Why do we women lose interest in buying fashion just as we reach our peak earning power? It’s not fun, it is work, we have higher standards, more demands on our time, and we don’t want to sort through the “flotsam and jetsam.” We are too busy, says fashion writer Christina Binkley:
True and true and all true, but she isn’t talking about the real reason. Our bodies change during menopause just as they changed at puberty. It is nature’s way, but talking about it seems to be taboo. Women with means are not spending their money on fashion because the designers they like are designing for younger bodies. The fashion industry is out of touch with us and our needs, as demonstrated by the picture accompanying the video. The shoes don’t function for our busy lives, which involve everything from walking across the soccer field to watch our grandchildren playing, to running around the office, to helping an older parent, to shopping for groceries. Nor do they accommodate the bunions we have acquired wearing their past creations. We love shoes, but we want sensible shoes that are also stylish, but not ones that scream “I have given up,” what used to be referred to as “old lady shoes.” In short, we want it all, fashion and function. Frankly, we don’t want to settle for less.
Personally I think we should be proud of our bodies. I am. My little pouch is my badge of courage, four pregnancies, four labors, four births. I deserve a medal. Why can’t we talk about the changes in positive terms? We look like Indian goddesses now, not like waifs. We are deliciously soft and caressable–just ask our grandchildren, who love to snuggle with us because we’re so cuddly!
We have earned our stripes, too, even if they look like squiggly lines of blue in our legs or stretch marks on our tummies and thighs. As for our rolls, haven’t we merited them in all the roles we have fulfilled: worker, wife, mother, grandmother, caretaker, aunt, sister, in-law, friend, community member? Add yours to the list or pick from the choices. Those lines add texture to our bodies.
As for the gray hair, it gets me a seat in the subway at rush hour in Asia, and very occasionally here in America. It’s my purple heart for my wounds earned in service to my family. It is my reward for surviving many disappointments, many challenges, and learning something in the process. Besides I save a lot of time and money and avoid cancer risk from dyes. Money saved that I could spend on fashion.
Whether we choose to display our medals, or keep them hidden, fashion for those of us over 45 should complement our shapes. We aren’t buying because the fashion designers are not making fashions that flatter our aging figures. The fashion industry can’t even talk about our changes let alone enhance us. I, for one, am not frustrated that I no longer look like a teenager. Women over forty-five–and those of us in even later decades–have our own kind of beauty and radiance, reflecting our wealth of life experiences, some good, some challenging, all enriching. Our wrinkles, stretch marks, plump tummies are like annual rings in trees, marking all we’ve learned over the course of our lifetimes. We want well-designed, age-appropriate clothing to gain social acceptance and to progress professionally. Some want tailored outfits and some want trendy frocks. In either case, If fashion designers create for us “aging” women ( and who isn’t aging?) with disposable income, they had better design clothing both tailored and trendy that flatters our changed and ever-changing bodies.
The fashion world has now discovered our pocketbooks. “Older women have plenty of spending power. Women over 45 who are in the top 30% of U.S. household income spend $35 billion a year on apparel, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Surveys.” And average life expectancy is 85–that’s a good forty years of potential spending on fashion (Wall Street Journal). I suspect it helps that we are a growing demographic. Time is on our side. If we and designers can find the will to talk about our bodies without shame, without taboos, we will look glamorous again and they will be compensated for creating fashions that fit our needs inside and out.
Ruth Nemzoff is a Resident Scholar Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center and Ellen Offner is with Offner Consulting, LLC