She may be past the age for crop tops and cutoffs, but she isn’t ready to ride into the sunset in elastic pants and a baggy sweater. Meet Helen Grenwall, the creator of Haute Business.
The 56- year- old certified CPA and financial planner from Arizona is also a fashion blogger, whose goal is to help women her age, who don’t want to dress like women her age. Helen’s invites her readers to discuss the challenges that come with finding clothes over 40 and inspires them with her weekly outfit posts that reveal her polished modern style.
I recently had the chance to chat with Helen about fashion over 40 and her approach to dressing. Here’s my interview with this Fabulous After 40 Styleblazer.
Deb: How would you describe your style?
Helen: I’d say my style is sleek and somewhat tailored without being too structured. I like classic pieces, but I like to add a little whimsy with some fun accessories.
Deb: You’re in finance by day. When it comes to dressing for work, how do you walk that fine line between looking professional and looking fashionable?
Helen: I get some help from my location. I live in a pretty casual city, which gives me the ability to relax the 9-5 rules a bit. I always want to look like someone with whom you would trust your finances, but I don’t want to look too serious. I’d like to think I’m approachable, and I’d like my style to reflect that. I love shoes, so I might choose a fun, bright shoe color with an otherwise conservative outfit. That’s an easy way to spice up a look.
Deb: Tell us about how you like to dress outside of work? What is your casual day uniform?
Helen: In the winter, I love jeans or leggings with boots and a sweater. In the summer, it’s easily over 110 degrees here in Arizona which is much too hot for me to wear pants. I’ll wear shorts or summer-weight dresses, especially T-shirt dresses, and sandals. I love hats so they’re a usually a part of my casual look.
Deb: Favorite current trends? Looks that are just not you?
Helen: I love the new lace-up flats. I’m still not able to wear heels after my knee surgery, so these are a welcome addition. I keep finding myself drawn to pink; Pantone’s nod to Rose Quartz has my full endorsement!
Deb: What’s your figure challenge and how do you work around it?
Helen: I have a thick waist, so peplum tops don’t flatter me. As a personal style choice, I would not pick ruffles, and I don’t really care for cold-shoulder tops. I don’t understand cap sleeves; they are unflattering to almost everyone and yet designers keep incorporating them into their creations. Somehow one or two cap-sleeve dresses have found their way into my closet but in general, I’ll pass.
I choose styles that are forgiving to that feature. I also have a short body, so I’m careful about what tops I’ll tuck into a skirt or pants. The wrong combination can easily cut me in half. Button-front blouses fit me awkwardly, so I need a safety pin to avoid a gap across the bust line.
Deb: Many women have given up heels, but you wear them a lot. Why?
Helen: Heels elongate the leg and are therefore more flattering than flats. Sadly, some shoes are uncomfortable no matter what you do. I buy cushion insoles (Dr. Scholl’s or Wal-mart’s Equate brand). They make a huge difference in comfort. I don’t usually wear nylons, so the insoles also protect my shoes from my bare feet, they keep my feet from making that slapping sound of skin hitting leather when I walk, and I can pull them out and wash them to keep them smelling fresh.
Deb: You have a knack for successfully wearing some of the edgier trends like OTK boots and fringe skirts. Any tips on how to do this well without looking like you are trying too hard to look too young?
Helen: Moderation and minimalization. I have a faux suede fringe skirt I absolutely love. I keep it pared down with sleek pumps and a simple sweater. I tried it with little booties, but the pumps were a much better look. When I wear OTK boots, I keep the rest of the outfit sleek and simple. I think that is the key.
Deb: You mention that outfits can change your outlook. Which outfits make you feel most confident and which have you “dumped” because they made you feel less than yourself?
Helen: I usually feel best in sleek, simple styles. I have a black Topshop dress I instinctively reach for when I want to look good and remain comfortable. It’s easily my favorite piece although it isn’t the most forgiving. I won’t choose it if I’m feeling a little pudgy. Anything comfortable is a huge plus for me, especially during the long work days or tax season.
I’ve tried the full skirts that look so cute on some ladies, but they don’t suit me.
