How to monetize baby boomers' desire to remain hip is a marketer's conundrum and dream.
MIAMI — Baby boomer women might not want to wear their daughters’ jeans and men may refuse to don muscle shirts, but the generation that brought us tie-dye still wants to remain fashionable and hip well into middle age.
How to monetize that desire is both a marketer’s conundrum and dream.
“Even with mature figures, boomers want to have fashionable options,” says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for The Doneger Group, an industry consultant. “That doesn’t stop just because you hit a certain age.”
Problem is, designers and retailers often don’t know to reach a demographic that is varied, numerous and affluent. Accustomed to chasing after youth, the industry has often missed opportunities to attract the 81 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964. Boomers complain that the models companies use tend to be too young and too thin, the clothes too frumpy or too trendy and the marketing campaigns too condescending.
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“When I go looking for a dress, it can be a nightmare,” says Ivy Gonzalez, 51, a legal assistant from Miramar, Fla. “They’re all in the same size — small. They’re not realistic. They’re geared to the really young or the really old.”
Friend Lisel Mansen, 47, an administrator in the same Miami law office, agrees. “I’d like to see more range of sizes in the classic styles I like. I don’t want them to start at size zero and end at 12.”
Browse the racks in stores, flip through catalogs — you’ll understand what proves so frustrating for Gonzalez and Mansen. Clothing retailers tend to pitch their wares to the 18-to-35-year-olds, the ones who chase the latest fad, who wear the hottest trend.
But by the time women reach midlife, they know that they will never look like the 20-year-old, size 2 model. And men understand that the 28-i nch waist is a thing of the past. They want something that covers up a little more, that fits a little better, that hides the inevitable mark of aging — but is also modern.
“What the industry needs to do is be a bit more realistic,” says Brent Bouchez, co-founder of Agency Five-O, a New York-based marketing firm that specializes in the 50-and-over set. “And it’s not just fashion. Come on, there are models who are 30 talking about anti-wrinkle cream.”
But ignoring this aging but vital demographic means missing a profitable segment of the market. Bouchez says Americans over 50 hold 75 percent of the wealth in the U.S. Their purchasing power: $2.5 trillion annually. In comparison, the coveted under-35 demographic purchasing power is $1 trillion less.
Baby boomers shop and they shop a lot — for themselves and for others. In a study of annual sales through August, NPD Group, a consumer market research group, reported that annual apparel purchases by younger boomer women, those 45 to 54 years old, topped $25 billion. Their male counterparts spent $8.5 billion. In the 55-to-64 age group, women purchased $22 billion worth of apparel, men $6.8 billion. Added up, that’s a sizable chunk of the total $200 billion apparel market — and a bigger chunk than the one claimed by the younger set. Women in the 18-34 years of age demographic, for instance, spent $35.7 billion on apparel and men in the same age group spent $17.8 billion.
Many predict that market will only grow. Boomers are used to spending on themselves, and, unlike their parents, they have a lot more choices about where to buy the perfect blouse or the just-right trousers.
“Past generations didn’t have the choices we have now,” Morrison, of The Doneger Group, says. “We have so many more stores, so many more designers. Before, if you wanted fashion, it was extremely expensive.”
Boomers are not afraid to venture online, either. Gonzalez, the legal assistant, frequently surfs the web for good deals. It saves her time and hassle when she looks for her favorites — Anne Klein suits, Coach purses, Jessica Simpson shoes.
When boomers shop online, they tend to be brand loyal, notes Alexi Smith, associate creative director with SapientNitro, a global marketing and technology consultant. “They know a particular item fits well and it lasts long and they stick with it,” she says. “They trust the brand.”
Industry watchers say some labels and retailers have already recognized boomers’ potential — Eileen Fisher, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Chico’s, St. John Knits, Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne, to name a few. And among the 100 or so designers showing their collections for spring/summer 2012 at New York Fashion Week, more displayed evening dresses with sleeves — a nod toward middle-age women who may prefer not to bare their arms.
In addition, general retailers, from upscale Nordstrom to the budget-conscious Target, are trying to offer more selection for boomers, says Francesca Russo, a Miami attorney who comments on fashion in her blog, The Fashionable Litigator. She thinks Michael Kors is a good example of a company that has widened its focus.
“Boomers are more into quality than quantity,” adds Russo, 45, whose sister-in-law and brother-in-law are clothing and shoe designers. “They look for elegance and style, and retailers in all categories are catching on because this is a group that has discretionary income.”
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FASHION FOR THE BABY BOOM GENERATION
Buy high-quality clothes that fit right. It’s better to have a few excellent pieces than lots of the wrong kind.
Pick pieces that skim the body. Tight is out and big tops or baggy pants simply make wearers look larger. A tailored cut tends to look better on mature bodies.
Aim to achieve a classic, ageless style. That means owning pieces that you will wear 10 years from now. It’s better to look good than to look young.
Mix and match. To add flair, top off, say, your classic suit with accessories that pop — a touch of bright color, a chunky necklace, an oversized watch.
If you’re not sure what ‘classic’ means, check out the J.Crew and Ralph Lauren lines.
Keep physically fit. If you look younger, you can get away with wearing a bit more flash or a little less coverage.
Think outside the box. You may be 60, but you don’t have to dress the way your mother did at that age.
Try neutral tones for your basic pieces, like suits. You’ll get more use of it. Then add a splash of color with a shirt.
Remember: you’re not 25 anymore. Ditch the leather mini skirt. If you want to wear something short, leggings are your best friend.
Sources: Francesca Russo, Sherrie Mathieson