Whenever I travel, I am always amazed by the diverse ways that my sisters express their style around the world. The women in every single country – from the U.S. and Canada to Italy and France and everywhere in-between – have something special to share!
The world is full of beautiful women who know their bodies and how to dress them. But how is it that so many women in Italy and France lead the world in class and style?
Not all garments are created equal. One thing the women of cities like Paris and Milan know is that quality is much more important than quantity. It is better to have one perfectly tailored jacket that elongates your frame than it is to have a dozen ill-fitting jackets that make your look boxy or stout.
Investing in staple pieces such as properly fitted blazers, skirts, and trousers lays the foundation for building a wardrobe that is distinctively and uniquely your own personal style. The quality of these pieces comes from the materials they are made of and the value of their stitching and seams. It’s important to buy garments that will last a long time until you’ve become bored with them.
A black pant suit with black pumps, pearl earrings, and a pearl choker may look modest and reserved. However, the same black pant suit with red heels and a matching red brooch may come across as classy and elegant. And the aforementioned pant suit paired with a floral scarf and a kelly green handbag may look fresh and fun. Accessories are the key to showing your own personal style.
Fashion changes but style does not. Heavier women can look just as polished as petite women if they wear the right shapes. Flimsy material and bulky garments will make a portly person appear larger and a three-quarter jacket that comes down mid-thigh on an average height person will make a shorter person look even smaller if it comes down to their knees.
The key is knowing your shape and size and finding pieces that accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative. One rule our blogger Penelope Whiteley loves is “fitting is fabulous and tight is tacky.” Sticking with solid colors instead of choosing “ditsy prints” is another great way that women over 50 can look smart and confident in the clothes they wear.
It’s true that your clothing speaks volumes to others about who you are. What we wear reflects who we are on the inside and others make judgments about us regarding what they see.
So, if societal and cultural norms don’t matter to you, you may choose to have more fun and wear whatever is comfortable or whatever makes you happy. Yet, if you’re wanting to let people know that you are an intelligent person with much to offer the world, you may want to dress in a way that shows your confidence and class.
My friend and fashion after 60 expert Judith Boyd has some unexpected fashion tips to share! If you have been following Judith for a while, you know that she is fabulously eccentric and fun to watch. She also knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to tell the truth about style and fashion for women over 60.
There’s a Word for It
Sprezzatura translates to artful nonchalance. That pretty much describes the essence of women’s fashion style in Italy and in France.
Their clothing is an artful expression of who they are. It symbolizes the amount of attention and care that they put into what they wear, and it also gives them the ability to shrug off the suggestion that they care too much.
Italian styles are typically quite simple. You won’t find a lot of frills or ruffles, except in the high fashion designer ads and runways. Although they wear mostly neutral colors, Italian women love colorful handbags and are sometimes quite flashy in their accessories: colorful, large jewelry – chains and large pendants. They also like brightly patterned scarves tied to the handles of their bags or other places to add a pop of color to their outfits.
Being in a warmer climate and more laid-back culture, you can’t go wrong here with comfortable flats (sandals and loafers) instead of high heels and boots. Italians are known for their quality shoes!
The fabrics worn by Italian women are light in weight with loose fits – jersey linen or cotton pants, flowing skirts and dresses, and tunic tops worn with or without a belt.
As with the Italians, the color palette for most French women is also mostly neutral, and they only occasionally give a nod to trends.
French women have a more classic look. They opt for quality fabrics, high couture or at least couture-looking separates and they add the occasional pop of color.
For an easy way to ‘go native’, tuck a simple solid-color silk or cotton blouse into a smart pair of slacks or jeans and finish with a leather or jeans jacket or coat. For cooler weather, just replace the blouse with a cashmere sweater.
You can wear flats and loafers, but they must be well made and can be a little trendy. If you still wear heels, this is the place to do it, although walking on the sidewalks of Paris in heels might be a bit tricky or even dangerous.
And then there are the scarves. French women tie them so artfully! Simply add a scarf to your basic sweater or wear one over your jean jacket or leather jacket to complete your Parisian look. Voilà!
A lot has been said about style and women in Italy and France. Do you think there is something about style we can learn from them? Fashion expert Penelope Whiteley has some insights to share. Enjoy the conversation!
