Elder Fashion - An Oxymoron
Sunday, 18 March 2007
[Reposted from blogher.org] I am 5 feet 2 and for decades I weighed 110-115 pounds. My body (as opposed to me) has always wanted to weigh more and for forty years following puberty, I counted every forkful that went into my mouth to maintain my svelte figure.
Inevitably, the number on the bathroom scale would creep up (I like to cook and I’m good at it). The panic point was 125 at which time I redoubled my exercise efforts, filled the refrigerator with gallons of V8 juice and pared off the excess. It’s not fun to lose weight. I know; I’ve done it dozens of times. But it’s not hard either.
Well, it’s not hard until menopause after which, weight loss requires super-human effort. It is exhausting and, I suspect for many in addition to me, a (non)losing battle. So one day about ten years ago, I wondered what would happen if I stopped thinking about my body size and ate anything I wanted.
Anyone could have predicted it. Tubby would not be an unreasonable description of my new shape. My body settled there and although I ditched the bathroom scale when I stopped counting calories, I can tell from how clothes fit that I don’t gain or lose anymore.
And with that, I have arrived at the point of this post: elder fashion – the ultimate oxymoron and the forgotten woman.
Everything above size 12, even 10, comes with too many flounces, too much trim, an excess of pleats and an abundance of cheap, machine embroidery. Colors are indistinct, ranging in the vicinity of peachy pink and greenish blue, while fabrics lean toward oily-feeling polyester. And style? It is obvious that anyone who designs for elder women flunked out of FIT.
Even shops that cater to hefty women ignore those of us in the upper age groups. The grandmother of “plus sizes”, Lane Bryant, and the more modern shops too have way too many waistlines and belts - not a smart move now that my waistline matches my hips. The spring and summer tops now on display feature see-through fabrics which, although they follow the nude trend for youth in the past few years, are unseemly for a 65-year-old or, at least, this one.
Old standbys from my working days like Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomingdales, etc. carry some clothing for larger women. But they are upsized from styles originally designed in size 0 for those six-foot, emaciated models, and anyone who thinks fashion design knocked off from those to sizes 12 and above are workable doesn’t understand the principles of proportion.
It took a long while of studying it to figure out the problem of older women’s clothing which is this: designers believe older women who have put on weight natural for their ages are the same as younger “plus-size” women. We are not. Our bodies are shaped differently; the weight is distributed differently and what hangs well on a 30-year-old of the same height and weight as I am does not fit me.
No designers are creating clothes for women my age. There is nothing available for older bodies that is smart, stylish and fits well. I know now what would fit well and look good, but not how to create it; it’s not my line of work.
The baby boomers coming up behind my generation will add about 38 million women to the elder population who need more attractive clothing that fits our bodies. Any fashion designer who wants to make a few million, give me a call. You can have my research for free.
Ooh, how your words speak to me and my body. For a short while there I found clothes at Chico's that understood size and proportion of older, fashionable women. Not any more, I fear. And then there was a catalogue called Deva that I ordered from for awhile. But it surely does enrage me when I go window shopping (which I have all but given up!), because I just don't "fit in!" Gee, Ronni, that would be fun - making millions in fashion for the likes of us all. I would throw everything to the wind in a flash for that!
Posted by: tamarika | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 04:24 AM
I'm so glad you wrote this. I thought it was just me who feels this way. It's the same here in the UK. If I buy a pair of trousers to fit around the middle they are designed to cover a backside I don't possess (and hope I never will!) It's like wearing a pair of clown's trousers. If it's just as bad in the US, what hope for those of us in the UK? We get the see-through tops as well, through which one's aging nipples can clearly be seen (Yuk!). Straight from the same sweatshops in the Far East probably.
Posted by: Charis | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 06:38 AM
Sasson Kedem is an Israeli designer whose clothes look lovely on large women. He does export to the USA, but I don't know what shops carry his clothes.
Posted by: savtadotty | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 09:02 AM
Charis--You reminded me of two appalling sights: 1) The first was at a friend's retirement party a few years ago. His sister (60s or 70s?) attended wearing a sleeveless sweater that was of very large knit--with nothing on beneath it, it was all too obvious. 2) When our granddaughter's wedding pictures came out, the shear crystalline sleeves on my weskit-styled overblouse had been made transparent by the strong flash from the camera's flash attachment. How embarrassing to be caught with my flabby arms hanging out. Until I saw the photos, I had thought myself modestly dressed in my long, black skirt and double-breasted, tuxedo-collared mauve blouse over a black camisole. Too late smart!
Posted by: Cop Car | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 09:05 AM
Boomer expert Chuck Nyren sent me to your site, which we both greatly admire. I write Style Matters(http://wwwmarybloggingduffy.blogspot.com) which is currently a general fashion E-zine for real women and rated #10 blog on several services. We are about to spin off into 10-12 niche blogs, the 1st two being Style Matters Plus and STYLE MATTERS-BOOMERS.
At 61, I have been in NYC fashion for 40 years and started the 1st Plus Size Model Agency in 1977 and sold it, in '88, to Ford Models , with whom I still work. 3 fashion books and several clothing lines later, I am now in a one-of-a-kind M.A.program in the Maturing Boomer and what I call Silent/Boomer (born '40-'45) Women. My Goal is to do for aging women the same thing we did for large women in the 80's and 90's- give them a sense of entitled self-esteem in fashion and beauty. We are God's perfect creatures at all sizes, ages and stages, and I say, Go Forth and Make it Shine!
We, Boomer and older people, control 70% of the wealth in this country, but are represented in only 3-5% of ads! I will not buy products that feel they need only images ofanorexic teenagers. I am also tired of out-of -control, bad-mannered, self-indulged celebrities and want no products they pitch. Don't even get me started on the Fashion Collections. I study them and try to translate the FEW things that might translate to real women, but I really watch them because I am too old for Mad Magazine! This season's biggest trend, NAUTICAL, does not come from Couture, but from fabriation and color trend analysis- it was time for Red/White/Blue to do an encore and this time it was Nautical, not Americana. Black and White has been big in Ready to Wear for 2+ years (or forever, whichever comes first) and is suddenly DRIVING COUTURE. Fall '07 in NYC and Europe is very Black and White, with an occasional shot of color so you don't think you are at the funeral of creativity.
There is good news. NYC Ready To Wear, i.e. the rag trade, is waking up to clothiong for grown ups. QVC, HSN and Chicos get it. Retailers who do not get it will suffer failure to thrive. Even Teeny-Bop Maybelline has brought out age-positive cosmentics and mixed make-up and treatment. I say, "Don't buy products if they don't buy you." Female consumers drive the economy and if youthful,male-dominated, Advertising thinks 40 is 'mature' and over the hill, they will fail to serve their clients.
We are opening our Style Matters- Boomer and Style Matter-Plus soon, and I hope we can link with you- it would be an honor. I am so happy to read well written material in the service of the latest Forgotten Woman. Time for a WAKE-UP CALL!
Your Fan, Mary Duffy,NYC
Posted by: Mary Duffy | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 11:13 AM
P.S. I apologize for typos- I tried to correct, but it did not go throught. Now you know, I am a terrible typist and lost without a spell checker. NYC schools tried a progressive system of spelling in the early 50's and it flopped, so I am a writer who can neither type, nor spell, but neither could Fitzgerald or Capote, but they did not have computers, so I have no excuse! LOL! Mary
Posted by: Mary Duffy | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 11:20 AM
wow, what a heartfelt post. I'm just a male who never gains weight, but it's a pleasure reading words where the human is so in evidence. Thanks
Posted by: james | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 11:28 AM
Good subject. I have become aware of this problem my last few times shopping-- something I have always put off as long as possible. I wear a lot of jeans and cropped pants but the lycra tops which I wore for years aren't looking the same-- I don't think they changed; so it must be me. I'd like to find tops and dresses that drape, loose enough to be comfortable but don't look like a tent given I am more than amply endowed on top-- think ship in full sale if the fabric is stiff.
Yes, I'm 63, but I still like to wear things that are sensually pleasing, accent the female body, interesting colors (which may be changing with the gray hair increasing in promimence), and are age appropriate because there is no kidding oneself-- encroaching old age does change the body. I don't dress for anyone but me, but I like feeling good about what I wear and how it fits-- even when it's only out to feed the sheep.
