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Formal Wear for Older Women

Middle-aged women are forgotten about by retailers. I offer help with clothing choices, skincare, and healthy eating for the mature woman.

These tips will have you looking and feeling your best for the occasion.

These tips will have you looking and feeling your best for the occasion.

How to Dress For Women Over 50

Who knew that once you hit 50, you became invisible? This cloak of invisibility is evident every time I walk into a clothing store. There are fashions for millennials by the truckloads sporting the latest designs, fabrics, and colors of the season. Then there are the clothing stores your mother enjoys because they cater to her need to have warm feet and covered knees.

What about the rest of us? Where are we supposed to purchase our dresses, skirts, and blouses? I often wonder if it will take a revolution of middle-aged women running naked through the streets to highlight our cause. A protest that even Lady Godiva would be proud to have attended.

Ladies, before you begin stripping off and heading for the door, let's talk formal wear for women our age. If you've been avoiding going to your school reunions or telling your children to wait to get married because you can't find something suitable to wear, I want to help you (and your children).

I am in the same boat, as now I am on the wrong side of 60. I currently live in Brazil, and it is refreshing to see the attitude of women here, as it's very different from those I have seen in the US & the UK. Here a woman, no matter what her age or size, will quite happily wear tiny clothing while excess skin hangs over the fabric. There is no shame or feeling that they should cover up because here, fun comes first.

I realize that this is not an option for many reading as you might be embarrassed or ashamed of a particular part of your body. You probably notice that part of your body more than other people. Still, to feel comfortable at your next party or a formal gathering, we will discover some suitable dresses and pantsuits that will have you enjoying your evening on the town.

Formal Fashions for Mature Women

Older or mature women have certain areas which many of us may wish to hide. Although you may think you're the only one plagued by these problems, you're not. I have four or more of them that I will be discussing, so you're not alone. Many fashions targeted at younger women will suit us; however, it does take some sifting through the choices and picturing ourselves in a given outfit.

Many popular sites, such as Amazon, rarely use older women in their advertising images, a fact that doesn't help us in our quest to find our perfect outfit.
I have listed a few clothing ideas for you to look at for your next formal occasion as wedding season is right around the corner. These also include the problem areas the clothing will help to cover up.

I will also touch on other important things to consider when selecting your perfect attire for a wedding or other formal events. It's worth spending time choosing an outfit because when you feel confident in what you're wearing, it shows in how you carry yourself and how much you enjoy the event.

There are formal dresses and jackets out there perfectly-suited for mature women.

There are formal dresses and jackets out there perfectly-suited for mature women.

Loose Underarm Skin

This problem has many names such as bingo wings, underarm dingle-dangle and some which may be specific to your area or family. Whether this is due to weight loss, or a simple lack of toning, it doesn't matter, it's a common problem and one we can deal with. I won't suggest you lift weights or do dips from a chair (clearly, my triceps have been subjected to these various exercises) I am here to find clothing options that will mask this problem area.

Lace Sleeves

Wearing sleeves is the obvious answer but as I'm sure you're aware, some are better than others. Lace sleeves are often found on formal dresses and add to the elegance of the outfit. Some lace is more suitable than others as certain ones are stretchable. If your arms are large consider only lace sleeves that have a bit of stretch.

If they are too tight the skin could begin to push through the lace creating an unattractive appearance. Plus, you do not want a potential clothing failure during the event. Sheer 3/4 length sleeves will mask the problem area whilst still leaving the dress with a lighter chic look. This is a good choice if your upper arms are large or you are self conscious.

Light Jacket

Another option is wearing a light jacket, such as the one with the pantsuit or a short bolero style which will look striking paired with pants, a skirt or a dress.

Tummy or Flabby Abs

If you read women's magazines or go to exercise sites, the women have flat abs but let's be realistic, how many women do you know with flat abs that are our age? That isn't to say, you should cease with your workouts, just don't get stressed about it because there is clothing to help.

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Read More From Bellatory

Many years ago I remember watching the Wimbledon Tennis tournament and Sarah Ferguson (Prince Andrew's ex-wife) was in the audience. Of course, the cameras were pointed at her the entire time as this was just before her upcoming wedding. She sneakily ate a candy and the press went crazy about whether she would be able to fit into her wedding dress. She later went on to represent Weight Watchers but her weight was a constant source of news in the British press. This made me sad then and it still does as she didn't fit the mold of a perfect woman.

My point of that story is, no matter what age, unless you are an athletic type, it is likely you feel you're carrying more than you want around you mid-section. Call it a spare tire, love handles, or just your gut, it causes women a lot of distress. If the upset is caused because it's seen as unhealthy then I can see why there is a cause for concern. If however, it's because other people comment or you feel peer pressure (yes even at our age), I don't think we need to get worked up about our tummies.

Feeling comfortable in formal attire is another reason to celebrate.