Penelope is a speaker and an author of several books. She has traveled around the world and visited 57 countries, and has lived in seven of them.
Her mission in life is helping older women to reinvent themselves and to get unstuck from the challenges they face as they make the transition into their 60s. Welcome, Penelope.
Thank you, Margaret. It’s great to be here.
You actively blog for us at Sixty and Me, and our large group of women love your articles about fashion and reinventing our new look as we get a little older. That’s the topic I’d like to discuss today.
How can you get that exotic, fresh look that women in places like France and Italy obtain? How do they do it? Tell us more about fashion in those two places that I know you love and you travel to all the time.
I do love both France and Italy, and I do love shopping there. I also love the way many women dress there. Much of their style comes from the fact that they don’t necessarily buy cheap Chinese clothing when they go shopping.
For them, buying clothes is an investment. They will invest in a blazer. They’ll invest in a skirt and a pair of pants. Their purchases may not constitute high fashion, but it’s much better to create your own style. It’s wise not to follow fashion because fashion, particularly nowadays, is designed for the 18- to 25-year-old group.
Does that mean that they look for materials that may not be expensive, but natural, like cotton, silk or linen? Those are the types of materials that are great for more than one or two wears.
Yes. They wear clothes that will last 10 years or longer. Eventually, they would just get tired of them, and give them to a local odd shop or to someone who has seen the garment before and said, “Oh I love that!” They could even say, “Please, take it with my blessing!”
Quality of material is very important. When you go shopping, examine the garments you buy. Look at how they are made. Look at the stitching, French seams, anything that will give you a garment of value that will last until you finally become bored with it.
They dress well and they accessorize.
Please tell us more about accessories. This is a favorite topic at Sixty and Me as a lot of our women often comment on necklaces or bracelets that they are wearing; even scarves. I think accessorizing is a real skill we can learn from our European sisters.
Most European women are particularly good with scarves. I love scarves and own more scarves than I have clothes. Many European women are the same way, though there are also those who only own one handmade scarf and that’s it. I guess they figure that’s all they really need.
When it comes to earrings, drop earrings don’t necessarily suit as you get older. You are better off with something smaller, that does not hang under the ear. I believe jewelry gives you a brightness that you don’t always have, so it’s no surprise that I am a great fan of bling.
Now, this is personal, but I am not a huge fan of necklaces. I’d rather wear a single strand of pearls, which is very Parisian and very Italian. Chokers of pearls are very difficult to wear as you get older because you might get a turkey crop, and that definitely doesn’t look great.
I love brooches and think they are sensational. In Italy, in particular, you can buy the most beautiful brooches in leather; they are just lovely.
Brooches are wonderful. You can even put them in hats, if you wear berets. I actually have a sweater that is very thin, and sometimes, I would just bring a part of it over, and pin it asymmetrically. You can do a lot with brooches.
Absolutely, brooches are amazing. If you are wearing a particularly boring garment, put on some pearls—a necklace and earrings—and if it has a long hem, stick in a huge red brooch. If you tie it in with red shoes, you will successfully bleed the color, even without a matching bag or scarf.
I think most of the stylish women in Europe seem to be unlikely to have a weight problem. They might be a little larger than when they were 18, but who isn’t?
Their secret comes with understanding their new body shape. They understand their new face shape. They can’t necessarily wear the same shape of glasses they wore 15 years ago.
Certainly, with clothing, they understand that layering can do wonders. For women who are a little thicker around the waist—and that happens even to the thinnest people once they are a certain age—you can visually slim that down just with long jewelry, open jackets and specific colors.
Stick with solid colors. One of my rules is that women over 50 should never wear ditsy prints, because they just don’t work.
That’s another thing that I’ve noticed in my travels to Paris and Italy. Women tend to wear a single color, or their clothes are toned. For instance, they will choose a basic color like black, navy or maybe beige or khaki or some other tone, and work around that. All-black also seems really common, do you agree?
Yes, I do. In fact, it’s my favorite color combination. Finding color in my wardrobe is almost impossible. People say you can’t wear all black, but of course, all black is so stylish. So, it comes down to knowing your body shape and knowing what suits you and what doesn’t.