Posted by: Rain | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 12:16 PM
I, too, found weight control a much simplier proposition until in my forties -- diet was no longer enough -- diet and exercise became a must. I haven't been very consistent about the latter, and my body shape certainly reflects that fact.
You don't have to be a small petite (I'm 5'6") older woman to have difficulty finding attractively designed clothes for such as myself at 71 -- has been so for many years. Forget Lane Bryant, but have had some success at Nordstroms though limited choices.
I surely agree with the observation about the problem with pants (my favorite attire.) If the waistband fits (a little extra on the hips,here,) the pantlegs are so baggy, too short or too long, as to look like a clown outfit many times. I've been sorely tempted to begin sewing again and just make my own, but have managed to find enough readymade outfits to get by. The answer now can be to find a seamstress who will fit the clothes, making necessary adjustments if the store where they're purchased doesn't offer that service.
Shopping for clothes is not the attraction, pleasure I once enjoyed -- is just a chore now. Not likely the fashion business will get any extra dollars from me because they have an outfit I just can't resist -- 'cause I can easily resist what they're offering. Let's hope what Mary describes comes to pass with style, but, PLEASE, don't forget those of us who are older than the boomers -- we lead active vibrant lives, too, and wear clothes.
Posted by: Joared | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 01:15 PM
So much bitter truth here as far as clothing for us plus size elders. Talbot's Woman is about the only place I can find anything decent looking and then I wait on their seasonal sales.
Posted by: Chancy | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 02:10 PM
Fortunately & at my age, I require little in the way of wardrobe. But I still lament today's fashions for any age. Tacky, tacky, tacky. Eileen Fisher clothes are lovely, but seem pricey. And yes, the body has indeed changed & will continue to change. Last week at the doctor's office I discovered that I've lost 1 & 1/2 inches in a year. Now that is sobering. Dee
Posted by: Dee | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 04:54 PM
Yeah, I liked Chicos for a long time, but now all they have is rayon crap from China. I hate rayon crap...
I'm finding clothes in all sorts of weird places lately. Just bought some jeans from Duluth Trading Company that are awesome! TRIPLE seamed inside and out, and they fit like jeans are supposed to - comfortably! I'm loving them.
I wore Land's End stuff for years until Sears bought and destroyed them. Lee's was a brand I loved until they started making everything in stretch fabric, which I hate. As for dress clothes, well, forget it. I've given up, really. Everything looks awful, is made terribly, and feels icky.
Oh well, maybe someday we will have stylish, comfortable clothes again.
Posted by: donna | Sunday, 18 March 2007 at 06:36 PM
At least our culture doesn't demand that we all wear shapeless black when we become an elder. Italian women seem to think that at a certain age (unknown to me) that they must spend the rest of their lives looking like a bunch of crows. Maybe that has changed since I was there last, but I feel sorry for them if it hasn't. I have some success with Coldwater Creek clothes, but not always. I usually buy on line and have trouble with fit. Sizes are not consistent and the legs of one pair of slacks may be too long while another (same size) are too short. While my body shape has certainly conformed to Ronni's description I know the length of my legs has stayed the same. Where do you find Chico's? I have never heard of that brand here in the West.
Posted by: Darlene | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 04:57 AM
Have at least some fun with clothes in defiance of the rag trade by only spending time and energy on things that you actually like and which work for you.
Event though they don't make anything for us except ridiculous, awful, cheap-looking junk, we can still edit and use our best judgment. We don't have to validate this treatment by wearing their worst ideas
1) Throw out all your belts. Our waistlines are not coming back.
2) Throw out everything pastel or with cartoon characters on it.
3) Move everything remaining you actually like and wear often to the front of the closet. Note what these garments have in common (shape, brand, etc) for when you get up the nerve to shop again.
4) See if you ever wear anything from the back in the next six months. If not, pitch those, too.
5) Don't buy anything without trying it on.
6) Be careful of sales. We tend to still hear our mother's voices telling us to be thrifty, but because decent clothes are so scarce anyway, they're unlikely to ever be on sale. It doesn't matter what a deal it is if you hate it once you've got it home.
