[Editorial Note: I last wrote about this subject five years ago. Due to that post, on Friday I was contacted for advice by a young fashion designer who wants to specialize in fashion for elder women.
That gives me a good reason to repost the story with a few updates. Mostly, nothing has changed in five years.
One big change in women's clothing since 2008, is the disappearance of sleeves and I directly blame First Lady Michelle Obama. As soon as the media swooned over her toned, upper arms, clothing designers ditched sleeves.
So much so, I'm surprised they have left sleeves on winter coats.
Watch any television news program, especially on basic cable, and every one of the women anchors, pundits and reporters – you know, the ones who all have matching hairstyles - also show up sleeveless in every appearance. Summer or winter. Day or night.
There aren't many elder women who want to expose upper arms that tend to sag by age 50 or 60 but designers don't care about us and we have no choice. There are no other clothes.
'Tis the season now for bargains in summer clothes – a good time to buy for next year - but as I peruse the catalogues that pour in, I see more transparent blouses and even pants than much of anything that actually covers a human body.
The euphemism for transparent, by the way, is “gauze.” Perhaps there are so many left over because even younger women don’t want to be seen in public looking naked.
With few exceptions, even with such retailers as Coldwater Creek that supposedly cater to heftier bodies, there are fewer elastic waists on pants than in the past.
When I wrote this post in 2008, I said: “In my case, that means when a pair fits my hips, the waist can’t be closed since mine – and that of many other elder women - long ago expanded to equal the size of my hips.”
Now that I've lost a good deal of weight, the problem is reversed. Although my waist will never be as svelte as when I was 25, it's small enough that if the waistband fits comfortably, there is enough extra fabric through the hips for another pair of pants.
I think, perhaps, there needs to be another sizing mechanism to go with petite, misses and tall that we have for length. Something that measures hip-to-waist ratio.
In blouses and tops, they are enamored of so-called boat necks that lie about two inches below the back of one’s neck. There aren’t many women who don’t get a bit beefy in that area as we get older and it’s not something I want to show off.
And aside from turtlenecks, a large number of sweater styles meant for cold weather are designed with boat and v-necks. Do all designers live in warm climates and not realize we want something cozy around our necks?
Lately, I’ve been buying winter sweaters in the men’s department. The necks are located in the same place as human necks, they hang much more nicely than women’s sweaters and aren’t made with thin, clingy knits.
It is nearly impossible to find a suit that fits an older body. Designers just add fabric for larger sizes without considering differing proportions so that if a jacket fits at the shoulders, it is unlikely to button at the waist. A larger size results in shoulder seams halfway down one’s upper arms while the matching pants or skirt are then baggy.
Lack of thought in design applies to shirts too. Even with the recent weight loss, I like what are called “big shirts” to wear with pants, but those, too, are missing proportion in petite sizes (I’m just under 5’ 2”).
They are so long, I look like an eight-year-old wearing daddy’s shirt. The problem is easy to see (and should be to correct): clothes are originally proportioned for 5’ 8” and above models, and in sizing down for petites, short legs and short waists are ignored.
Another thing: why do the few dresses designed without waists all look like muu-muus of the 1950s – totally shapeless? There are numerous ways to cut and sew fabrics to give some style to dresses without waists, but no attempt is made to do this.
And don’t go telling me to shop in big-size stores or whatever the polite phrase is for fat-girl shops. Those clothes, too, are designed for younger bodies that although they are larger than clothes for skinny girls, are created for young, not old, proportions.
Our bodies begin to thicken about the time we start menopause (our forties for most of us) and although there were more than 52 million women in the U.S. 45 and older in the 2000 census (37 percent of the female population), and millions more now, we are the forgotten women in the rag trade.
One of the ways old people are maligned are with accusations that we lack a sense of style. Don't blame us. It's the fashion industry which has not given one second's thought to how our body shape differs from that of a 17-year-old.
Tomorrow morning, I will be Skyping with the young fashion designer who contacted me. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a whole lot of good information for her to consider from all the different sizes and shapes of elder women who read TGB. Add your comments and requests below.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Splish, Splash