BoomerConsumer

Forbes.com

Style
Age-Appropriate Looks For Boomers
Jeanine Poggi, 10.24.08, 4:00 PM ET

From the moment she walked on the stage at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Sarah Palin wowed the crowd not just with her fashion sense. There was a buzz about the vice presidential nominee being so stylish for her age, her job and her self-proclaimed hockey-mom status. Sure, the party shelled out $150,000 on new clothes for her and her family, but in a way she’s shown that it’s possible to keep up with the season’s style trends without looking like a teenager.

There are a few simple rules to follow: Older shoppers should avoid skinny jeans, big plastic jewelry and graphic tees, for example. But there are plenty of ways to wear ruffles, vests, tights and other trends and still look your age.

In Depth: Age-Appropriate Looks For Boomers

“Everyone wants to feel sexy, no matter their age,” says Joe Lupo, owner of Visual Therapy, a luxury lifestyle consulting firm. “It’s not over when you reach 50. You have to constantly stage your comeback.”

Boomers have a tough task in finding age-appropriate clothing that doesn’t make them look like their parents–or their kids. According to a survey conducted by Mintel, a market intelligence firm, more than half of the baby boomer respondents said there is a serious dearth of retailers carrying appealing merchandise, and one-third said stores catering to their demographic have unstylish clothing.

Color and Cut Coordination
There’s no need to shy away from this season’s bold colors, Lupo says. While they may get tricky for the older customer, electric blues and reds can add a pop of color in a solid or neutral foundation, like charcoal gray. Use these colors sparingly, however, such as in bags, heels or belts.

When it comes to purple, another hot shade for fall, avoid bright tones; instead, opt for eggplant.

High-waisted and wide-leg jeans are good news for mature women; but be careful when wearing high-waisted pants to avoid the dreaded “mom jean” look, advises Jayne Mountford, vice president of trend reporting at Stylesight, a trend forecasting firm. “Jeans should fall just below the natural waistline,” she says.

Men should steer clear of skinny jeans and stick to straight-leg. And they don’t need to break the bank when it comes to denim. “A $60 pair of Levi’s do the trick,” says Michael Fisher, menswear editor at Stylesight.

Stick With Subtlety

For jeans, darker washes with no embellishments, holes or bright stitching are the most flattering for both men and women.

Outerwear has become a statement piece for both sexes. If you are going with an asymmetrical, oversized jacket, start with a skinny foundation underneath, Lupo advises. For men, bomber jackets, like a cashmere one from Loro Piana, are classic staples that can be worn at any age.

While you may be hesitant to slip on a dress, there are options that manage to be sexy without being overly suggestive or age-inappropriate. Semi-sheer floor-length dresses from Vera Wang or Rodarte are great options, or try a belted, knee-skimming sheath dress from Michael Kors.

“Being overly obvious is not sexy,” Lupo says. “Clothes should skim the body; [the body should] not be sausaged in.”

Do Your Legwork

Tights and leggings are not just for the super-skinny teen. Paired with a long cardigan and knee-high boots, they can be an attractive alternative for an older woman. If you are feeling daring (and have toned legs) go for bold-colored tights. Those looking for a more slimming effect should stick to darker tones like burgundy, navy or traditional black opaque.

Either way, finish the look with a pair of knee-high boots (Sarah Palin seems to opt for Cole Haan on the campaign trail these days). While these shoes may appear intimidating, flat versions, like a crocodile pair by Ralph Rucci, are easy to wear, unique and yet don’t stand out aggressively.

Where do you shop for age-appropriate clothing? Share your shopping experiences in the Reader Comments section below.

“These shoes are revealing and concealing at the same time,” Mountford says. “Many women are self-conscious about their legs. This is a great way to be sexy without showing too much.”

For those who want to wear more toned-down apparel, accessories are a great way to make a statement without going overboard or even overhauling your wardrobe, Mountford says. Add chunky accessories like cuffs, a cocktail ring or layers of necklaces to a solid foundation. But, of course, stop short of bling.

