Never go out of fashion

November 2013

Seeing the last few colorful leaves fall down from the trees means that winter’s almost at the door. Summer dresses go back in the closet, with boots and woollen sweaters replacing t-shirts, lightweight pants and sandals. But those mourning the end of summertime can take consolation in the fact that the world of designer fashion already has spring fever. Trends for the coming year have been paraded up and down catwalks all over the world in the last few weeks. If the fashionistas are anything to go by, in 2014 women can rock leather outfits or don floaty lace clothing. Sunflower yellow is just as welcome as cool aqua tones, and striking accessories compete with classic understated jewelry. Not just young female customers are spoilt for choice here: age hasn’t been an issue in fashion diversity for a long time now.

Although a timeless clothing style remains prevalent among women over 50, their interest in fashionable outfits has clearly risen over the past few years. A trendy appearance has become more important now than ever before for women in their mid-sixties: 39% of women aged 60-69 think it’s important to appear well-dressed. Only 28% of women in the same age group agreed with this statement seven years ago. This means women aged between 60 and 69 are almost level with their 50-59 year old counterparts, more than 40% of whom consider it important to appear fashionable. These are the results of time series analyses by the Consumption Trend Sensor study carried out on behalf of the GfK Verein.

Blouse: fashion staple

Wildly patterned in the 70s, wide and with shoulder pads in the 80s, but worn casually nowadays with jeans or as part of a classic ladies’ or trouser suit: the blouse is a real wardrobe all-rounder. The item enjoys huge popularity among female consumers over 50, whose blouse purchasing figures exceed the average for German women. However, clothing combinations that involve the blouse vary according to age group. Women aged between 50 and 59 very often tend to go for suits with their blouses: they presumably adopt this look day-to-day in the workplace. In contrast, women of pensionable age tend less often to buy suits than other items of clothing. They also only buy a below-average number of dresses and skirts.

From age 70, women clearly most often wear a trouser suit to complement blouses. Warming jackets and long coats are also particularly favored by this customer segment. Women aged between 60 and 69 buy long coats comparatively more often than the average in Germany. Women over 50 spend approximately the same share of their total clothing budget on basic items such as t-shirts, tops and trousers as younger women.

Diversity instead of a uniform look

“Why should we all dress after the same fashion? The frost never paints my windows twice alike.” American feminist and author Lydia Maria Child was alluding to diversity in style and possibilities in fashion as early as the nineteenth century. And the time has long since passed since women over 50 tended to banish anything colorful from their wardrobes and hid instead behind restrained, muted shades. Today’s philosophy: anything goes, and these preferences vary a great deal amongst women over 50. The GfK Textile Panel also demonstrates this variety in its division of women’s outfit preferences into nine different clothing styles. The categories are “ladylike/nondescript”, “proper”, “sporty/functional”, “classic/tasteful”, “feminine/appealing”, “fitted/smart”, “stylish/unconventional”, “young and sporty/fashionable” and “young and romantic/stylish”.

Women aged between 50 and 59 generally think it’s important to be in vogue without standing out too much. “Fitted/smart” is the category that most often applies to the style of this age group. Those who wear these kinds of clothes wish to be fashionable. They are considered to be followers of a trend and tasteful. However, sometimes they take a more relaxed attitude to fashion. This is why a great number of women in this age group also frequently don “sporty/functional” clothes, which are practical and casual. The “ladylike/nondescript” category for ordinary, plain, homely garments also comes up more for 50-59 year olds than for the population as a whole. Playful and feminine clothing (to be found, for example, in the “romantic/stylish” or the “feminine/appealing” categories) is chosen by women in their 50s less frequently than the population average. The same goes for unusual outfits, such as those in the “stylish/unconventional” group. However, the “proper” style – with its timeless cuts and restrained use of color – is a somewhat rarer choice within this age group. Women in their 50s tend to identify least with the “classic/tasteful” style, which represents exclusivity, elegance and timelessness.

Fashion for the over 60s: from youthful to proper

From 60 upwards, women’s preferences contrast more strongly. The majority of respondents over 60 prefer a “proper” appearance and turn to timeless, smart and ladylike clothing which is distinguished by its quality. A proportion of the over 60s cultivate a “sporty/fashionable” style. Others go for “romantic/stylish” or “fitted/smart” outfits: presumably, these women wish to remain young at heart and want their clothing to reflect that sentiment. The “ladylike/nondescript” and “sporty/functional” styles are few and far between among women over 60.

Most women over 70 tend to adopt the “ladylike/nondescript” and “feminine/appealing” styles; feminine and traditional outfits or proper and low-key clothing. The “sporty/fashionable” and “classic/tasteful” types are hard to find amongst the over 70s. Fashion experiments, such as the kinds loved by those who enjoy “stylish/unconventional” clothes are no longer of interest to those past 70 and equally rare in this age group are advocates of “fitted/smart” or “romantic/stylish” fashion.

Where to shop? Somewhere that offers choice!

So what does a store have to offer to appeal to women who are clothes shopping? Across all ages, female respondents had one universal answer to this question. The single most important point on any woman’s wish list is for a store to offer a wide range. To find the right item when shopping, both young and old agree an extensive selection is needed. More than half of respondents, both under and over 50, agreed that choice is the key to a good shopping trip.

Sales clerks: smiiiile!

The biggest difference between the age groups of female customers is in what they think about the roles of salespeople. As age increases, customers clearly tend to set greater store by friendly staff. Almost half of women over 70 said that they would appreciate a kind, courteous tone when being served, whereas only almost one third of under 50s considered the matter important. For younger women, the reachability and layout of a store were of greater concern. However, these two aspects do also rate highly in the respective other generations’ wish lists. Around 30% of all respondents also favor a tidy, inviting shopping space.

It’s often said that women can spend an eternity shopping. However, only very few consider waiting in line at the cash register or for the changing rooms one of shopping’s perks. Younger women are above all the ones who wish for enough changing rooms and short waiting times in the queue to pay. These problems don’t concern older customers as much. This could be because clothing stores aimed at younger customers tend to have fewer staff and changing facilities than boutiques for older clientele. A more popular wish amongst the older generation is for in-store seating. After all, a little time to relax helps to refresh before round two of clothes browsing starts.

The clothes these women talk about are determined season after season by designers and described by fashion magazines. As for what kind of clothes a woman in her sixties carries home in her shopping bag – that’s simply a matter of taste. She decides whether a new trend fits her style. Perhaps in doing this she thinks of Coco Chanel, who knew that “fashion fades, only style remains the same.”

Data source: GfK Fashion & Lifestyle and GfK Verein (Study Trendsensor Konsum)

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Saskia Thieme, GfK SE.

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail: