Relationships in life may come and go, but the relationship a woman has with herself and her self-image is permanent, and feeling great about yourself is one of the cornerstones for a happy life. To help you on the path to looking and feeling fantastic, we get some amazing style tips from Catherine Martsch, head designer, stylist, and founder of local fashion brand, LoveIt.
I have found that the vast majority of women I’ve worked with (most of who are over 30) are caught in a loop of dissatisfaction when it comes to their physical appearance. For some, it’s vague dissatisfaction, for others, it’s acute and painful. But for all the differences their journeys may take – childbirth, working 16 hours a day, being chubby to begin with, lack of exercise, enjoying the good life too much (or all of the above), their destination is a common one. First, they begin to get lumps, bumps and/or saggy bits that they never used to have, then they do what seems natural and wear loose fitting clothes, often in black or beige to hide these unwanted gifts, and then they start to look older and/or less attractive than they feel on the inside.
With hair, we know exactly what to do, but with our bodies and clothing choices, the fix is rarely as straightforward, and for women who aren’t interested in fashion per se, it’s not always easy to find pragmatic answers in the five minutes we have each day to spend time on the problem. But if you want to love what you see when you look in the mirror, then the goal is simple: you need to balance your shape and features so that your focus will naturally be drawn to your own eyes. Here are some steps to help make that happen.
Step 1: Understand Your Body Shape
If you’re a woman over 30 wanting to achieve an effortlessly beautiful look, you need to first understand your basic structural make-up. Specifically, you need to understand where you have curvy bits, and where you have straight bits. Why is this important? Well, when it comes to looking effortlessly beautiful and/or slimmer and/or younger, the location of your curves will impact EVERY style decision you make – from fabric choices to undergarments, from necklines to skirt shapes, and even shoe styles. Let’s explore some examples so you know what to look for:
The image above shows the silhouettes of three different women, each with very different structural make-up. The woman on the left is relatively straight in her upper and lower body. We can see that her shoulders are slightly broader than her hips which results in a slight curve, but other than that she is fairly straight. We can also see that she is fairly flat chested. The woman in the middle has both upper and lower body curves. Her hips are rounded and in relative alignment with her shoulders. She has a full bust – we might call her evenly curvy. The woman on the right has a bust and chest that is narrower than the line of her hips – she looks quite straight in the upper body. Even though she doesn’t have the same rounded hips as the woman in the middle, she still has a definite curve in the bottom half. Aside from the fact that these women have curves in different places, they are also different sizes. The curvy woman in the middle is actually the smallest in size so it’s important not to confuse the degree of curves you may or may not have with how much body fat you have.
Now it’s your turn. Stand in front of a mirror (preferably naked or in your underwear) and get a good idea of where you have straight bits, and where you have curvy bits. Are you relatively straight, evenly curvy, or do you have top or bottom half curves? Don’t forget to check out your body from the side and back view as well. You might be straight in the back view and have side view curves (eg: you have a tummy). There is no good or bad result when it comes to the location of your curvy and straight bits. It’s simply information that we need in order to create balance.
Step 2: Identify Your Balance Point
If you’re over 30 and aren’t quite ready to cast yourself into the eternal pool of frumpsters, you need to first understand where to find your balance point and what to do with it once you find it. Put simply, your BP is the narrowest part of you between your shoulders and your hips. If you stand in front of a mirror you can locate yours in less than 3 seconds, but in case you need help visualising, you can reference the images below which illustrate the BP of three different women with a gold line.
When it comes to looking good and feeling great about your body, your BP, if you have one, is your wingman. Treat it as your best bud and you can’t go wrong! Whether you desire a slimmer or younger look, or you simply want to look effortlessly beautiful, you can’t get there without creating the perfect balance for your shape and features. Note that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to where your BP is located. For some women, their narrowest part is right up close to their bust line, and for others, it’s right down near their belly button.
Step 3: Balance Your Frame
Now that you’ve identified your BP and you know where you have curvy and straight bits, it’s time to balance your frame. The first step is to compare the length of your body from your shoulders to your BP, and from your BP to your knees. In this image, we can see that this woman is approximately 2.5 times longer from her BP to her knees than she is from her BP to her shoulders. The word ‘balance’ suggests that we somehow need to make these two distances more equal to each other. This is where our style choices start to play a key role.
