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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Dress boldly with these budget-friendly fashion tips

Sep 27, 2021 04:21PM ● By Sandra Wise
Sandra Wise, 75, poses with a red 1940 Buick in a red hat and black dress, with Mt. Garfield in the backdrop.

Sandra Wise, 75, poses with a 1940 Buick. Her dress, shoes and earrings came from thrift stores. The hat she bought from Japan 35 years ago.

How to uncover fabulous finds that fit any budget

At this point in our lives, we women of a certain age could be enjoying styling our outfits and presenting our authentic selves to the world with the grace, wisdom, wit and honesty that only comes with age. By now we know exactly who we are, what we like and how we want to be perceived by others. 

We could be searching for fashionable, flattering garments and enjoying the art of styling—that is, making the aesthetic choices required to put an outfit together. Fashion is meant to be a form of self-expression and individuality, but instead, many of us find ourselves overly concerned about finding age-appropriate garments (whatever they are) and our culture’s obsession with youthful appearances. 

These concerns should not override the expressive and creative adventure that styling and fashion are meant to be. These later chapters of our lives can be filled with unique challenges, but finding clothes that we feel and look good in should not be one of them. 

Perhaps by banding together, we can move past society’s expectations of us as older women. I’ve found it helpful to read publications like the BEACON and to join communities of like-minded women, so we can support and encourage each other in our individuality and free-mindedness.

If we can get to that point, then there’s only one minor hurdle to overcome in order to really enjoy fashion. Because many older women feel they already have too many clothes (most of us do), they cannot justify buying more—especially at today’s retail prices—simply to have fun and be creative.

But what if there is a way to bring home wonderful garments and accessories, play around with new styling ideas, and feel good about doing it at budget prices while also supporting worthy causes? Would you jump at the opportunity? I have. 

That opportunity is found at thrift shops. Since I’ve been at this for decades, I’m happy to share some tips I’ve learned along the way that might streamline your adventure and make your thrift shop forays successful, satisfying and, yes, fun.


Go in with an open mind rather than looking for a specific item, as that strategy often leads to disappointment. Visit shops weekly, armed with the knowledge of what styles work well with your body type and what colors are flattering and fit with your existing wardrobe. Although I search for my size first, I look through all size categories, as I often find wonderful larger pieces for layering. I also purchase garments simply for the fabric, which I repurpose into scarves or statement neckpieces. 

Scan the aisles quickly. As I prefer longer skirts, I look for the few hemlines hanging lower than the others and ignore the rest. I use a similar strategy for sleeveless tops. Since I prefer covered arms, I scan for those with longer tails that I can use as sleeveless tunics or vests over my long-sleeved garments. In the blouse aisle, I scan the top of the hangers to check for collars, since I prefer coverage at my neckline.

These quick-scan approaches save time, which can then be spent on creatively applying various styling tricks, as illustrated in these photos of garments and accessories I’ve found in thrift shops.

 Layering basics

Layering addresses my personal preference of covering my arms and neckline. The first photo illustrate this idea. Layering can be extremely effective, as it allows me to continue wearing sleeveless garments. Layers also create interest and make an outfit look unique and complete. 

When experimenting, it’s important to consider proportions, as the different lengths of the layers will usually be visible. A full, voluminous skirt or a significantly shorter hemline would not work well under a slim duster or long cardigan.

 In the photo to the right, the maxi dress is sleeveless and a bit boring, so I added a long cardigan, two scarves and three necklaces for a bit more interest. In the first photo above, I layered a zebra-print dress with spaghetti straps over a simple black pullover and topped it off with a lightweight duster.

Color blocking

Color blocking helps make specific body parts appear slimmer or more prominent and can conceal areas you’d rather not show off. Light colors draw the eye and stand out, making areas appear larger. Darker colors recede, making areas seem smaller or slimmer. 

I used color blocking here (white placed prominently at my hips and thighs) to give an illusion of more shape in this area. The same black top from the previous example appears here with a convertible jersey maxi skirt/dress (waistband can be folded down or pulled up to serve as a strapless dress, which is what I did here).

Patterns and prints

Patterns and prints create optical illusions. Large prints add weight. Intricate or “busy” patterns play tricks on the eye, so it’s usually best to go with smaller designs. Also, small all-over patterns, as opposed to solid colors, can disguise lumps and bumps underneath. Another consideration with prints is the silhouette, or line, of the garment. 

Were this fuchsia print fabric fashioned into a voluminous dress with intricate details (e.g., ruffles) rather than this simple sheath, it would not be nearly as effective.

Mixing styles

Mixing styles allows us to stretch our imagination if we are willing to experiment. It’s somewhat unorthodox to accessorize this classic-style Calvin Klein dress with a bohemian-inspired statement neckpiece made from repurposed thrifted garments. Feel free, as I did here, to try new things. Mix casual with formal or feminine with tailored.

Thrift shops have regular sale days, making these inexpensive clothes even more affordable. You can even find top-of-the-line brands and never-worn clothing. Embrace not necessarily following the fashion world’s rules every time. You can stick to your budget yet maintain your individual style. Welcome to the wonderful world of thrifting!

Sandra Wise, 75, shows women how they can embrace aging with grace and style. Follow her on Instagram: wise.woman.aging