At 20, the thought of turning 40 may seem like it will bring about seismic change in your life. By the time you’re on the cusp of the big 4-0, however, it feels like pretty much any other birthday. And for many people, that means the assumptions they had about life after 40 quickly go out the window—including all those arbitrary rules about how you should and shouldn’t dress.
Before you start ditching beloved pieces from your wardrobe or spending a fortune trying to reinvent your look, read on to discover which fashion rules style experts say you should definitely be breaking once you hit 40. And if you want to refresh your wardrobe, check out the 40 Best Places to Shop in Your 40s.
You don’t need to adopt a monochromatic wardrobe just because you’re over 40—and you certainly don’t need to worry about looking thinner, either.
Besides, experts say that wearing all black can actually have an unintended effect on your appearance. “Wearing black close to your face can actually make you look older,” explains personal stylist and QVC fashion presenter Tracy Gold. Instead, “wearing a complimentary color close to your face can bring color to your face, making you look fresh and youthful.” And if you’re eager to upgrade your look, try these 17 Wardrobe Upgrades Every Woman Needs for Fall, According to Stylists.
Don’t ditch those short dresses and skirts just because you’re over 40. If you feel confident in shorter styles, there’s no reason not to wear them. “You can show a bit of leg without your skirts being so short you can’t sit down in them,” says Gold. She notes that you can make this look work even if your legs aren’t your favorite feature. “You can wear leggings or tights under your dress or over-the-knee boots in fall/winter,” she suggests.
Summer and fall can be brutally hot, so why would you wear clothing with sleeves that make you feel warmer? Gold says if you “feel completely comfortable with showing your arms, then do it.” However, if you’re not entirely confident in that area, Gold suggests wearing a flared short sleeve instead of one that cuts snugly across the widest part of your bicep.
There’s no age limit on trendiness, so don’t force yourself to adopt a more demure or timeless style if it doesn’t feel right to you. “Dress to suit your personal style and body shape and you will always look fabulous!” says Gold, who recommends adding a few trendy pieces to your existing wardrobe to try them out before completely revamping your look. And for more rules that are made to be broken, check out these 40 Common Fashion Tips Women Should Always Ignore.
Short hair looks great on people of all ages—but that doesn’t mean you should immediately opt for a pixie cut just because you’ve hit 40. “If you have good hair and you want to keep it long, do so,” says Gold. “The most important thing is to keep your hair in good condition so it always looks fabulous!” And for more iconic ‘dos, check out This Is the “It” Hairstyle the Year You Were Born.
Gray hair is having a major moment, so why cover up your natural grays if you don’t feel so inclined? “If you love your gray and it suits your skin tone, keep it,” says Gold. But that doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to do so, either. “If coloring your hair makes you feel youthful and beautiful, then do that,” she says.
Black goes with everything—including brown!
“I love breaking this rule because according to color science, both brown and black are neutral colors, therefore can be worn together,” explains fashion designer Priscilla Von Sorella. If you want to make this supposed “don’t” work, Von Sorella suggests choosing complementary brown and black shades and playing with texture to make the look cohesive.
Black and dark blue may be similar shades, but they’re not so alike that you shouldn’t pair them in a single look. “It’s actually a great idea,” says fashion influencer Liz Jeneault. “A black leather jacket goes well with a pair of indigo blue jeans and black booties, for example.”
Mixing patterns and colors is an easy way to brighten up your look—and one that has no age limit, according to experts. “Make sure not to use patterns or colors that clash, but rather make an interesting and complimentary look,” suggests Von Sorella. She recommends avoiding mixing neons or layering animal prints, but otherwise having fun mixing and matching.
Starting with some staple pieces—a basic sheath dress or plain T-shirt and jeans, for example—may seem like a good way to keep your look from getting too over-the-top. That said, there’s no reason your fashion sense shouldn’t be as vibrant as your personality.
“After trying to force this for years, I don’t think basics are for everyone,” says designer Amy Voloshin, founder of fashion company Printfresh. “I love novelty and whimsical clothing—if you love an embroidery or a print, it can last you years and provide some fun and flair to your wardrobe.”
Some people will tell you that wearing loungewear, be it a sweatsuit or a pajama set, simply doesn’t suit folks of a certain age. However, experts say this comfy style can look like a million bucks if you wear it right. “There are so many fashionable pajama options these days it’s easy to make them look chic and still be comfortable!” says Voloshin. And if you want to ensure your comfy style still looks professional, check out these 19 Work From Home Outfits That Will Make You Look So Put Together.
If you live for a good pair of jeans and want to stay warm topping your look off with a denim jacket, don’t let the naysayers stop you from living your Texas Tuxedo dreams.
To make this look more polished, Jeneault recommends pairing different shades of denim together and adding some statement accessories to top things off.
The idea of a “flattering” outfit is entirely subjective—what looks good to you might not be someone else’s cup of tea. With that in mind, don’t let trying to “flatter” your body—or conceal the areas you’ve been told are problematic—dictate your fashion sense any longer.
“Wear what you want and make it work for you,” says Nyjerah Cunningham, brand stylist for fashion line M.M.LaFleur. And for more great ways to upgrade your look, check out the 40 Best Fashion Brands for Women Over 40.