Outfitting the Gracious Lady

Sears catalog, Fall 1956

Sears catalog, Fall 1956

When Sears introduced the “Gracious Lady,” its distinctive name for the older female market, it was not venturing into new territory. Before 1936 the company had already developed goods designed for the older set, using terms like “mature women” and “conservative women.” In essence, the “Gracious Lady” was Sears’ attempt to find a pleasing euphemism for “old.”

But what surprised me in my search through the collected Sears catalogs was how little the Gracious Lady could buy. She could find several dresses in most catalogs and until 1946 she could pick out a frilly lace collar. Gracious Lady hats were on offer until 1956, and every once there were coats specifically designed for her. But there were no Gracious Lady corsets or Gracious Lady shoes, although might expect the beloved lace up oxford to be targeted to this demographic.

Even more mysterious are the fluctuations in the Gracious Lady brand. Some seasons the older woman had a lot to choose from. Other times pickings were slim. In 1946, for example, she could only buy two hats and a collar. Her last good year was 1956, after which she disappeared for a decade. She a made brief return in 1966-67, but by then she had lost her gray hair and no longer looked old.

Sears catalog, Fall 1967

Sears catalog, Fall 1967

Did Sears give up on the older woman after this? No, there was one last rebranding effort in 1971 with the birth of the “Gracious Woman.” Stay tuned.

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3 Responses to Outfitting the Gracious Lady

  1. Carol in Denver says:

    How many memories you bring! My grandma wore dark crepe dresses “to town” (they lived in the country) but at home wore printed cotton frocks. With both, she wore the dark lace-up oxfords. Later in life she switched to tennis shoes for around the house and still later around the nursing home. Confined to a wheelchair as she aged, in her printed cotton dress and tennis shoes she had a beau, who pushed her around in her chair.

  2. It’s almost as if being over the age of 30 was a taboo starting in the 60s. Maybe that is because we were told not to trust them!

  3. Goodness, Gracious, Me! Maybe a memory of those “old lady dresses” from 1956 is the reason I rarely wear prints. At least the dresses are shirtwaists, also worn by young women in the late 50s. (A woman who was 56 in 1956 would have remembered prints as fashionable in the 1930s and 40s, so perhaps that was their appeal.)

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