In this example, we need to use every trick we know to make this woman look longer from her BP to her shoulders, and shorter from her BP to her knees. In a literal sense, we need to choose a combination of necklines and skirt/dress/pant styles that create the visual illusion of more evenness. When we achieve this something magical starts to happen. Let’s look at our silhouette with some clothes on so we can see the difference.
Aside from colour, the main difference between these two dresses is the shape of the bottom half. In the first image, the contoured bottom half of the dress allows us to use our model’s hips as an additional visual balancing item. When we add this third component to our picture, we start to develop a sense of evenness between points 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, and it’s this evenness or balance that looks beautiful. In the second image, the floaty bottom half of the dress hides her hips. The visual consequence is that our model looks really short and broad in the body between points 1-2, and really long in the body from points 2-4. Because we can’t see her hips at point 3, we can’t use them as an additional anchor point. The visual impact of this imbalance is that our model looks much bigger than she does in the first image, and she also looks much older!
So, if you are over 30, and you want to look slimmer and/or younger without spending five hours in front of the mirror every day, then focus on balancing your frame rather than simply trying to hide all the bits you don’t love. The tendency for most women who experience belly bloat, bust sag, or back fat above or below the bra line, is to ‘cover up’ and, as we have seen in the example above, doing this can actually make you look older and/or bigger than you are.
Step 4: Wear the Right Bra
When you’re over 30 your bra choices have a dramatic impact on how old you look, whether your posture looks good or not, and whether you look fat – or not. Your bra choices also greatly influence how you feel about parts of your body. For example, wearing the correct bra shape for your frame can make your belly look inches smaller, your boobs look perky, and your posture look amazingly good. Below is a compare and contrast example to nail the point home. The only difference between these two images is the STYLE of bra this woman is wearing.
You should also remember to match your bra shape to the necklines you wear. When you see a bra shape next to the corresponding neckline it supports it immediately appears logical, but so many women are simply not aware of this rule. Before you go bra hunting, it’s a great idea to look at the necklines in your closet.
Step 5: Choose the Right Neckline
Before you choose necklines, it’s a good idea to think about the overall look and feel you want to achieve. It’s no good having a closet full of deep round necklines if you have small boobs and want to look more voluptuous than you do naturally, and equally, you wouldn’t want a closet full of deep V necklines if you have big boobs that you are highly conscious of and want to minimise. When it comes to necklines, there are some universal principles that can help guide your choices no matter what size you are. Take a look at the general guidelines below.
The images above show the same model wearing different necklines. Our model is a Size 34-36 (US 2-4) with a C Cup bust. The width of her shoulders is about the same as the width of her hips, which is a critical piece of information for women who feel like they are top or bottom heavy. As you move from one image to the next you can see the visual impact of each neckline. Some necklines soften her shoulders, others accentuate them. Some accentuate her bust, others are bust minimising.
If you are searching for answers regarding which necklines suit you best, keep in mind that the visual outcomes shown here are amplified for different body shapes. For example, if your shoulders are broader than your hips, a shoulder accentuating neckline will REALLY draw attention to this part of your body – which might be great if you want a sporty and athletic look, but might not be your first choice if you want a softer, sexier look for a date night. Equally, if you have a small bust, a bust minimising neckline will make your boobs look even smaller. If you choose a bust accentuating neckline, your boobs can look up to a full cup size larger than they actually are. Feeling hippy? Choosing a shoulder and bust accentuating neckline can make your hips look and feel gloriously balanced. Good to know – right?
Step 6: Balance Your Bottom Half
Now you’ve nailed steps 1 to 5, it’s time to explore how to balance bottom half curves. The images below show the silhouettes of two women with completely different shapes. The key difference between these two shapes is the degree of curviness between points 1-3 and between points 3-4. The woman on the right is clearly much straighter than the one on the left.
Many women with bottom half curves feel fat and/or frumpy so let’s have a look at our curvy model with some clothes on and see why this happens and more importantly, what to do about it.
The first essential ingredient to balanced bottom half curves is YOUR NECKLINE. It’s your neckline that creates balance between your shoulders (point 1) and your BP and this balance, in turn, provides a visual anchor for what we do on the bottom half. The second essential ingredient is YOUR BRA SHAPE. If your boobs are sagging onto your stomach, this, in turn, puts pressure on your tummy, which adds increased visual pressure onto your hips. Women with curvy hips often blame them for all that is wrong in their world, and it’s such an unfair burden and an easy thing to fix if your top half is evenly balanced.
