[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written anything this week about issues related to the upcoming election, please get a link to me today so I can include it in the Sunday Election Issues post.]
In a recent email exchange, Nancy B of eChronicles lamented how difficult it is to find clothing designed for elder women’s body shapes. As it happens, the same thing had been on my mind recently, although my mood about it tends toward more ire than lament.
‘Tis the season 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 this year 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 sellers such as Coldwater Creek that supposedly cater to heftier bodies, there are fewer elastic waists on pants than in the past. 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 our hips.
With the possible exception of the few Katharine Hepburn types of older women, everyone’s waist thickens with age. What are designers thinking? Certainly not about older women.
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 older 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. Aside from turtlenecks, a large number of sweater styles meant for cold weather are designed with boat necks too. (Also, too many collarless jackets are cut low at the back of the neck.)
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 in clingy fabrics.
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. Given my shape these days, 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 that clothes are originally proportioned for 5’ 8” and above models, and in sizing down for petites, short legs and short waists are ignored.
And 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 a few million more now, we are the forgotten women in the rag trade. One of the ways old people are maligned is our lack of style in dressing. 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 20-year-old.
If there are any fashion designers reading this who wouldn't scoff at making a fortune off us elders, give me a call. I know a whole lot more about what’s needed to reach our market and I’ll give it to you for free just to have something to wear that fits and is attractive.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek gives us his Reflections on a 64-Year-Old Photo.]