By the time you hit 40, you know what you like and what you don’t and you’re not afraid to let the world know. However, when it comes to your taste in fashion, expressing yourself is easier said than done—especially when many folks act like hitting the big 4-0 is a sign that you should instantly tone down your more stylish impulses. “You can have great style at any age!” says celebrity stylist Brittany Diego, who says that all it takes is a little inspiration to transform your look—or just feel more comfortable in those pieces you’ve had for years. If you want to feel stylish and confident every time you set foot outside, read on to discover top stylists’ tips for impeccable style over 40. And if you’re looking to brighten up your wardrobe, start with these 23 Perfect Fall Jackets Under $100.
Find a style icon.
Everyone has someone whose fashion sense they’d love to emulate—and using those fashionable folks for inspiration is a great place to start reinventing your look. Diego recommends looking through magazines to see whose style makes you take notice.
“You can take inspiration from your favorite celebrities and break down what makes you gravitate towards them and how you can implement those elements into your wardrobe,” Diego explains. And if you’re eager to look your best, stock up on these 20 Skincare Essentials for Women Over 40.
Stock up on investment pieces.
After you hit 40, it’s time to make quality the top priority when it comes to your wardrobe purchases.
“This is the time to ditch fast fashion and fill your wardrobe with investment pieces like bags, coats, and shoes. These items can make or break your outfit in an instant,” says Diego, who notes that investment pieces are typically more timeless and will last you longer, even if they cost a bit more up front.
Create an inspiration board.
Those mood boards you made in middle school are a great way to figure out your fashion inspiration as an adult.
“If you’re computer savvy, hop on Pinterest and create an inspiration board of styles you like by searching for other women (or men) in your age group,” suggests Diego. And for more great ways to spice up your look, check out these 50 Essential Accessories for Women Over 50.
Try some monochromatic looks on for size.
Eager to add a little gravitas to your look? Try curating a few single-color outfits instead of mixing and matching.
“Monochromatic dressing is best done in subtle tones for a more sophisticated and timeless look—think neutral browns, grays, blues, and black,” says image consultant and stylist Kendra Charisse Porter, founder of HonorYourStyle. And for more great information delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Make colored leather part of your look.
Adding a hint of age-appropriate edge to your look is easy: just invest in a colored leather piece.
“Colored leather is the best way to step up your wardrobe,” says Porter, who recommends burgundy, navy, and green leather jackets to modernize your wardrobe without going overboard, or leather accessories in other, more vibrant hues if you’re feeling bold. And with the proliferation of great vegan leathers out there, there are tons of easy ways to make this look cruelty-free, too.
Figure out your signature style and own it.
“The 40s is when people embrace who they really are, [and this] should also apply to their personal style,” says Elizabeth Kosich, a New York City-based certified image stylist and founder of Elizabeth Kosich Styling. “Now is the time to determine a signature look that represents your authentic self.”
Kosich recommends thinking about what makes you you and leaning into it. There’s no time like the present to figure out what clothes make you feel the most comfortable in your own skin and embracing them to the fullest.
Incorporate your favorite things into your look.
Whether you’re especially fond of tropical vacations to Florida or hot yoga classes, Crystal Cave, founder of Crystal Cave Style and founder and creative director of the size-inclusive, eco-conscious clothing line Poppy Row, suggests using the things you love as inspiration for your wardrobe. “Not only will it brighten your day, but it’ll remind you of who you are and give everyone around you an idea of who you are without you having to say a word,” she explains.
Build a capsule wardrobe.
Now that you’re in your 40s, you should have a pretty good idea of your color and style preferences. And if you want to keep things simple but chic, Kosich recommends channeling these into a capsule wardrobe. Just two suits, two bottoms, and up to five tops are all you need to yield more than 40 flattering outfit combinations. “Keeping with this formula will save on time, allowing you to focus on what matters most—firing on all cylinders,” Kosich says.
And update your basics.
No 40-year-old man or woman should be walking around in a stained T-shirt or in shoes that are about to fall apart. That’s why during this decade, fashion stylist and motivational speaker Catherine Bachelier of CB StyleMaker recommends updating and upgrading your basics.
Clothing-wise, Bachelier suggests buying at least two new basic tees and, for women, a well-fitting bra. And if your tried-and-true shoes are wearing thin, she notes that a trip to the cobbler should do the trick. “Good shoe repairs update your look instantly,” Bachelier says.
Buy a few standout staples.
Once you’ve taken care of the basics, Kosich says it’s time to focus on making a splash. “Mid-life is the perfect time to acquire timeless statement pieces that add flair and interest to your look,” she says.
For the modern businesswoman, Kosich recommends a power suit, diamond stud earrings, or a designer handbag; for supermoms, a shearling winter coat, cashmere sweaters, or a statement boot tend to do the trick; and for the budding philanthropist, Kosich notes that the ultimate little black dress goes a long way.
Buy outerwear that complements your existing wardrobe.
