Can We Talk About Bodies?

DidionSince several fashion lines have chosen older women as their public face, the most recent being Joan Didion for Céline, some fashion writers have decided that it’s finally hip to be old. That’s why I appreciated yesterday’s New York Times article by Vanessa Friedman, “On Age, Talking a Good Game” (online as “Fashion’s Two Faced Relationship with Age”). At the end, she brings up an often overlooked fact: aging brings changes to body shapes, and no amount of youthful spirit or adventurousness on the part of older consumers will change that fact.

Let me talk about my own body. I spend a lot of time trying to stay fit, with walking, yoga, and exercise classes. There are no sugary snacks in my kitchen and I eat a lot of vegetables. Nonetheless, in the last twenty years I have gained ten pounds and shrunk one inch. My back has expanded and my breasts have gotten bigger (talk about irony) and fallen further down my chest. My waist has risen and I now have a little pot belly, something I never had before. On my backside, my derriere has flattened and sunk lower towards my knees.

What does all this mean? Quite simply that clothing designed for the proportions of younger bodies do not fit well. Jackets pull across the back. Pants that fit across the hips don’t fit at the waist…and I could go on and on.

Unless designers start thinking about how our bodies change as we age, their beautiful clothes won’t fit an older demographic. As Friedman says, “If there really is a new market class of 60- and 70- and 80-year olds with disposable incomes and minds of their own, perhaps it’s time that fashion, and designers, grappled with their needs.”

Or we could all just make our own clothes.

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11 Responses to Can We Talk About Bodies?

  1. Carol in Denver says:

    What interesting things you point out to your readers! One “challenge” with reaching for older consumers is that they (we)(I) are not often in thrall of the newest thing. We may have the money to buy what’s trendy, but not the interest.

  2. Rhoda K says:

    I agree with Carol. I don’t have any interest in what’s out there either. Sadly, many folks in later years still wear skirts/dresses too far above their knees, too – not very attractive in my opinion. It’s been a long time since I tried on a RTW dress/skirt for that reason – all much too short.

  3. I’m all for the “make your own clothes” concept. One of the reasons I cranked up the sewing was because my closet was a sea of black and gray Eileen Fisher knits (not that I’m knocking her, but I needed some excitement!). I hope more boomers will go back to their sewing “roots” to enjoy fashion that fits and has personality.

  4. Carol in Denver says:

    Comment #2: just read that Joni Mitchell (age 71) is Saint Laurent’s S/S 2015 “campaign star.” (TheGardian.com)

  5. Jen O says:

    You are right about sewing again–but this time around I can’t seem to get the patterns to fit even when I choose the ‘right’ size by measurements. It seems like sewing patterns have gotten somewhat sloppy or lacking in precise fit these days as they are often too large or have too much ease for me. At one time it was always OK and I never had to play with a muslin. I do alter ready-to-wear too, often buying a larger size for the upper torso and bicep fit, but taking in the side seams to reduce the lower width.

  6. Who knew that Joan Didion’s photo would start so many great conversations about fashion and aging? It’s almost like “Old Is the New Black.”

    Any way, you are so correct about the changing body issues. I’ve always been active and fit, and still have been alarmed at how easily the pounds have crept up on me. I’ve finally learned that some of my style favorites from the past just don’t work with my body any more.

  7. Marianne Vandenberg says:

    Oh, so true! I don’t even have time to work out, with 2 jobs that keep me going 13-14 hours a day. Barely have time to sew a little for my grandkids. Longing for retirement so that I can fit in the occasional yoga class — but yes, how that young body has changed! I spend 80% of my time in scrubs and it’s really frustrating to try & find something suitable to put on otherwise. I have a designer friend who derides the whole “Granny Grew” trend and makes stuff that looks amazing on older bodies — and I know I could emulate if I just had time to sew … LOVE this project, Lynn!

  8. Suzi Grant says:

    I so relate to this article, wheres my bottom gone?! I buy what I like and then make it fit thanks to a local tailor and buying pre-loved, vintage or sale makes the extra spend worth every penny!

  9. Barbara Hayes says:

    I’m 64, 65 in July and I wear what I want. I have my own individual style , that I think many older women manage to find, as they indeed also improve with age . I don’t care what’s in , or what’s out, if I am comfortable and look my own unique self , I am happy. I have had grey hair for at least 6 years and I am happy with it, no dyes for me. I am active & fit I walk daily and do yoga twice a week & love to dance.
    My best thing to wear , is my Smile 🙂

  10. Margaret says:

    At 61 I have loose skin everywhere, a layer of wobble over top of my weight lifter’s hard body. That is hard to dress, and what’s available in the market rarely meets my needs. I therefore live in tunics and stretchy leggings. It feels like pajamas, and some days I wonder if it looks like them too. If I sewed better I’d make funkier ones; in fact I’m at the point where I’m thinking of taking a sewing class to refresh my skills. Then I could make myself all sorts of different shapes of stylish pajamas! Until then, I’m on an endless hunt for the one or two pieces with enough stretch to accommodate my bumps and lumps with some element of panache.

  11. Reader says:

    I recently watched the new Netflix documentary on Joan Didion, which was directed by her nephew, Griffin Dunne. She proves that you can really be too thin. She looks ill. The sight of her made me wince. You don’t see how completely emaciated she is until the last 10 to 20 minutes of the film, a deliberate filmmaking choice, no doubt.

    Didion weighs 75 pounds, which she has weighed for many decades. I’m short, too, and in college hit an all-time low of 88 pounds, but I didn’t look anything like that. Although I’m not clinically overweight, I feel guilty that my weight has climbed over the years and am constantly planning to go on a diet. Injuries and being sedentary haven’t helped, in addition to a slower metabolism. I cannot imagine that Didion eats much at all to maintain a weight like that.

    In fairness to the clothing companies, it’s hard to design for a wide range of bodies, and as women age, their particular body’s idiosyncrasies become more pronounced. A custom fit is what is required for many women.

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