“You’re wearing that?” my friend Rachel asks me.
She’s come to pick me up, and we’re standing in the foyer of my house. I look down at myself, feeling as if I’m 15 and my mother is calling me out on wearing something skimpy, but it’s January, in Wisconsin, and I’m wearing jeans and a fitted black merino wool turtleneck and boots, and now I’m the mother of an almost 15-year-old. Skimpiness can’t be the problem.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“What if you have a” —she leans close to me, although no one else is around — "hot flash?”
I laugh. “I don’t have those,” I say.
Her eyes widen. Rachel is 48. It’s only now that I notice she’s wearing a tank top underneath a flowy cardigan underneath her winter coat, which is unzipped. “Aren’t you freezing?”
“Believe me,” she says dramatically, “no, I’m not.”
Flash forward to one year later, and I know exactly what Rachel meant.
Menopause is defined by a woman’s not having had her period for one year. Perimenopause is the time before that, when estrogen declines, one’s periods become irregular, and symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, and weight gain around the mid-section can set in; perimenopause typically lasts around four years, but can last up to 10.
Thus, if women in their 40s and 50s didn’t have enough to think about when getting dressed before they experienced perimenopause — appearing professional at work, finding clothes that fit well, feeling comfortable, and so on — many of these women can now add two more factors to their list: accounting for hot flashes, and a meno-pot. (A meno-pot is the fun name for that stubborn "spare tire" pot belly that many women begin to develop around this time of life.)
But there is hope. After interviewing numerous women, perusing fashion blogs and Instagram feeds, and searching (fruitlessly, I might add) for photographs of middle-aged celebrities with telltale flushed cheeks or belly bulges (which has led me to believe that no celebrity has ever gone through menopause; I now will personally not be at all surprised if Helen Mirren or Tina Turner announce their pregnancies at any time), I have come up with the following fashion tips for perimenopausal women who want to be comfortable, look cute, and be cool (in both senses of the word).
1. Dress in layers.
As my friend Rachel demonstrated, dressing in layers (especially in seasonal climates) is essential. Her shock over my fitted wool turtleneck was real: No perimenopausal woman would start with that as a first layer; another friend of mine says she hasn’t worn anything she’s had to pull over her head in ten years. Start with a tank top, or a short-sleeved tee-shirt, or a thin cotton long-sleeved shirt. Add from there.
2. Choose fabrics wisely.
And speaking of cotton: wear natural fabrics. When you have a hot flash, you’re going to sweat. When you sweat, you’re going to want to be wearing cotton, linen, rayon — fabric that “breathes,” so you can, too.
3. Flowy can be functional.
Confession: I have never worn clothing by Eileen Fisher. I’m just not that into flowy as a personal style. (Nor do I have $498 to spend on an “artisanal brushstroke silk cap-sleeve tunic,” for example.) But some middle-aged women swear by the company’s iconic, well, flowy lines, natural (often organic) fabrics, muted (often undyed) colors, and now, I can truly see why. Not only do these clothes undoubtedly look lovely on “women of a certain age,” but I can now understand that with their elastic waistbands, drapey skirts, boxy blouses, and natural fabrics, they are absolutely made for women with meno-pots having hot flashes. (And one friend assures me the clothes travel beautifully as well.)
4. Don't fear skirts and dresses.
Skirts and dresses (especially stretchy dresses, which one friend describes as “basically big t-shirts if you think about it”) are cool, comfortable, and stylish. Some women in seasonal climates wear them year-round with tights or, for a more casual look and more comfortable feel, with high-waisted leggings.
5. Embrace yoga pants, if you're willing.
The philosophical argument over whether or not yoga pants are pants is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, for some women, yoga pants are wonderful for yoga (and for writing articles on their laptops); and for other women, yoga pants are wonderful pretty much every second of every day. The latter camp seems to increase in number during peri/menopause. Perhaps it’s the hot flashes; most yoga pants, unlike leggings, flare out at the ankles, creating ventilation. Perhaps it’s the stretchiness in the mid-section. Perhaps it’s just that yoga pants are so darned comfortable, and if they’re a good brand, made from a nice, thick material, and if they’re worn with the right top and sweater, they can make one look stylish and put-together. (Or maybe it’s just that middle-aged women — as the saying more or less goes — no longer “give a duck” if other people think yoga pants aren’t pants!)
