Thinking about what to wear in summer can be challenging. You reveal more about yourself and your body than in any other season and have fewer layering tricks at your disposal to either cover up certain parts or create a nice silhouette. That’s why this article brings you tips on how to dress for summer with all the summer essentials you need.
Why is dressing well more difficult in summer?
Much more than in winter or any other season, many women over 40 just don’t look as good as they could in summer. I can think of a number of reasons as to why this is.
- Perhaps you own less clothes for the summer season.
- There is less reason to wear layers and clothes that were only meant to be worn with additional clothes are now worn on their own.
- You want to be comfortable and cool first (style comes in second place).
- You may be wearing capris, wide short pants, shorts, tops with cut-outs etc. even when they may not flatter your body type.
- Perhaps you are in holiday or summer mode and your appearance isn’t as much of a priority when considering what to wear in summer.
- It’s also harder to create a ‘new’ look every day, since you can’t really play too much with jackets, layers and scarves.
What to wear in summer – our tips for Putting together summer outfits
However, with a little thought, and some clever techniques, you can look stylish every day during summer.
In this article you’ll find our best tips and tricks for dressing during the summer season.
Plus, read on for the summer essentials you need in your closet, and a summer capsule wardrobe with summer outfit inspiration.
1. Use interesting design details for your summer clothes
If you are only wearing one layer, make it as interesting as possible. You can consider tops that have an interesting design detail.
All you need is a good basic bottom like some nice white trousers, crop jeans or your favorite skirt and you will look, modern, polished yet remain cool.
The Karen Kane top (below) features asymmetry which is useful to hide a belly, as well as being loose and cool to wear so it’s ideal if you are thinking about what to wear in summer while also covering a tummy. It comes in a choice of colors, and wearers say it is nice, airy, flattering, and can be dressed up or worn with jeans.
Karen Kane Asymmetrical Crepe Top
My top (below) has a twist detail which adds interest even though I’m simply wearing a gray top and white pants. Look out for an interesting drape, asymmetrical detail or pattern.
similar top, wide jeans and shoes
Here are some of my favorite tops to hide your belly and favorite asymmetric tops and dresses currently available in stores.
2. Dress in very thin layers
This is easy to do when you have a few very thin blouses or tunics. It doesn’t matter if they are see-through because you will be wearing it with either your bikini or singlet underneath.
You could wear a thin ruana or kimono over your outfit like a duster jacket. Then, if you are on vacation, you could wear over your swimsuit as a cover up.
Caslon Asymmetric Twist T-Shirt – AllSaints Noche Animal Print Ruana – AG Farrah Crop Bootcut Jeans – Munro Mel Metallic T-Strap Sandal – Karine Sultan Fleur de Lis Pendant Necklace
3. Hide those bra straps when wearing summer style
Bra straps will ruin your look, unless they are very fancy. If you are wearing a unique top, make sure that you have a bra that can be worn invisible underneath.
You can either buy a bra that can be worn in several ways or buy a bra clips. This can be used with almost every bra.
The Wacoal bra (below) for example would go well under racerback tops.
b.tempt’d by Wacoal Future Foundations Front Close Racerback Bra
Of course panty lines should be avoided too. I regularly wear panties from Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer.
You can see our recommended no-show underwear to avoid visible panty lines in this article.
4. Invest in a few good dresses
Nothing is as easy and glamorous and cool as a good summer dress. Ideally, you will have at least 5 dresses:
A high summer beach dress
This dress can be shorter than your other dresses and is easy to wash, doesn’t wrinkle too easily and is not too precious.
Choose a dress that will be perfect for the beach but can also be used as a tunic worn over pants for casual clothes.
The Eileen Fisher shirtdress (below) is linen which should keep you cool.
Eileen Fisher Mandarin Collar Cap Sleeve Organic Linen Shirtdress
When I go to the beach I prefer to cover up rather than expose all my upper skin to the sun. I could easily wear my tunic (below) with a pair of cropped pants, white jeans or leggings.
You can combine with either shorts or a long skirt if you like to cover up your legs as well.
