For insightful senior fashion tips, Brenda Kinsel is the woman to take shopping! Kinsel is an award-winning image consultant who focuses on making mature women look fabulous. Owner of Inside Out, a style and wardrobe consulting company in San Francisco, Kinsel has authored five books, including 40 Over 40: 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed and In the Dressing Room with Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great.
Seven Tips on Looking Great No Matter Your Age
LoveToKnow Seniors asked Kinsel to share her secrets for senior fashion, including choosing signature pieces, managing trends, and the joy of the right bra.
#1 - Find Your Personal Style
LoveToKnow (LTK): What steps do you suggest for helping mature women define personal style?
Brenda Kinsel (BK): Style isn't defined by age. Every woman has a style DNA. It's up to her to figure it out.
One exercise I have in my book, Brenda Kinsel's Fashion Makeover: 30 Days to Diva Style!, is to go around your house and collect a few objects that you totally love. Sit down at your dining room table with a piece of paper and a pen and make a tic-tac-toe grid. In the center, write "My Style."
Then, try to determine what it is about these objects that you like, and start capturing the words inside the grid sections. What are the qualities of the objects? You might use words like elegant, luxurious, fun, dramatic, grand, regal, whimsical, or charming. Ask yourself if the words that describe these objects would be words that you'd feel flattered by if someone said that about you.
Then when you go shopping the next time, hold out for the garments that make you feel the way your style words make you feel. What's so great is that everyone's style recipe is different. It's important to honor your style.
#2 - Use the 50 Percent Rule to Embrace Trends
LTK: Senior women have a unique challenge in that they don't want to look "old," but they also don't want to be so trend-conscious. How do you balance new trends with classic style?
BK: I love trends. I think they bring out the youthfulness in us. Wearing a trend can be the equivalent of taking 10 years off our drivers' licenses and 10 pounds off our frames. There's a freshness and exuberance that comes with trends. So how do you get it right? Use my 50 percent rule. If platform shoes are in and the trendiest ones are four-inches high, cut it by half and find the ones that are two-inches high.
Also, wear a trendy item on 50 percent of your body, not your whole body. Pick one thing, such as a boho floaty top with a simply-cut pant. If the floaty top is really full, cut the volume of it by half by adding a belt and drawing it in at the waist. If belts are filled with grommets, wear one that has half the amount of decoration. If trendy handbags are full of do-dads, be sure yours has half the amount of do-dads. It's easy when you look at trends to think about doing them at half-strength.
#3 - Keep Searching Out the Right Clothes
LTK: Many of our readers find that clothing available in stores is dowdy with no personality. How do you advise clients to look for the best pieces in senior fashion?
BK: Sometimes this is hard, but what's harder is when a woman just follows her peers and gives up. It's like being a teenager and doing whatever everyone else does, rather than thinking for yourself. I got an 86-year-old woman into her first pair of jeans recently. She was thrilled! The company, Not Your Daughter's Jeans, was a perfect fit for her.
Keep looking at classics, but in modern fabrics. A classic trouser in a modern fabric isn't so hard to find and could replace an old favorite but be 10 times hipper or more youthful because of the fabric it's in. I love technology. We're always seeing new things in fabrics and designs. I always tell my readers and my clients, "Don't go to sleep. Keep your fashion feet moving."
It's very important for a woman to define at least half of her body. Ask questions of salespeople. They usually know what's on their store floors and what's coming in. Many women are just shopping in the wrong departments. One department over may be the one that has a huge selection of clothes that they've never even tried before.
However, you also need patience. One year fashion just seems to miss, and then the next year there are 10 hits, and it's hard to narrow down your selections. The good news is that women's fashion changes constantly. What's on the floor of stores tomorrow won't be there six weeks from now; something else will be. Keep trying!
#4 - Don't Break the Bank
LTK: When a woman is on a limited income, she may feel like they can't afford the latest styles. What do you recommend for shoppers on a budget?
BK: I think shopping on a budget is easier these days, as there are so many designers that are doing lines for lower-end markets like Kohl's, Target, Sears, and JCPenney. You can find a lot of style packed into a lower-priced item. The idea of mixing high and low is not going away anytime soon. That means someone might wear an inexpensive top with a pricier pant, wear a knock-off designer necklace from Target, and add a vintage crocodile handbag - and it all works.
Here's the thing: I've seen women in a head-to-toe Armani ensemble that wasn't the right color for them, wasn't a great style for them but because it had an Armani label, they think it guarantees good style and good taste. On the other hand, I've dressed women in an outfit that centered on a dress from Target and because it flattered her figure and her coloring, it looked like a million bucks.
#5 - Find Your Signature Piece
LTK: What's the difference between a "signature" piece of jewelry, and just wearing the same old thing?
BK: The difference between a trendy necklace and a signature necklace is that the signature necklace will relate to your coloring, your style and the scale of your features.
If you have medium-to large-scale features, your jewelry should be the same scale. If you have delicate features, your jewelry should be delicate as well. If you buy a necklace just because it's "in," it could end up staying in your jewelry box and not being worn shortly after you purchased it. However, if it relates to your style, scale and coloring, then you'll have that piece forever.
I was on a shopping trip with one of my clients when we found her signature necklace. It was a pendant-style necklace and the color in the pendant was a yellowy-green, just like her eye color. It was fairly delicate, just like the scale of her features. It was modern, but not trendy. She wears it all the time. It was more expensive than any necklace she'd ever bought before, but because it was so perfect for her, it was worth it. It looks great with everything, and she constantly gets compliments on it.
#6 - Embrace Your Shape
LTK: What is the one fashion faux pas of mature women you'd like to eliminate?
BK: I'd like to eliminate outfits that have no shape. A woman's shape is beautiful, and finding a curve here or a line there and following it is so important.
Look for items with some Lycra in them. It allows a garment to fit closer to our body and anything that is closer to our body will look more shapely. I love and admire women in their 60s, 70s and beyond who head into a new fashion season with style and good fit.
Remember too that a great accessory can pull an outfit together in such a gorgeous way. Have fun with fashion! Don't give up! That is the most unflattering look of all: giving up.
# 7 - Use an Image Consultant
LTK: If someone has been dressing the same for years and wants a change, how would an image consultant be helpful?
BK: An image consultant is aware of the direction that fashion is going, which is so helpful, because when we spend money on clothes and accessories, we want to feel like we are getting our money's worth and that our purchases will be in fashion for a while.
Even more importantly though, an image consultant can make a woman look fabulous no matter her age, size, or income level. The consultant takes into consideration a woman's style, coloring, proportions, lifestyle, and goals before making suggestions for styles and looks that will fit and flatter her.