6. Grab a jacket...
Many women going through perimenopause and menopause work outside the home, and when tank tops and flowy sweaters don’t cut it at the workplace, jackets and blazers are essential. These can be the top layer of a workplace outfit and can be easily disrobed; or they can dress up the aforementioned yoga pants. And if you live in a warmer climate, or it’s a warmer month, or if you just think that a wool blazer or a leather motorcycle jacket (wait—where do you work?) sound awfully hot, even for a top layer, many women find that blazers and jackets in linen, cotton, and flax are practical as well as chic.
7. ...Or a scarf.
Women in this age group often have a thing/obsession/whatever about their necks. Perhaps this is the reason we see so many women over 40 wearing scarves. Or perhaps these accessories keep us warm in between hot flashes but are easy to take off when, as one writer friend puts it, we become “enraged with heat.” Sharon Mesmer, 58, of Brooklyn has found another use for them: “If you’ve got a really long scarf, you can jettison your sweater during a ‘power surge,’ and the scarf can still hide your belly bulge!” Pretty genius, actually.
8. Get a new bra.
If you haven’t gone to a real bricks-and-mortar department or lingerie store and had yourself measured for a NEW BRA in the last six months to a year, do so now. (Or tomorrow. But soon.) Eighty percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra, and it makes an enormous difference. You don’t know it, but you are probably walking around right now like a stooped-over babushka when you could be walking around like a sexy goddess, and all that’s keeping you from going from here to there is a really friendly woman with a tape measure and a commission, some overpriced material, and a fantastic fit. I could talk about many other undergarments here — sure, you know about Spanx, but did you know about arm tights? — but I’ll save that for another time.
9. Wear white.
A perk of menopause (if not perimenopause, when one’s irregular periods can come out of the blue, at any time, just as if one were 15 all over again) is that one can wear white jeans, white skirts, white everything: One friend even wears white bikinis. Imagine!
10. Say hello to "menocore."
In July 2017, fashion editor Harling Ross of Man Repeller wrote an article about a new fashion style she coined menocore, basing it on Diane Keaton's character in Something’s Gotta Give, on middle-aged women on a beach vacation, on retired massage therapists, on her and her friends’ moms — in other words, it’s based on stylish women going through menopause. The aesthetic is drawstring linen pants, button-down shirts, and breezy skirts in either head-to-toe white and ecru, or mismatched bright colors (or what one friend calls “looking like a parrot”). As a part-time college professor of English and Creative Writing, I am constantly learning from 20-somethings, but the irony of learning how to dress like a middle-aged woman from one while wearing skinny Free People jeans, a striped-Forever 21 tee, and a vintage cardigan I could take on and off all day was not lost on me.
11. Keep a sense of humor.
Maybe that’s why the most important thing to wear is a sense of humor. Julia Lee Barclay-Morton, 54, of New York City, says that she wears layers, long cardigans, tunic-length anything, a streak of teal blue in her hair to "cheer her up," and a sense of humor. She describes hot flashes as being “basically like living in NYC with steam heat radiators that blast on periodically,” and that’s about as good of a description I’ve heard as any. It’s important for us to keep a sense of humor during this time, and also to remain true to our personal style. If drawstring pants and boxy tops aren’t your thing, you shouldn’t wear them just because you’re going through menopause, no matter how cool and practical they seem. As Accidental Icon Lyn Slater, 64, says, “Age is irrelevant. My biggest piece of advice is to spend time really knowing who you are and then thinking about clothes as expressing that... I don’t consider age when I’m getting dressed.”
And perhaps that’s the best piece of fashion advice anyone can give. Well, that and dressing in layers.
This article was written by Kelly Dwyer, a novelist, playwright, and freelance writer. Visit her website.
Perimenopause: What to Wear – 20 Stylish Picks from FIRST
1. Lark & Ro Linen Ski
Lark & Ro have made a high-quality, high-fashion, elegant lace and linen skirt that is made from 55 percent linen and 45 percent cotton, which is perfect for ventilation and guaranteed to keep you cool during temperature fluctuations. It’s versatile enough to wear at work or for important meetings, or even out for dinner or drinks.