A summer day dress
This dress should be the perfect dress for casual get-togethers during the day.
This could be a nice wrap dress in cotton jersey or a casual shift or shirt dress. Asymmetry will add interest to an otherwise simply day dress.
If you opt for a plain dress, you could wear a statement necklace to add interest.
COS Gathered-Sleeve Mini Shirt Dress
A work dress
A traditional shift dress that looks both professional and conservative and that can be easily combined with a jacket or cardigan. The zip on the sheath dress (below) adds interest. This dress could double up as an evening dress.
TAHARI ASL Side Zip Sheath Dress
A dress for the evening
A dress that is a bit more special than your day and work dress. Look out for luxurious fabrics like silk, or details like asymmetry.
The Chelsea28 dress (below) features an asymmetric hem, and could be dressed up for a summer event or dinner, or down with flat sandals and a denim jacket.
Chelsea28 Floral Print Asymmetric Faux Wrap Dress
A maxi dress
You may also want to add a maxi dress to your summer outfit choices. They can be a particularly good option for vacation time as they manage to be easy-to-wear yet glamorous at the same time. You can wear casually with a denim jacket, or dress up your maxi dress with a blazer.
Caslon Sleeveless Jersey Maxi Dress
5. Don’t be afraid of silk when choosing summer clothes
We have mentioned silk a few times already. Together with good quality cotton it is a great material for summer.
It’s cool, has a beautiful natural shine and it looks and feels sublime. If you can combine that with tip number 2, you have a true winner on your hands!
A common complaint is that silk is too precious for summer and that it requires too much care. However, you can usually wash your silk items by hand. Yes, it’s more work, but not as expensive as dry cleaning.
Although all silk items will always have the ‘dry cleaning’ advice for washing, it is not always necessary so long as you purchase silk of good quality. Of course, you will have to do this at your own risk. We will not take any responsibility if this does not work for you! (just sharing how we personally manage our silk items).
It’s true of course that silk is more expensive. But it’s worth investing in one special dress or top that will make you feel wonderful. When you look after your clothes well, they can last for many years.
A big plus of silk is that the fabric is also super light weight, so you’ll be able to pack more clothes for your holiday!
The Massimo Dutti silk shirt (below) would look stylish with your white jeans.
Massimo Dutti Habotai Silk Shirt
similar dresses here and here, jeans and booties
6. Summer outfit ideas: Cover up in smart ways
In summer you need to be even smarter with the types of clothes you choose when you want to cover up certain areas.
I personally don’t believe in using shapewear too much as it’s far too hot and uncomfortable.
Instead choose smart tops, skirts and dresses that drape in all the right areas to cover up any bulges. Asymmetric dresses and tops are usually very good at doing that.
Karen Kane Floral Handkerchief Hem Tank – Karen Kane V-Neck Layered Asymmetrical Tank – Stella Carakasi Island Hopper Top
For more style tips, read our articles on how to cover up your upper arms and how to hide your belly with the right clothes
7. Dress for your body type when choosing summer fashion
In this season in particular, it’s very important to dress for your body type.
Look at some of the guidelines in our articles on the pear, apple, inverted triangle, hourglass and rectangular shape.
Women with the apple body type for example look much better in tops that are fitted around the bust and wider around the tummy. The same counts for dresses. Here are also some tips on how to wear capris the right way.
Georgette @grownandcurvywoman flatters her curves by ensuring she shows off her waistline.
Get her look with this similar tank top, wide pants, sandals and crossbody bag.
8. Use accessories, shoes, color, pattern and graphics to make casual summer outfits more interesting
Accessorizing and playing with colors and patterns is the perfect way to make your summer outfit more interesting.
- Play with color blocking
- Add a belt in a print
- Add interest with a brightly colored scarf
- Use a scarf as a top
- Add color with a bag
- Use a statement necklace
- Get some colorful standout shoes
- When wearing flats make sure they are cute.
BaubleBar Kew Crystal Collar Necklace
Bocar Acrylic Statement Necklace
similar necklaces here and here
9. Have fun with sunglasses with your summer wear
Sunglasses are the perfect way to cover up your wrinkles and dark circles around the eye for a young and hip look.
