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ATLANTA — Perhaps more than any other age group, Baby Boomers know what they want.
Personal style is hugely important to women ages 40 to 60 years old. They don’t feel old and adamantly refuse to look matronly, dowdy or any other negative style point formerly associated with middle age. In fact, most would rather be accused of dressing too young than too old.
Boomers see the apparel they wear as an important form of individual expression, as opposed to staying on top of trends.
They are rarely brand-loyal, but they will stick with stores that offer fit, quality, convenience and service, according to more than a dozen Boomers interviewed by WWD in the Atlanta area. If the experience is positive, shopping can be a major self-esteem booster.
When asked in the first and second quarters how much they’d spent on apparel in the past month, women ages 37 to 57 told the Cotton Inc. Lifestyle Monitor that they expended $80.17 on average “in the past month,” or 9 percent less than the $88.28 spent by females ages 13 to 36 and 58 to 70.
Here, Boomers speak out — putting concepts of middle age through an extreme makeover.
Debra Davenport, 50
I.T. Project Manager, Bellsouth
FAVORITE STORE: Chico’s
FAVORITE BRAND: Chico’s
“I shop because it makes me feel good, and what I buy reflects on my self-esteem. I don’t read fashion magazines, and I don’t care what’s in style. I’m not concerned with ‘looking my age’ — I’d wear low-rise jeans and a belly-button ring if it looked good on me. That’s the key — what looks good on me.
“The Saturday before my 50th birthday, I spent $1,300 at Chico’s on clothing, belts, accessories. I like the positive experience of shopping at Chico’s, and I like the comfort, easy-care fabrics and style. Sometimes I think Chico’s fit is too dowdy, and I wish they offered more tailored clothing, but still, I’m really into it.
“I used to wear Jones New York and Liz Claiborne, but they’re so boring. The workplace is more casual now, and more things are acceptable.
“I spend around $400 a month on clothes, and if there were more stores like Chico’s, I would shop and spend more.”
Patty Stafford, 45
Advertising Sales Manager, Golf Digest magazine
FAVORITE STORES: Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s
FAVORITE BRANDS: Tahari, Lafayette 148, Ellen Tracy, Barry Bricken, Bill Burns, Dana Buchman
“Last year, I spent $11,000 on clothes. I was motivated because I lost weight — and two sizes — through Weight Watchers and exercise, and I could wear things, like white trousers, that I wouldn’t have worn before. This year, I’m spending less, around $3,000, which is typical. About 65 percent [of it] goes to work clothes, things that travel [no linen], and 35 percent on casual clothing and golf apparel.
“My last purchases were white Ellen Tracy trousers marked down from $248 to $58; a white tank, $98, marked down from $160, and three Eileen Fisher shell tanks, $20, marked down from $40, at Bloomingdale’s.
“I would spend more if there was more variety, but selection is limited. Around 90 percent of the time I end up buying similar things to what I already have. I don’t think the market addresses my age customer. I don’t feel middle-aged, and don’t want to look it. But I don’t want things that are too short, tight or bare either, and I like tailored clothing.
“Shopping, four or five times a year, eases stress. I use a personal shopper at Nordstrom who will pull 50 pieces for me, and I spend three to four hours there. I look through Vogue and fashion ads in Vanity Fair, but I don’t follow or care about what celebrities wear. I’m more influenced by what friends wear.
“With my earning years decreasing, I’m allocating more money to investments for retirement. My 11-year-old son has been in private schools since kindergarten — a $17,000 annual investment, after taxes. But I still love to shop.”
Susan Shipsky, 47
Executive Producer, Primal Screen
FAVORITE STORES: Mitzi & Romano, Mooncake (Atlanta boutiques), Parisian
FAVORITE BRANDS: Von Dutch jeans, INC
“I’m spending more on clothing now. I have a teenage daughter and we shop boutiques together, so I’m seeing more out there and finding more things I like. I spend around $450 a month on clothing, mostly when I need to refresh my wardrobe. Price isn’t that important, and if I love something, I’ll buy it. Most of my money goes to clothes for work, but I love casual, comfortable clothing. Whoever invented the drawstring pant should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I never read Vogue or In Style, but I do read O [the Oprah] magazine, mostly for articles about ‘feeding the soul,’ and I see clothing spreads and ads there. My spending priorities are family, travel, spa vacations with girlfriends and exercise — things that make me feel good about myself and life.
Joan Herskovits, 52
Retired Flight Attendant
FAVORITE STORES: Potpourri, Nordstrom, Parisian
FAVORITE BRANDS: Lafayette 148, Thalian, David Kahn jeans (because of the good fit)
“I’m a young 52 — in my head, I’m 21. Looking nice and spending money on clothes is as important as ever to me, but the clothes I buy now are more expensive. I spend $4,000 for fall-winter clothes and $3,000 on spring-summer, not including shoes.
“I’ve never had to spend money on career clothing, so I can buy what I really love. Seasons drive my purchases, and I like to look new each year. I shop two to three times a year.
“For advice, I rely on the owner of my favorite boutique, Potpourri, or the more personal service I get at Nordstrom. I appreciate one-stop shopping and don’t want to have to go four or five places to put things together. I like Saks and Parisian. I can find shops that are great for my age group, but I have to get out of the mall. I shop online and in catalogues, especially for my daughter, but not too much for me, because I’m harder to fit.
“Brands don’t matter to me. Fit and style are important. Age doesn’t matter — if you look good in something, wear it.”
Kathleen Bertrand, 52
Vice President, Community Affairs, Atlanta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and jazz singer
FAVORITE STORES: White House/Black Market, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus
FAVORITE BRANDS: none
“With two kids over 18 and 16-year-old twins, I’m starting to spend more on myself, and clothing is more of a priority. My shopping is need-driven, or for sprucing up my wardrobe. Sometimes I buy on impulse, and a striking color can catch my eye. The last thing I bought was a black sheath dress with straps, at Rich’s-Macy’s for $129. I don’t remember the brand.
“I don’t feel 52, don’t feel like a matron and how I dress is not confined by age. I like youthful looks. But I know what works for me — no miniskirts, gathered or pleated skirts or elastic waists. I want to wear the clothes, rather than the clothes wearing me.
“I read up on styles, but I’m not a trend-of-the-moment person. I dress for how I feel, or how I want to feel. Brands aren’t important to me, but I love Vera Wang. I have a Vera Wang gown that makes me feel like a ‘red-carpet person.’”