The enormous Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 continues to have a significant impact on U.S. society and culture. According to the Gerontological Society of America, the number of people in the 55 to 64 age bracket grew at a rate of 48.4% between 2000 and 2010, compared to a rate of just 15.6% in the previous 10 years. And the projected growth of the number of people in the 65 to 74 age bracket for the years 2010 to 2020 is 49.3%, compared to 15.8% for the previous 10 years. By 2020 to 2030, the growth in the 75+ age bracket is up to 46.3% compared to 20.5% during the previous 10 years.
With so many people in the age 65+ pipeline, we can expect significant changes in everything from housing to retail, from entertainment to transportation, from health care to travel. For companies large and small, the time is NOW to take a look at the questions of “if” and “how” the aging of this huge generation will affect your business.
This post will examine how Boomers can be expected to reinvent fashion and style as they turn 50, 60 and 70. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Boomers are outspending other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods and services.
Boomers are the “forever young” generation, predicted to be the kind of sly old party animals portrayed in the Taco Bell ad that debuted during the 2013 Super Bowl broadcast. For them, aging into life’s third chapter of fashion will simply mean blending style, ease and comfort.
In earlier decades, Boomers spawned bell-bottom jeans, thigh-high boots, tie-dyed shirts, hot pants, granny dresses, jeans for every occasion and all conceivable kinds of sneakers. Expect them to continue to invent trendy fashions, but in their 60’s and 70’s, their trends will include clothes, shoes and accessories that are easy to put on with arthritic joints and fingers. Buttons may cover snaps and Velcro may be the right solution for all kinds of closures, from jackets to shoes.
The Greatest Generation parents of Boomer children embraced wash and wear Dacron/polyester in the 1950’s and 60’s, dressing both themselves and their children in double knits. A backlash against synthetics accompanied the demise of Disco at the end of the 70’s. Natural fibers gained favor with Boomers. Remember the cotton muscle shirts, pastel linen suits and unconstructed Versace or Hugo Boss cotton and linen blazers sported by Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Rico Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) in Miami Vice, one of the most popular TV series in the 80’s? Men’s fashions finally became as notable as women’s and there were no leisure suits in sight.
In 2014, the youngest Boomers will turn 50 while the oldest edge closer to 70. Whatever age they are, it’s likely they will seek brands that let them feel comfortable, stylish and young in their aging bodies. It may seem like a conundrum, but designers who can meet those needs, who can offer the right fit and the right fabric at a reasonable cost will get a piece of the Boomer clothing spend. Chico’s has a head start with their Travelers line of women’s clothing that look slinky, are comfy, easy to put on and made of washable, environmentally-friendly, wrinkle-free acetate with a bit of spandex. Eileen Fisher is a silver-haired Boomer designer and manufacturer of simple, beautiful women’s clothing. She carries her designs in her own stores in 20 states as well as in fine department stores. Fisher has become a new favorite of Boomer women of all shapes and sizes because her clothes are stylish and comfortable.
Boomer men shop at Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom and Sears for work clothing and Macy’s for casual wear. Mostly, they want their jeans to fit comfortably with zippers that are easy to use. And they want golf shirts and t-shirts. Always.
Boomers are not afraid to buy online. Pew Research reported in 2011 that two-thirds of Americans over age 50 are buying from online retailers. They are purchasing shoes from Zappos, slacks and shirts from Land’s End, accessories from Tuesday Morning and handbags from sellers on Ebay.
If you are a retailer looking around your store for the Boomers, stop right now and ask yourself if you have the designers, merchandise, staff and customer relationship management (CRM) system that meets their needs and desires. Consider these questions:
- Have you given them great-looking, age-appropriate, casual wardrobe options in a section that is not branded “senior” (e.g., “50+”, “Mature Woman”, “Golden Girl”)?
- Is your lighting high enough for older pupils?
- Is your store glare-free?
- Do you have spare reading glasses on hand to loan to your Boomer customers who forgot theirs and can’t read the labels?
- Do you have a few chairs for them to sit in if they need to take a shopping break?
- How about a small flat-screen TV for the Boomer guy who is reluctantly accompanying his wife or girlfriend to sit down and watch a game, a NASCAR race or Pawn Stars?
- Is your staff the same age as your shoppers, or at least close to it? Is the font on your signs big enough to read easily?
When you build and brand such a place, Boomers will come. They will buy from your online site. They will line up at your door. And I will be at the front of the line, with my husband in tow.
Shannon Ingram is co-founder and senior editor of BoomerReviews.com. She is also Executive Vice President, Boomer & Senior Marketing, FaceTime Strategy, an integrated marketing agency that provides a full suite of awesome marketing capabilities and expertise.