If you’ve felt stuck when it comes to finding the best dresses for women over 40, you’re in the right place. Let’s set the record straight: you can look stylish at any age. Yes, even when you’re over 40!

This can be a special time in your life for a woman, because it’s a new phase of life. While there are certain clothes that begin to air on the side of not being appropriate once you’re over 40, there are a lot more options available than you may realize.

With the warm weather upon us, it’s the season of dresses. Thus I wanted to give you some tried and true style tips to help you find the best dresses if you are over 40. These tips are going to help you look at dresses in a whole new light and give you some great ideas to consider, as you shop for your next dress to add to your wardrobe.

Ready? Let’s get started…

1. Focus Less on Trends, More on Classics

As a woman over 40, one of the key style tips to keep in mind is to begin paying more attention to classics instead of trends. Wearing more classics and wardrobe staples will often make you look younger (major win at any age, right?) and by this time in your life you’re probably exhausted trying to chase all the latest trends season after season.

I’m not saying that you can’t wear or embrace ANY trends. I’m simply suggesting to begin to do so sparingly. When we wear a lot of trends over 40, it could sometimes give us the dreaded ‘trying too hard’ look.

When you are thinking about the best dresses for women over 40, start to think more about the classic dress styles for this reason. These types of dresses will be age appropriate. And, as an added bonus, you will get a lot more years and wear out of them because they are classic.

best dresses for women over 40
Eva Longoria (born 1975), Getty Images

Great dress silhouettes to consider for women over 40 are shift, fit & flare, etc. Take it a step further and make sure you are choosing dresses in classic colors to further enhance the age appropriate aspect.

I’ll get into the classic element a bit more later on…keep reading!

2. Lower the Length a Bit

Length plays a big role in dresses regardless of your age, especially if you’re a petite woman over 40. Chances are you’ve been told to select dresses that are shorter in length, mini length as an example. While shorter dresses silhouettes are flattering when you are a petite woman, once you’re over 40, too short can be, well…too short. Going back to the age appropriateness, it’s the time in your life to make a slight adjustment to the length of the dresses you are selecting to wear.

dresses for women after 40
Reese Witherspoon (born 1976), Getty Images

Instead of going super short with your dresses, simply bring the length down a tad. This doesn’t mean you should (or have) to wear only maxi length dresses. Instead, consider dresses that rest just above the knee. This length is still incredibly figure flattering for a petite woman, but will be more age appropriate for a woman over 40. Essentially accommodating both aspects of YOU.

So in general, just above the knee or a tad shorter is going to be the best dress length for women over 40. Although don’t be afraid of midi length, too! And yes, petites, you can rock a midi length dress – we recently shared some of our tips to finding the best midi dresses when you’re petite make sure you check it out.

 Petite Lace Midi Dress
Alfani Petite $64
 Petite V-Neck Lace Midi Dress
Taylor Petite $85
Petite double layer pleated midi dress
$60

3. Dress According to Your Body Shape

Truthfully, dressing for your body shape is a skill to master regardless of your age. Once you’re a woman over 40, it becomes even more essential that you are dressing to flatter your body shape.

It’s not uncommon to experience a difference in your body shape at this point in your life, which could result from many different factors. Your hormone and metabolism level could start to change after turning 40. Or, perhaps you had a (another) baby, and losing weight just becomes a lot harder than when you were in 20s or early 30s. If you are experiencing a lot of stress, that could also cause weight fluctuation. Bottom line is, if you start to notice your old dresses no longer fit you, or certain places of the clothes fit too tight, that is all normal at this stage of your life.

When that happens, a lot of women tend to lean towards dresses that have little to no shape. Although shapeless dresses seem to be the short cut to hide your weight gain, they don’t flatter your body shape at all. If you are petite, loosely fitted dresses are even worse for you, because they could make you look even shorter.

The right way to handle this is to really understand your body type and find dresses that suit your exact situations. For example, apple body shape tend to accumulate weight on their stomach, whereas pear body shape tend to gain weight on their lower half, i.e. thighs and butt. Petite Dressing blog has articles dedicated to each and every body type on how to dress to camouflage your weaknesses and accentuate your assets. If you haven’t read them already, you should go ahead and check it out.

4. Best Silhouettes of Dresses for Women over 40

Since I suggested that you stick with classic dress silhouettes for women over 40, I’m going to break down a couple of the most common classic silhouettes and the body shapes they best flatter to help you navigate this.

Fit & Flare

This silhouette is perfect to balance a large top half and/or bust. If you’re an inverted triangle body shape, fit and flare is a great option for you.

