Margaret Jennings talks to image consultant Kathryn Byrne about how women can dress to impress as their shape changes with age.
As we age, our body shape alters, but there is one simple change we can make to improve the outline of our figure — hitch up our bras!
“I think I have readjusted a thousand women’s bras in the past 25 years, if not more,” says Dublin-based image consultant Kathryn Byrne. “I know immediately by looking at a woman and I’d day ‘When is the last time you readjusted that bra since you bought it?’ And she’d say ‘oh god never’. Those little loops are always at the bottom of the straps. Their bra is a year old and they’ve never readjusted it.”
Yes, it may not dawn on us, but as Kathryn, says: “Every single time you walk run or move, your bra strap at the back moves a teeny weeny bit and your bra drops down on the front.”
Hitching the bra up makes an incredible difference to an older woman’s shape; it opens up the torso underneath and lengthens the body, she points out.
As a stylist and personal and corporate image consultant, who has also given presentations for large groups at clubs, schools and parties for well over two decades, Kathryn has encountered thousands of women. At the end of the day, regardless of our age, she says our self-esteem is reflected in the relationship between the inner and outer: “I always say ‘the outside is connected to the inside and you can’t take the two apart... ever’.
“You have to get to the core of the way someone dresses — if a woman is going to big occasion one thing I will always ask is: ‘Do you want to look sexy?’ They will always say ‘no’. So I say ‘ Could you handle sassy? And they say, ‘tell me what it means’. Sassy is halfway between sexy and classy and they absolutely love that word — their faces light up. They don’t want to look dowdy and they don’t want to look pure sexy, but they definitely want sassy — even 70-year-olds.”
Here are some further insights regarding the more mature woman, we picked up from the 58-year-old image consultant.
Menopausal and post menopausal women suffering from hot flushes should stay away from polyester material because we have more static in our bodies, so try and buy the most natural fabric you can.
As we get older, most of our socialising is done sitting down, she points out. When choosing an outfit for Christmas, or other occasions, bear that in mind. “Women can spend an awful lot of money on the shoes. They put a plain black top with it and then 90% of the time they are going to be sitting at a table, or in a bar or theatre, so I always say to them put more detail up on the top half and less on the bottom.
“When you’re sitting at a table your neckline is hugely important and for the older woman she should pay more attention to the top half, the accessories, the sleeves, the little details — and remember soft necklines are more flattering.”
“Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, and Joanna Lumley have definitely pushed the barrier out on how women would have thought of themselves years ago, at the same age,” says Kathryn. “They’re not stuck, anymore, when they come to 50, in an apron — and sexless.
“The reason I’m picking those particular celebrities is that women can relate to them because they dress age appropriate. Judi Dench for instance, doesn’t have a body anything like Helen Mirren, but she still looks amazing because she dresses quite boho, with an elegance that is all her own style.”
Find out what you are comfortable in. This can take time because Kathryn claims that most women actually hate shopping for clothes. Women generally wear only 20 per cent of their wardrobe 80 per cent of the time. So find out how do you want to project yourself now, at this stage of life?
One change Kathryn has seen over the past decade is that most ‘Mothers of the Bride’ no longer want to be put in the ‘uniform’ of the fitted dress, little bolero jacket and a picture hat . “Almost 75% of them say ‘Don’t dress me like a typical mother of the bride’. That’s getting stronger every year. They don’t totally know what they want, but they want something more authentic to them.”
We are lucky that with the introduction of lycra in the 1960s that we have much more comfortable clothing than our mothers did. At the end of the wearing what we ultimately feel comfortable in, finding our own style, puts a ‘pep in our step’ — even if the outfit costs very little, says Kathryn.
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