A few things happened this summer that were a punch in the gut: I took my 13-year-old niece to H&M, where she found several cute summer dresses and, perhaps, confirmed the truth that I am too old to shop there now.
And J. Lo turned 50.
As did Jennifer Aniston.
As did Ice Cube!
Just like that I realized — gasp — I’m almost a woman of a certain age. Fashionably speaking, what does that mean? Am I in the midst of the everything-must-hit-below-the-knee transition? Will I only be able to wear age-appropriate kitten heels? Is a full-on Chico’s wardrobe in my near future?
Turning 50 is a different experience for women now than it was back in the day. We’re working out more. We’re eating cleaner. And not only do we live in a more casual society, but those keep-her-in-a-box fashion rules — like an aging women shan’t show her arms — have been all the way relaxed.
That’s not the only reason behind the sartorial shift, said Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing and branding at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Women approaching and beyond the half-century mark have access to products their mothers and grandmothers didn’t. Take, for example, stretch. We’ve seen more stretch in high-waist jeans, wide-legged trousers and ankle-length skinnies. Three words: Much. More. Forgiving.
We may listen to podcasts and recite hip-hop lyrics, but Gen X women are still pretty old school in the way they shop for clothes, Kahn said.
I can relate.
I don’t have time to run back and forth to the post office to return rented clothes. And while I can order paper towels like a pro from Amazon Prime, there is something about trying on the magenta sheath in a dressing room that I find oddly comforting.
“The Gen Xer, who is on the cusp of 50 is an in-the-middle shopper,” Kahn explained. “She has no problem navigating online shopping, but the store has to do something over and above to get her in. Otherwise, she won’t go through the hassle … But she will come out for the personalization and the customization.”
This is why despite the reports of the closing of brick-and-mortar stores — this year alone 8,200 retail stores have closed nationwide, according to an analysis by Business Insider — I’ve seen several specialty shops pop up here in the last year with the fashion needs of the non-millennial in mind. That means fewer boring, boxy silhouettes and pastel florals, more body con and fun. Plus personal styling, and it doesn’t hurt if that one-on-one attention comes with a glass of bubbly.
Here are a few to check out right in time for fall shopping:
Diane Oliva, operations manager for Brandywine Realty Trust, was looking for a business to invest in when she discovered that Ellie, a staple women’s wear boutique in Wayne’s Eagle Village Shops, was up for sale. Oliva, now 54, couldn’t find a place she liked to shop, and she was tired of going into stores and feeling invisible. So she swallowed her fear and bought the business.
When she took over the business and renamed it Ellie Main Line two years ago, she kept a few of the lines like 7 For All Mankind jeans and White + Warren sweaters. But she did away with most of the other brands, including Whimsy Roseand Hale Bob. Too dowdy, she said. “Today’s woman over 50 knows fashion,” Oliva said. “She’s more educated. She has her favorite websites. She knows her bloggers. She comparison-shops.”
So what did Oliva replace the boxy silhouettes with? Camouflage print sweaters in unexpected hues like soft pink and cobalt blue, wax-coated high-waist jeans and stretchy ponte pants with racer stripes. There are winter Kobi Halperin dresses and blouses, as seen in this month’s O, The Oprah Magazine, and eco-friendly Save the Duck puffer coats. She tries to keep items less than $500 and most pieces go to a size 16.
“There is none of this, ‘I can’t wear short skirts because I’m 50’ or no more ‘You can’t wear skinny jeans’ nonsense," Oliva said, referring to how she encourages her customers to let go of the rules. “And we are showing off our arms.”
But Oliva acknowledged there are some things she won’t buy for her store because they do nothing for her clients’ sense of personal style. “I won’t buy those crazy ripped jeans and nothing super low,” she said.
“We also stay away from things that are tight and ribbed,” Oliva added. “And everything should be bra-friendly.”
Ellie Main Line, Eagle Village Shops, 503 Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pa., 610-293-6822, www.elliemainline.com.
When you walk into he back entrance of Grove 1.2.1, the first thing you notice is a sign that reads, “Darling, Beautiful is Never Perfect.”
That’s the whole vibe of Sandy Edelstein’s boutique.
“One thing you won’t hear from me when you walk out of my dressing room when trying on an outfit: ‘Oh my God, you look amazing!' We never do that. Ever. Because that sale is not based on authenticity and honesty," said Edelstein, who, in her past life, was a stylist at Ella’s Grove. When she opened Bryn Mawr’s Grove 1.2.1 last year she took what learned at Ella’s Grove and other specialty boutiques and updated it.
“We are about female empowerment,” Edelstein, 53, said. "And it’s empowering to tell a woman the truth about how she looks because women know when they feel good in something. We want to give her the power to ‘own it.’”
It’s easy to want to own everything in Grove 1.2.1, from the mixed-print Index blazers for short gals ($582) to the Rosemunde stretch lace top and matching pencil skirt bottom ($202 for the set), to the GoSilk washable blouses ($268), and the wide-legged Avenue Montaigne ponte pant Edelstein calls the “magic pant” ($230). Sizes at Grove 1.2.1 run from sizes 00 to 14.
Edelstein said it amazes her that women with powerful jobs who shop in her store carry with them the same insecurities they harbored as teenagers. It’s a shame she said, how we never really learn to love our bodies.
It’s her job to talk her customers into their power. “I want to help women crawl out of their boxes. We never tell women what they should or shouldn’t wear. It’s about what she wants to rock. What does she feel like she can take on anything in? That’s what we are here for.”
Grove 1.2.1, 821 West Lancaster Ave., first floor, Bryn Mawr 484-380-2540, www.grove121.com.
When I walked into Laura Rothstein’s Center City boutique LunaChick, the ripped jeans and midriff tops made me think that this shop is definitely more my niece’s speed. Alas, my cropped-top days are over.
But then I peeked through the racks and found the chunky sweaters, the faux leather pleated skirts and leather leggings and thought, these are items I’d definitely wear. I even scored a blue, yellow, and cream striped Muraki sweater for $60.
“What we have here is a place where moms and daughters can come to that maybe the daughter would buy a cropped top and the mom would buy a pair of joggers and they can have a good time,” Rothstein said. “There is a way to be age-appropriate and have a youthful feel.”
Rothstein, 52, expanded LunaChick from locations in Newtown and Lower Gwynedd to a Rittenhouse Square store in September. Despite the rash of store closings, Rothstein said, she’s not worried, because LunaChick offers an experience for women to bond. They can pick out clothing together, try it on to get each other’s opinions and enjoy a snack or a glass of champagne in the process. Shoppers can choose from a collection of rompers, jumpsuits, and dresses that were mostly under $100 when I was there.
“But remember it’s about shopping together, not looking alike," Rothstein said. “When you come in here, you disconnect off the computer and off the phone. You get that human element back that’s been so lost.”