Use them in abundance in summer, if only to protect your eyes of the sun and harmful rays and have fun with colors and shapes. A cats eye shape is always flattering for older women as it draws the eye upwards, defying gravity.
Polaroid 52mm Polarized Cat Eye Sunglasses
For more tips on wearing glasses read what glasses to buy after 40and how to pick the right frames.
10. Wear white in your summer outfits for women
White is your best friend in summer. It is the most versatile color to wear and whenever I don’t know what to wear I turn to it.
Combine with almost every color and pattern in your closet for a clean, modern look! Or wear all white.
Vince Band Collar Silk Blouse – Massimo Dutti Linen Double Darted Suit Trousers – Aimee Kestenberg Bali Double Entry Leather Hobo – Munro Mel Metallic T-Strap Sandal – Karine Sultan Fleur de Lis Pendant Necklace
For more tips check out how to wear white and how to wear white pants.
We’ve already covered some summer essentials above, but what else might you need? Let’s take a look at the summer essentials to make sure you have in your closet.
Every wardrobe needs a great t-shirt. And this t-shirt (below) from the Caslon brand is a little bit different thanks to the twist at the hem, but it will go with just as many outfits as a “plain” t-shirt would.
Caslon Asymmetric Twist T-Shirt
Carmen @carmen_gimeno above shows how you could wear an otherwise relatively plain outfit of a pair of jeans and t-shirt, and wear your kimono over the top.
Check out this similar tee, jeans, kimono, sandals, handbag, belt and sunglasses.
You’re also likely to want a dressier top in your summer closet. The silk blouse (below) is truly timeless and looks and feels luxurious.
A long tunic can be worn over your leggings or pants, or can be worn as a swimsuit cover-up on your vacation.
Massimo Dutti Line Maxi Oversize Shirt Blouse
Massimo Dutti Line Maxi Oversize Shirt Blouse – Miraclesuit Rock Solid Avra Underwire One-Piece Swimsuit – Munro Mel Metallic T-Strap Sandal – Tumi Tyler Crossbody Bag – Karine Sultan Imitation Pearl Drop Earrings – Nordstrom Colorblock Wide Brim Panama Hat
What could be more perfect for keeping the chill at bay on cooler evenings than a cozy cardigan? Ideal for nights at home, or for casual days, worn with white jeans. The Stella Carakasi cardigan (below) comes in a choice of colors and has a flattering draped shape.
Stella Carakasi Go To Cardigan
No matter where you live, you’re likely to need outerwear even if it is summer. This Open Edit blazer (below) is perfect for warmer months as it is made from breathable linen.
Open Edit Oversize Linen Blend Blazer
Susan @susan_unefemme above creates a summery look by adding sandals and a basket bag to her jeans and t-shirt outfit.
Steal her look with this similar tee, blazer, jeans, sandals, handbag and necklace.
Layering is often key to creating flattering looks. You can use layers to hide a belly, for example, or to look taller than you really are.
One way to layer in the summer without adding a lot of extra bulk is to opt for a sleeveless vest. You could either wear this Lock and Love vest (below) over your shorts and t-shirts. Sleeveless vests look best worn over other sleeveless tops or dresses, or with long sleeves underneath.
Lock and Love Sleeveless Draped Open Front Cardigan
A denim jacket is one of those closet staples that will always be on trend, particularly if you opt for a mid-blue in a classic shape, such as this jacket (below) from KUT from the Kloth.
KUT from the Kloth Helena Denim Jacket
KUT from the Kloth Helena Denim Jacket – Caslon Sleeveless Jersey Maxi Dress – Superga 2750 Cotu Classic Sneaker – Tumi Tyler Crossbody Bag – Karine Sultan Imitation Pearl Drop Earrings – Nordstrom Print Modal & Silk Scarf
Check out our list of the best women’s jackets for summer available in stores now.
Now onto the pants in this capsule! A pair of white pants or jeans is a summer classic that you can guarantee won’t date. The Massimo Dutti pants (below) will be on trend for seasons to come.