If you’re around five feet in height, the current fashion of three-quarter jackets wouldn’t work for you. They come halfway down the thigh on an average height person but are going to be too long if you’re shorter.
Sixty and Me has been around for four years now. In our first or second year we went down to Milan and interviewed a woman, Melanie Page, who is a fashion stylist. She took us around Milan, and we talked about clothes.
One thing she said is that you should always have a set of clothes – a top, pants, a skirt and a jacket – four things that are in the same color and complement your body. For instance, a straight jacket isn’t right for everyone; some people may need darts in the back.
Yes, style rules never change. Fashion changes, but style doesn’t. Even on a portly person, a fitting jacket – not tight, but a fitting – is better than a big bulky jacket. One of my rules is, fitting is fabulous and tight is tacky.
That goes for the texture of the material, too. Flimsy material that is tight will not result in a good look. As you said, it’s important to use texture, color and body shape to compensate for a heavy top or a heavy bottom.
Yes. Basically, it’s learning the subtle art of camouflage without having to wear fatigues. There are all sorts of style rules, in my book anyway. For instance, you never wear a black bra under a white top, which you see commonly nowadays.
You don’t wear white knickers under white pants – you wear flesh colored knickers. It sounds silly, but it actually creates a style. These rules are a statement which says, “I know not to do these things.”
Style rules are great, but I know that women in the community will say things like, “Who cares if I wear a white bra or a flesh colored bra? I’m 60 years old, I will do what I want and what makes me feel comfortable.”
There is no judgement here – I know that is the way some people like to dress. But since we’re discussing the French and Italian style, perhaps we should be prepared to follow some of the styling rules that go with it. And you can always accessorize and be as bohemian and creative as you want around those basic rules.
Absolutely. As you said, not everybody wants to wear flesh colored knickers under their white pants. Naturally, it becomes a question of personal choice.
Do you want to create your own personal style? If you don’t, then that’s entirely your choice. It has nothing to do with fashion; this is about your own personal style, whether it’s bohemian or goth or something else.
You create the style that works for your body so that when you look in the mirror, you say, “Yes, I’m pleased with myself.” If you look good, it automatically raises your self-esteem, your self-confidence and your mood. And you put some good energy back into the planet.
I think it’s true that your clothing speaks for you. It does reflect who you are on the inside. If you are trying to communicate who you are to the world, your clothing is a great vehicle for that purpose.
Yes, you can only make one first impression, and 55% of that first impression is based on your appearance. I know people may say that’s shallow, and it probably is, but it’s also fact. The words that you say only represent seven percent of that first impression.
We know a lot of women are gaining a little weight as they get older. Sometimes we want to wear outfits that we loved wearing in our 30s, but of course, they don’t suit our body shape anymore. In one of your four books – or was it an online course? – you talk about losing 20 pounds in 20 minutes. What is that all about?
One of the first books I wrote, specifically for women over 50, was called Hot Stuff: The Ultimate Guide to Style for Women of a Certain Age. It contains everything you could ever want to know. It even covers things like relaxation, breathing, hormone replacement, menopause and styles for different bodies.
Also, I just completed a program I would be running online called Lose Twenty Pounds in Twenty Minutes. Which, of course, you can by changing the way you dress.
So it’s an online course. An abundance of Penelope’s materials is available on her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter which will deliver lots of information to your inbox on a regular basis. On her website you can also learn how to get a hold of her books and be inspired by them. I think it’s fantastic.
I hope so.
This discussion has been so helpful. Everybody talks about European women as having a lot of style and a lot of presence. I think they do, but I must admit there are women with a really great sense of style in the States too. I think it’s just a different way of approaching fashion rules and style.
Absolutely. Some of the smartest women I have ever seen are in places like New York and Berlin, so it’s not just Italy and France. All over the planet, there are women who know how to look their best and feel comfortable looking their best. You have really got to feel comfortable in your skin and your clothing.
That is the secret to happiness in your 60s, for sure – being at peace and loving your body and yourself. Thank you, Penelope. It’s been great talking with you.
What are some style rules that you adhere to? What are some style rules that you have made for yourself? What clothes/colors/styles/accessories make you feel great in your body? Please join the conversation below.
Let’s Have a Conversation!