Capsule Wardrobe: No Fashion Victim, No Frump for Women Over 40

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Dear Allie, I’m having a hard time shopping. I may be old, but I’m not dead! I’m 55, in pretty good shape though my midsection does show age and giving birth to three wonderful sons and I don’t feel confident in short skirts or sleeveless blouses. I want to look fun and cool and hip but I don’t want to look ridiculous or that I’m not happy with my age. Where can I shop, what shapes should I look for?

I’m 45 and suddenly feel that Talbots and Ann Taylor are too old for me. Does that make sense? When I was in my thirties I could wear a suit or sheath dress and feel chic but now it just makes me feel frumpy. I’m not ready to be frumpy but I can’t wear H&M any more. Advice please.

Would you do a capsule wardrobe for women over 50? We can’t wear the skinny jeans and spike heel ankle boots and sheer blouses but also desire to be stylish.

I am so glad to read your letters because fashion should not stop being fun just because of an age on your driver’s license! While you may not feel comfortable in a lot of the popular current trends, you’ll be surprised at how many styles, fabrics, and brands out there can be quite flattering to your figure, lifestyle, and personal style without making you feel frumpy.

Capsule Wardrobe over 50 style featured by popular Washington DC curvy fashion blogger, Wardrobe Oxygen


This capsule wardrobe was created for the woman who wants to look modern but not a fashion victim, wants comfort but also a polished style. I kept the color palette very simple – black, grays, and pops of cool jewel tones. This way your wardrobe stays in style for many years; no having to update each season with the new hues. Minimal prints – some stripes and blocks of color, with interest in the accessories – scarves, shoes, and jewelry.  Between the paragraphs below are widgets that have links to similar pieces currently available online; there are regular, plus, and occasionally petite and tall sizes available.  Click the arrows to activate the carousel to see all the options; hover over the graphics to see prices.

Shop Scarves:


Speaking of accessories, you’re likely in a better situation financially than you were at 25 so shop with care, looking for quality, and occasionally considering a higher-end brand for longevity of quality but also style for your capsule wardrobe. While a pashminair?source=bk&t=whaevewomneei 20&bm id=default&l=ktl&linkId=f6a5861761d93946bbab795a3442b9ad& cb=1438289023540 is always a smart choice (loop around the throat or wear as a shawl or even use as a blanket on a plane flight), lighter-weight scarves of silk and fine linen will have less bulk at your neck and bust. I specifically chose some designer scarves because such details, if in your budget, show you’re aware of trends, care about style, and shop with purpose. If you cannot afford, don't choose a cheaper copy – it's better to choose something completely different than try to fool people into thinking you have the real thing.

Shop Bold Silver Jewelry and Leather Bags:


Bold silver accessories are also purposeful – bold, confident, clear in your message. A bag that has a current silhouette without being too trendy will also make your capsule wardrobe outfits look more hip, current, purposeful.

Shop Shoes:


For your capsule wardrobe shoes, I chose styles that won’t cause pain but will add style. A low wedge works with most any length of pant or skirt; a mid-heel pump will dress items up for evening or a special occasion. I chose a sneaker that is also on-trend and hip, but not too trendy (Jack Purcells, Converse, Superga) – pair with jeans or even cropped pants for an on-trend but not too trendy vibe. A pair of flats are always a wise choice – instead of sticking to a safe neutral consider an unexpected color, print, or embellishment so they aren’t just footwear but an accessory; pointed toes look more current than round.  With sandals, choosing a wide, modern strap and black or a metallic will look modern and chic.

Shop Jeans and Pants:




For bottoms, I chose pants that have classic silhouettes and comfortable fabrics. Ponte trousers, stretch jeans with a waistband that won’t dig into your midsection, classically cut white jeans. Yes, white jeans! White jeans are extremely versatile, chic, modern, and if in a heavyweight denim just as flattering as darker shades. For cropped pants, keep them closer to the ankle bone than calf, have the cut slim or straight (no super wide or tapered) so it’s modern and crisp.

