Q&A: How Do I Dress for My 30s?

By Erin Donnelly

Q. I just turned 30, and suddenly some of my clothes seem a little too youthful. How can I update my style so that it’s age-appropriate?

A. While I always maintain that you’re only as old as the men you date, I can understand your not wanting to leave the house looking like a Twilight-reading, Jonas Brothers-loving teenybopper. But don’t feel like you have to start throwing scarves on to hide your wobbly neck or “Big Love” skirts that graze the floor either. In my book, 30 is the new 20, only with a more sophisticated, confident twist.

Trying clothes in a fitting room

To be honest, there’s not a huge gap between dressing like a 20-something and dressing like a 30-something, but there are some subtle differences. The 20-something girl tends to favor flavor-of-the-month trends, usually purchased on the cheap at fast fashion boutiques like Forever 21 or H&M. Bold colors, prints, and cutesy details like ruffles are popular. More skin is shown because, well, she can. The 20-something girl is also still figuring herself out and getting into her groove, which means she may feel like wearing a Katy Perry-style romper one day and a sexy Rihanna-worthy studded biker look the next.

By contrast, the 30-something woman has a better sense of who she is and what works for her. She may still love intense colors and prints, but they tend to be more strategic. For instance, the 30-something woman doesn’t just throw on pink or blue because she loves the hue; she is attune to what shades work with her skin tone and shops accordingly. And rather than reaching for youthful prints, she’ll go for sharper graphics (like a geometric print), or washed florals. She dresses not to flash skin but to highlight her best features, whether that’s her legs or her strong back. And she can afford to pay a little more, so she looks for quality over quantity, investing in well-made basics with classic appeal.gwynethpaltrow

Some good examples of 30-something style are Gwyneth Paltrow and Katie Holmes. Both cut their hair (for the better), and opt for more classic pieces that still look sexy and sophisticated.

My advice? Go through your closet-either on your own or with a professional. Weed out anything that strikes you as adolescent, or doesn’t fit the person who you are today. For example, when I did this I pulled out a yellow floral dress with a ruffled collar, lots of leggings, and flimsy clubwear that doesn’t get much use these days-you get the idea.

Before you go shopping, have a clear idea of what your current-day style is, and what pieces you need to fulfill that style. Start with basics, such as a black pencil skirt, nice trousers, a fitted blazer, etc., then move on to fun “special” pieces like a colorful top. It’s okay to mix and match-for instance, a boyish blazer over a simple dress can keep you looking fresh and trend-savvy. And always dress for your body type, which means jeans that fit you to a T, and garments that make the most of what you’ve got. One mistake woman make as they grow older is to drown themselves in shapeless loungewear and relaxed “mom jeans” that tack on another 10 years to their age. Don’t do it!

Use your discretion as to what is too youthful for you, but here are some red flags:

  • Liberty prints
  • Leggings-especially wet look leggings
  • Cutesy prints-butterflies, flowers, woodland creatures, etc
  • Tiny shorts and miniskirts
  • Babydoll dresses
  • Sassy statement tees
  • Tube tops
  • Bubble dresses

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