Fit & flare is also a great option for a woman over 40 who doesn’t have a naturally defined waist, such as apple body shape or rectangle body type. Because of the shape of this dress, it creates and/or enhances a waistline.

petite Aline dress
Harper Rose Petite $148
 Floral Print Long Sleeve Midi Dress, Main, color, HUNTER
Eliza J Petite $112

Sheath

Another great classic dress silhouette for women over 40, particularly a woman who has an hourglass body shape or rectangle body shape. Because sheath dresses are form fitting but not too tight, they flatter a body shape that has natural balance to it.

sheath dress for women over 40
Vince Camuto Petite $98
best dresses over 40
Maggy London Petite $138
styling tips for women over 40
Boss Petite $545

Shift

The shift dress isn’t form fitting but also isn’t overly loose in fit. Because of the style fit of the shift dress, it’s best when worn on a woman who has a rectangle body shape, or has a pear body shape.

The flow of the dress creates the illusion of curves in a flattering manner for a woman with a rectangle body shape, which is straight up and down. Typically shift dresses have sleeves and details at the top of the dress, which creates balance for a pear body shape.

 Stripe Sleeveless Shift Sweater Dress, Main, color, NAVY
Eliza J Petite $98
 Sun Seeker Sleeveless Shift Dress, Main, color, MULTI
Nic+ Zoe Petite $168

5 Choose Colors and Prints Wisely

As much as I want you to have fun with the clothes that you’re wearing as a woman over 40, there are some color/print elements to take into consideration. I mentioned above that it’s best to focus on classics when choosing the best dresses for women over 40, colors and prints are included in this.

Avoid Overpowering Colors

The reason behind this is because when you have a dress that is in a color and/or print that is very bold and overpowering, it tends to be more of a trend piece. Not that you can’t ever wear a trend again, it tends to make us look older than we are when something overpowers us with color and/or print.

If you want something safe or something that ALWAYS works, I recommend sticking to the basic colors like black, white, navy…you can even go with a dark purple or red. You CAN definitely wear colors, just make sure they aren’t super bold colors (think neon), or very busy prints (but there is one exception which I will talk about next), etc.

Introduce Animal Prints

The exception here is animal prints. The leopards or snake prints themselves do not really define any age. That might explain why you see them worn by 20 something as well as 50 something. However, what I noticed is that our age gives them different looks.

If a 20 year old wears animal prints, we think sexy and wild. If a 40 something wears it, then she looks sensual and sophisticated. If you were hesitant in your 20s and 30s about trying animal prints, then 40s is the perfect time to try this look! There is something about the maturity of women that brings out the bold and authoritative side of the animal prints.

INC Petite $84
JM Petite $44

6 Simplistic Accessories are Best

Accessorizing is where you complete the look of your dress, whether you’re a woman over 40 or not. We’ve all heard accessories can make or break an outfit and that rule definitely applies when you are a woman over 40. You may have spent your previous years loading up and layering a ton of different accessories together when getting dressed. It’s great to do when you’re in your teens and 20’s but now that you are a woman over 40 it’s time to simplify your accessories a bit.

Choose one statement accessory to avoid over styling and over accessorizing your dresses. This can be a statement earring, necklace, or bracelet. The reason I suggest choosing one statement piece is because it gives you a chance to have fun with your dress accessorizing but will prevent you from over doing it. Less is more with accessories at this time in your life.

best style for women over 40
Lucy Liu (born 1968), Getty Images

Don’t forget that shoes and handbags are also accessories to consider when you’re styling your dresses over 40. The same rule applies here, just make sure it’s not TOO much with your dress. Think about creating a more subtle, streamlined outfit when you’re over 40 to keep you appearing age appropriate.

As an example, if you have a bright red dress keep your shoes and handbag on the neutral side to compliment the red in a stylish way without overpowering you (or the dress). Keep accessories simple with a gold hoop earring and dainty bracelet, for example. It’s an easy look that’s streamlined, classic but modern and fashionable wrapped into one. Style goals, anyone?!

7 Develop Your Personal Style

If you haven’t already, now that you are a woman over 40 it’s the time in your life when you should focus on developing your own personal style. This kind of goes back to what I was saying about choosing classics over trends. Because you’ve experienced different things in your life and are (hopefully) more confident and secure with who you are than ever before it’s essential that you’re dressing accordingly.

hourglass figure
Salma Hayek, 5’2″ (Getty Images)

Worry less about what everyone else is wearing or whether or not someone will look at you strangely if you show up in a certain outfit. Spend more of your time and energy on choosing dresses and styling outfits that fully embrace your personal style in the way that you want. This is such a powerful way to increase your confidence and to appear incredibly age appropriate. When we don’t spend time trying to be something or someone we aren’t (or aren’t any longer) it instantly elevates the way we look in our clothing.

While there are some specific style tips to consider when shopping for the best dresses for women over 40, all in all I want you to have FUN with your style. You deserve it! If you’ve been putting off shopping for a new dress to add to your wardrobe I hope you will take these tips into consideration and they help you to have a more successful shopping trip than ever before. Don’t be afraid to try a couple new dress silhouettes or colors – you may be surprised!