Feeling comfortable in formal attire is another reason to celebrate.

Swollen Ankles

If the thought of wearing feminine shoes that show your swollen ankles fills you with dread, you are not alone. I have this problem as well. With long formal wear, be it trousers or a dress, your large ankles are covered. Opting to wear a shorter skirt will require more thought about your shoes. For me, shoes with straps seem to accentuate the problem. My favorite pair of dress shoes is a kitten heel pump. They are low enough to be comfortable, but the pointed toe draws the eye away from the ankle.
If you are standing, walking, or dancing, opt for comfortable shoes. High heels, unless you are accustomed to them, should be called sitting shoes.

Anything for an excuse to grab a new pair.

Anything for an excuse to grab a new pair.

Wide Hips, Saddle Bags, And Large Legs

When I think of the needless hours spent looking in a mirror and the worry this causes to women, I almost want to cry. Sisters, listen to me; this is your shape and has been the form artists have chosen to paint through the whole Renaissance period. You know the types of paintings I'm referring to, the Rubenesque women who are plump and sensuously draped over a chaise lounge, arms and legs akimbo—adorned with nothing more than a wisp of burgundy fabric and long wavy locks of auburn hair. You have an incredible womanly shape.

Believe it or not, the current medical research says carrying weight around the hips, as in a pear shape, is healthier than extra weight around the belly.

The key to finding something ideal for a formal event is, buy the correct size. I know this sounds crazy, but I have seen women with large hips try and squeeze into a smaller size, thinking it makes them look smaller. Correct fitting clothing makes you look better and feel better, and when that happens, you enjoy yourself more.

Solutions For Saggy Breasts

Unless you've had breast augmentation, it's likely your breasts aren't as pert as they once were. What once were full and bouncy now sadly, are akin to the ears of a Labrador. In our next life, hopefully, we will be on a gravity-free planet where this type of thing doesn't occur. If you have the chance, put into a Google search 'normal women's breasts'. There are websites where normal women of all ages have uploaded images of their boobs. You will be amazed at what you see, and I promise you after seeing them, you will love your own pair.

If you feel your girls are letting the side down when it comes to dressing up, don't worry, this problem is easy to fix without resulting to drastic measures. Correct fitting corsetry is a must have to make you feel comfortable in any formal wear.

These might include:

  • Silicone bra inserts, or as my daughter calls them 'chicken fillets'. These are easily tucked inside the bra, normally in front of the armpit side. Some women choose to place them below although you don't want your cup to runneth over, just be filled. Place them where they best suit your needs.
  • A push-up or padded bra: Don't be fooled into thinking a push-up or a padded bra is only for the young. Both types of bras help give the breasts back their fullness.
  • Body Shapers. My personal favorite is what are collectively called, body shapers because they solve so many problems. It pays to shop around until you find the right one. Not only will you get the bust supported correctly, you'll also benefit from a smooth line which looks better under a dress.

Big Butt Or No Butt Fashion Fixes

Who could have imagined that a big posterior was going to be in fashion? Go figure! Thanks to the likes of Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez the tables have turned and an ample booty is trendy. Those who are challenged in the tush area, have easy fixes without resorting to drastic measures.

These can include the:

  • Shape wear: This one piece which I mentioned in the bra section, has padding already included. The range is vast and can start around the knee and extend to under the breasts. The fabrics used now are much more breathable and can be comfortable.
  • Inserts: Similar to the ones for your bra, these silicone or foam butt pads, insert into panties. *Word of caution get panties that have a pouch for these inserts. Otherwise, you could be dancing carefree and it could move or fall out. No one wants to see themselves on YouTube the day after the event.

For a large derriere, you have the choice to cover it, for example, a long jacket and pantsuit style or other loose fitting clothing.

Or you can flaunt it by wearing a dress that will hug your curvaceous figure! The long lace dress by Miusol on this page will help accentuate your curves without being flashy or looking like a tart.

Clothing For A Dowagers Hump

The hump on the upper back can be the result of osteoporosis, bad posture or other causes. If this is something which is an embarrassment to you, choosing the correct clothing can help. Don't fret about this as there are styles that can easily mask this. Dresses or blouses which sit at the collar line or even higher up the nape of the neck can hide the bulbous lump.

It is worth mentioning that if you are at an event, and are relaxed or tired you may tend to slump forward causing your hump to be more evident. Sit up straight, pulling your shoulder blades towards the center of your back and imagining they are taped together. Sitting upright and checking your posture frequently during the day, will make you more aware of incorrect posture. This also pulls the abdomen muscles into play which helps with your core muscle groups.

Yoga is an excellent way to help you understand how your muscle groups are interconnected and can help with your overall well being.

It never hurts to get the blood flowing.

It never hurts to get the blood flowing.

