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6 Common Fashion Rules

No long hair or short skirts after 40? No white after Labour Day? No, thank you! You can revise how you perceive fashion and still look great. Here’s how.The only reason anyone could come up with is tradition. “It used to be, once you became a mother you’d have to do the June Cleaver.

Rule #1: Thou shall not have long hair after age 40

No long hair-or short skirts-after 40? No white after Labour Day? No, thank you! It’s time to stop thinking of fashion in terms of the 10 Commandments, and start thinking in terms of the Golden Rule. As What Not to Wear’s Stacy London puts it, “It’s not about should I wear it, it’s about, does it look flattering on me?”

REVISE: After 40 you absolutely can wear your hair long, or super short, or whatever style flatters your face. “The problem is when you date yourself with a style or a non-style, that actually ages you instead of making you look youthful,” says London. So skip the inch-high hair-sprayed bangs you did in high school; instead, have your stylist layer your long locks into a face-framing shape that’s past your shoulders (provided your hair is strong and lustrous). In fact, says Koch, long hair is sometimes even more flattering as we get older. “A lot of actresses use bangs to cover up wrinkles on their foreheads,” she observes. “Look at Goldie Hawn.”

Rule #2: Thou shall always match thy shoes, bag, and belt

We’ve all heard it said by an authority figure, often one looking askance at our sandals: “You can always tell a lady by her coordinated, shoes, belt, and bag.” While that was true once, says Koch, “That time is so over.” Even Jackie Kennedy, who worked the matching hat-and-suit, shoes-and-bag rule to such success in the early ’60s, abandoned the “coordinated set” look for sling-backs and totes large enough to carry the manuscripts she was editing once she was known as Jackie Onassis.

REVISE: “Matching your hat to your shoe to your bag, or your necklace to your earrings, has a tendency to look dated,” says London. “Mixing up your accessories adds interest to an outfit, and can make you look much more modern and polished.” Your accessories should complement your outfit, not carbon copy it. “If you’re wearing a dress with a really bold print, then your bag and shoes should be solid,” says Koch. Conversely, if you’re wearing a neutral outfit, pick a shoe, bag, or shawl with a print. Look to accessories to modernize things you already have in your wardrobe.

Rule #3: Thou shall not mix black and navy (or black and brown)

You know the theory: Pick one neutral and accent it with bright colours, because two basic colours will clash over which is dominant, resulting in your basic wardrobe power struggle. But in a post-Cold War age, can’t we all just get along? Even our navy shift and black jacket?

REVISE: To get a little existentialist, when it comes to mixing black and navy (or brown), it’s the intention behind the pairing that counts. What does that mean? “You want to wear them in a healthy dose of both colours, so it’s clear you did it on purpose, not like you got dressed in the dark and wore brown shoes with an all-black outfit by accident,” says London. Or, in the words of style expert and host of MSN’s Beauty BFF Jenn Falik, “make sure everything has another anchor; if you’re wearing black with one brown piece, throw in another one.” A brown dress and shoes with black tights and a black belt would be ideal, for example.

Rule #4: Thou shall stay out of the sun

We all tell our dermatologist that little white lie: “I’m going on vacation, but I’ll stay out of the sun.” But we’re not fooling anyone. And we just make it worse if we promise, “I always put on sunscreen right before I walk out the door.”

REVISE: “Don’t stay out of the sun, just protect your skin in the sun,” advises New York dermatologist Neal Schultz. But don’t do so by putting on sunscreen last. Instead, says Schultz, “you want sunscreen to be the first thing on your skin so that you’re getting the SPF you’ve been promised.” You see, the FDA tests sunscreens on bare — not moisturized or made-up skin. That’s because chemical sunscreens need to react with skin in order to work. Sunscreens can be compromised if applied over moisturizer or other makeup. “It’s like making your bed and realizing you left your pajamas under the sheets so they don’t lie flat,” says Schultz. “You won’t get an even layer of sunscreen if there’s something underneath.”

Rule #5: As thy age rises, thy hemlines shall fall

Once, a lady of a certain age showing leg would be called “mutton dressed as lamb.” And nobody likes mutton. But the length of your skirt should be based on your comfort level, not that of the yackety-yaks around you.

REVISE: Hot pants are a no-no, but if you can rock a short skirt, do! “Look at Demi Moore and Sharon Stone,” says Koch. “You can wear a shorter dress and a higher heel as you get older, but you want to make sure it’s appropriate; you may want to layer it with a great sweater or a cool jacket,” so that it’s not short below and tight above, for example. Celebrity stylist Tara Swennen, who works with Angie Harmon and Gabrielle Union, says that when it comes to short skirts, “I recommend anywhere from three inches above the knee to right below the knee,” an area that is considered the most flattering as it’s the thinnest part of your leg (besides the ankle). “If you don’t feel comfortable showing leg,” says Swennen, “you can always pair a short skirt with opaque tights.” Koch sometimes layers open-weave fishnets over opaque tights, working the style without risking overexposure.

Rule #6: Thou shall not wear white after Labour Day

For generations, when September rolled around, white cardigans were wrapped with mothballs, and put away for a long winter’s nap. But white goes with everything and can cast such a flattering glow on your face that it seems unfair to relegate it to one brief season.

REVISE: Two words: Winter White. You can wear white any time of year, from a chunky knit (or faux-ermine cape) in January to a sleek button-down come Spring. To play it safe, make sure the material you’re wearing is seasonally appropriate. But even that isn’t a hard and fast law, says London. “You could possibly wear a white linen dress in winter if you did it with black tights and boots and a leather jacket. There’s always a way to mix and match things to create a mood that looks season-specific.”