Corporate style and many work related tasks ask for a suit. This guide covers how to follow the dress code without looking conservative and old-fashioned, but up-to-date and fashion-forward. Read to know how to wear a suit and not look old over 40.
- Why a suit can make you look old-fashioned
- Resist the urge to wear your suit like you did in the 80s
- Don’t search for the extra keys just because that was a success in the past
- Stay realistic
- Create a look with a suit that reads up-to-date
- Modern suit styling tips for women in midlife
- Ensemble styling inspirations
- Fake or unmatched ensemble outfit inspirations
- Try an uncommon style
- Leather Suits Are Having a Moment
- Suits and Outerwear
- In a Nutshell How to Wear a Suit and Not Look Old
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Why a suit can make you look old-fashioned
The fashion model Tatjana Patitz once said
Suits are so easy to wear, whether in a casual or dressy way, a woman in a suit is the sexiest thing.
Well, I agree when she would have started the sentence with “For twenty somethings.” Once you are over 40, a suit becomes tricky. It may read Old Fashioned, Old Lady or conservative, which are all terms that are (incorrectly) associated with not up-to-the-task in the work field. However, in the corporate world and in many jobs, we midlife women have to compete with those twenty somethings. Often corporate style requirements are that we have to wear suits. Now what?
Resist the Urge to Wear Your Suit Like You Did in the 80s
In the 1980s, we wore cheap suits with a shirt to look professional and/or older and to be taken seriously, especially, when we had jobs in a men dominated field. We called in Power dressing, and yes, we loved our power suits. We added a faux pearl necklace and 2.5 inch (5 cm) high pumps and a structured work bag or briefcase. In summer, we wore nothing but a bra and a camisole under our pantsuit jacket.
Don’t Search for the Extra Keys Just because They Were a Success in the Past
Did you ever read The Cain Mutiny? Canned strawberries seemed to have been stolen from the pantry. The commander was suspicious that there was an extra key and let the entire high ranking officers search for it. He gave this order because in the past, there was a theft case that he successfully solved; because he had detected the guy with the extra key.
Looking to the past didn’t work for Commander Quick. Yes, we had success with that outfit back then. It was a winner! It worked to get noted! Why shouldn’t we wear the look again? Because such an outfit would look so old-fashioned even when we would go for expensive instead of cheap items! Such an outfit would make us look so yesterdecade and like an Old Lady. Both would convey the wrong message that we aren’t on top of things anymore. That’s not a message you should ever send!
For us women over 40, Audrey Hephurn‘s statement
Givenchy suits gave me “Protection” against strange situations and people, because I felt so good in them.
becomes a farce. Most of us can’t even afford a Givenchy suit, not to mention that in most jobs, which require a suit, such an expensive suit would look over the top. In other words, your supervisor, colleagues, and clientele would wonder about your touch with reality.
Create a Look with a Suit that Reads Up-to-date
While on a twenty something. a suit indicates “I am serious and professional”, on a forty something, it may indicate
“I am conservative, I am plugging the same old road over and over again, I am stuck in old times, in a (style) rud.”
Thus, we over 40 women have to be creative to look professional up-to-date, and not conservative and stiff in a suit.
Tip: Create a look with a suit that reads fashion-forward and modern, to send the message that you are up-to-date.
Speaking of Dress for Success. If you are interested in dressing for success in midlife you can buy my book for styling recipes for all kind of dressing situations in midlife.
Modern Suit Styling Tips for Women in Midlife
Here are some outfit suggestions how to look modern, and up-to the tasks in a two-piece clothing over 40.
- Choose an ensemble that has unexpected details like a zipper instead of buttons or an asymmetric skirt hem.
- Go for a set in colors beyond the usual neutrals, but not too bright. For instance, blue instead of navy, chocolate brown instead of tan or camel, hunter green instead of loden green.
- You can wear bold colors at any age to the office with a suit in neutral colors instead of further neutrals.
- Add an unexpected piece to show off your personal style (see example with sequin top).
- Wear the pieces in an unexpected modern way like untucked, rolled-up sleeves, chopped-up sleeves.
- Go beyond the court shoe and higher than a 2.5 inch (5 cm) heels to look tall, slim and healthy.
- Loose your fear of unmatched suits, i.e. go for a fake one. See example ideas in the photos later in this post.
- Never wear an ensemble with items from the same designer.
- Have the suit altered for perfect fit if needed.
- Only wear double breasted jackets if your frame can take them. Be aware that they add weight. Looking heavier than you are, can give wrong perceptions about your health. Often people looking heavy are considered (incorrectly) as being lazy. You don’t need these negative associations.
- Be aware that pink and red add weight, while darker colors have a slimming effect. Use color to your advantage, i.e. put the darkest colors where you are the widest. Know your body shape.
- Avoid pieces that look too trendy (e.g. extremely wide or thin lapels, ruffles on the skirt hem, strong shoulder pads). They look dated faster than you can get them below a dollar per wear.
- Flapless pockets look better on everyone. See this guide on undeniable pants truths you need to know to find the best trousers for your body shape.
- Belt your jacket. When the trousers or skirt have belt loops add the right belt. See this guide on how to best accessorize with belts to look your best.
- Stay away from linen suits as they wrinkle faster than you can iron them. Instead go for lined cotton ensembles in summer.
- Go for combinations that have the same color, but the pieces are made of different fabric (see orange look below).
- Go for a statement material.
Ensemble Styling Inspirations
The following looks illustrate some of the tips given in the above list.
Fake or Unmatched Ensemble Outfit Inspirations
The easiest way to look great in a skirt/jacket or trousers/blazer set is to go for an unmatched one. Below are some examples for inspiration how to get the look right.
Try an uncommon style
The following pants suit is inspired by athleisure with respect to the fabric and some details, but has the classic suit cut regarding the pants. I paired it with a classic summer print blouse and sling backs for a posh casual office look (despite I work from home right now). Well I had four zoom meetings. Does that count?
Leather Suits Are Having a Moment
Costume and Outerwear
Your office look doesn’t stop at the skirt/pants combo. You have to look professional too in the elevator when you arrive; when you go for lunch with colleagues, your boss or clients. Thus, make sure that whatever of your work outfit will show underneath your outerwear looks creates a great outerwear look too.
In a Nutshell How to Wear a Suit and Not Look Old
Classic suits give the impression that you are stuck in the past. Thus, go for unmatched suits or suits with an edge, i.e. non-classic cut.
How do you wear your suit(s)? Do you wear “fake” suits? Do you have to wear them at work? What are your styling challenges when you have to wear them? Let me know I am curious.
Like these work outfit inspirations? You might also like to see how to dress office appropriate in a floral top.
Stylist’s tip: Always check you outfit in a full-length mirror o better take selfies from different angles to access whether you achieved to not look old.
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Mölders, N. 2019. Outdoor Universal Thermal Comfort Index Climatology for Alaska. Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 9, 558-582. doi: 10.4236/acs.2019.94036.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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