Shop Dresses:


Dresses are an easy way to dress for day or evening. Choosing unusual fabrics, silhouettes, details, and colors will show you’re aware of trends and have a specific sartorial point of view. The same holds true for the gray dress – it’s something that will look like an old grocery bag on a hanger but will look very modern and architectural on and can dress up and down (even pair with leggings) with ease. The other two dresses are more traditional, but the colors keep them from looking dowdy.

Shop Jackets and Layering Pieces:


Layers in your capsule wardrobe are a great way to transition between seasons and also to flatter the figure.  A soft blazer out of ponte is not only comfortable and flattering, but will easily make your ponte bottoms into a suit. Soft jackets add interest and in a lightweight fabric with stretch will flatter the figure. For tees and tops, look for softer fabrics (silk, poly, rayon blends) that will drape nicely and not add bulk. Instead of a classic crew neck which can look severe, consider rounder necks, surplice and drape necklines.

To look modern but not a fashion victim, it’s important to shop with a clear sartorial message in mind. Create a mood board or use Pinterest to collect images of the personal style you have or want. Celebrities, clothing pieces, vacation spots, makeup that inspires you. Keeping it very specific will make it easier to add to your wardrobe, mix and match, and get your point across to others.

This capsule wardrobe was created a couple years ago so the exact items are not available; I have updated links and the carousels every season for similar pieces currently available.  For more inspiration, shop these shops and retailers:

Like this Capsule Wardrobe for the stylish woman in her 40s? Click here now for more Capsule Wardrobes content!

frump free wardrobe

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I am late to this comment thread, but found the responses informative yet a bit puzzling. I am 69 and love clothes, have way too many clothes and I arrived here looking for assistance in taking what I have and creating a capsule wardrobe and donating the overflow and shopping mistakes. Everyone needs to dress and have clothing according to their lifestyle first – then age demographic. I love skinny pants and tunics, long sweaters and boots. I’m tall and while I could stand to lose 10 lbs, those long tops are a great disguise for the muffin top. According to the fashionistas I shouldn’t wear skinny pants – not sure why – I find them comfortable and necessary to wear the long tops and jackets that I love. I also have knee and leg issues that I have to wear compression socks when I wear socks (thank goodness – manufacturers have made compression socks fashionable and no one knows unless you tell them) and I find that the skinny jeans – heavy leggings – yoga style pants are made from fabric that offers some compression on top of comfort. So I’m comfortable and semi-following the ortho docs instructions!!

    My take away from the countless blogs I’ve read is – lifestyle – budget – comfort – age. Age should be the last thing to consider – I’m cognizant of how I look when I go out in public, but if I’m comfortable and dressed appropriately….. viewer disapproval is on them and their pre-conceived notions. As a P.S. I don’t wear daisy dukes and halter tops and most people shouldn’t – I leave that for tiny little teens and 20’s

  2. Hello! I’m 54 and just found this blog, and have to say that I find it as relevant as it was when written. I work in a professional environment, and for my wardrobe I stick with timeless classics, and add pops of color with accessories. I add and remove based on fit, replace worn out items with similar cuts, and grab a few trendy pieces here and there for fun. I wear what I like and don’t follow trends too closely, but it is helpful to see different views on what works together. I especially like that you are promoting comfort without being frumpy. You officially have a new follower, I look forward to reading some of your more recent posts!

  3. May I ask, what’s with all the black? The older a woman gets (most women), the more black washes her out. I used to rock black in my 20s, but now that I’m 45, I look like the walking dead in black. Any suggestions for someone who is actually aging?

    1. Hi Kristina, welcome to Wardrobe Oxygen! I encourage you to take a look around the site. I wrote this almost a decade ago. I’m now 44 and have a ton of capsule wardrobes and advice posts that factor in color, age, lifestyle and more and plenty where there’s nary a black garment in sight!