Massimo Dutti Linen Double Darted Suit Trousers
wide leg pants
A pair of wide leg pants are particularly on trend right now, and would look beautiful worn with your sandals, or dressed up for evening.
Caslon Wide Leg Pull-On Linen Blend Pants
Sharryn @thestylishwoman above shows how you can add interest to a neutral outfit with the textures you choose and your accessories.
Recreate her outfit with this similar top, pants, shoes, necklace, earrings and sunhat.
Neutrals are fabulous and tend to form the base of any capsule wardrobe so you can mix and match plenty of different ways.
But you could also think about adding a pop of color, such as red to your summer capsule.
Max Mara Elastic Waist Wide Leg Poplin Trousers
Summer is also the perfect season to wear a pair of print pants. You could keep your top neutral, and let your print pants be the star of your outfit.
Caslon Asymmetric Twist T-Shirt – Mango Floral Palazzo Pants – Rebecca Minkoff Megan Leather Tote – Nine West Kuna 9×9 Pointed Toe Pump – Karine Sultan Layered Pendant Necklace
A pair of leggings are perfect for casual days. Wear with longer tunics for the most flattering effect. The Stella Carakasi leggings (below) are a 40+ favorite.
Stella Carakasi Second Nature Capris
Depending on the weather where you are, or if you manage to head somewhere warmer this summer, you’re likely to want to add a pair of shorts to your summer closet.
This high waist pair of linen shorts (below) from Karen Kane is timeless and would look just as good at home or on vacation, with sandals or sneakers.
Karen Kane Pleated High Waist Linen Shorts
Carelia @carelia_medich above wears her jeans with a classic blue shirt.
Get her look with this similar shirt, shorts, pumps, handbag, sunhat and sunglasses.
Also take a look at the best women’s shorts that fitter and flatter women over 40 of any body shape.
A jumpsuit is a perfect item to add to your summer capsule as it’s a full outfit in one. This Mango belted jumpsuit (below) is ideal as you can wear it casually with sneakers and a denim jacket, pair with sandals for warmer days, or add heels and a clutch bag for more formal evenings.
We love asymmetry in any outfit, so we couldn’t resist including at least one asymmetrical option in this summer essentials capsule. This Mango skirt below could be worn for summer with sandals. But you could also pair it with a sweater, moto jacket and booties for fall.
One pair of shoes that every summer capsule absolutely needs is a great pair of sandals. If you choose a neutral or metallic pair, they will go with everything in your closet.
Munro Mel Metallic T-Strap Sandal
Vince Band Collar Silk Blouse – Karen Kane Pleated High Waist Linen Shorts – Munro Mel Metallic T-Strap Sandal – Tumi Tyler Crossbody Bag – Nordstrom Colorblock Wide Brim Panama Hat – Nordstrom Print Modal & Silk Scarf
See our top picks for the best sandals this summer.
A pair of classic pumps are a style staple for any closet. Swapping your sandals for pumps can quickly take your outfit from day to evening.
Nine West Kuna 9×9 Pointed Toe Pump
A pair of sneakers is another good shoe choice to keep in your summer capsule. Sneakers have never been so on trend, and you can wear them with everything from your jeans to your dresses.
Superga 2750 Cotu Classic Sneaker
No matter what you are doing this summer, you’ll need a bag to carry your day-to-day essentials in. This Rebecca Minkoff tote is totally timeless, and choosing a tote in a pale color will give your outfit a summery look.
Rebecca Minkoff Megan Leather Tote
Jas @thefashionstylefile above shows how you could choose a tote in a darker shade and keep a summer feel to your outfit by pairing it with sandals.
Recreate her outfit with this similar floral dress (another option here), sandals, tote, necklace and sunglasses.
If you’re looking for a travel bag, or just a day-to-day bag, this Tumi Tyler crossbody (below) is perfect.
Take a look at the best travel purses for your vacation or every day.
Of course, every capsule needs its finishing touches, and a statement necklace will give a contemporary look to your summer outfits.
