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

A. Many readers have asked about how to dress professionally in an increasingly casual office environment. You say you are from the "old school" and prefer to wear a suit most days. I see nothing wrong with that, since you are a legal assistant in an urban area. A suit has many advantages. It is by nature pulled together, and assuming it fits, it should be flattering. It says, "I take my job seriously."

You report that other members of staff who dress casually to downright inappropriately are putting pressure on you to "chill out" with your wardrobe. It’s too bad they are not emulating you a little! In so many offices, there is no coherent dress code. Do you know how your boss and the other partners feel about this?

Regardless, as we get older, it is important to be current. As the world is a constantly changing place, perhaps your style can evolve along with it. Here are some ideas for keeping up with the times while remaining professional looking:

  • The pivotal piece of professional dress is the jacket. However, it does not necessarily need to be a tailored jacket. I’m guessing that your suit jackets are structured, which means that there is some padding and interfacing and tailoring involved. If you are wearing suits from 10 or 15 years ago, they are dated. Styles now are trimmer and more relaxed. You might try a less structured style, which will appear friendlier. A stiffer fabric, such as cotton or silk shantung, will hold a shape. A softer fabric, such as a knit, will drape. These options are relaxed and comfortable while still exhibiting a professional demeanor.
  • Another way to be less formal is to wear coordinated separates rather than a matching suit. Every line is merchandised with multiple choices that work together. Why not experiment with some new things?

You can maintain the integrity of your own look and show these younger women a thing or two! They don’t know about professional dress because nobody taught them.

Attire for Stay-at-Home Moms

Q. Please give advice to over-40 stay-at-home moms. I want to look stylish while still looking my age. I am familiar with designers such as Tahari and Theory. However, no one is going to wear a $300 jacket to the park! Please direct me to other retailers or designers that are a little more affordable for the preschool moms who get hugs from messy kids! — Anonymous

A. Obviously the wardrobe for your on-duty mom hours needs to be wash-and-wear. An often overlooked resource is real sports apparel from vendors like Patagonia and REI. They have terrific, sleek, indestructible pieces that are built to perform. If it says waterproof, abrasion resistant, or moisture wicking, it is! A great windbreaker or parka is the ticket. Polar fleece is perfect. Patagonia’s capilene layering pieces are terrific. These clothes are generically cool, like jeans or a black turtleneck. You’ll look modern and be comfortable.

For a step up in dressiness, a few simple, classic pieces are all you need. Coldwater Creek has a basic pant in poly. Banana Republic has good pants in a wool blend with a little Lycra. The most important thing is to make sure you have some pants that really fit. Add a few fresh sweaters or tops in flattering colors. A scarf or other accessory will pull it all together and make you feel special. How about a hat or some glasses to add a little attitude?

At this time, it is nice to have a few "grown up" or "date" things that remind you of life before motherhood. Treat yourself to something current that you love from designers like Tahari or Theory. A cashmere sweater or sexy silk top may be all you need to upgrade your basic pants for that rare evening out on the town.

For help answering your toughest clothing-related questions, e-mail Annie at and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.

Read how Annie helped MORE senior editor Marcia Menter build a wardrobe that works and find Annie’s top 10 wardrobing tips in "Closet Case: A Personal Stylist and Me."

Visit Annie’s Web site,, for more information on her work.

Originally published on, January 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:21

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