Smart or Stylish – How to Tell the Difference

Recently there was an article in my local newspaper about helping women over 40 dress on-trend without looking like a teenager. As I read the advice and looked at the clothing examples, something was not quite right. I have seen it in other articles and on the women I meet while out networking.

It is the difference between looking smart and looking stylish or as one of my clients said – between looking neat and looking smashing.

As Baby Boomer women, we have been taught to dress well and to co-ordinate a bit. We walk out the door feeling smartly dressed. All the articles in newspapers and women’s magazines show us that too. What they do not show us is how to lift ourselves to the highest level where we always walk out the door feeling fabulous and smashing.

Here is my simple guide for Baby Boomer women so that you can recognise the difference between smart and stylish. It is easier than you think.

Smart and Dull or Stylish with Good Contrast

A smart and dull example would be a woman wearing black pants, top, shoes and handbag. Her jacket might be dark blue and she is wearing a blue and black patterned scarf which co-ordinates and brings the two colours together. This is following the correct style principles but the colours are very similar in tone and darkness. The result is smart but dull. When you also choose to wear a dark top or blouse with a high neckline, it drains the colour from your face.

To look smart, stylish and fabulous, wear a light and dark contrast. An example of this would be to wear a blue top and jacket, white or light-coloured pants and a white and blue scarf. It is the same style principles but there is a more obvious contrast between the colours. A white and blue scarf rather than a blue and white scarf works better as the white brings light to your face. The result is smart, stylish and fabulous.

Smart and Missing Something or Stylish with Colour Co-ordination

Magazine articles delight in showing a model wearing a black and cream or black and white skirt with a white or cream textured top. Then they go and add different coloured jackets and shoes or accessories that match the jacket. Black and cream or black and white can be worn with any other colour. It is smart dressing to add another colour to liven up the black and white combination. The missing something is an accessory that brings all the colours together. To look stylish you need to bring the black and white or black and cream colours into the accessories. Matching the shoes to the jacket is not enough. It is smart but not stylish.

A stylish woman might wear black pants and shoes, an orange top and a black, orange and white scarf. The scarf brings all the colours together. When you wear two or three plain-coloured items, your main accessory needs to combine all the colours. A plain black or plain orange necklace would take the outfit from stylish back to smart as you have matched but not co-ordinated.

Smart and Wrong Accessories or Stylish with Co-ordinated Accessories

I see many examples of accessories looking smart and colour matched but not stylish.

A model might be shown wearing cream pants, with a black and white patterned top plus a black and white necklace and black, white and red bangles. Many times the necklace matches the top and looks great close-up but from a distance it can disappears into the pattern. When you have a graphic, bold or multi-coloured top, do not wear a necklace. To lift the black and white patterned top or shirt from smart to stylish, add instead black and white earrings or wear a multi-bangle combination to two black, one white and one other colour of your choice. Alternatively, put on one bangle that includes all those colours.

An example of a stylish combination might be when you wear white pants and top, brown jacket, shoes and handbag, a brown and black scarf and an animal print belt. The scarf, or it could be jewellery, adds a touch of black and this is a great colour contrast over the white top. You have taken two main colours and added a tiny bit of a third for style.

Simple Stylish Rule

Wear two colours or one colour and a pattern in unequal proportions. Add a tiny touch of a third colour if desired. Then add at least one accessory that brings those two or three colours together in medium or bright shades so that you shine rather than look dull. Being stylish is when you are a whole rather than separate bits of colours and patterns.

Then in the words of my client, you will always be noticed positively, remembered easily and feel smashing.

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