Who Do Boomer Women Dress For?

By the time baby boomer women reach our sixties or seventies, we have pretty much refined and solidified our style choices. We are generally confident in what we wear. We have learned to be suspicious of trends and instead embrace what is comfortable, stylish, and conducive to our lifestyles. While this may include forgiving waistbands, washable fabrics,  and comfortable shoes it absolutely does not mean we have given up. We still love fashion and looking great.

In the 70s and 80s boomer gals spent embarrassing amounts of money dressing for success.

During our twenties and thirties we usually dressed to attract the opposite sex—or the same sex depending on individual preferences. During the seventies and eighties, we also dressed to improve our chances of success in business by wearing corporate power suits with pricey silk blouses and high heels. Those lovely suits with quarter-back-sized padded  shoulders were in response to, “Dress for the job you aspire to” advice. If you wanted to be a Vice President then you should dress like one.

All that investment in sartorial splendor in the seventies and eighties ultimately might have been put to better use as contributions to our registered retirement plans. I didn’t even think about saving for my retirement until I was in my forties. Other things always seemed to take precedence—like car payments, mortgage payments, and all those lovely clothes that I was hoping would make me appear worthy of a higher salary.

It was a bit heartbreaking to take those beautiful suits and blouses to the charity shop when we retired. On one hand, we mourned all the money we had spent on investment dressing but we were happy to cast aside our working lives for the joys of retirement and comfortable clothing.

With many decades of fashion folly under our expanding belts, baby boomer women have experienced it all. From our Twiggy-inspired micro-mini-skirts to maxis and everything in between, we’ve been there and literally bought the tee shirt. We have watched so many fashion trends and styles cycle in, then out, and then back in. Ho hum. Boomers did bell bottoms, platform shoes, and false eyelashes decades ago. We’re not keen to wear them a second time ’round.

Baby boomers launched the fashion revolution in the sixties. Our heroes included Mary Quant, Twiggy, and Jean Shrimpton.

The one mainstay of our wardrobes over the last fifty years has been jeans. Fortunately, we no longer have to sit in a bathtub full of scalding salted water to soften our Levi 501s or repeatedly wash and bleach them before they’re wearable. Today’s jeans are fully broken-in when we buy them and every style, size, and fabrication is available to satisfy the most discerning taste. From Old Navy to Versace, jeans are de rigeur in anyone’s wardrobe. My preferred brand is NYDJ (Not Your Daughters Jeans) and they work every time so I don’t need to even look at other brands. I do have to try on different sizes though, even in a tried-and-true style. I particularly like their “Sheri Slim” cut.

Fitflop’s Rally sneakers are my absolute favourites and come in a variety of colours and fabrications.

The same holds true for shoes. Arch supports are essential for these old feet so Vionic and Fitflop® (the British brand) are my favs. My feet tramped around Paris for ten days last June in a pair of leather Fitflop® Rally sneakers with no complaints. I have an embarrassing number of their sandals too. Both Vionic and Fitflop are available on line often at great sale prices but are worth it even at full price. They will last forever.

Take the advice of the so-called fashion experts with a large dose of caution. They’re not always right and rarely understand what best suits boomers.

Watching fashion gurus on television or in magazines outlining their version of fashion rules and trying to tell us how to dress can be rather entertaining. All the conflicting and often plain bad advice is staggering. I’m no expert. Well, maybe I am. Boomers started and propelled the fashion revolution and we know what works and what does not. This is worth remembering, especially now that our generation is totally ignored by every designer except Eileen Fisher.

One thing is clear. Fashion and style are not the same thing. Fashion is what the retail market is trying to foist upon us with seasonal tweaks aimed at separating us from our hard-earned money. Style is how clothing is adapted and worn by an individual to reflect her personality. It has taken me decades to truly appreciate the distinction.

COVID dressing is a hard habit to break.

COVID turned us into loose-top-and-yoga-pants kinda gals. It is so easy to get up each morning and throw on the same old uniform. It allows me to clean the house, nip out to the grocery store, and coexist with my husband and friends in ultimate, albeit uninspired comfort. No special washing instructions and certainly no drycleaning involved. This habit has also made me extremely lazy style-wise and I’m tired of it.

A few years ago, I finally found a retail shop (an independent) that carries clothing and accessories that totally ring my bells. Although they carry a lot of black and white which I am trying to avoid, their merchandise is funky and fun. Prior to lockdown three years ago, I had accumulated a few lovely pieces that made me feel like a million dollars when I wore them. Since then, they’ve mostly hung in the closet gathering dust.

While we were incarcerated during the pandemic we had nowhere to go and consequently we got out of the habit of dressing up. Dinners out and lunches with girlfriends were no longer possible. Weddings and other social events were curtailed until they ceased althogether. And, now we’ve fallen into a lazy pattern of staying home more than we ever have.

Now that I have finally reached a point in life where I dress for me, I am saddened to realize that I’m not dressing at all. I’m sick to death of baggy tops and yoga pants. I want an excuse to wear those lovely, floaty dresses I bought. I want to wear my strappy red sandals, my yellow suede Arche shoes, my artsy jewelry, and funky silver earrings.

I want to soar again and be the best I can be.

Wearing stylish clothes that I feel good in makes me feel like I’m soaring. When I’m turned out in something attractive, I feel taller, smarter, and wittier—more confident. It’s time to snap out of this funk I’m in and get myself back out into the world. Canadian winters are not conducive to breaking out of a rut but spring is here and soon we can dust off our long-abandoned favourite wardrobe pieces and rejoin the world of the living, while we can still hobble around.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been purging my wardrobe of things I don’t wear. Thanks to Poshmark I’ve recouped a tiny portion of my investment but there’s still lots more work to do to get my closet down to a tightly edited selection of clothing that always makes me feel fabulous.

Is it just me or are you suffering frump fatigue too as a result of being house-bound for a couple of years? Beware of the fashion advice you get on television or in magazines. Most of what they’re promoting is for tall, thin genetic anomolies who are not even old enough to vote. Trust your boomer instincts and get your style on, whatever that style may be.

I think boomer women dress primarily for themselves but also for their friends, family, and partners. When we look good, we feel amazing. What makes you soar?


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Gail Czopka
Gail Czopka
1 month ago

Bang on with your views. Learning to dress casual after wearing high powered business suits for so many working years was a struggle when I retired……and then Covid was another set back. When I took my JNY suits to a women’s shelter, the comment was “women don’t wear suits anymore”. I felt like a dinosaur! Maybe I held onto them too long but they were a part of who I was for so many years. Learning to dress as a retired boomer is challenging with age, arm wings & weight restrictions. We don’t want that matronly look but want to… Read more »