Karine Sultan Layered Pendant Necklace
Open Edit Oversize Linen Blend Blazer – Caslon Asymmetric Twist T-Shirt – Caslon Wide Leg Pull-On Linen Blend Pants – Superga 2750 Cotu Classic Sneaker – Rebecca Minkoff Megan Leather Tote – Karine Sultan Layered Pendant Necklace
Do you tend to wear earrings everyday, or just for special occasions? Either way, these Karine Sultan drop earrings (below) will go with pretty much everything in your closet.
Karine Sultan Imitation Pearl Drop Earrings
what to wear in summer – a flattering swimsuit
If your summer will include time in the pool or at the beach, you will need a great swimsuit. The Miraclesuit one-piece (below) is a timeless classic.
Miraclesuit Rock Solid Avra Underwire One-Piece Swimsuit
Claudia @beafitmom.nl above wears a shirtdress over her high-waisted bikini.
Steal her look with this similar shirt, swimsuit (another option here) and cap.
You will find more swimsuit inspiration in our article on the most flattering swimsuits for women over 40.
A scarf looks just as stylish for summer as for the winter months. Simply choose a lightweight material and you can drape around your neck for a nonchalant look, or use as a wrap around your shoulders.
Nordstrom Print Modal & Silk Scarf
A summer hat is vital for protection from the sun, and can definitely add the “cool” factor to your outfits. So don’t forget to add a wide-brimmed hat when thinking about what to wear in summer.
Nordstrom Colorblock Wide Brim Panama Hat
Your summer Essentials capsule wardrobe
Below, you can see many of the summer essentials we have shown you, together in one capsule. You can mix and match the clothes to create different looks.
For example, you could wear the denim jacket or blazer over any of the outfits, you could wear the tunic over the white jeans, or you could dress up the jumpsuit with the heeled pumps.
shop the items above here:
What are you looking forward to wearing most this summer? What are your best tips for what to wear in summer?
- The Best Bathing Suits For Women Over 40 – Swim Suits That Make You Feel Fabulous!
- The Best Women’s Sandals For Summer 2023
- How To Choose A Summer Coat + The Best Women’s Jackets Available Online Right Now!
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Feature image by Jas @thefashionstylefile
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My friends and I are planning to book a staycation and we decided to bring old clothes, then mix and match them for new outfit ideas. I love how you twist up a dress that would be perfect for the beach under your bikinis and can also be used as a tunic worn over pants. Thanks for this article that I can also share with my friends for basic outfit trends. This is such a great read!
I find it very difficult in summer to know what to wear. Recently went on holiday and couldn’t fit into anything – I just seem to bloat around the tummy as soon as I get there. Had trouble getting swimwear on and even my bracelets wouldn’t go on my wrist. I only put on a pound in weight so don’t think it was eating too much. It’s very frustrating when you take and plan nice outfits and then can’t wear them. My tummy is quite big anyway but I’m not big elsewhere. I think no. 2 summer day dress is the only option but I would look pregnant! And what to wear in the evening?
We have had an extremely hot June in Germany and I have found my uniform of wide legged viscose trousers and a white top in linen or a very crisp T-shirt very useful. I put on a pure silk top one day- 38 degrees- and won’t ever again as it showed up all my sweat and I felt very embarrassed. Cotton sops it up better. I definitely don’t touch polyester in the summer. I don’t even want to wear much jewellery when it’s so hot and scarves were also too hot, so it is definitely harder dressing for work in very hot temperatures (no air conditioning where I work.) Thank you for all your tips. Very useful.
I’ve lived in Texas for over 30 years but spent the first 25 in the north US. I’ve learned A LOT about dressing for the heat and sun. It is brutal on the skin and my #1 tip is sunscreen, hats, sunglasses in that order. Don’t forget your driving arm! I stick to short skirts and dresses if I can find them to fit. I’m an (slight) apple and inverted triangle and only 5 feet tall. Much navigating to be done but still have very good (short) legs! so play up that part and it works with scarves and hats. Thanks for your images and ideas Sylvia. I look forward to seeing your posts.