      1. I would love to see capsule wardrobe for retired 60 year old women. My days mostly consist of walking, biking, hiking, gardening, reading and painting (watercolours), as well as decluttering our place. Due to COVID no dining out at this time. My favourite hobby is kayaking which I will do when weather warms up. I have been purging clothes, all those extra baking dishes etc.

    1. This post was originally written in 2013. I try to update the links every few months but unfortunately trends change and it’s hard to find equivalents. Also with it being summer it’s hard to find appropriate items. I’ll be updating it in a month or so when fall is fully in stores. But check out my other capsule wardrobes where I have plenty of other similar ideas and more up-to-date links! https://www.wardrobeoxygen.com/tag/capsule-wardrobe Thanks for visiting!

  4. I love scarves!! And I’m a DD cup, 5’4″, about 138 lbs. It’s all in the volume of the scarf and how you control it. Recently I downsized to 45 of them, and use them in many ways. Yes, I have at times had trouble not looking turtleish or losing my head in the scarf but again, it’s how you use it. I enjoy the website but that Heather persons comment – wow.

  5. The hardest thing for me about reading this blog and comments is that women my age (43+) are still seeking fashion advice.

    At this point we’ve all weathered the good, the 80’s, and trends that come, go and then come back again. We have lived to tell the tales of thongs that will not stay tucked in, or jeans that feel great until you go out for a big meal. We should know who we are, what we like and what suits our comfort levels. We should know that donning an iffy pair of jeans and wearing a well worn yet loved peasant top is not our final measure.

    Style is by definition a particular kind, sort, or type, as with reference to form or appearence. Everyone of us is a particular form, a being different from the other yet the same, making all of us “stylish”

    The shades and patterns of our wardrobe,
    choosing to be proud of bodies that tell stories or working hard to stay fit are characteristics we combine and play around with throughout our lives. Choices that continually add to our personal flare.

    Whether we embrace the lines of laughter marking our faces or slather ourselves in anti-wrinkle cream each choice is healthy and respectable, if we remain fulfilled and happy with them Life charges by too quickly, not to put our own touch on things, even in our choice of clothing.

    How can we raise a generation to stand against the current, if we are basing something as simple as our wardrobe choices on everyone else’s opinion? Embrace all beauty and style, wouldn’t it be excrutiating and ridiculously competitive if everyone liked exactly the same style, or same type of people, or found beauty in exactly the same thing? Everyone is beautiful to someone!

    Ladies, our measure is in our zest for the day, the love we show, so celebrate each other’s taste and style. Be relentlessly supportive of each other in quest for great jeans, no style looks good on everyone. Good character, is timeless and classic, not our anti-wobble factor in heels or the cut of a pair of jeans

    So to all the great women of different heights, shapes, sizes and comfort levels, a clothing capsule is stagnate just like a time capsule…..wear what YOU like! Wear colors and designs that make YOU feel bold, sexy or happy. Keep and wear that Metallica shirt just for the memory it holds, or wear yoga pants on day your waist needs a little extra stretch, set your own standards for style.

    Regardless of your choice between stillettos or flats, or hoops and studs, CONFIDENCE will always be your best accessory. Throw your shoulders back, hold your head high and be stylishly YOU!

    1. Wow, nothing like making sweeping judgements about your fellow women and their reason for desiring fashion advice to empower them. I’ve been writing about fashion for 13 years and prior to that I spent a decade helping women in a variety of lifestyles, sizes, shapes, and ages get dressed. Clothing isn’t simple, body image isn’t simple, and to just tell women to hold their heads up high and wear what they want is so incredibly insensitive and clueless of a statement.