Deb: Other than a few scarves and your print dress, I noticed that you don’t wear a whole lot of prints. Any reason for this preference?
Helen: It’s funny you mention that because I was recently thinking the same thing myself. I’ve picked up a couple of print dresses for spring, but I do gravitate toward solid colors. I think that is because you can repeat them more often on the sly. A print is more memorable, so if you wear it once a week, it starts to seem overworked. You don’t have that issue with solid pieces.
Deb: You say fashion for women over 40 is out there, it’s just harder to find it. Where do you shop to put together your looks?
Helen: I’m a fan of several stores. I love Nordstrom. Their customer service is fantastic, and their no-charge shipping policy is a great asset because there is no local store here. Dillard’s has a store in Yuma, so I’m a fan. I also wear a lot of Ann Taylor and LOFT, but I’ve picked up some great pieces at Target and Kohl’s. I’ve recently discovered ROMWE, which ships directly from China. The prices are amazing so exploring trends won’t break the bank, but the clothes are made for small people, so it’s a little tougher to find pieces that fit.
Deb: Many of the items you wear have been in your closet for a while. They are classic pieces. For women just starting out and trying to build a solid wardrobe which classic pieces should they start to invest in?
Helen: You absolutely need two quality black skirts, one for winter and one for summer. These babies get a lot of mileage in my work wardrobe. If you can afford only one pair of shoes, buy the highest quality nude patent leather pumps you can. Choose a slim heel as high as you can comfortably manage in a color close to your skin tone. Your legs will look longer, and you can wear those shoes with almost everything in your closet, including jeans.
Deb: Your outfits look fab, in part because you have a great figure. What do you do to stay in shape?
Helen: Okay, that comment just made my day! Thank you!! I do work hard to stay in shape. It takes effort because I love to eat, and I don’t always make slim-person choices.
Being side-lined with a knee injury has been very frustrating. Rather than lament what I can’t do, I’ve chosen to focus on what I can. I’ve been doing a lot of Pure Barre workouts (they really do change the shape of your body) and anything I can to strengthen and straighten my leg again.
When I’m back to normal, I run a bit (depending upon how cooperative my Achilles’ tendons feel). I like to walk, hike, and incorporate jumping moves. I’ll add walking lunges and body-weight squats because they’re great for everything below the waist.
As my knee heals weight training will be back in my fitness repertoire. Weight training is so important for a lot of reasons: weight bearing exercises strengthen our bones (so important as we get older) and, of course, they build muscle. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. One of the reasons we gain weight as we get older is because our bodies lose muscle mass, so they lose their fat-burning potential. Muscle is also much firmer than the lack thereof, so we look less flabby.
The form is paramount to avoid injury. With good form, you don’t necessarily need heavy weights. Slow, steady, strict form with lighter weights will still yield amazing results.
Deb: You say you don’t want to dress the way other women your age dress. What advice do you have for 40 who are struggling with breaking out of the old lady look rut?
Helen: Try something different. Keep it sleek – that’s the key. Pick one tasteful but edgy outfit and take it for a spin. See if it doesn’t change your outlook in a positive way. If it does, ride the wave! If it doesn’t, don’t give up. Try something else. If you’re not afraid to experiment, you’ll hit upon a style that will be both fresh and flattering. What that does for your confidence is priceless.
Deb: Anything else you would like to add?
Helen: Several years ago my brother hit upon what I think is the most amazing New Year’s resolution ever: Don’t suck at life! After a year of being pounded emotionally, financially and physically, he was desperate for change. He decided to use that expression as his litmus test. Whenever he faced a decision, he weighed it against “not sucking at life”. Through that philosophy, we had a fun year. We discovered Temecula, which has some really great wineries. It’s become one of our favorite weekend destinations. It’s close enough for a day trip, yet we consistently overlooked it until his new year’s vow. My brother finished the year on stage with Metallica, rocking guitar while helping celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. Resolution accomplished.
Deb: Thanks for sharing that philosophy and your polished style with us, Helen. Ladies, be sure to visit Helen’s blog, Haute Business where she models her 40+ wardrobe and offers helpful financial tips and tricks.