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.
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.