Where to buy: $10.29, Amazon
2. Melifluos Lightweight Shawl
As mentioned above, a light scarf is a must during perimenopause, and this lightweight shawl from Melifluos is a perfect solution. On the chillier days, use it to shield you from the cold, but when you need to take it off immediately during a hot flash, it’s small enough to shove in your purse. It comes in a whopping 25 designs, so you can choose one or more that are perfect for you.
Where to buy: Amazon, $12.97
3. Uniqlo Women’s Dry Sweatpants
When it comes to sweatpants during perimenopause, you’re going to need them to be absorbent. With their quick drying DRY technology, these women’s dry sweatpants from Uniqlo are perfect for going out and running your daily errands, and you can rest in the assurance that you’re not going to have any wet patches. They come in white or dark gray and are currently on offer.
Where to buy: Uniqlo, $14.90
4. Uniqlo AIRism Slip
This Uniqlo slip is made from a quick-drying material with AIRism technology, which guarantees a smooth, dry feel so you can stay cool and stain-free even in sweaty situations. The design is made to skim the lines of the body to help prevent it from riding up with movement, so it stays as discreet as you want it to be. Its deep neckline makes it great for layering under a dress or other clothes, but you can also sleep in it to stay dry at night, too.
Where to buy: Uniqlo, $14.90
5. Mae Cotton Triangle Bralette with Lace Edge
A bra to keep your girls in place, while looking sexy, and feeling practically non-existent? Yes, please! This beautiful and delicate cotton bralette with a scalloped lace band from Mae is made from 95% cotton and 5% Spandex for extra comfort. It comes in black, gray, and sky blue, is light and comfortable, and will make you feel pretty even on those unforgiving days.
Where to buy: Amazon, $18.00
6. Six-Pack Cotton Thongs from Madeline Kelly
Woman of every age would do well to invest in some high-quality underwear, but for women going through perimenopause, it’s absolutely imperative. These panties from Madeline Kelly are ultra-comfy, do not ride up or down, are seamless, and do not embarrassingly show through clothes, and are made with 95 percent cotton to keep you cool. They come in some great basic colors in handy packs of six.
Where to buy: Amazon, $18.00
7. Six-Pack Cotton High-Cut Briefs from Madeline Kelly
If thongs aren’t your thing, but you like the idea of a great cotton basic brief, Madeline Kelly has got you covered again. Just like the thongs above, these high-cut briefs come in an ultra-comfy everyday cotton spandex, with a low-rise waist,featuring a non-pinch microfiber elastic to keep you comfortable all day.
Where to buy: Amazon, $18.00
8. Seamless Quick-Drying T-Shirt by Uniqlo
We’re loving this dry, seamless, short-sleeved t-shirt from Uniqlo, with quick-drying DRY technology. It’s great for wearing to do sports or workout, but looks good enough to wear even when you’re out and about. The best part? It has laser-punched holes in the armpits for increased breathability and ventilation. It comes in white, black, green, dark green, and navy, in sizes XS to XL.
Where to buy: Uniqlo, $19.90
9. 7Goals Mesh Workout To
Another t-shirt to keep you dry and ventilated when working out or running errands, is this cute number by 7Goals. It’s made in a soft, stretch fabric featuring knit-in mesh panels on the neckline and has a stylish curved hem. The fabric is a blend of 96.5 percent rayon and 3.5 percent spandex, which makes it moisture-wicking and quick-drying to keep you cool and comfortable. Get it in pink, gray, oyster (pictured), or black.
Where to buy: Amazon, $19.99
10. Linen Tank Top by Luna Coalition
Luna Coalition make the most comfortable and chic loungewear that you can wear at home on those lazy days, but which are stylish enough to wear while out and about. This muscle tank top made from linen is light and airy, with large arm holes and split left side seam for extra ventilation. The great thing about it is that it’s long enough to fully cover your booty and belly on those bloated days.
Where to buy: Amazon, $24.00
11. Serene Bohemian Pom Pom Ruffle Off-Shoulder Dress
It can be hard sometimes to find clothing suitable for perimenopausal women that are both comfortable, airy, and stylish, but this cute vintage-style off-shoulder dress from Serene Bohemian has a contemporary look and roomy feel. Made from breezy fabrics, fluid shapes, and romantic details, this dress oozes grace and natural ease.
Where to buy: Amazon, $24.00
12. Goodsport Mesh Leggings
Stylish mesh leggings are all the rage right now and that’s great news for perimenopausal women because it means you can be up-to-date with the latest trends and completely comfortable and ventilated while looking great. Whether for exercising or just general wear, this black pair by Goodsport have a high waist and a wide waist band, perfect for keeping the belly in.
