IF ANYONE HAS EARNED a front-row seat along the runway, it's Elsa Klensch. Known worldwide for her 20-year CNN program, Style, she is an opinion maker in the fashion world. This month Forge will publish her first novel, Live at 10:00, Dead at 10:15. TIME talked with Klensch about her tips for looking fabulous past 50.
Where did you study fashion? I learned it all at Women's Wear Daily. When I started out, Women's Wear used to constantly refer to something called SA. I thought, what's that? South Africa? South Australia? It's Seventh Avenue. I was so naive about the workings of the fashion industry, though I learned fast.
Why were designers originally reluctant to be on your show? Most of them were absolutely horrified. It was not a matter of anything personal. They used to get so nervous. They couldn't wait until I came and left. Then they could relax.
Are there absolute dressing rules for women over 50? One of the real don'ts is showing too much skin. Upper arms and thighs show age, so as you grow older, you have to wear less-bare clothes. That doesn't mean you can't wear lightweight, see-through clothes. A little mystery, a little disguise help a lot. But it depends on how well you take care of your body. It's a matter of looking after yourself--exercising, dieting.
What if a woman is wearing clothes that are too young for her? She's actually making herself look older. You have to dress for your age, dress for your body type. As you get older, you have to be less flamboyant. That doesn't mean you can't wear strong clothes or beautiful jewelry. But it does mean careful consideration.
Are really high heels O.K.? You look as though you're trying too hard. O.K., maybe for a party. But in day-to-day life, high heels are ridiculous. The world is too serious. We have too many problems. I've never gone up to a three-inch or four-inch heel. I've seen models flip on the runway and break their ankles.
What about décolletage for women over 50? I think it can go too far. I think if you wear interesting jewelry and get a little color--a little tan--or rub on some bronzing cream, that can make a world of difference. I think that's the way to go.
Should a woman over 50 wear a bathing suit in public? Absolutely. A one-piece bathing suit. Stay away from bikinis or a two-piece. I don't think one should be ashamed of one's age, but I think the secret of all good dressing is to highlight your good points and play down the bad points. Why not swim? I think it's ridiculous to limit yourself.
What fashion advice would you give the over-50 man? I like older men in classic clothes. I think they look more powerful. Men's classic clothing is best designed to hide overweight paunches. Shirts and pants or a sweater and jeans make men more distinguished than shorts and a T shirt.
How would you describe Sonya Iverson, your book's TV-producer heroine? She's 5 foot 6. She's got red curly hair, pale skin, a few freckles. She's very realistic, hard nosed, but she loves the glamour of New York. She loves her job.