I wear cotton tunics when it’s hot in the UK – no need to reveal too much, but they keep me cool.
Almost all of these tips are just so amazing to live up to summer season. Loved the thin layer idea….this one is absolutely I wold love to adhere to.
Thanks for sharing.
Sylvia, good solid tips. You’re one of the few bloggers who can think for herself. I will pin this even though your style is polished/tailored and my style is boho. I want to come back and read this again later. T
Great tips! I love lots of thin layers and I can’t imagine leaving the house without sunglasses.
Thanks for the inspiration. –Susan
I hope to remain one Sylvia………..
I find swimsuits frumpy on me but to be honest I don’t think anybody is looking at me so I don’t care as long as I feel good!
I am with you on the visible bra straps – ugh! – but haven’t seen that gadget. I can personally vouch for the M&S ‘shorts’ – the nude ones are the best to wear under white (NOT white, as it shows) and are perfect if you don’t like thongs. Some of them have a special strip around the waist and legs that keeps them in place on your butt too.
I was happy to hear about Sharon Stone’s knees, as she is the same age as me (as is Madonna!) but my shorts days are well and truly over! I DO wear capris (but not the leg flapping variety) and never with socks (LOL!). I always wear bikinis rather than swimsuits. A spray tan is relatively cheap and lasts for a week if you nurture it. It gives you confidence, especially if you have just arrived at your holiday destination and are glaringly white, and gives you chance to get some natural colour!
Great to hear that you are a bikini girl too Lorraine!
Hi Sylvia, thank you so much for all your wonderful information. Since I live in the opposite hemisphere (Australia), is there an archive area on your site so that i can read past posts about the opposite seasons?
Warm regards from Melbourne which was a wet and cold 14 degrees today
Hi Marie, I store all the articles particularly relating to the latest trends here https://40plusstyle.com/category/fashion-tips-for-women-over-40/
I LOVE the back of the lilac silk top at number 5! It is really interesting and unexpected.
Marie D. (Australia)
I really like these kind of tops which would be suitable for colder climates as well. You could use them for layering as they are simple in the front, yet have something special to wear when it gets hotter in summer!
Thanks for this Sylvia. Great tips! I really struggle with summer dressing and sometimes feel that I wear the same thing all year round but with fewer layers!! The UK summers have not been that great recently so I could get away with it but it would be nice to have some lovely outfits prepared for when we do get some warm weather. I love your use of white and am inspired to have a go at using more white especially trousers. I also like to wear dresses in the summer.
I feel for you Marie… I hear everyone in Europe complaining. You all really deserve some beautiful days! Definitely try white and you can never go wrong with a nice dress!
Great tips–especially on bra straps. That one drives me crazy as it’s so easy to address, either with the strap clip or one of the many different styles of bra with alternate strap profiles.
I also find outfit creation a bit more challenging in warmer weather when I can’t rely on layering as much. I’ll be on the lookout for more light layers. I’ve also found that lightweight scarves are a good accessory in summer.
I know. I find it quite important. It makes a difference of looking sloppy and polished…
Great post Sylvia. Many good suggestions on looking great while sweltering in the heat!
Hello Sylvia, the idea with the clip to hold the bra is great. So far I only knew to stick with the method I was never satisfied, because that does not keep well for me. Your silk outfits like very much, I love silk as well and try to take good care of the things – I wash all by hand. And hope there are no grease stains while eating. Greetings from Conny
Thanks for your feedback Conny! Great to have you here!
I’m really impressed. With so many readers you notice that I’m new. I’m pleased – thank you. You’re doing a great job here.
Great article, come at must the right time, as the sun is out. I live in a very cold climate, so find dressing for the sun very hard.
Thanks Annette. Happy that you found the article useful. Enjoy the sunshine!
I have a blog post planned for summer accesorizing and sunglasses and hats are a definite. Would like to say try playing with scarves on your hats for variety. I embraced hats in my early 20’s and attribute that and great skin care routine for my great skin now. All of these are great suggestions and things we can all do!
yes, I forgot about the hats but they are very important too. Certainly wear them whenever I go to the beach!