You’re Not Alone

Do you feel like you’ve been pigeonholed by fashion designers as one of the polyester brigade? Sidelined to a dusty corner of the fashion floor marked ‘elasticated waists this way’? Then you’re not alone.

Fifty plus women are ignored and misrepresented – testing the theory

A couple of years ago I examined how well UK fashion retailers related to women aged 50 and above for a postgraduate marketing dissertation.  I did this because I felt that my 50+ friends were either ignored or misrepresented by marketers.

The overwhelming majority of 50 plus women I knew and had worked alongside were lively, intelligent, feisty, funny, creative, hard working and style conscious. They weren’t frail, stupid or bonkers, and if you had tried to fob them off with a cheap ballpoint pen in return for their business they would have told you exactly where to stick it!

Because I had to narrow my research down to a specific product category, I opted to look at fashion brands that targeted women aged 50+. This was because there was a fashion retailer that I felt was getting their marketing strategy spectacularly wrong whilst another I believed was on the right tracks. My research was designed to test this theory.

I loved every minute of my research. It was fascinating and I had the great pleasure of interviewing a small number of ladies ranging in age between 56 and 73. The way my ladies felt about shopping for clothes mirrored the behaviours and feelings expressed by women of the same age in numerous research studies.

Here’s a list of the key things I discovered and found particularly interesting:

There’s a big difference between a woman’s biological age and the age she feels

September women have two ages: their biological age and the age they really feel. This is something that not all fashion retailers have quite latched onto yet. I asked the ladies I interviewed to share with me their real age and the age they actually felt. The average age gap between their actual age and the age they felt was 19 years! I actually had one lady who was in her late 60s whosaid she still felt like she was in her 30s or as she put it “…you might be older but you’re not dead yet!”.

 

The devil is in the detail not the brand

My research suggested that women in this age range were discerning, rational and brand resistant shoppers. Certainly the ladies I interviewed were no different. They didn’t mind paying a bit more for a good quality garment as long as they knew it was going to last and would work alongside the other things they had in their wardrobe. For them it was all about the final outfit, not the brand.

 

Good service is just as important as product quality

Woe betide any retailer that fails to provide excellent customer service to ladies in this age bracket. If you’re a retailer keen to tempt a 50 plus female consumer through your fashionable doors (be they actual or virtual) then not only do you need to be offering a good quality product, they expect great customer service as well.

 

It’s good to be different without being mutton dressed as lamb

The fifty plus ladies I spoke to during my research were scathing about their peers who – as they put it – looked like mutton dressed as lamb. They all recognised that they were getting older and physically they had changed. This impacted on them psychologically as well as physically. They still wanted to stand out from the crowd and be recognised for having their own individual sense of style, but the last thing they wanted was to turn heads for all the wrong reasons. Yet they were frustrated that the clothes available for them to choose from very often fell into two categories: too young and revealing or too dowdy and frumpy. They struggled to find a happy medium.

 

Don’t ignore the fashion pioneers!

We’ve grown up with Twiggy.” This statement was made by a 71 year old lady that really hit home. She’s right of course.

 

Women who are now in their 70s were young adults in the 1960s/70s, a time when British fashion boomed and became highly influential. After an era of austerity and clothing rations, British women embraced the opportunity to experiment with different looks and styles, striving to stay on trend within their means and changing body shape.

 

That mind-set has stayed with them but they felt the current generation of fashion designers and retailers just didn’t get this.

 

I proved my theory and won an award!

Remember I said I had identified a 50+ fashion retailer that I felt was getting their marketing strategy completely wrong? Well the ladies I interviewed felt the same way. They also responded positively to the brand that I suspected was getting their marketing for this age range right.  Then to my delight and surprise I won an industry award for being that year’s best masters student which was the icing on the cake.

Sadly, my theory that ladies aged 50+ felt misunderstood and misrepresented by the fashion industry also came through very strongly in their interviews and my preliminary research. My research participants felt ignored and stereotyped as grey haired, doddery old ladies. But there was one statement made by a lady in her 60s which was very sad. She said that she felt her generation had been cast in a mould of darkness – a comment borne out of her observation that clothing for her age range tended to be colourless and non-descript.

 

Things are beginning to change for the better but it’s taking too long

Given that my research echoed the findings of research studies conducted in the 1980s, it’s both sad and frustrating that very little seems to have changed. Women aged over 50 feel they are marginalised by a youth dominated industry that simply doesn’t understand them either psychologically or physically. They have complex self-images: wanting to be both fashionable and individual without looking out of place.  They scoff at images of young models posing in clothes that they associate with their grandmother’s generation and including a token grey haired model in adverts didn’t go down well with them either.

Women aged 50 plus are aspirational, full of fun and life. They have rich professional and social lives and want to buy a variety of fashionable clothes to mix and match for all occasions. Given that my research participants reacted very positively to a couple of the brands I showed them, there is a glimmer of hope that fashion designers and retailers are slowly but surely beginning to wake up to a generation of women who feel years younger than their birth certificates would have you believe.

Do you have a comment on this post? Do you want to see more like this? Let me know!

Madeleine Melling

Madeleine Melling

Madeleine Melling juggles working full-time with running her own freelance copywriting and marketing consultancy business Ascribe Creative. She started the business in her mid 40s after redundancy prompted her to reassess her professional life, re-train and change career.

For more information contact Madeleine on info@ascribecreative.co.uk

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