Older women often don’t follow the latest styles, a phenomenon fashion historian Joan Severa calls the “fashion lag.” Doubtless there are many explanations—older people get comfortable in a certain style and don’t want to change, or they are reluctant to give up good quality clothes that still have a lot of wear left. Perhaps the simplest reason is that they don’t have enough money to stay in style. Although poverty levels for those over 65 are sinking, in the late fifties and early sixties they were the age group most likely to be poor.
In this photo the fashion lag is clearly on display. I asked the superbly skilled Jen Orsini of the blog Pintucks to help me date the photo. Jen is a long time teacher of sewing and fashion history, a costume designer, and a collector of vintage clothing. Using Life magazines, she recognized the married couple’s clothes as styles from 1963. The mother’s longer coat and very wide collar comes from the previous decade.
It was the combination of the older woman’s coat and dress that initially drew me to this photo on ebay. The pairing of plaid and flowers was jarring. It might be avant-garde today, but it is not a look I associate with older women half a century ago. I can’t help thinking that if she had owned another coat that coordinated better with her dress, she would have worn it.