Turning 40 doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of everything you owned in your 20s and 30s. Rather, Carmen Alfaro, creative director and co-founder of fashion brand Moda Kalon, says that you can bring pretty much any piece to life with the right outerwear.
“If you love that mini skirt, or have a favorite worn-in tee or pair of jeans, keep them and then add a subtle touch of sophistication to your look with a neutral-toned blazer or a basic cape or poncho,” Alfaro advises. “All of these can be thrown over any of the aforementioned items and dressed up or down, depending upon the occasion.”
Try out a kimono.
AJ Majumdar and Scott Sussman, co-founders of fashion brand Area Stars, say a kimono is a great choice for women in their 40s. In addition to updating your style, a kimono also keeps you warm when the temperature drops or the A/C is blasting. Plus, this one clothing item can add a great deal of style to your everyday look, and it’s easy to pack in your tote bag for whenever you feel chilly.
Keep your fluctuating body temperature in mind.
“With peri-menopause often starting in your 40s, having clothing that works with you is important,” Cave says. For example, at Poppy Row, Cave and her team use eucalyptus-based fabric because it’s naturally cooling and moisture-wicking. The fashion designer explains that having a fabric-first approach to dress and shopping can help you feel cool “without further impacting your life as your body goes through changes, especially with temperature fluctuations.”
Play up your features with fresh eyewear.
According to Elena Doukas, head of design at Garrett Leight California Optical, folks often want to cover up their faces with their glasses. But she explains that “although oversized frames can be a cute look, they can often overwhelm your features rather than enhance them.”
Her rule of thumb when it comes to eyewear is that less is more. “Instead of trying to cover up your face, think about the features you want to play up,” Doukas advises. “For women over 40, the shapes that are most flattering usually angle upwards at the corners of the frame, such as a slight cat eye. This small detail can actually provide a ‘lifting’ effect and help draw the eye up.”
And color, Doukas says, is just as important as shape. Be sure to “complement your skin tone, hair color, or the wardrobe you wear” with your glasses’ color, she adds. “If you like a lot of neutrals, try crystal, grey, and black tones. If you have a lot of navy and browns, try brown and tortoise frames.”
Try the trends that speak to you.
Samantha Brown, a New York City-based personal and celebrity stylist, says that your age shouldn’t prohibit you from experimenting with trends. The key is finding ways to integrate seasonal fads into your style based on your profession, your lifestyle, and your body type.
“If you want to try this season’s animal prints, choose a piece that feels natural and a silhouette that you’re used to,” Brown advises. “If you don’t wear short skirts, this isn’t the time to rock a leopard micro mini!”
And experiment even in the tiniest of ways.
When it comes to trying a new trend, Melissa Tuttle, founder and designer of athleisure wear company Fit For Barre, says you should “take small steps. Start with trying some new styles and prints [via] shoes and accessories. Try integrating some accent pieces such as a bracelet or bag and see how you feel in it.” This allows for a smoother transition—and if you end up hating the new style, well, no harm done and no major funds wasted!
Show skin in select places.
Being over 40 and looking sexy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, when it comes to showing skin, Brown suggests choosing one body part to highlight via exposure and covering up the rest. This is the perfect combination of modest, modish, and coy.
Prioritize the fit of your clothes.
“The key to looking stylish yet elegant in your 40s—or at any age—is understanding the power behind the fit of your clothing,” says Beatrice Purdy, president of women’s pant company Measure&Made. Both women’s and men’s body sizes tend to fluctuate over the years, and it’s important to dress in a way that embraces your unique shape and features.
“People who are 40 [and over] should become familiar with their body’s natural shape in order to find clothing that is the most complementary,” Purdy explains. “Be sure to honestly assess not only how something looks but how it fits. Nothing should be too loose or tight, and comfort is key.”
Get your old suits tailored and mix and match them with other clothing items.
Suits are currently a runway staple. However, Bachelier recommends leaving the oversized, boxy suits of high-fashion runways to the youngins and working with a tailor or seamstress to revamp your old two-piece sets instead. And once your suits are tailored to your body, the possibilities are endless. Both men and women can use just two basic suit sets to create countless looks.
“Break them up by using the trousers with a beguiling cami or new fresh T-shirt and sneakers. Both looks are modern and easy,” Bachelier notes. “Take your blazer and pair it with a pair of denim shorts, denim pants, a pencil skirt, or khakis, and add a pop of color [via a] sneaker, flat, or heel.”
Get rid of anything that carries baggage.
If you have clothing in your closet that no longer fits or that someone toxic from your past gave to you, Bachelier says it’s time to get rid of it. After all, part of the beauty of getting older is understanding the value of time and space. “You don’t need a daily reminder of what you used to weigh, period. Freeing up clutter is pinnacle to staying applicable,” she explains. “Also, a closet filled with items you love and fit properly cuts your ‘getting ready’ pace in half.” And for more great style upgrades, check out these 21 Wardrobe Staples Selling Out on Amazon.