      I had a similarly privileged concept regarding women and fashion when I started this blog, though from a different angle. I couldn’t understand why some women wore the things they did, things that weren’t flattering, weren’t the best they could choose in their situation. And communicating with my readers all these years I realized what an, pardon my language, but what an asshole I was for thinking that way. Women who dealt with decades of criticism from parents, spouses, and colleagues. Women who gained or lost a major amount of weight and felt like strangers in their bodies. Women who had illnesses and injuries that changed them inside and out. Women who left abusive relationships or toxic workplaces and were wanting to find freedom in everything, including their closets. Those who identified as female yet lacked the mother/sister/best friend support so many of us took for granted while growing up and wanted to know how to best style their true selves. Women who sacrificed their selves for so many years to be a parent, a caregiver, an everything for everyone and now wanted to show themselves some pampering and care and didn’t know where to start. Those who had a major life change – going back to Corporate America, retiring, switching from an office to teleworking and wanted assistance on how to dress without spending a lot on retail regrets. I could go on, for women and the lives they have lived cannot be generalized. On top of that, many women care about fashion and wish to improve their personal style because they WANT TO. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      We all have different ways to express ourselves, to care for ourselves, and to find ourselves and no one’s journey is wrong. The biggest lesson I have learned over all my years in fashion is to not make assumptions about people based upon their exterior. My goal in life is to help women have their exteriors match their interiors, some need a friend to help them with that. I’m honored when I can be that friend.

      1. I can’t agree more. It’s all about valuing ourselves…. and it shows what we think and how much we love or don’t love our bodies by how we dress. To tell a woman who feels so bad about herself to wear whatever she wants is self defeating. But teach her how to put a killer outfit together and she feels powerful.

    2. I love that! You could not have said it better! When you think of people you know it is their character and love you always remember.

    3. I’m the other way around. In my 20s I didn’t need advice. I wore skinny black jeans and a stripy top. Some wacky charity shop/thrift shore finds and may be a quality suit jacket in my wardrobe. (Which I never wore) But I was thin and had youth and so looked good in just about anything including sweats, and working in a junior position in TV anything went. As did anything in the 9os.
      But times have changed. I’m a 38D with a large tum. I work in a conventional office in more conservative times. I didn’t climb the ladder as I thought I would but I want to give some gravitas to my look. Working wardrobes is a bit alien to me and I look frumpy in the casuals and office clothes I used to wear rather than chic. And it doesn’t hold the same air if authority. I want to dress differently to show I mean business rather than be left in the ‘creative’ artsy but low paid low status role in a conventional office. Unfortunately appearance, how you present yourself counts for a great deal in many people’s eyes. I want to lean to dress for my difficult shape, have gravitas but still show my creative punk style. I must admit, I need help here.

      1. I see a problem right there: you want to continue wearing punk styles, but you don’t want to be stuck in the artsy low-paid job. You also say that you want to look professional. I’m afraid you have to choose between the freedom to express yourself as an artsy eccentric or change your work style so that you can move up. How do the women a couple of levels above you dress? You have to show that you can fit in on their level.

    1. As a woman over 40, I appreciate this blog, so very much! (I only found it about a week ago) I tend to lean more towards a classic/preppy style, but have tons of clothing. I sought out this article because I have relapsing/remitting MS and at times, choices can be overwhelming, therefore triggering a flare-up. Alison, your clothing selections have allowed me to weed through, downsize, and actually compile outfits, so that choices do not become an issue. I’m in the process of ordering pieces, printinting off your photos, cataloging them, and posting them in sheet protectors inside of my closet. Allison, I cannot thank you enough for helping me take control!It’s a sad state of affairs that “Heather” decided to chide women for seeking advice, without knowing their circumstances.

      1. Oh gosh Elizabeth, this comment made me tear up with happiness! It’s funny, when I see comments come in my inbox from this post from 5 years ago I cringe. They are usually critical or else spam. Your comment encompasses why I write posts like this and have Wardrobe Oxygen. I am so honored you read my blog and so utterly thrilled it helps you. My sister in law has MS, and I see how hard it can be. If I can offer some peace or simplicity in your life, that’s amazing. My best to you with your style journey! <3

  6. Why oh why do stylists always go on about scarves. I am a ” ship in full sail” and want to minimise the boobs not make them bigger. No matter how you use a scarf it adds bulk to the chest.

