The guide to staying stylish over 50

Last updated 05:00 19/06/2013

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At a casual glance, the fashion industry seems to target only the under-40s. A quick flick through the rails of many stores glaringly shows this age bias, with short, tight garments that go only up to size 14.

Magazines seem to be equally biased. Apart from the occasional special feature, most magazines are filled with teenagers modelling clothes that work only on the very slim and young.

This peculiar age bias is very odd, because, unlike most other industries, fashion companies seem to ignore the very people who want to and can afford to buy their products.

The average woman in New Zealand is a size 16 and 1.65 metres tall and works and lives longer than ever before.

It is as if a major section of the population has become invisible.

British-based blogger The Invisible Woman, who writes for The Guardian newspaper, believes older women should buy clothes from mainstream stores.

"I have always maintained that we, the older generation, do not need a special shop. To say that we do makes us sound special in the pejorative sense." For the Invisible Woman, she says the trick is to define your own style and then research where to find the right pieces.

Theresa Gattung, former chief executive of Telecom, turned 50 last year. For Gattung, "age is irrelevant; everyone tries to look their best".

Since leaving Telecom, she has adjusted her wardrobe to reflect her more active lifestyle. She has swapped high heels for sportier, more practical pieces. One of her favourite brands is Trelise Cooper.

"My own style isn't defined. What I like is colour. Even when I am wearing mostly black, I would add a bright-orange coat."

In 2010, Gattung and her friend, Margaret Duccas, opened Eva's Attic, a second-hand store with a difference, named after Duccas' mother. The store specialises in quality, donated clothing, with all profits supporting local and international charities.

Navina Clemerson, now in her mid-60s, recalls: "In my early 50s, I felt like I became invisible. I simply stopped being noticed. This changed gradually three years ago when I picked up karate. I am now an advanced yellow belt."

Carolyn Perry, manager of the Jane Daniels store in Wellington, finds that the customers who stand out to her are often the most confident, and it is that confidence that is reflected in their style.

For the woman who wants to improve her style, Perry offers some good honest advice: "Style is very important for women. There has to be that X factor in a garment that suits her body shape. By achieving this, she looks and feels confident and this, in turn, makes her feel sexy.

"Many times I have suggested to women to try a garment that's a little different on the hanger and they have ended up purchasing it, saying they would not have looked at it had I not shown it to them."

For Pip, a former lawyer aged 68, the biggest change came when she retired, and had to start seriously watching her budget.

"When I was earning I would buy more expensive things. Now, I wouldn't spend the money."

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But she does think older women dress younger these days, compared with her mother's generation.

"Older women don't dress elderly any more," she says.

While the way women dress as they reach their 50s and 60s seems to be less limited than in the past, finding a style that works and is affordable can still be challenging.

Like with any new stage in life or major change, playful experimentation, an honest outside opinion and some careful window-shopping can make all the difference.

In the end, what is age appropriate is all in the eye of the beholder.

Are you over 50? Where do you shop and what are your style tips?

- Wellington


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