In the images above we can see these issues come to life on the same woman. In the image on the left, the neckline creates an imbalance in her top half. It’s high and quite close to the base of her neck on all sides, and even though this woman is a size 34 (XXS), she looks chunky and frumpy. In addition, the bra this woman is wearing allows her bust to splay to the outside of her body which makes her look broad, and because the neckline is close to her neck, her boobs look like they are sitting too low. The combined result of wrong bra and wrong neckline is that her stomach looks HUGE – and that’s before we even get to her hips! There are SO many causes of visual imbalance in the top half that we have NO style choices for the bottom half that would make a difference. Many women who experience this visual outcome in their younger years become chronic ‘hiders’.
In the second image, we have a contoured shape from the tummy to the knees which many women with hips would shy away from. What we can see though, is that this time the right bra and neckline does amazing things to balance her upper body. In turn, there is no visual pressure on her tummy – it looks much flatter – so there is no need to hide it. And her hips and thighs look beautifully curvy rather than chunky. One woman, two outfits, two VERY different outcomes. Getting it right is not difficult. Here’s how to achieve balance:
To look slimmer and/or younger and/or effortlessly beautiful, we must first balance your top half from your shoulder to your balance point, and then we need to replicate this shape on your bottom half. In this case, we needed a triangle to balance the shape of this woman’s top half, so we need the same shape to balance her bottom half. Keep in mind that no one is perfectly symmetrical as you can see here, so near enough, in this case, is perfectly good enough.
Step 7: Minimise Your Tummy and Hips
The tendency for the majority of women who feel body conscious about their bottom halves is to ‘floaty’ up with a closet full of loose empire and A-Line styles that are worn once or twice and then rarely see the light of day again. That’s because there is a high visual price to pay for burying your curvy bits once you hit 30, and the price increases as the decades roll on. If you have an endless collection of stuff you never wear, it pays to know what mistake(s) you are repeatedly making in your search for the promised land of styles that make you look and feel slim.
This might sound strange, but the first step to tummy and hip minimising is to wear the right bra. Whether you’re a size 34 or 44, if your nipples are pointing down when you look in the mirror, you need a bra that reverses this direction. The correct bra lifts your boobs off your stomach and this will make your stomach and hips look immediately smaller. The second essential ingredient to a slimmer tummy/hips is to be able to see your BP. Why is this essential? The key to looking slimmer across your tummy and hips is to perfectly balance them – and you can’t create balance if you can’t see your BP. Lastly, we want to gently contour your shape from your BP to your knees. This requires what I call an ‘uninterrupted curve zone’. We don’t want anything cutting into your soft bits because that is what will make you feel like you have fat rolls. It will feel unnatural at first, but the trick is to wear your skirts (and knickers) at your balance point. If your BP is high you need to start high. Follow all 3 steps to create the perfect foundation for a beautiful top layer that will see you looking and feeling deliciously curvy.
Step 8: Wear Eye-Popping Colours
Wearing the wrong colours can make you look older and/or bigger than you are, and will take you in the opposite direction to feeling effortlessly beautiful. Wearing the RIGHT colours will see you floating in a sea of endless compliments each and every time you wear them. When it comes to colours there is one golden rule: wear colours that make your eyes ‘pop’. Colours that connect strongly with your eyes will also make your skin and hair look vibrant and healthy. When you’re wearing the right colours, you’ll look like you’ve just come back from a five-week relaxing beach holiday – instead of looking like you need one!
The model above is wearing vibrant colours, but the colours themselves don’t anchor our focus. Instead, they draw our focus to her face and specifically to her eyes. It’s that simple! Colours that don’t connect with your eyes steal the show – literally! Here is an example using the same model:
Here, it’s the colour, rather than our models’ eyes, that we are mesmerised by. If you want people talking to your chest you’re on the right path. The colour might be fashionable – but compliments? NO! I’d love to tell you that working out which colours will earn you endless compliments is some mysterious process that you need a superbly talented – not to mention extremely expensive – style guru to help you master. But really, it’s quite simple – all you have to do is to trust YOUR OWN eyesight – so it’s FREE! Ask yourself where are you looking when you are wearing the colour in question. If a colour you are wearing draws your OWN focus to your OWN eyes, then it’s a winner! If it doesn’t, it might be the most fashionable colour in the world, but compliments, when YOU are wearing it, will be few and far between. If, on the other hand, you find yourself lamenting over your boobs, butt, tummy, or knees, instead of smiling at yourself when you look in the mirror, then something about that colour is NOT for you.