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Tips for fashionable older women: How to look like 30 at 60

Middle age isn't what it used to be.

Women in their 40s and 50s today are as healthy and attractive as their mothers were at 30, and many women aren't afraid to show it off.

The good news is that some of the biggest fashion trends of this year and next will be perfectly suitable for older women.

Pantsuits and "anything gray" are going to be huge for fall, according to David Wolfe, creative director for the New York-based Doneger Group, the world's largest fashion consulting firm.

Retailers from Wal-Mart to Nordstrom pay plenty for Wolfe's words of wisdom on what's hot and what's not, and he says older women and their closets have a lot to look forward to this year.

"This spring, women are pretty happy with what's in the stores, and when fall comes, they are going to be ecstatic," he says. "There are so many grown-up clothes that are going to be flattering and sophisticated. The catch phrase is '60 is the new 30,' and it is actually going to hold some water because older women are going to look beautiful in the fall clothes.

We couldn't say that a couple of years ago."

Although there will be plenty to choose from this year, style experts say women should pursue a look that is stylish and even sexy, as long as they know where to draw the line.

"For a woman over 40, that is such a jewel of a time to express the different parts of herself," says Brenda Kinsel, a fashion expert and author of four books on style, including "40 over 40: 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs To Know About Getting Dressed"

For more than 20 years Kinsel, 53, has been helping women all over America dress better through her San Francisco-area business, Inside Out, A Style and Wardrobe Consulting Company (see www.brendakinsel.com for more about her).

Women over 40 can look nothing short of fantastic every day, Kinsel promises. Here are 10 tips for looking fabulous:

1. Stick to the "half and half" rule: "If you're doing something fuller, bigger and less form-fitting, do it only on half of your body and have the other half be trim," she says.

Billowy fabrics from head to toe fool no one, and make you look bigger than you actually are.

A look Kinsel recommends is a strong, tailored, straight-leg pant with a looser, flowing jacket. Add a tangle of long necklaces and a sexy shoe and you have a flattering look that is anything but dowdy.

2. Go for small doses of generous cuts: Kinsel likes Chico's and Eileen Fisher for easy-fitting pieces, but she recommends wearing both "in small doses."

Head-to-toe looks from either line can look "matronly," Kinsel warns.

3. Get out of your rut: Kinsel also tells her clients not to limit themselves to their regular haunts when shopping for clothes.

"When I shop with clients, if I am in a department store I am shopping at least three different departments to put her in an outfit, because I want a mix. I want the things that flatter her body and her shape, but I also want her to have a little verve."

4. Remember the L-word: If your body is less than perfect - and whose isn't? - Lycra is your friend.

"When you add Lycra to a fabric, that is your saving grace," she says.

5. Shop designers, then cheat: Kinsel likes Elie Tehari, Theory, Anne Klein, Max Mara and Ellen Tracy.

Even if you can't afford designer clothes, Kinsel recommends becoming familiar with the cuts and fabrics of high-quality clothing so you can spot the best knockoffs in less-expensive stores.

One of her all-time favorite purchases is a store-brand jacket that's a dead ringer for Prada.

"There's more value for your money when you shop that way," she says.

6. Show off your best asset: Kinsel said women need to "stop focusing on what they feel doesn't work" about their bodies and start thinking about what they like.

"If you have great legs and broad shoulders, stop worrying about the darn shoulders and focus on those legs," she says. "Find some great pants. If that is your highest-ticket purchase, that's fine. Put the most money on the thing that is going to flatter the most."

Women waste time and money hiding what they don't like about their bodies instead of investing in clothes that will highlight their best features.

"Somebody can be totally fretting about their waistline and someone is looking at them across the room thinking, 'I would do anything to have legs like that.' Let's stop with the negative and focus on the positive."

7. Don't pay attention to sizes: Don't. Really. Focus on fit.

"Good-fitting clothes make you look like a million bucks," she says. "I have seen designer suits that look (terrible) on a woman because the sleeves are too long; it's not fitting her body properly."

Kinsel said a recent client showed off an Armani suit and "it looked like something she got at (a discount store) because it was so ill-fitting."

And don't buy a size smaller and say you'll diet down into it.

Just don't.

"You can't put fashion on hold. You have to jump into the water in whatever bathing suit you're in," she says.

And if something needs to be altered, do it right away.

8. Pay attention to your shoes: Good shoes and quality handbags make your whole outfit look better.

And make sure you have the right accessories for each outfit.

If you find a great shoe, Kinsel says, "look for a bag right away that blends with it. It doesn't have to match, but find a bag that blends so every time you wear those shoes you have a complete look.

"Nothing looks worse than the cute spring shoe with a winter handbag."

9. Study fashion magazines: Learning about what's in and the latest trends will train your eye and help you update your own look without losing your sense of style.

10. Add color: "Introducing a new color into your life is like taking on a lover," Kinsel says.

"If a woman has been doing the same old thing year after year and suddenly she discovers orange or hot pink, it can make her look five years younger."

Published on: Sunday, July 23, 2006 6:50 AM CDT

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