I am going to tread lightly here, because as someone nearing 30 (don’t tell anyone that!), age is a sensitive topic. But we really need to talk about age and fashion. For too long we have tiptoed around their oftentimes fraught relationship status. Are they talking? Do they like each other? It is really hard to gauge anymore. Once puberty hits and you start wearing real people clothes, the size on the tag stops correlating with age. But what about age and style - when does that stop? Obviously it doesn’t. Looking at our own parents (hi, Mom!) and the influencers in the space, advanced age doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped shopping or following trends.
How does one shop over 50?
Again, as someone who is relatively young (I’m going to keep reminding you), I don’t have quite the same perspective on advanced style or even the shopping habits of a consumer over the age of 50*. But to start out, I asked my mom who informed me, “I do shop online… I think once you get to older people, like in their 70s and 80s, they usually do not shop online.” Interesting, Mom. But is that true? Does this really encapsulate the shopping habits of someone over 50?
To begin with, about 28% of the population in the United States is over the age of 55. On the front end of this age demographic is the Baby Boomer generation, around ages 50 - 70 who make up around 75 million people in the US alone. While companies are looking to millennials as the key customer base to tap into, this younger generation did not surpass Baby Boomers in terms of size until 2016. With a trickle up effect in terms of technology adoption, this means that the sizable population over 50 will become more comfortable transitioning everyday tasks to digital - including their shopping habits. Just in 2016, this equated to over 14 million mobile purchases - and that number is guaranteed to grow.
What does one buy over the age of 50?
On the other end of tech adoption is the actual money to shop. With the amount of student loan debt us millennials have accrued, do we really have the disposable income to shop? Realistically, probably not. When accounting for the number of shoppers, purchasing power is also an important factor to consider - one that Baby Boomers tend to have more of. When I say that baby boomers have more money to shop, I mean it. According to US New, roughly 70% of the disposable income in the United States in 2015 was controlled by baby boomers. Yet when it comes to an actual business strategy, less than 15% of companies have actually accounted for the elderly according to the Boston Consulting Group.
When looking at the retail world, the gap in demographic and prices is even apparent. Amongst traditional millennial brands, 50% of the total assortment has an original price under $50. For brands that cater to baby boomers, only 20% of the assortment was priced under $50. Alternatively, while 7% of the baby boomer assortment has sold out in the past two weeks, 17% of the millennial assortment has left the shelves. Baby boomers and beyond may not be disrupting at the pace of millennials because it may be more of a “slow and steady wins the race mentality”. With goods sitting at higher price points, purchasing decisions are made more carefully and selectively - choosing clothing for longevity instead of disposability. Moreover, with a higher value placed on experience over possessions that, coincidentally enough, mirrors millennials, there is ample reason that this older consumer should be more closely tracked and appreciated.
What is inspirational over the age of 50?
So we get it, older generations still shop and they have the money to do so. But what exactly are they buying and wearing? According to my coworkers, the wardrobe of a woman above the age of 50 looks something like this: caftans, tunics, crochet, and stretchy pants with elastic waistbands. Considering I also wear some all of these items, I don’t think that this shows the full picture of advanced style.
But just like 20 is different than 30 (which I’m not, by the way), 50 is different than 60 and so on. So when “advanced” age is lumped into one big bucket - how is a shopper supposed to feel inspired? Well just like the millennial shopper has the influencer to guide her shopping decisions, the advanced market has their own fashion fairy godmothers. Take, for instance, Christie Brinkley posing for Sports Illustrated at 63 or Iris Apfel collaborating with Macy’s at 95.
Even influencers on Instagram are speaking to advanced style. At 53, former editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue Anna Dello Russo, amongst others, is showing fashion lovers of really any age that crochet and stretchy pants are a thing of the past. Whatsmore, with the reach of these influencers growing, audiences are being trained to not be surprised when they see someone at age 60 in a cooler outfit than their own.
So what about those caftans?
While retail should be moving forward with innovation based on the millennial customer, it is important to consider whether money is being left on the table by not speaking to older clientele with more purchasing power and the willingness to buy at a higher price point. We may be distracted by the disrupters of the millennial generation, but it’s really the baby boomers and older that have the wallets and the confident style to assert themselves on the fashion scene. So while fashion might not be ready to fully grow up, perhaps it is time for the market to get a bit wiser with age.
*Side note, 50 is an arbitrary number - because, what does age really mean ;)