Michelle L. Smith

Freelance Writer, Novelist, Humorist

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Unleash Your Inner Fashionista Who's Counting?, fall 2010

You've purchased tickets to the Pebble Beach Food and Wine event. Or you're attending the Carmel Bach Festival. But you want to wear something contemporary. Problem is, you're not sure which of the latest fashions are appropriate for women 50-and-older.

Tired of reaching for that safe little number in black?

Well, fear your inner fashionista no more by heeding the advice of local fashion experts who'll help unleash the fashion diva within.

Model, author and inspirational speaker, Valerie Ramsey, is a former stay-at-home-mom who launched a modeling career at age 63. Recognized for her flowing, silvery-white hair, Ramsey has appeared on numerous TV shows and at speaking engagements to discuss the topic of aging gracefully.

An expert at looking and feeling her best, Ramsey is dismayed to see women dress inappropriately for their age.

"Women over 50 tend to let themselves go as far as their dress, hair, makeup--everything," she says. "It's like they just don't want to bother anymore. And in an effort to look young, they dress in [a manner] more appropriate for their daughters."

Ramsey's sentiments are shared by others in the fashion industry.

Former professional model-turned-philanthropist, Karen Fanoe, modeled for Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin, as well as elan at Pebble Beach.

"I think the most difficult time for a woman is between ages 40 and 50," Fanoe says. "They have daughters who dress young, and these women are having a hard time transitioning from that younger look."

Fanoe's fashion savvy is embodied in the mantra she learned from her fashion-minded aunt.

"You wear the clothes, the clothes don't wear you," says Fanoe, a testament to simplicity in dressing.

Fashions for the Forgotten

Deaunna Moore, owner of Pacific Grove's Prim and Proper Fashions, favors sophistication for the mature woman. Moore's store carries classic clothing styles and "caters to the forgotten generation in the fashion world." Moore says the biggest fashion mistake women over 50 make is an attempt to be trendy.

"If you're interested in looking your best, don't buy what's trendy," says Moore. "Buy what looks good on you."

Moore is often frustrated to see the full-bodied woman accentuating the very flaw she wants to hide by wearing a tunic to cover her bottom. If the top was shorter, Moore says, it would hang better, not cling, and present a more slenderized look.

Ramsey likes "clothes that skim the body, not tents that cover it up all together." Horizontal stripes emphasize weight, she says, while large prints make mature women look older.

"I think what saved women over 50 is opaque hose," Fanoe says. "It's a great look that elongates you."

Salinas Valley resident Laurie Massa has modeled in fashion shows and for local clothing stores, including Pamplemousse Boutique in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Massa sees the fashion issue facing mature women as one of self-confidence and suggests that women venture outside of their comfort zones.

"I'm guilty of wearing black," Massa says, noting that some women only wear certain colors. "But if that gives them the confidence to feel great, I say do whatever we can to feel good about ourselves."

While Massa finds the assistance of store personnel invaluable, she emphasizes that one doesn't need to travel to San Francisco to get good fashion advice.

"Trust the people who're helping you," she says. "Day in and day out they see what looks great and what doesn't."

A favorite outfit for Ramsey is a "fabulous jacket with jeans, a pair of boots or stunning high heels. You've got a great look for all sorts of events."

Fanoe likes to pair jeans with a blazer, high heels and a great necklace. "It's a look that will go anywhere in this area," she says.

The Little Black Dress

Fanoe is also fond of the basic black dress that can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion, but stresses the importance of not over-accessorizing.

"If you have too much, people don't know what to look at. Buy quality instead of quantity. If you have a good-looking shoe and a good-looking purse, it'll make the outfit."

Moore prefers solid colors that are dressed up with a jacket or sweater.

"Simplicity is dressier than something that's gussied up," she says. "To dress up, you don't need glitzy."

Massa, however, fancies clothing with a little glam, like blouses that fall off the shoulder a bit.

"I think that looks sexy, and it can be belted or worn with jeans," she says. "Leggings or skinny pants worn with longer tops that you can belt ... feel kind of sassy."

But Massa cautions against wearing tight clothing, noting that looser graments render a slimmer profile.

Accessorize!

Massa is also into accessories.

"I might have on an ordinary outfit, but a great handbag and leopard [print] shoes look dynamite," she says.

"Changing the accessories changes the whole look," Fanoe agrees. "You just don't want your clothes to be complicated."

As for hair and makeup, our experts agree less is better.

After her professional modeling career, Fanoe kept in touch with industry experts, many of whom help organize fundraiser fashion shows.

"I think it's important to go into the department stores and look at the women who are working behind the makeup counters," says Fanoe. "If you like the way they look, have them work on you."

Fanoe recommends changing makeup seasonally and with age.

"At 50 or 60 you can't wear the makeup you wore when you were 30 or 40 ... In the summer, you can't wear the makeup you wore in December," she says. "I believe that makeup can take off ten years if it's done right. If it's done wrong, it can add 10 years."

Ramsey believes hairstyles should be "sleek, simple and shiny." Healthy skin and self-confidence are also key to a fresh, youthful look.

"Act like you believe that you're a great person and role model for people your age," Ramsey says. "It's what comes from inside and spills onto the outside that's every bit as important as the foundation and lipstick you're wearing."

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