How to not look like your daughter or your mom

Simple things like whitening your smile, not wearing all black, and not showing too much skin go a long way. (istockphoto.com/Lvnel / May 12, 2010)

Remember when the main advice you needed to get through the day was "Don't trust anyone over 30?" Clearly, life is much more nuanced now.

That goes for the way we feel about our appearances too. For women, life in the 50s, 60s and beyond can be immensely rewarding. The child-rearing years wind down, romantic relationships often stabilize and professional fulfillment may finally be at hand. But just when things feel great inside, menopause, gravity and wrinkles hit.

Many mid-life women find room for improvement in their lives in ways both large and small. That's why River Forest entrepreneur Chris Hauri started Mirror Image, a consultancy dedicated to bringing out the best in women of what used to be called "a certain age." She says, "It's about helping women 50 and over get to know and like the woman in the mirror. And it's about accepting and understanding her and getting ready for the next great thing." Hauri points out that these years can be a time of great rewards or great challenges. "It's easy to be overwhelmed, especially if you're missing your children, your husband has left, you've lost your job or are worn out with caring for a parent," she says. "But this should be a time of deciding what you really want to do, uncovering your passions and putting more of what you love into your life."

Hauri, who has a master's degree from DePaul University in Personal and Professional Effectiveness, has joined forces with La Grange entrepreneur Julie Judd, a Certified Image Consultant with 20 years of experience.

Together, the two offer half-day style workshops: "Life Style: What Looks Great on You." The goal is to help women cut through society's negativity and learn to dress for the person they really are, not some matronly stranger staring back in the mirror. "My most common call is from a 50-something woman saying 'I don't want to look like my daughter, I don't want to look like my mother, and my shape has changed," Judd says. "'What should I do?'"

1. Stay current, not trendy. "As Boomers, we're used to always setting the standards for society, but we don't really do that anymore," says Hauri. "It's time to pick and choose trends from other generations that work for us." In practical terms, says Judd, you might find a current trend like the oversized boyfriend blazer to be unflattering but can still capture that vibe by having the blazer's sides taken in so it's more fitted, then pushing up the sleeves. This will give you a more flattering version of a popular look.

2. Focus on the neck up. You certainly don't have to resort to cosmetic dentistry or plastic surgery if that's not your comfort level. "But there's no reason not to go to the drugstore and buy [whitening strips]," says Hauri. "They're easy, inexpensive and make your face look more vibrant." In a similar vein, the duo advises lightening the texture of your makeup. "When dealing with lines and wrinkles, you may want to hide them with lots of makeup, but the makeup will settle in the wrinkles, dragging you down," says Judd. She recommends a tinted moisturizer atop a primer like Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer, which keeps makeup from settling in fine lines.

3. Examine your undergarments. By now, you've heard colleagues, girlfriends or even complete strangers rave about Spanx body shapers, right? If you haven't tried Spanx, at least for dressup, you're missing out, according to Judd. She also advocates investing in seamless underwear for everyday to avoid lines and bulges. It's hardly new advice, but bears repeating: If you haven't been for a professional bra-fitting recently, you're overdue. The "girls" should be halfway between your shoulders and your elbows, Judd notes.

4. Check your color palette. Just as your skin texture changes after menopause, its tone and color can too. If you look with a fresh eye, you might find that your old reliable colors might be making you look drained and tired, and who needs that? "We've all been raised to love black, and black really is wonderful," says Judd. "But I find that most women should keep it away from their faces at a certain age. If you have black sweaters and jackets you love, just add a bright scarf for a pop of color."

5. No more matchy-matchy. "We all wore our power suits in the '80s, almost like a uniform, and our furniture, rugs and curtains all had to match," says Judd. "Nowadays, it's all about blending and choosing individual pieces we like, both in fashion and in interior decorating." Hauri adds, "This all goes back to us Boomers thinking we know all the rules and we don't, because the rules have changed--nowadays, try picking your outfit from all over the store, not just one rack."

6. Don't show too much skin. There are plenty of shorts and sleeveless styles out there--consider honestly whether the time has come for you to pass them by. "I still do sleeveless for dressup, but nowadays, I'll pair it with a fun wrap," notes Hauri. Judd's maxim is that short sleeves look better than sleeveless and three-quarter-length sleeves look better than short, at least for most mid-life women.

7. Shop for your shape now. Sure, maybe you want to lose a few pounds or maybe even more than a few pounds. That doesn't mean you should spend your life in frumpy sweats, putting off looking good until someday far in the future. "No more waiting to lose 20 pounds to look and feel like you deserve wonderful things to happen in your life," says Hauri, who recently lost 60 pounds via Weight Watchers. "Of course, that doesn't mean you can't buy a great bag now and carry it in front to cover up a tummy bulge."

8. Accept alterations. "Women often say that if a garment needs to be altered, it's no good, but the exact opposite is true," says Judd. "Men buy by hem and sleeve length and neck size. They never buy work clothes without expecting to alter them, even though they already start out with a more customized fit than we do." Her advice: ask colleagues, friends and neighbors where they go for alterations and then take a few existing pieces there that you like but know deep down don't fit you exactly right.

As for Hauri, she feels, at least for now, that she's found her calling helping her peers make the changes--large and small--that will enrich their lives. Mirror Image also offers goal-setting workshops for mid-life women: "Life Sort: Prioritize Your Life." Her partner in these half-day workshops is Liz Monroe-Cook, Ph.D., a Chicago-based clinical psychologist. "Sure you can say we're wiser and smarter than ever before, so who cares what we look like, but we deserve better than that," she says. "Having your own sense of style helps put you in the game and keep you in the game, whatever your goals are." ■