After 48 years in the fashion industry, it’s safe to say I’ve probably seen it all. Thankfully, a lot of change has been not only for the betterment of the industry but the betterment of the customer – their experience with fashion is improving as we are becoming more adept at meeting their needs.
I remember women aged in their late 40’s and early 50’s, walking around in crepe de chine skirt suits as though a stranger had thrown a switch that suddenly discarded their youth and style, trading vitality for a knife-pleated polyester two-piece skirt suit. These weren’t ‘old’ ladies but they were dressing decades beyond their birthdays. The thought that my wife, a woman in her early 40’s, would or even could wear something so anachronistic today is hilarious (even without her strong aversion to polyester) but it was once commonplace. Today even a 70 year old wouldn’t be caught dead dressing like this. Not every design relic is worth preserving or, heaven forbid, resurrecting.
My fashion career began when I started my own agency in August 1982. I leased a small office on the floor below the ‘Stitches’ agent in the city of Adelaide. The volume in those days was mindboggling, even for a small ‘country town’ like Adelaide. Every morning the two lifts servicing the building would be taken over by fresh deliveries. Thousands of poly two-piece suits and dresses were being sold as fast as they arrived.
Styles have changed and so have customers.
The niche older customer is an endangered species (when was the last time you saw a blue rinse?) In place of consumers who consciously gave up on fashion when they hit 50 or 60 is the ageless customer. Women are dressing a decade younger (at least) than her ancestors of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Watch Mad Men and observe just how frumpy the ‘good old days’ were.
So who is this new ageless customer exactly? She is the 65 year old that wears exactly the same thing as a 30 year old, and she likes fashionable pieces in simple shapes. She appreciates and demands an easy fit; she tends to layer with cropped pieces and long line pieces underneath. And she knows what works as she’s got the advantage of personal trial and error.
My wife and I were at a wedding once and we were complimenting a woman of 65 or so on a beautiful Scanlan Theodore coat she was wearing (incidentally my wife’s favourite label). She left the wedding early as her coat had a date that night with her 25-year-old daughter who was borrowing it for the night. It was a perfect example of the fusion of ages and looks. Age is of lesser consequence today. Lifestyle is what directs the market. Intuitive buyers understand that fact best.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Oversized knitwear with textured pieces in luxe yarns. Tunic length works well to pair back with leggings. She might have a tummy and she might be busty and these need to be taken into consideration for designers. As a Creative Director at our knitwear label LD & Co said, if it looks good on her as a ‘large’, it will look good on most of her customers. Remember, they still want to look good because it makes them feel good. It’s all about shape – and it has to be easy on the body, whether she’s 30 or 50 or 70.
The shift is the basic shape that crosses all boundaries. Colours can change, so too the prints as well as the textures, but the actual garment doesn’t need to change radically. You can add an A-Line or vary it. Simple shapes work well. Let the colours and textures or prints do the talking. Done correctly it offers comfort and style.
Oversized peasant style with embroidery detail works well in summer and easy-fitting styles always work well. Fabrics must be breathable or natural. Linen blends, viscose, cotton and machine washable durable fabrics are still a consideration to lifestyle needs. Polyester in summer is difficult to sell; viscose is a much better alternative. Longer tunic styles again work well.
Pants tend to write serious units, providing you get the fit exact and it’s the right style. Elasticised drawstring waist, easy fit pants in soft fabrics work well. Think Tencel, Modal and Silk cotton or viscose blends. Silky look and feel fabrics, which add a luxe look and feel with drape. Super soft cottons work well in summer. The units I and a few other agents have written in pants over the years has been enormous. For some apparel companies this has been a very important part of their business.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we see is not enough sizing in ranges. The ageless customer should have sizes available to her that run from size 8 to 18. It’s also a great help to the manufacturer who will enjoy extra units in production when buyers buy across all sizes.
About the Author:
Robert Garland is the Director of Garland & Garland Fashion & co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion with Phoebes Garland, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising. Both are industry mentors to designers with Australian fashion industry body, Australian Fashion Chamber.
Garland & Garland Fashion is a respected leading boutique fashion sales & consulting agency based in Sydney and they are regularly sought for comment from various media and the fashion industry on business fashion topics, fashion and issues.
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