for women worldwide and blogs at Shopping for the Real You. She is the host of a video collection entitled: Vital, Vivacious, and Visible after 50 and Shopping for the Real You: Expert Edition where she interviews women in the areas of fashion and beauty.

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