Older Women a ‘Missed Opportunity’

The apparel industry is missing a major market by not targeting baby boomers, according to More magazine, which recently sponsored an American Apparel & Footwear Association business conference titled “50 Is the New 35.”

The median net worth of a consumer over 50 is $112,000—compared with the $7,240 median net worth of the typical target of most fashion companies, consumers under 35. Some 39 percent of the total money spent on apparel was spent by women ages 41 to 59—yet females ages 11 to 30 have five times as many buying options, according to Michael Gratz, research director of AARP publications

Today’s older consumers live their lives by lifestyle rather than by age—a shift in mindset and spending habits from previous generations. Forget any preconceived notions about brand loyalty: Adults over 50 not only are likely to switch brands but also have the financial means to do so. Only 4 percent of customers over 50 remain loyal to fashion and accessory brands, he said.

These customers are comfortable navigating different shopping channels, says Margie Myers, vice president of Talbots—whose company offers a variety of shopping options, including mall-based and nonmall stores, catalogs, and the Internet.

“We don’t care which channel the customer shops, as long as she shops with us,” Myers says. The company has also expanded its offerings in recent years, adding petites, plus sizes, and a more high-fashion collection for women who aren’t quite as classic as the typical Talbots customer. The firm also now has a children’s wear division and a menswear division.

Older women are also far less celebrity- obsessed than other groups. Paul Robb, chief executive officer of the Lifestyle Fashion Group division of Kellwood Co., said only 6 percent of older women say celebrities influence their clothing purchases (see chart).

More publisher Peggy Northrup says women this age are moving toward filling their lives with meaningful—rather than dutiful—activities and have “to-do” lists in their minds. Whether that list includes starting a new career or looking up an old sweetheart, they’re not afraid to go for it. And 90 percent say they look and feel younger than their biological age, she says.

“Women get a whole new vocabulary over 40: liberation, passion, renaissance,” she says. “For women, midlife isn’t a crisis; it’s about mastery. They’re not trying to regain their lost youth; they’re trying to be their best selves now.”

All the women surveyed wanted more apparel choices. In addition, More found that 67 percent said they’re more likely to purchase a product if it’s shown on a model closer to their own age; 90 percent said, “Don’t give me what I have, give me what I want”; and 100 percent said brands need to offer features to make their lives easier.

Biggest Influences on Clothing Purchases for Baby Boom Women

In-store display 76%
Magazines 41%
People on the street 34%
Friends 32%
Family 15%
TV/Movies 12%
Internet 9%
Celebrities 6%
Sales associates 5%
None of the above 5%