Where to buy: Amazon, $29.99
13. Lark & Ro Chambray Striped Dress
For another light and airy dress that is sure to keep you cool when you feel a hot flush coming on, try this Lark & Ro open-shoulder dress. Made from 100 percent cotton chambray for maximum coolness, it’s loose-fitting to avoid clinginess, and comes in a romantic white and light blue striped design. One reviewer, Leah, says of this dress: “This is a super cute little summer dress. It runs a full size larger than listed. The length is short but not so short that a woman would be shy about wearing it. It has a lot of room for a full-figured body. But it also looks cute on a slender girl too. I love it belted (belt not included). You can dress this up with heels or dress it down with flats. I machine wash warm and line dry.”
Where to buy: Amazon, $55.00
14. Lark & Ro Cashmere Cropped Cardigan
All these light and airy dresses and tops are great for keeping you cool during the day, but what about those chilly evenings? Enter this 100 percent cashmere cropped cardigan by Lark & Ro. A timeless, classy piece that is cropped at the elbow and elegantly stops at the waist, it looks good over a summer top or dress and comes in two versatile shades; black, and bright crimson.
Where to buy: Amazon, $75.00
15. Billabong One-Piece Swimsuit
Looking for a nice swimsuit when you’re perimenopausal can prove to be tricky. You don’t want the old-lady style, midriff-hiding frou-frou frills that usually come when searching for swimsuits for middle aged ladies, but at the same time, a teeny, tiny, triangle bikini isn’t what you had in mind. This off-white one-piece swimsuit from Billabong is perfect because it’s simple yet elegant (notice the petal detailing on the sides), the legs aren’t high-waisted, and there is a hidden shelf bra inside to keep your chest in place.
Where to buy: Amazon, $89.95
16. The Fix Bock-Heel Dress Sandal
If you want to look elegant, but even the thought of wearing high heels gets you feeling all sweaty, then this pair of brown suede sandals by The Fix is the way to go. There is a small and comfortable block-heel to give you some height without the effort of high heels, and they look so pretty with a summer dress. Their tasseled closure and triangular cutout detailing make them a high-fashion yet comfortable accessory for your closet.
Where to buy: Amazon, $85.00
17. Slide Sandals by The Fix
For maximum everyday comfort, opt for this pair of slide sandals from The Fix, which come in four different styles. One happy customer, Karen, says, “These are cute, comfortable with a true-to-size fit. They have a nice traction on the bottom making these very easy and comfortable to walk in. They are very well made and the material is excellent quality,” and another, Ava, raves, “I absolutely loved these sandals! They were very comfortable and looked better than I thought they would… Stylish and versatile! Overall, I would highly recommend them to someone who wants nice comfort and a different stylish look.”
Where to buy: Amazon, $79.00
18. Dark Clothes to Hide Sweat
Even after taking all the necessary perimenopausal sweat-reducing precautions, if you’re still concerned about sweating and sweat patches, a simple yet effective solution to err on the side of caution is to opt for dark clothing to hide sweat traces. Amazon has a fantastic collection of black, and dark blue dresses (like the one pictured which is by Daily Ritual) to suit all tastes.
Where to buy: Amazon, various prices
19. AIRism Tops by Uniqlo
Uniqlo’s AIRism line has tops which are made with “comfort conditioning technology” which releases heat and moisture and adapts to any condition to keep you comfortable at all costs. Moisture-wicking, quick-drying, anti-odor, and cool to the touch, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything more comfortable.
Where to buy: Uniqlo, various prices
20. Let Stitch Fix Shop For You
If after all our wonderful suggestions you’re still pretty indecisive on what to buy, maybe you should try out Stitch Fix, an online clothing company that takes the hard work out of clothes shopping. All you have to do it register online, give them a few details about your personal style, fit, and price preferences, and you’ll receive a “Fix” every month directly to your door. A “Fix” is a package with five pieces of clothing, shoes and accessories, chosen just for you by your personal stylist, complete with a note from them and expert advice on how to wear your new items. There’s also a prepaid envelope in which you can return any items you don’t want, and you only have to pay for the items you keep. One less thing to worry about!
Where to buy: Stitch Fix, $20.00 per “Fix”