How to Look Older

My advice to young women who want to be taken seriously

 David Trood/Getty Images

I recently got an email from Jennifer, a 20-year-old complaining that she's often mistaken for a 12-year-old. As a dance instructor, she wants to be taken more seriously and asked me what she might to do make her look older.

This is a common beauty dilemma. Just as women over 40 would love to be mistaken for being younger than they are, women in their teens and early 20s rarely want to look younger than they are. Funny how that works, eh? Someday when Jennifer is 50, she will probably remember with wistfulness how young she once appeared.

That is a long way's off. Until then, here are 4 tips for looking older than you are.

Take Down That Ponytail

In her email to me, Jennifer wrote, "I always wear my hair in a ponytail."

Cue the scratching record.

Ponytails are for little girls, women at the gym and busy moms. Ponytails are not for women who want to appear older. The first thing you can do if you want to appear your age or older is to lose the ponytail and adopt a more sophisticated-yet-trendy hairstyle.

For Jennifer, who is a dance instructor, I recommend a simple-but-chic bun worn at the nape of her neck. I wear one of these and have for the past 5 years. They are way more chic and mature than a ponytail.

If you don't need longer hair, I suggest cutting hair shorter, which can add years to your look. A classic or even edgy pixie, a mussy long bob, a classic bob or a shag are all great options.

It's trendy to adopt a shorter hairstyle. Get some inspiration from Hair Trends: 21 Celebs Who Went From Long to a Long Bob.

Wear Some Makeup

Jennifer also claimed in her email to me that she doesn't wear makeup.

Again, cue the scratching record.

To appear older, I recommend wearing at least some makeup. Here are 3 options I recommend:

  1. Play up the lips. Wear a bright lipstick color like a dark pink or bright red. This adds drama to your face, can be a signature look and allows you to get away with as little makeup as possible. If you play up the lips, keep the rest of your makeup light, but do wear a touch of mascara to balance out the top half of your face.
  2. Wear a basic look: mascara on curled lashes, a bit of blush if you're pale, concealer on any reddened or uneven spots and a swipe of colored lip gloss.
  3. Play up your eyes. Give your eyes drama with a smoky brown and copper palette and line your eyes. Add drama with mascara. Keep lips light with a pink lipstick or gloss.

For more tips on makeup application, see How to Apply Makeup.

Consider How You Carry Yourself

One word: "poise." As a dance instructor, poise may be innate for Jennifer, but for most of us, it comes with practice. No matter your age, if you want to be taken more serious in life, you should conduct yourself and carry yourself with poise. This means standing up straight, acting mature, thinking before speaking and being polite.

I once had a friend who practiced speaking in a lower voice because she felt she wasn't being taken seriously as a woman in her workplace. I'm not recommending going that far, but I did notice that with her, practice made perfect. She stuck to her goal and became a more poised person in the workplace. She's now a head trauma nurse in a large Chicago hospital.

Dress Like a Career Woman

Your wardrobe holds clues to your true age. If you want to appear your age or older, dress more maturely. This means lose the short-shorts and the flip flops and exchange them for expensive dark jeans, high heels, tight little jackets, blouses. Kind of like a career woman.

For fun, don't miss my article on women whose bad hair and makeup aged them by years in Are Your Hairstyle and Makeup Aging You?