    1. I agree. I’m a large busted woman with curves and I’d never wear these scarves no matter how pretty they are. These clothes are for skinny women with no shape. And what older woman wants to wear 3” heels? And all those “skinny jeans”. Get real lady. This is not for older women,

    2. I agree. I like scarves once in a while. But the trend of these blanket scarves make my head look like Jabba the Hut. I don’t want a scarf piled up on my boobs. I’m hot there enough!!

      1. Any site that discusses women our age all use younger models it seems and what looks great on them doesn’t necessarily fit us. Not your fault of course, it was just a pet peeve of mine. No worries.

        1. I’m trying to see what it is that you’re referring to. Online stores do use younger models, but I am seeing more and more companies use older models (though they use 40 to reach an over 60 audience, but baby steps). There’s also a plethora of amazing blogs out there over 40, over 50, over 60, and yes over 70 and 80 that show fabulous women of all shapes, sizes, and lifestyles featuring their personal style. I think we consumers have the power to make change and I see that change happening already. In fact earlier this week a quality clothing company who reached out to me to work with this blog said my audience demographic (35-55) is in fact too YOUNG for them! I was THRILLED to get such a reject email, it’s a positive sign of positive change!

          1. How can those of us not in the know, find blogs on fashion for over 70? I would love to find them.

  7. Wait…why can’t you wear skinny jeans? I wear nothing but hi rise skinnies or flares. Is that bad? I don’t see why.

    1. We pluz size women cannot FIT into skinny jean, our calves and thighs are too large, I see women with legs 6 feet long, with stick legs wearing them and they look great-on them- not us! We need jeans to fit our leg sizes, short and wide. Skinny jeans are for skinny legs.

  8. I loved this when you first wrote it and thought “I wish my wardrobe was that elegant!” Looking at it today, I definitely have versions of all these pieces – so thanks for the subconscious mentoring!

  9. I love these suggestions. My situation is that I am short 5’3″. Until menopause I was shapely and always had a wIstline. I loved to where a blouse and nice belt. Since I have added weight to the middle and bust I won’t tuck my blouse. I don’t know how to dress this body. Also the bell bottoms seem to suit taller women. The long sweaters and jackets seem to suit taller women also. Bells and long sweaters and jackets just make me look dumpy.

    Looking to this sight for help.

  10. Love seeing this and find it helpful. However could you ever update the links? I feel like I have a general idea of what I need, the problem is finding the item in my size (L-XL, 14-16 depending on cut, etc) at a reasonable price. For example I am willing to pay $ 100-125.00 for a skirt but much like the woman who wrote to you in 2013 Talbots feels frumpy at this point in my life, Macys often has poor quality and Nordstroms seems to have no middle point…i.e. I don’t want a short tight pencil skirt that a 30 year old can wear but I also cannot afford a $300.00 skirt from Eileen Fisher.

    1. Hi there! I wrote this in 2013 and try to update the links at least twice a year, but stores are always changing their merchandise so it’s hard to always keep it current. I plan to do a fall version of this capsule wardrobe in the near future. I’d encourage you to check Nordstrom out again, especially online. I find it to be one of the best shops for a variety of pricepoints. Look at their in-house brand Halogen, which has really well made pieces that are classic with a bit of edge and a very reasonable pricepoint. Also check out Boden, where I have found some really gorgeous pieces that are more unique but not overpriced or too short/tight/trendy. Also J. Crew this season is finally going back to their original style and pricepoint, so within the year expect them to again be a destination for quality dresses, skirts, and sweaters. Thanks for visiting and stay tuned for more posts that I hope will inspire!

      1. thanks Allie for the prompt reply. I will spend more time looking at Halogen and Sejour (plus size Halogen)…I feel like I am sort of “between” those 2 departments…reg. size sometimes too small but plus size, espec. tops, too big. I like Boden but they are heavy with prints and I am not a big print person for my wardrobe items, use those more in accessories like scarves. Keeping my fingers crossed that JCrew returns to its roots. I also buy some things at Anthro. mainly sweaters, tees, jackets and a few dresses but most are too short/young for me (unfortunately, hahaha)

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