As a rule, the fashion industry targets the young and hip. And as women move into their 40s -- and out of fashion marketers' viewfinders -- navigating where to shop (Chico's?) and what to buy (embroidered vests?) gets trickier.
But private fashion consultant Sherrie Mathieson thinks 40-plus women have a tendency to pigeonhole themselves -- by overlooking classic wardrobe pieces in favor of fashion cliches and dismissing clothes they deem "too young" (or trying to pull off looks it takes youth to finesse).
In her new photo-driven book, "Steal This Style: Looks That Make Hip Classic and Classic Cool," Mathieson is out to prove that mature women can borrow pieces from their daughters' trendy, cool wardrobes, mixing them with timeless, well-made basics.
Featuring scores of before-and-after photo vignettes featuring real-life mothers and daughters, the 248-page tome is full of pithy but stern advice and observations -- for example, "Dressing like a teenager only makes her look more like a grandmother" and "Black accessories do not make a corny outfit hip."
Mathieson, a former costume designer for TV and film who's now a full-time style consultant and who specializes in dressing mature women, said her clients are always asking, " 'What can I wear out there that's modern?' There's a lack of equanimity right now in the amount of [fashion] attention given to older women -- the resources are not there. And they feel there's not enough that's appropriate for them. I wanted people to learn from seeing -- it's critical."
The mother-daughter models encompass a variety of ages, sizes and ethnicities, a refreshing change from how-to fashion books for older women full of Lauren Hutton-style ex-models. Mathieson, who placed models-wanted ads on Craigslist, among other Internet sites, said she was inundated with responses from prospective volunteers. "I had young women begging me, 'Please help my mom dress better.'"
When it comes to sartorial advice, Mathieson gets it right most of the time: Rimless eyeglasses aren't youthful, gaudy colors "project a gaudy personality," and there's never a good time for an embroidered denim jacket. But not every suggestion is unassailable.
For example, she dresses one mother-daughter duo in Juicy Couture-style sweat suits paired with dressy loafers -- a popular look at Las Vegas buffets that screams "Golden Girls." And hippie prints are definitely aging . . . especially on the Woodstock generation.
But Mathieson does pull off some amazing transformations, hinged on the idea of stripping down your wardrobe to classic, well-tailored pieces that flatter your shape. The smiling moms pictured almost always look more chic, slender and youthful in the "after" photos. "I tried to pick looks that are going to stand the test of time," Mathieson said. "Fashion is an ethereal concept, but style is eternal. Style is something that you need to develop. And it's never too late."
The back section of the book includes a shopping guide filled with lifeless descriptions of chain stores such as Banana Republic and Coach -- which seems superfluous, considering that most of the stores can be found in any regional shopping mall.
But Mathieson contends that the older generations are confounded about where to shop. Her advice? "Avoid the boomer-oriented stores because you're going to instantly look old in those clothes," she said. "All you're going to get is an elastic waist."