Fashion Inspiration for Mature Ladies

It can be difficult to know what styles might suit us as we age. One thing I have done is to look at the mature women in the film industry when they are attending an awards ceremony. I am not referring to women such as Lady Gaga in her dress made of meat, Madonna with her eclectic wardrobe or even Cher who has shown more flesh in her time than a high street butcher. All three of these women are talented but their fashion sense is warped, in my opinion.

Look more towards women such as Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda to see that what a well dressed mature woman looks like. In fact, at this year's Cannes Film Festival Helen Mirren was wearing a similar style to the black dress I have shown you on this page, albeit her's was shorter.

Jane Fonda looking great at the Berlin Film Festival.

Jane Fonda looking great at the Berlin Film Festival.

Hair and Make-Up For Women Over 50

  • Once you've purchased your outfit, your hair and make-up will be next on the agenda.
  • If your hair is short, you may be limited to the style you already have unless you use a hairpiece, wig, or temporary extensions.
  • Consider highlights or low lights to brighten up your look.
  • If you have longer hair, consider wearing it up as an elegant up-do is glamorous. The exception to this would be if you are trying to cover a hump on your back. Be aware, though, elongating the look with a bun or chignon will draw the eye up and away from your problematic back.
  • For your makeup, keep it simple with colors you're already accustomed to wearing. Bold eye shadow doesn't work on women our age, leave these for the 20 somethings.
  • Choose a bold lipstick if it's your signature look. The focal point should be eyes or lips but not both.

Accessories for Formal Wear

  • Accessorizing your formal wear will be dependent on what you are choosing to wear.
  • As with the make-up, less is more. If you have opted for a solid color low cut gown, then do wear a necklace or a beautiful scarf.
  • Earrings should compliment your outfit and your face, and not be the focal point of outfit or conversation around the table.
  • Opt for a small evening clutch bag as opposed to large shoulder bag to keep your look refined and fresh.

With a few simple key pieces you'll feel self-assured and it will show.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I'm going to an evening semi-formal event. I'm wearing a black tunic very sparkly material with black pants. I'll be wearing silver 2.5 inch heels with silver and black crystal beads and jewelry. It looks really very nice on me. I don’t like dresses. I thought about white pants and decided on the black. What do you think about my choice?

Answer: I think it sounds perfect. The most important fact is that you comfortable in it. The tunic was a good choice and black is elegant. The touch of complimentary jewelry and silver shoes sounds like you've pulled the look together. Black on its own can be bland without those extra touches. Well done!

© 2017 Mary Wickison


Mary Wickison (author) from USA on October 28, 2017:

Hi Pipsqueakers,

I can tell this is obviously worrying you.

You're right, the clothing models many companies use are all thin models which doesn't help even though their dresses come in plus sizes.

If you search the reviews of the verified purchases on Amazon it will mention the size the woman bought. Also, many times the women will say how tall they are. Using this as a guide will help you.

The dress mentioned in my article has many reviews and comments from women who are your height and size. They have also uploaded images of themselves wearing it. Plus Amazon offers free returns which is a bonus.

Although the wedding is formal, a dress which hits at or just below the knee may be a good choice for you. Opt for one with a jacket that is the same length as the dress or slightly longer.

If you are concerned about having lumps and bumps showing, there are many bodyshapers which are remarkably comfortable to wear and give a smooth appearance.

If you wear jewellery, keep it small and sparse. Opt for comfortable heels, suitable for dancing.

Remember, that the best thing you can wear if something you feel comfortable in.

That plus a big smile is all you need.

pipsqueakers on October 25, 2017:

Have to get cleaned up for my youngest son's wedding in early Dec. Art teacher who has not bought a dress, let alone a formal, in nearly 15-20 yrs. OY! Also, I'm only 5'2"& I used to weigh betw 110-120.....the last time I bought a, over a decade, I've gone through menopause (w/o hormones b/c my mom had ovarian cancer at age 37) & quit smoking... & also gained 70 lbs thru' these 2 concurrent events.....I am alive & old now, .but fat/stout. GEEZ LOUIZEE...I'm glad I dont' smoke anymore and glad I'm "thru" menopause w/o drugs...and glad I'm OLD and still alive...but I STILL have to show up at my youngest son's FIRST wedding (age 38+) and look decent. It is FORMAL. At a fancy dancy West coast hotel....Hollywood & all a panic looking at the "plus size" fashions online for "mother's of the groom/bride" that have the "mermaid" look...or the off-the-shoulder, waisted, look....etc--I "google" for "plus sizes" & get these gawd-awful fashions shown on size 5 models...

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on April 30, 2017:

Hi Audrey,

When I first read your comment, I thought of the tribute concert for Carole King which was at the White House. Aretha Franklin came out in a fur coat before discarding it during her performance. At 75 she isn't as toned as younger women, but no one watching noticed her arms, they were there for the music.

