During my many years of fashion retail experience, mainly at upscale sportswear brands, one of the most common pieces of feedback I received was the lack of choice for older women. Yoga tops and running shorts designed with the 21 year old in mind, but priced out of her reach, dominated the shelves, while more mature women (often the mothers of these 21 year olds) with successful careers and the spending power to match struggled to find clothing designed with their bodies and tastes in mind. The recent release of advertising campaigns and cult documentaries featuring older women would suggest that the fashion industry has finally begun to take notice of their more mature consumers – but is it just another trend, or are the ‘Bright Old Things’ here to stay?
1. Julia Twigg and Shinobu Majima (2014). ‘Consumption and the Constitution of Age: Expenditure Patterns on Clothing, Hair and Cosmetics Among Post-War “Baby Boomers”.’ Journal of Aging Studies 30, 23-32.
The article addresses debates around the changing nature of old age, using UK data on spending on dress and related aspects of appearance by older women to explore the potential role of consumption in the reconstitution of aged identities. Based on pseudo-cohort analysis of Family Expenditures Survey, it compares spending patterns on clothing, cosmetics and hairdressing, 1961–2011. It concludes that there is little evidence for the ‘baby boomers’ as a strategic or distinctive generation. There is evidence, however, for increased engagement by older women in aspects of appearance: shopping for clothes more frequently; more involved in the purchase of cosmetics; and women over 75 are now the most frequent attenders at hairdressers. The roots of these patterns, however, lie more in period than cohort effects, and in the role of producer-led developments such as mass cheap fashion and the development of anti-ageing products. – Full Article Abstract
See also: Julia Twigg (2013). Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life. London: Bloomsbury.
2. Robin Mellery-Pratt. ‘Bright Old Things and the Silver Spend.’ The Business of Fashion. 2 January 2015.
Robin Mellery-Pratt, fashion writer for The Business of Fashion, outlines the need for fashion businesses to successfully engage with their older customers to remain both financially competitive and culturally relevant. The British department store Selfridges’ decision to amend their 3 year tradition of featuring ‘Bright Young Things’ in favour of ‘Bright Old Things’ at the start of 2015 would suggest that some retailers are beginning to take their aging consumers seriously. Mellery-Pratt identifies other steps that fashion brands and retail outlets should take to attract and accommodate for ‘silver spenders,’ including lighting levels, product labelling, employing the right staff, and most importantly, engaging with mature consumers on an emotional level instead of neglecting them.
3. Vanessa Friedman. ‘Fashion’s Two-Faced Relationship with Age.’ The New York Times. 7 January 2015.
Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic for The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman discusses fashion’s recent obsession with older women. Citing recent advertising campaigns featuring famous mature women such as Joni Mitchell (Saint Laurent) and Joan Didion (Céline), Friedman identifies the discrepancy between brands ‘paying lip (and advertising) service to the importance of the mature market’ and actually designing with the older woman in mind. The article acknowledges the influence of Ari Seth Cohen’s blog and accompanying documentary Advanced Style and the British documentary Fabulous Fashionistas on the fashion industry, as well as the economic reality of the growing spending power of those over 50. Friedman summarizes the paradoxical relationship between fashion and aging well, stating that ‘on the one hand, fashion plays endless aesthetic homage to youth; on the other, it remains firmly in the thrall of and power, of the mature.’
Image Credit: Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent via Fashionista.com