The Fashion Lag in Plaid, ca. 1963

plaidcoatOlder 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.

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3 Responses to The Fashion Lag in Plaid, ca. 1963

  1. It’s interesting to contrast the two women, especially sine the one on the right is herself “older” and yet so stylish!

  2. sally says:

    I want that plaid coat with what looks like a shawl collar…?… but it’s the plaid that I consider to be a standout. Would look great with a hoodie : )
    call me geezer-gone-wild, & why the heck not! Neither red hats nor nip n tuck nor pure flea market retro appeals to me but I think we can give the next gen a run for its money with witty fashion mash-ups without tapping out entirely our disposable incomes on either safe current offerings from the shops or **** ebay vintage finds.
    This gives me a slight boost of inspiration, much needed on the day after the midterm sweeps by Citizens United v. citizens united-or-not.

  3. Kudos to Jen Orsini for the painstaking research. There are so many things to think about in this photo. I agree that a loss of income and a refusal to discard “good” clothes are often the cause of these awkward combinations. But it’s also possible that the woman on the left never did plan her wardrobe very tastefully. Her hat isn’t a good match for the dress or coat, either — nothing is subtle. That coat would have looked dashing with a solid color dress in either of the darker shades in the plaid, so either she had an income large enough to allow her to own more than one coat in the 1950s, or she just bought whatever caught her eye without “planning” her wardrobe. Many fashion disasters are caused by that magpie instinct.
    Or the coat may have been a gift: a rarely-worn hand-me-down, unsuited to the recipent. I received — and wore — several such painful gifts when I was a teenager. The man looks a little “underdressed” compared to the stylish woman. I detect a man who has moved up in class — but who doesn’t wear a sports jacket or suit. The chic woman on the right is smiling gaily. Is she putting on a good face for another embarrassing day out with her mother — or probably, mother-in-law — who doesn’t match her own middle class aspirations? She dresses well; was that potentially terrific coat originally hers? Is that why they took the picture? Gosh, we could make up many stories about this photo!

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