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Dressing for grown-ups, part four

Look fabulous over 40 with these fashion tips

Following on from Dressing for Grown-ups, parts 1-3, here are five last fashion ideas that should suit grown-up girls of any age.

16 Wear three colours per outfit

OK - four if one of them's a neutral, but even then, generally, three is a better number. More than this and you can end up looking like Coco the clown. If you lead a practical life, or it's winter, the majority of your outfit should be a dark neutral (for summer, a pale neutral is an option), plus two other colours that either tone or contrast depending on your temperament (if you like loud contrasts, that's up to you, though I wouldn't advise it).

For city life, you can't go wrong with black or navy, mixed with white or cream, while for the country, colours like chocolate brown, burgundy or khaki may look more in keeping as a base colour. Personally, I prefer solid colours, but if you like prints, categorise them by their base colour - if a print is predominantly brown, say, treat it as 'brown' within the context of the outfit. But don't mix prints unless you're specifically aiming for a boho look - this is a look that's difficult to pull off successfully.

17 One speaker, two listeners

This is a tip I learned from sewing, where you're advised to always buy fabrics in threes - one fabric that 'speaks' in the outfit you're aiming to create, and two others that 'listen' quietly. It works like a charm and creates a focal point within an outfit. You also begin to value the quiet things that allow prettier things to stand out.

It works like this: if you've got one bold colour, don't wear a second bold colour - wear two others that are more subdued. If you've got one bold texture, don't wear a second bold texture - keep the others smooth and visually quiet. If you're wearing a fantabulous necklace, don't wear big chandelier earrings and a flashy watch - wear simple earrings and no watch at all. If you're wearing a beautiful skirt, keep the top plain.

The speaker/listener idea works whatever you're wearing and also enables you to draw attention to the best parts of your anatomy while allowing other bits to fade into the background.

18 Relax your outlook

And I don't just mean chill out and don't worry too much (they're only clothes after all, not the roof over your head), I also mean relax your formality. Formality of all kinds is ageing. Lacquered hair, gold buttons, brocade fabrics, stiff suiting, too much satin - you know the drill. Tory Prime Minister's wife, it says. Christine Hamilton before the Louis Theroux thing. Leonora Helmsley. There's nothing remotely sexy about this degree of starchiness - nothing warm or inviting about it. Who wants to look like a vicar's wife - so neat, so correct, so inoffensive? So if you have that brocade jacket, wear it with jeans and sandals. If you have those gold buttons, swap them for mother of pearl or coco shell. If you have that helmet hairstyle, lay off the lacquer so you can run your hands through your hair. Loosen up. Loose is sexy.

19 God is in the details

Alright, Mies Van de Rohe said that about architecture, but it equally applies to clothes. When you're buying things, look for telling details - what the trade call 'dressmaker details'. The key point about dressmaker details is that they are usually only apparent when you get up close - they are not in any way loud or flashy - but they can make all the difference to an outfit. All quality items have details like: a row of prick-stitching around a jacket collar, a fine line of beading to weight down a bias-cut skirt, completely dead-flat double interlocking on a t-shirt, a contrast facing that gives a flash of colour. There is no need to settle for the same everyday basics as everyone else - look for clothes that have a tiny, unique twist of originality.

20 Punch above your weight

A lot of women feel intimidated about going into shops where they know they can't afford anything, but there is absolutely no need to feel this way. Looking at clothes you can't afford is a great way to get your eye in with regard to quality fabric and detailing. No-one knows who you are, and it costs nothing to try on clothes. So what if the sales assistants are snotty? They're only shop girls - what do you care what they think?

One great tip my friend R gave me is that whenever a new trend comes out and you'd like to try it - try it at the high end of the market first. If a look doesn't suit you here, where the manufacturer has cut no corners, it won't suit you when it's reinterpreted at a lower price point (which it will be, as fashion has a never-ending trickle-down effect). R never actually bought anything at Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren, but she spent a lot of time in there trying things on.

Besides, they have nicer changing room and sometimes free coffee. Who doesn't want that?

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