50 Going on 15: Dressed to Kill

OK, so far you’ve managed to stay true to your New Year’s resolution to drop some pounds. But there’s more to looking good than just being slender.
50 Going on 15: Dressed to Kill
Illustration by Darcy Muenchrath

By the time we reach our middle years, most of us finally learn to act our age, but many of us unwittingly embarrass ourselves by not dressing our age. The cruel fact is that growing older plays havoc with our bodies. The war against drooping, sagging, and flab becomes a constant battle, but it’s one that can be won with a little work. Still, we need to remember that we’re no longer teenagers. It’s no sin to try to look younger, but we’re not going to another prom in our lives — except maybe as a chaperon. Our bodies change, and so too should our wardrobes. But keep your chin (chins?) up; there are ways to look good without resorting to impersonating a teenager. Here are some appearance pointers for both sexes.

Tips for Men

1. Don’t even think of wearing low-rise jeans. The gut is the curse of the middle-age man. No matter how much we exercise, flab accumulates in the middle. Why draw attention to your spare tire?

2. Chop the gray ponytail off, and keep it off. Nothing screams “dinosaur hippie” louder than a pudgy, balding man with mangy hair hanging over his collar.

3. If you’re fortunate enough to have hair, keep your locks short. Long hair makes you look older, not younger. Sporting shoulder-length hair just makes you look like a fossil from the ’70s.

4. Buy a tuxedo. Renting is for high-school boys. It’s an investment that’ll pay off in the long run. Just remember to wear polished shoes with it — and don’t be tacky and wear it before 6 p.m. It’s called evening wear for a reason.

5. If you insist on facial hair, keep it closely trimmed. And don’t be afraid to use Just for Men or some other  coloring; gray facial hair makes most guys look washed out. Another warning: A mustache makes many men look like pervy lounge lizards. And stay away from the silly soul patch — it looks ridiculous even on young guys.

6. Watch the jewelry. Cross the bling line and you’ve entered into pimp territory. And if you’re wearing an earring in middle age, you need to grow up — fast.

7. Don’t be afraid of wearing color. Even though your suit may be dark, a vibrant hue in your shirt, socks, or tie can enliven your appearance. Jewel tones such as ruby-red, purple, and emerald are especially eye-catching in winter.

8. Retire your baseball hat; they’re for teenagers. And if you’re wearing yours backward, well, you probably think a goatee is cutting-edge.

9. Go ahead, wear T-shirts, especially if you’ve got muscular arms. But if your shirt has words emblazoned on it from a sports team or a college, give it to your son or nephew. If it says “Abercrombie,” you’re not too old to be spanked.

10. Moisturize your face — once in the morning and again before bedtime. And use a separate eye cream. If you don’t, your face will soon resemble a lizard’s.

11. Bulging pockets crammed with your cell phone, reading glasses, pen, sunglasses, and iPod make you look chunky, dweeby, and unkempt. Get a sleek leather manbag to hold your gear. And if you think it looks  effeminate, you’ve got more baggage than you realize.

12. Just because you’ve reached a certain age doesn’t mean you have to dress like a creaky father figure, like Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons. Avoid “grandpa” duds like bulky cardigan sweaters, knit shirts, sweater vests, and plaids.

Tips for Women

1. Unless you’ve got legs like Tina Turner’s, steer clear of miniskirts. If they’re already in your closet, do yourself a favor and donate them to a charity — or your daughter.

2. What looked sexy 25 years ago rarely looks that way today. Don’t show too much cleavage; gravity plays mean tricks on middle-agers. A discreet flash of décolletage is far preferable to a rack attack.

3. Don’t panic if you have a few wrinkles. Too many face-lifts pull on skin that’s losing its natural elasticity anyway. Frequent face-lifts give one the stunned appearance of a deer caught in headlights.

4. Too much makeup makes you look like an aging floozy. Go easy on the stuff, especially iridescent eye shadow, which emphasizes crinkly skin.

5. Sure, black makes you appear thinner. But too much of it makes you look like a perpetual widow — or an overage Goth. Put some color in your life.

6. Coloring your hair is great, but stay away from Annie Lennox-type bleach jobs. That’s OK for musicians, but on ordinary women, a platinum helmet washes you out. And the bright-red dye jobs look cartoonish.

7. Overplucked eyebrows are hair-raising. Leave something there to help frame your eyes.

8. The distressed look is questionable at best for young women. On older women, torn-up threads look absurd. Look dignified. Riches are better than rags.

9. High heels are fine, but if you own stilettos, think very seriously of disowning them.

10. If you have a navel piercing, get rid of it. And why are you showing your middle-age midriff anyway? Leave that to Beyoncé.

11. Use your rear-view window. As women age, they generally gain more junk in their trunk. Forgo skin-tight pants that accentuate the booty.

12. You may not be in the workforce, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress with flair. The  “soccer mom” look of frosted hair, sweats, jeans, and old tennis shoes may be comfy, but it’s dumpy.