Ask AB: Wardrobe Wisdom in the Home & Office’s "Wardrobe Wizard," image consultant Annie Brumbaugh, tackles your toughest questions about keeping up with trends and what’s appropriate for professional and home life.

By Annie Brumbaugh

Keeping Up with Fashion Trends

Dear Readers,

So many of you have recently asked questions about appropriateness: What works for me now that I’m in my 40s, 50s, and 60s? What is considered professional dress? What about me if I’m a stay-at-home-mom? These are our topics for this month.

In upcoming columns we’ll be talking about how to develop a real personal style, how to build a wardrobe, how to address body and fit issues, and how to deal with some specific sticky wickets like bras and shoes. Please keep your questions coming to me at

Best regards,Annie

Annie Brumbaugh, AICI,

Wearing Leggings at 44?

Q. I have always been known to wear the most up-to-date fashion, and since I have a petite frame, I have been able to wear most new fashion styles over the years. However, as I get older it is important to be age-appropriate in my fashion sense. The new style these days is really short skirts, leggings, and major layering. How can I stay fashionable while still being age-appropriate? — Lisa

A. At 44 you may be going through the "maybe I’m not so young, but I still look great" passage. Dressing fashionably involves looking at what is current and adapting that to what is flattering and appropriate for you. You don’t need to do ALL of the trends to be contemporary. Incorporating a few of them to update your look is the best approach.

You mention three trends: really short skirts, leggings, and major layering. Let’s take them in turn.

Micro-miniskirts are the province of the very young. They look good only on 17-year-olds and models. If you have great legs and are just dying to wear this style, let it be at the beach or with thick tights and a sweater. Please make it at least mid-thigh. The ideal skirt length for you depends on your body proportions, but somewhere in the vicinity of the knee is probably best; it will be sexier than too short.

The leggings trend is a potential pitfall, but this can be interpreted. Obviously you don’t want to wear leggings and an oversize top with shoulder pads as in the 80s. (I’m sure many readers will remember this look!) This is a question of silhouette: a very narrow leg. How about a slim pant or even skinny jeans under a narrow tunic? Did you see the Gap posters featuring Audrey Hepburn in trim black pants, a white shirt, and ballet flats? You can play with this idea and have fun. (Note: A very pegged pant will look good on a slimmer person and/or someone with a straight body type. If you’re curvy and big in the hips, you need more volume at the bottom to balance your figure.)

Layering is great for everyone, but again, don’t overdo it, especially since you are petite. The key factors are proportion and volume. Try to have a one-third/two-thirds break in your silhouette, such as a shawl or jacket that is short over a long bottom. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much fabric.

You sound like a stylish lady who loves clothes, and fortunately that does not change with age. The questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is this flattering?
  • Where would I be going in this?
  • Why would I wear this?

Appropriate Work Attire

Q. I am a 51-year-old legal assistant in downtown Chicago. I am the assistant to the Senior Equity Partner and feel that I should dress professionally every day. I wear suits four out of five days a week and a nice sweater with slacks one day. The problem is that I also work with younger girls who dress (in my opinion) unprofessionally and pressure me to "chill out" with my wardrobe. It doesn’t help that my office manager who is the same age as me wears miniskirts and low-cut tops. I come from the "old school" of dressing professionally. Is this wrong? Am I too structured or are they too relaxed? Can you please let me know what is considered professional and what is not? — Mary

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