When a singer can bring the most powerful man in the world to tears, body form isn't a blip on the horizon.

I personally feel you should do what Aretha did, start with a wrap and ceremoniously toss it away. I'm certain the majority of people in your audience all have a part of their body they aren't happy with. Seeing your performance and your confidence may touch your audience in ways you hadn't imagined.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 29, 2017:

This is a real problem for me--I have diva wear for concerts ---but at my age, flabby arms are a big issue--so I have gowns with wraps, but the wraps get in the way of expressivity during a recital--I also have invested in a number of small jackets that go over a gown--but they often feel constricting as well--

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 14, 2017:

Hi Toni,

The cup sizes of bras has many factors. If you live in the UK then it would be an E after DD. However in the US it can be DDD. Various manufacturers will offer different sizing and fits. It isn't just cup size though. It could be that you may need a different size altogether. If the rear strap rises up the back you need a smaller band size.

The front part of the band also should fit well on the sternum, no leaning out or digging in.

My advice is to get measured in a reputable shop with an experienced bra fitter. There will be a comfortable bra out there with your name on it.

Keep me posted on how your search goes.

Toni Kelly on February 12, 2017:

Thank you for the articles on finding the right bra size. I do have a question.I wear a 40 DD, and I am 4' 11", weighing 160 lbs. It is almost impossible for me to find a comfortable fit in a bra. What size comes after a DD ? I know there is a G, and other letters, but no clue which come first. I am also an over 50 lady who liked, and appreciated your articles especially for us very much . Thank you for being a spokes person and fashion consultant , since there is no one else that I am aware of with our interests in mind !!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 04, 2017:

Hi Nell,

Casual is the order of the day here in my part of Brazil. Dressing up is putting shoes on. LOL

However, in the city, it's much more formal and people tend to dress smarter than in the UK and the States. Fashion and looking smart here is a huge industry.

Oh and for the future, don't use a four letter word in my comments. We don't mention the word "DIET" here. LOL

Great to hear from you.

Nell Rose from England on February 03, 2017:

What a great idea for an article! to be honest I tend to wear the same old same old. I am not one for suits etc. but have become aware of my shape changing so I do exercises etc, and on a diet at the moment to get rid of belly fat. wearing jeans most of the time is a great idea for me and I am comfortable in them. but I am 57 so I suppose I had better grow up and wear more ladylike clothes! lol! either that or i will pop across to brazil and let it all hang out too, what do you think? lol!

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on February 01, 2017:

Hi Marlene,

You're right, body shapers are a Godsend. Regarding shoes, a good pair can last a long time and still be stylish. I had my last pair for 20 years and they always looked chic.

Great to hear from you, thanks for reading.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on February 01, 2017:

You have covered all of my areas of concern. Thank goodness for body shapers. I like the look of the kitten heel pump. They have always been my favorite and it looks like they are making a come-back.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 29, 2017:

I must say I prefer a low heel but with formal dresses, I like extra height. They seem to make a garment hang better. I do call them 'sitting shoes' for a reason, though.

Some people, like yourself, just have an eye for bringing a look together.

Thanks for reading.

BODYLEVIVE from Alabama, USA on January 26, 2017:

Beautiful garments but those heel has gotta go, lol. I sometimes find myself in a pickle for an event but I always manage to put together something eye catching. Best to you.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 23, 2017:

Hi Dora,

Thank you for your kind words.

I think retailers and design houses are slowly coming around and realizing we are a market which is worth investing in.

Thank you for your visit.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 23, 2017:

Mary, we the older women really do need this kind of fashion help. You offer some practical tips which will cause to consult this article again. The images you used are inspirational in themselves. Thank you very much.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 23, 2017:

Hi Glenis,

A good seamstress can work miracles, they can look at a garment and know what will work.

You must have a good eye for spotting the possibilities of what the finished article could be, like your cocktail dress. Other women might look at it and not consider using the services of a dressmaker.

Enjoy your haggis and your evening.

Glenis Rix on Hub Pages on January 23, 2017:

I will be seventy this year, live in the UK and really don't have a problem sourcing the clothes that I like. Co-incidentally, I just took a stunning sleeveless red cocktail dress to the dressmaker to be altered. The draped neck was a little too low and the dressmaker is also going to insert lace sleeves in a matching red because like you, I don't like to reveal my triceps! I am planning to wear it to a Burns' Night supper this weekend. In this day and age we can dress in whatever makes us feel good. Most days I wear denim jeans.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on January 22, 2017:

Hi Bill,

I'm like Bev, except here the attire is shorts and flip flops. Occasionally, when the event calls for it, I have to dress up.

Thanks for your continued support.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 21, 2017:

Just dropped by to wish you a great weekend. I'd pass this along to Bev, but she's a jeans and sweatshirt kind of girl. :)

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