The Forgotten Fashion Consumer

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

There is so much emphasis on young fashion consumers. But what about when you hit 35+ years of age? As different stages of life emerge, our fashion consumer priorities and retailing needs change. Here I unpack the state of play when it comes to fashion consumer decision making for the 35-47+ age range and explore why fashion retailer need to start paying attention to this often forgotten about shopper group.

Just take a walk down the high street you are either too old or too young and the default retailers aimed to this category are yet to satisfy their audience. My early research on this subject therefore focuses on consumer decision-making among 35-47 year old women via focus groups and here are some of my initial findings...

Losing and Finding My Style

Women I have listened to talk about losing their sense of identity during this period of their life and wanting to feel like themselves again. They talk of a desire to find their style and regain a sense of identity. For some women in this category they desire a confidence boost, for others, it's about getting inspiration or moving out of a style rut and help with curating items into outfits and looks.

Multiple Personas

One thing that was prominent throughout the focus group conversation was the multiple personas of this audience - the mum, the partner, colleague. I'm talking about successful and solvent women managing complex lives with careers, businesses, kids and anything else you can think of. So there is a dimensionality among the identity of these women and yet, each dimension needs to be catered for by retailers. As one participant expressed "I have this red dress for work, and when I wear it I feel powerful". In the same vein, participants voiced concerns that the cut and shape of products on offer do not fit with their multi-faceted lives. For example one participant said they still want to feel sexy and the high street offer doesn’t respond to that need.

Societal Expectations & Peer Pressure

While there is internal pressure women are exposed to societal expectations e.g. what women over 40 should be wearing and also what retailers think consumers should be wearing at that age - which connect to the earlier points. Being in a new geographical location meant the expectations and norms are different in terms of fashion choices - one participant talked about moving from London further afield and this impacted their fashion choices. meanwhile, another participant said judgement was a concern around how they are perceived by others and the need to conform. The simple task of the school run evidenced this whereby participants spoke of trying to fit-in with other mums at the playground and the pressure of what to wear. While it might seem like a first world problem the subject connects deeply with female wellbeing and building confidence.

Changing Body Shape

Many of the participants we spoke to have had children and recognised their need to cater for their pc (post-children) shape and the effort toward trying to find the right brands to suit their body shape. Similarly, and as with many consumer groups, sizing on the high street was a continual issue of contention as participants expressed that retailer sizing remains inconsistent. 

Shopping Habits and Orientation: “If it's not online I'm not buying it”

Women in this category expressed their shift towards a task orientation for fashion shopping. It was less of a pleasurable activity to become an onerous activity. Moreover, habits for fashion have become highly situation-driven rather than shopping for pleasure. When probed about retail experiences when in the physical retail environment participants talked about feeling drained shopping for an hour and half, that they now have to buy for fit rather than what they want and recounted feeling demoralised when shopping for garments such as jeans. Hence, there is a need for retailers to help consumers be in a good state of mind in order to make fashion shopping decisions. This fashion shopper segment has now switched to online because of the benefit of being able try on garments in the comfort of their home. Also stating that they would shop at brands that they know online and would adopt a shopping orientation of ordering a lot of items to return the majority of them. This creates huge implications for retailers. At the focus group there was also a desire by participants of wanting to know where to go for specific items such as jeans and lingerie and where they could learn about trends. Here we see an innate desire among this segment to be feel fashionable.  

Financial Clout

Ironically retailers haven't caught up with the over 35's despite the fact participant's said 'but we have more financial clout' and are willing to spend. It all comes back to feeling good and these consumers see fashion as an important way of doing just that.

Retailers have a long way to go in understanding consumers needs and wants and this is no more evident than among this fashion consumer group. However, if retailers do take note and respond with more considered fashion ranges then they will enjoy loyalty and longevity with this segment of shoppers.

Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch

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