There’s a certain type of woman who seems to age with a bit more finesse. And she’s not the woman who races off to the plastic surgeon at the first sign of crow’s-feet, tries to wriggle into her daughter’s skinny jeans or clings to a froufrou look that worked for her when she was 20. (Then again, the woman we’re thinking of probably never went for that look to begin with.) It’s not that she’s impervious to the years but rather that she stares time in the face, squares her (well tailored) shoulders and simply gets on with it. Need a visual? Try Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, standing before a microphone with her perfectly cut suit and killer cheekbones; Carolina Herrera, with her immaculate white shirt and insouciant air; Trudie Styler, with her sui generis face and strong convictions; or Angela Bassett, with her fierce physique and take-no-prisoners vibe.
These are definitely not girly-girls. We’re not crazy about labels, but for the sake of argument, let’s call our subject the Handsome Woman. (For the record, Jane Austen considered being called handsome a great compliment—one more reason we love her.) The Oxford Advanced American Dictionary defines a handsome woman as “attractive, with large strong features rather than small delicate ones.” (We’ll throw in a chiseled jaw, a steady gaze and minimal curves.) This is a woman whose appeal does not depend on youth or conventionally feminine characteristics like a pert nose, big breasts and voluminous hair—which, let’s face it, don’t necessarily stand up well to the test of time. There is nothing “cute” about her. Make no mistake, though: She can be sexy as all get-out. In his best seller Catherine the Great, author Robert Massie uses the H-word to describe the monarch who was as famous for her sexual prowess as for her political acumen.
What Handsome Women Know
Women we consider handsome, such as Sigourney Weaver and Diane Keaton, often have highly individual styles: They may have long hair or short, prefer tailored pants or pencil skirts, but they share certain characteristics. “They keep things simple with hair and makeup. They stay slim and fit and wear fashion that is updated but age appropriate. Most of all, they have a lot of competencies that create confidence and a sense of purpose,” observes Jacque Lynn Foltyn, PhD, professor of sociology at National University in La Jolla, California. “They probably learned early on that they have distinctive looks but that their appearance was not going to be their raison d’être. Because they have other sources of self-esteem, they tend not to be as devastated by the aging process.” That confidence informs everything from how they dress (pared-down elegance) to how they walk into a room (standing tall). Sure, a good tailor and great cheekbones help (when do they not?), but more important is the attitude that goes with them. Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, a dermatologist with a regal air and close-cropped hair, says she has always had “an acute sense of self—even as a child. But with maturity, I’ve come to appreciate the way I look, and now I’m able to work it with a lot more confidence.”