Sherrie Mathieson, style consultant


Stylin’ as a Boomer: Generation needn’t dress frumpy, too provocative

Mary Giunca
Winston-Salem Journal

March 2007

Sherrie Mathieson has seen the Hawaiian print shirts, the frumpy floral skirts and the dreaded Christmas sweaters. And Mathieson, a style consultant and costume designer who lives in New York City, has come to the conclusion that her generation of baby boomers is among the worst-dressed people in history.

After working with her boomer clients who struggled to put together an attractive, modern look as their bodies changed, Mathieson, 60, has written, Forever Cool, a book that promises "How to achieve ageless, youthful and modern personal style."

"People no longer seek out refinement," Mathieson said. "So many people are misdirected that I find it almost sinful."

Forever Cool features more than 200 pages of before-and-after shots of men and women in their 50s and up, who are not models. The book shows styles for work, casual times, dressing up and sports.

Women over 50 tend to gravitate to one of two extremes, Mathieson said. They either chase youth in the form of short skirts and plunging necklines or they default to a dowdy style that includes matronly suits, shapeless pants and tops and orthopedic looking shoes.

Women sometimes confuse classic with matronly, Mathieson said. They seek out stores that cater to the middle-aged woman. The cuts in such stores tend to be shapeless and dowdy.

Mathieson advises people to stick with such national chains as Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and J. Crew for classic styles in modern cuts.

The book also offers readers a list of other stores, Web sites, movies and books that can help them develop their sense of style.

Men tend to have an easier time of it, Mathieson said, because their styles change less. Men can stumble when they hold on to clothing too long.

She warns men away from big rugby stripes, Hawaiian print shirts and the T-shirt-and-jacket combination made popular by the television show, Miami Vice.

Being cool is about returning to the core of style that is shaped around good fabrics, quality construction and fashionable cuts, she said.

That is not to say that everyone has to stick to a list of basics. Mathieson's book gives hints on how to tweak the classic style to make it arty and fun or elegant and distinguished.

Much of the problem in dressing well these days is not baby boomers' fault, she said.

Stores are full of cheaply made clothes in synthetic fabrics and unflattering cuts. Perhaps 85 percent of it is junk, she said.

Mathieson compares the situation to grocery stores that overflow with food, most of which is unhealthful. Regarding fashion sense, people often have to search to find something that is truly flattering, she said.

People in bread lines in the 1930s looked better than a random sampling of people at any shopping mall today, Mathieson said, because they wore natural-fiber fabrics and lived in a time when there was agreement on the general silhouette that was in style.

Today's "anything goes" attitude means that many people are adrift.

Then too, people tend to cling to the styles that were popular when they were in their prime, she said. For many baby boomers, the prime of life was the 1980s, a decade full of such fashion faux pas as gold chains, big hair and oversized shoulder pads.

"My philosophy is you need to clean up your act as you get older," she said. "If a person didn't have a great sense of style at one time, the aging process becomes even worse."

Jane Barton, 57, has been a client of Mathieson's off and on for many years, and said that even her daughters liked the ideas in Forever Cool. For Barton, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., Mathieson's ideas have made getting dressed easier.

"Women of a certain age still think of themselves as girls, and yet we don't want to pass a store window and look and say, 'Oh that idiot,'" she said.

Mathieson helped her balance the girl she still felt like she was inside with her more-mature exterior, she said. She buys a few funky things, often accessories, to balance out the more classic clothes in her wardrobe.

She thought that Mathieson was crazy when she proposed that Barton buy a black jet-and-crystal Marni belt, she said. But she has worn it many times, as both a necklace and a belt, and it adds elegance to a simple black top and pants.

When Mathieson suggested a pair of green suede Prada loafers, Barton said she again thought it was a wild idea. If she was going to pay several hundred dollars for a pair of shoes, she would have expected them to be brown or black.

The loafers have turned out to be the most comfortable shoes she's ever worn, and five years later, they are still going strong, she said.

Mathieson helped Lura Lovell, a 77-year-old philanthropist from Tucson, become practical about her body and her life.

"Your body changes, so you cannot wear what you used to wear," Lovell said.

Mathieson taught her to make more deliberate choices and to build a wardrobe of basics, and then to add fun with accessories.

Lovell served as one of the real life models in Mathieson's book, and said that she sometimes has to work to keep her opinions to herself around women her age.

"It's all I can do to keep my mouth shut," she said. "I see them looking like the 'before' pictures."

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