“It really all comes down to attitude and level of confidence,” Mountford says. “If you look in the mirror and don’t feel comfortable, take it off. But anyone who likes to dabble in fashion should be given free reign, no matter their age.”

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Marketers Are Ignoring Us: How Stupid is That?!

It is quite unfortunate for their bottom line, but most businesses, large and small, are still marketing to last century’s 18-49 crowd, and as a result are putting themselves quite behind the proverbial 8 ball by virtually ignoring the largest, most educated group with the greatest levels of disposable income…Boomers.

Here’s just a few stats to back-up my claim:

  • 45% of the consumer market is ages 40-70 (Boomers were born between 1946 & 1964) – That is larger than all the other individual market cohorts combined
  • Boomers spend a whopping $2.3 trillion annually on goods & services…That’s $400 billion more than any other age cohort
  • By 2010, Boomers will control about 65% of the available disposable income
On the flip side of this “purchase power” coin:
  • Younger generations go through a “spending vortex” in their first 10-15 career years, meaning they either don’t have as much to spend, or spend it extremely cautiously (as they spend all they have on their first home, for instance)
  • Shrinking sales for retail giants like GAP that are geared to 20 & 30 something buyers, prove that the younger groups are not adding up at the cash register
  • Auto industry studies show that consumers will buy 13 cars over a lifetime…only 6 of those are purchased before age 50

Interestingly, this coveted 18-49 marketing cohort was determined in the 1970’s for the folks who at the time had the most buying power.  And that was…Boomers!  In other words, the cohort hasn’t changed….just the age has.

Yet we Boomers are still seeing most advertisements (other than for intestinal gas and osteoporosis…we’re flattered…really…), marketing campaigns, and most other media-related activities, in the throws of a love-affair with folks under the age of 40, when, guess what, all those generations put together don’t have half the influence and purchasing power we do.

Now, in some cases, that’s just fine, because very honestly, we will most likely not be interested in those “drink ’til you puke” sweet liquors, or at this point a majority of Boomer women will have no further use for Tampons (yea!), anyway.

But, many of those quality of life promotions that would be of interest to us, tend to be a tad pandering, like the Boomer man attracting young babes on the beach because now he’s using Touch of Gray (see my somber review of that commercial on my radio show blog: (http://boomernation.wordpress.com), or did I mention are only those items related to flatulence and medical afflictions?

Ipod is quite wrong to assume that Boomers aren’t using their product, so air commercials with no one over the age of 22 in them.  Honda recently rolled out their marketing campaign geared to kids under the age of 30, to find out after the fact that over 50% of their market was actually folks over the age of 50…ooooops!

So, why is it that we’re being clearly ignored, with marketing strategies reminiscent of our parents’ era (when folks really did stop using all kinds of “new fangled” things at a certain age and really did care mostly about heartburn and dentures…), rather than ones that are smartly following the money?

A primary reason is that most of those in charge of such decision making are…kids.  The vast majority are under the age of 35 (after all, Madison Avenue just like Hollywood has always considered 30 to be the cut-off point for a human’s usefulness, 40 tops, after which someone might as well replace the name on their resume with “old as dirt”); all of whom honestly believe that all we Boomers do is fart and run to the doctor.

Sound familiar?  We were just like that at their age.  The difference is, we have completely redefined aging.  And kids don’t want to hear it, because we’re kind of overflowing into what has traditionally been their turf.  Boomers not welcome.  The refreshing and very welcome exception to this is Dove, and I buy their products as my way of saying “you go, you Boomer-friendly company, you!”

So, Apple, Honda, and all the other behind-the-real-times companies, get your corporate heads out of your 1970’s asses, hire yourselves some true pros to run your campaigns rather than children who have barely figured out how to vote let alone know the market, and retool your entire approach, making it attractive to the folks with the real money to spend.

Or don’t, and keep wondering why you’re working so hard, for so little return.  We’ll just be taking our formidable buying power elsewhere.

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