Women over 50: powerful and on trend

Posted on August 6, 2014 by Eleanor McKenzie
Seville shopping

Marketing Week has recently drawn my attention to the idea that women over 50 shop for fashion in a different way to younger women. And, that we’re much more difficult for advertisers to target. My response is: do we need to be targeted as some special ‘over 50s’ segment?

Perhaps that is why marketing to the 50+ woman is generally pretty uninspiring. If asked to name any ads for fashion aimed at women my age, I’d have to say Twiggy for M&S and Lynda Bellingham or Carol Vorderman for Isme.com. Of those, Twiggy is most successful because she appears with younger women and there’s no mention of age. She’s included, not segregated.

I believe—and I think Marketing Week will back me up—that the 50+ female shopper deserves a lot more consideration from fashion advertising than we’re being shown.  The reason being—women over 50 have spending power! We spend nearly £7bn on clothes annually and that sum is increasing. Overall, the over 50s contribute some £300bn to the UK economy per annum, according to Age UK, so we’re not a group to be sniffed at.

A research study by Kantar Worldpanel shows that the UK’s women in the 50+ group spent 4.5% more on clothes in 2013 than they did in 2012. The research even breaks our spending down as follows: £6.7bn on womenswear and of that, £5.6bn on items for ourselves. I’m curious about who else we buy clothes for? Daughters and granddaughters, presumably. Maybe that’s why the research shows that spending by younger women has dropped by 1.3%!

Dressing to impress

One of the most interesting titbits that came out of this research is that we spend more on dresses than other age groups. Our expenditure on dresses has increased from 9% to 12% and our expenditure on shoes is showing the same amount of growth. Well, we all knew about the shoes, right? But, market watchers say that this growth in dress sales has nothing to do with 50+ women suddenly changing to a more ‘mature’ style. It is more to do with 50+ women being ‘on trend.’

Indeed, Ian Mitchell who heads up Kantar research’s fashion section, says that if you look at the top 10 most successful womenswear retailers, you’ll discover that it is the over 50s who are influencing that success. Comments from some high street retailers support this and show that they no longer believe that tailoring a range to a specific age is appropriate.

Daryl Humphreys, BHS Head of Marketing, said: “Clever retailers are quickly adapting mainstream trends to all ages.” Women over 50 no longer have to opt for what might be considered an ‘age-appropriate’ style, which gives us a lot more freedom to be fashionable than our mothers and grandmothers had.

There is another thing that we value in addition to styling that’s on trend: a bargain! Apparently some 42% of clothes purchases by women over 50 were discounted items. I call that a triumph of experience. Once you’ve got to 50, you’ve figured out when a big-ticket clothing item is likely to come down in price and you’re prepared for that day.

Investing wisely

However, what is interesting is that while we do like a discount, we’re prepared to spend more on outer clothing items and accessories than women under 35. We’ll economise on the underwear and see a good piece of outerwear as an investment. That’s because we’re more inclined to buy styles that last and haven’t expired by the next season.

We’re also winning the online shopping competition. Shoppers in the 55+ group total 9 million unique visitors compared with only 8 million in the 25-34 age group. At least 50% of the older age group’s online fashion spending is coming from those over 60, so retailers need to take note, we can use technology!

Here’s our message to fashion retailers: we don’t want to look older, so please don’t tell us that your range is aimed at the 50+ age group. We don’t need a ‘special’ clothing range just for us. Targeting the over 50s in an advertising message is considered “patronising” and “limited” by women who took part in Kantar’s study.

So, please don’t mention ’50’ in your marketing message. Appeal to our sophistication and our mindset, not how you imagine a 50-year-old woman is supposed to dress.


by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.