Posted by: Paula | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 06:50 AM
I was 5'2" and 111-119 pounds for decades, until my late 40s. Then the pounds crept up well into my 50s until they stopped at about 135...unfortunately my height appears to have crept down about 1/4 inch.
Last fall, with a high school reunion fast approaching I had to find a store with decent clothes. The elastic waist blue jeans and sweatshirts I bought at church bazaars absolutely would not do.
Luckily a Coldwater Creek store had just opened in the next town and in only one visit I found a jacket, three tops and a pair of slacks that all intermingle nicely and are all washable.
"Did you notice that not only were the customers our age, but the people who waited on us were over 19?" asked my husband.
Maybe that has something to do with their success!
At the reunion it seemed as though I was the last person to find CC - even friends from out-of-state.
The three girls I tutor were so happy to finally see me dressed up that they got me a CC gift certificate for Christmas.
Posted by: SusanG | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 07:08 AM
Not only did my figure change, but my budget altered drastically. Since I am 5'9" and wear size eleven shoes, these two are also limiting factors in my attempts to stay fashionable at an age of over 65 in a size 18 to 20 body.
Here Nordies has the shoes, but only at the Rack are they within my budget. Macy's in Fashion Valley offers both Jones and Ralphie....which fit. My budget leads me to Ross Dress For Less in hopes of finding either designers pieces two years out of style and hopefully not too damaged. In the end, looking for really good pieces at thrift stores and resale shops keeps me partially in style and my chin up a la' Mrs. Gotrocks....as my mother used to say.
Posted by: Mage | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 07:11 AM
I have about 10-15 lbs. that crept up on me and stayed! And gravity has moved a few things around. I am so lucky that I inherited my dad's genes and count that as a blessing every day.
I can't afford much so Goodwill and my friend Paula's resale shop keeps me somewhat in style. Bill Blass makes jeans that aren't made to be a second skin & LAST & Macy's has pretty good sales on them now and again. He even makes them in "tall" sizes for my 5'10" inch frame. Great since my non-working style tends toward baggy sweaters and jeans. For work, I lean toward long, silk print skirts and tops appropriate to the season. What bothers me most is dress shoes -- how in the hell are we elders supposed to wear the shoes they're selling without breaking an ankle or worse? Finding nice, simple, LOW-heeled, comfortable pumps is impossible as is the avaiblility of decent casual shoes that don't have incredibly thick soles! I'm into comfort and if I can combine it with a modicum of style, hallelujah! If not, who really cares?
P.S.: For Spring they're showing some great-looking tunic tops that hide a multitude of sins and look comfy -- perfect for us gals of a certain age. Check 'em out -- I will be.
Posted by: Kay Dennison | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 08:10 AM
I loved this topic! I too shop at Coldwater Creek and have for over 10 years. Before my husband died he had great taste for woman's fashion and always keep me in style now that I am on my own I have also found QVC and am somewhat happy with what I have found there.
Being retired is easy to dress everyday but when a special affair is on the schedule it is clear that I panic too on what to wear.
I have a dear friend who gave me a piece of wisdom once telling me that "nobody looks at an old lady but another old lady" now that I'm that old lady I recall what she told me and smile........ I'm going to be checking out Mary's blog too.
Posted by: Lu Taylor | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 08:19 AM
Coldwater Creek, Talbots Woman, CJ Banks, Nordstrom and Dillards have sizes that fit me and my budget. I'm 5'3", 57 years old and a size 18. Jeans, and pants are my big issue. I would love to find some that aren't tight around the waist, but not baggy in the butt. And I wish I could find something comfortable for working from home in summer weather...a dress that is loose and flowy that doesn't look like a tent. This was a great topic. I got some good ideas from the comments, too.
Posted by: Travelinoma | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 10:32 AM
Hi,Iwear elastic waist stretch pants and matching jacket with acolorful tee shirt underneath.I buy all my clothes at Lands End.They have clothes for short people and they fit perfectly.Ihave to wear the same color top and bottom Itseems to make me look taller.At my age these are the most comfortable clothes to wear.Love,Vera
Posted by: Vera | Monday, 19 March 2007 at 05:12 PM