40licious Style: Dressing the Part

From Tahari
There is a lot to love about style strategist Audrey Beaulac. First, there’s her career trajectory – she’s been on staff at Yale School of Drama costuming department, and has directed the look of a $700 million Hyatt resort in Hawaii, from desk to top-ranking staff. She’s been trusted by politicians, executives and other VIPs to help define their look and “visual signature.” But the main reasons I love Audrey, whom I met nearly a decade ago in Seattle, is because she is so smart and funny and warm. She’s the kind of person who tells you straight up how it is, in the nicest way possible. The knowledge she imparted to me back in the day of an eclectic closet and uncertain personal style have served me well to this day.
Today, she divides her time between Washington, DC and Seattle and is the go-to style reference for authors such as Charla Krupp, Danielle LaPorte and Laura Leist.
I interviewed her about what people – especially women – need to consider as they navigate their 40s. We got so much that we ended up with what will be a series of postings on 40licious Style.
Today: Dressing the Part: How Women in Their 40s Claim Authority
Women in their 40s are a powerful force, style strategist Audrey Beaulac says. We are credited with 25 percent of all the billions of dollars spent on fashion each year, she says, adding that, “We’re a little bit smarter, older, more thoughtful in our choices. We’re producers. We can produce a lot.”
That’s why it’s important for women to present themselves with the authority they’ve earned – while not aging themselves.
Melanie Griffith is current — for 1988

Consider the 40-something woman in your office who is competent and smart – and disastrously frumpy, with the 1980’s shoulder pads, matching matronly skirt, and flats that have seen a tad too many shuffles to the conference room.  Come on, you know this woman. You might even be this woman.

Dowdy dressing, says Beaulac, “is a hangover from how we came up in the business world. Being dumpy isn’t taken more seriously than being in a skirt that’s too short.”
She advises women to ditch the pants that are too high-waisted, collars that are too tight or too high, pleated denim skirts and the A-lines, and focus, instead, on staying current. “Being current doesn’t mean being trendy. It’s going forward.”
“Part of that frumpy business look also comes from not being well groomed,” Beaulac says. No-no’s include:

  • A haircut that is no longer working
  • Bad hair color: color too flat, wrong hue, or not keeping up with highlights
  • Makeup that’s been the same for two years or more
  • Neglected manicure
She says that if women in their 40s are still doing the “grab and go” lifestyle – throwing on whatever clothes don’t smell bad and leaving home with wet hair, they’ll be fighting an uphill battle. “In order to be taken seriously, you have to be put together… How you dress is the introduction to the story of who you are.”
            Beaulac recommends dressing in columns, in neutrals, and with no high-contrast transitions. “When you’re presenting in a power position, don’t cut your body in two. Pay attention to your face; it’s your communication center. That might mean lighter on top, and wearing necklaces. Bring your focus up.”
So the beige twinset with the black pants and beige shoes may seem completely inoffensive, but the result is choppy, and drawing attention wherever the sweater ends. Better: Pair the black pants with a darker top or jacket and dark shoes, to elongate the look. “The more vertical your appearance, the slimmer you’ll feel.”
The other thing to keep in mind for daring fashionistas who like to radically change their looks: “If you are not creating a consistent impression, people can’t get a handle on you. They won’t trust you.”
Beaulac suggests we take a tip from those in the public eye: “The biggest secret of the A-list people is the strategic use of style to tell the world that they know who they are.  They wear the clothes; the clothes don’t wear them. Those who either rely too much on outsiders or choose blindly end up with bad haircuts, lots of unused make-up and clothes that don’t work even though they should.  Instinct is the wisdom; reasoned analysis implements the wisdom consistently.” 
Vanessa McGrady40licious Style: Dressing the Part

Comments 1

  1. Barbara Travers

    I love the way Audrey thinks. This post reminded me of my thirty something years of sassy biz suits from Bebe (think Melrose Place). Short, sexy, effective. Forty something demanded less leg, more black, shorter hair, better manicures (think “American French”). More effective. What I take away from Audrey’s comments is keep it simple, keep it classy and make it look effortless. She’s a perfect role model.

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