Fashion Advice for Older Women—Fool the Eye

Redbook, 1908

Women of every age and shape get constant tips on how to look taller, thinner, fitter, and sexier. Older women face an additional challenge: They are also supposed to look younger.  How does that trick get done?


Because most gain weight as they age, older women often receive hints on how to look slimmer in order to approximate “the figure of youth,” as some books say. The advice has stayed fairly consistent over the decades.  Dress in a column of color, preferably dark, that doesn’t break up the body. Choose diagonal or vertical lines to enhance the sensation of thinness.  Since skin radically changes with aging, long treatises on color have been directed to the older set.  Many advocate soft colors and soft shapes to distract from spots and wrinkles. The color black is a subject of fierce debate. Is it a miracle worker for elegance or a sure way to make skin look old?


Although not as prevalent in these days of gyms and yoga studios, earlier advice columns told older women to cover up those body parts that provided clues to age—the neck, the upper arms, even the hands. Not too long ago, the humorist Nora Ephron could call her book on aging I Feel Bad about my Neck. Even today fashion writers sometimes mourn the dearth of long armed dresses for those whose arms show signs of age.


While distraction and disguise were common tips for older women already in 1900, ways to change ones appearance through cosmetic intervention have increased significantly since then.  Hair dye was already advertised sparingly in the 1900s.  Now it is so common that women who choose not to dye their hair are more worthy of note. Face lifts began to gain attention in women’s magazines in the 1930s. By the 1960s, Vogue called them “usual.” Today there are all kinds of procedures for the face and other body parts designed to erase (temporarily at least) the signs of aging.


While I like to think that I am above such subterfuge, I’m not.  I dye my hair, exercise for health and vanity, and constantly search for the magic face cream. If someone invented a non-invasive, inexpensive, lasting way to get rid of wrinkles, I’m sure I would sign up.

What are you willing to do to look younger?


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8 Responses to Fashion Advice for Older Women—Fool the Eye

  1. Marianne says:

    HaHa, not much! Longer jackets and tops to flow over my non-existent waist. I have invested in a Paula’s Choice facial system of cleanser, exfoliant, serums & moisturizer which I flatter myself that keep my skin looking a bit younger than my 69 years would dictate. Drink more water. Laugh a lot.

  2. Wendelah says:

    Very little, as it turns out. I don’t dye my hair. I don’t diet, although if someone came up with a magic pill to melt cellulite, I suspect I would take it. I wear what I want, what makes me feel happy. I do wear longer skirts because I don’t like the spider veins on my legs, but I’ve had them for years and years. I’ve been wearing supportive, low-heeled shoes for decades because of plantar fasciitis. Fashion finally caught up with me–everyone wears Birkinstocks and trainers now.

  3. Katrina B says:

    Interesting question, because I think we are in the midst of a reversal, or at least a change, in how older women see themselves. Or maybe it’s just me, because I read a lot of blogs by and for women over 50, women going gray, etc.
    I’m 59 and I don’t try to look younger–the white hair is right there front and center along with the wrinkles–but I try to look good. And “good” is defined by me, by seeing some aspect of the image in the mirror as pleasing. I may well be using distraction or disguise in some cases without realizing. But I’m definitely not wearing black!

  4. JS says:

    I dye my hair. I don’t think I’d like it gray or silver, but in any event, it is necessary for me to preserve a youthful look for the job market. I have always looked very young for my age and never had cosmetic surgery. I have only fine lines on my forehead and around my eyes, but the fat in my face has redistributed, giving me bags under my eyes and the beginnings of jowls. An injury years ago caused me to stop exercising and to gain weight. I need to diet and work out again.

    I’ve thought of giving up, but it’s really not in my interest, psychologically, physically, or financially.

    • JS says:

      If I had huge amounts of disposable income, I probably would try many expensive products and non-invasive treatments, because, why not? I don’t know about surgery.

      Even if I wanted to try to wear my hair silver, I’d probably have to bleach it and dye it to create a uniform color. That would be rough on my hair. And some people have beautiful, gleaming, silver hair, while others have nasty, yellowed, gray hair. Natural does not equal attractive.

      I use some Retinol serum when I remember.

      A willingness to age naturally may be related to how comfortable a woman is with her life.

      I’ve always worn flats.

      I’ve also always worn black, not exclusively, but it has always been a big part of my wardrobe.

  5. JS says:

    I’ve long had mixed feelings about Nora Ephron. Her early essays were hilarious, but her movies were mediocre: Diluted Woody Allen. Later, she acted like a person who’d been rejected by the mean girls in high school who in maturity became a Queen Mean Girl herself, heading up her own clique of professional women who gushed about her. I skimmed her “Neck” book standing up in a bookstore because no way was I going to pay money for it. She angered me when she talked about the 70-million beauty maintenance things she had to do to avoid looking like a “homeless woman.”

    Talk about being tone-deaf and in a bubble.

  6. Kai Jones says:

    The closest anything I do comes to trying to look younger is wearing a good underwire bra that fits; I could, after all, go braless and let my bust and waist line merge. I’ve been going gray for more than 15 years; it’s like a silver halo around my face, I’m lucky that way, the color is good and so is where it’s located. I use plain hot water on a washcloth for my face and moisturize with Cerave because of allergies.

    I don’t do more than this because I’m not interested in doing that much work, and it doesn’t make much difference–I’ve done more than this in the past and I didn’t think I looked enough better to justify the work and expense. I don’t look good enough in the first place to improve up to “conventionally attractive.” I’m also pushing back against the idea that women need to do a bunch of work and buy a bunch of products in order to look normal. I’ve earned every fat roll, every line, every age spot, and I want to be respected for who I am. I want “normal” to stretch to include people like me as well as people who have face lifts and hair color and use makeup.

  7. Lizzie says:

    I don’t dye my hair, but I have recently lost weight, but that’s more for my health than looks. I don’t wear sleeveless outside my own yard, but I do wear knee length shorts. But when you find that dream wrinkle cream, be sure to share it with us.

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