BOOMERBROADcast

Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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I gobbled up The Edible Woman

I still have my original paperback copy.

It was probably the popularity of the television series The Handmaid’s Tale based on the book written by Margaret Atwood that reignited my interest in her writing. I must confess though that I did not like the book when I read it thirty years ago. Just too weird for my taste, but I absolutely loved the television series and can’t wait for season two. Perhaps I’ve evolved and I finally get it. In discussing the series with a friend who also disliked the book, I suggested she read The Edible Woman, a wonderful book written by Atwood in the late 1960s. So, the other day I unearthed my old, yellowed paperback copy of The Edible Woman to lend her. Although I’ve already read it two or three times since it was first published in 1969, I couldn’t resist the urge to take a quick peak inside. Then I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a time capsule of life in Toronto when there were still typewriters on our desks at work, girdles in our dresser drawers and hi-fi’s in our apartments. The sixties vernacular came crashing back through familiar-sounding descriptions of the clothing, social attitudes and physical surroundings. I was reminded of the difference in our moral standards. Back then gays were still referred to as queer, unmarried couples could not share a hotel room and young women often quit work when they married.

Parts I and III of the book are written in the first person, narrated by Marian, a recent university graduate. The reason Part II is written in second person becomes evident at the end of the book. She works for Seymour Surveys finessing the language in market research questionnaires for such products as beer, sanitary pads and canned rice pudding. Marian has an uninspired relationship with an articling law student named Peter whom she plans to marry and shares a flat with Ainsley who reminded me of the selfish roommate Meredith in Georgy Girl, played by Charlotte Rampling. Various other characters move through her daily life causing her to question herself and her choices. She has a secret friend Duncan who has a thing for laundromats and the life of her married friend Clara represents everything abhorrent to her. Marian’s life as a twenty-something will sound so familiar to those of us who were never quite totally happy or unhappy at that stage in our lives. There’s an overlying veil of dissatisfaction reminiscent of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Toronto, as it looked when Marian worked downtown for Seymour Surveys.

Toronto in the late sixties looked very different from today with about one-third the current population and Atwood’s detailed descriptions took me back more than fifty years. She doesn’t specify street names or neighbourhoods and I had fun figuring out where things took place from my memories of Toronto at that time. I could visualize the flat shared by Marian and Ainsley being located in the Annex district just northwest of The University of Toronto. I once shared a flat in the Roncesvalles area with two other girls, that was amazingly similar to theirs. There was no privacy door between our flat and the Polish landlady who lived with her daughters on the main floor so our activities were under her constant scrutiny. Banging her broom handle on her kitchen ceiling to warn us to keep the noise down and being subjected to her constant scrutiny was a part of daily life. Marian’s friend Len also had an apartment that sounded identical to one I once occupied on Vaughan Road.

Nostalgia abounds. When Marion describes her boyfriend Peter’s new apartment in a huge new development complex south of Bloor Street I could picture it in St. James Town. Like Peter, a friend of mine moved in while the building was still was under construction and the elevators didn’t work. Back then it was still considered a hip address comparable to today’s Liberty District south of King Street. The sixties clothing worn by Marian and Ainsley is so familiar, right down to the circular virgin pin worn on the dress of one of her co-workers. Atwood’s characters meet for a drink one evening in a lounge atop the Park Plaza Hotel at Yonge and Bloor Streets, a scene I could picture so vividly having visited the same spot in 1967 with a date and stood on the same terrace looking south toward Queen’s Park.

Yorkville Village in the sixties before it was gentrified.

Before the acceptance of such taken-for-granted rights as gender equality, young women were expected to marry before having children and there was still a degree of reverence for ‘saving yourself’ until marriage. We wrote letters home; we took our bag of dirty laundry on the bus to the laundromat when we ran out of clean clothes and we had to be twenty-one to drink legally. Our spartan apartments were furnished with junk and hand-me-downs. We were subject to the tyranny of landlords and we had jobs not careers.

The message or moral of the story (which you will have to read the book to understand) will ring true for so many women who came into womanhood in the heady days of the sixties. In fact I blogged about the issue for Valentines Day three years ago. This early book by Margaret Atwood turned me into a fan of her writing. If you’re a boomer and feel like burying yourself in a delicious blanket of nostalgia, read or re-read The Edible Woman, still one of my favourites. The message is universal and something today’s millenials can learn from. I had so much fun time-traveling back to life in downtown Toronto during the late sixties. We’ve come a long way baby.

Click here to order The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood from Amazon.com

Click here to read I love you but I love me too

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I want to see it in print. Is anyone listening?

We’re rooting for you if you’d only listen to us.

As someone who plans to be a magazine editor in my next life and who is also an inveterate magazine junkie (18 subscriptions per month, at last count) I’m seriously concerned about the demise of print publishing. My morning newspaper is getting thinner and thinner. Chatelaine has cut back to bi-monthly and Macleans Magazine is now publishing monthly instead of weekly. I’ve lost my beloved MORE magazine which recognized and targeted our demographic, while Canadian Business, Flare and LouLou have stopped publishing altogether.

So, when I saw a familiar Canadian name associated with America’s mega publisher Hearst Communications Inc., I experienced a flutter of hope. After serving as editor of Good Housekeeping, former Chatelaine editor-in-chief Jane Francisco has been appointed editorial director of Hearst’s lifestyle group which includes Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Women’s Day. Former editor-in-chief of MORE Jane Seymour is launching an on-line publication called CoveyClub which I’ll be following for sure. While I do subscribe to a couple of on-line magazines including one from the U.K. (which I can get faster and cheaper on-line), I prefer to read newspapers and magazines in hard copy so I can rip articles or pictures out and put them in my inspiration files. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the deep pleasure that comes with sitting down with a newly arrived mag and a cup of tea.

I’m just one of thousands of boomer women who subscribe to excellent blogs and websites like susanafter60 to get our fashion inspiration.

Why the focus on millenials?

My major concern and one that traverses all business is the focus on millenials. What about boomers? We have more money than millenials and we’re a bigger demographic. I can see I’m going to have to BFF Jane Francisco and set her straight about a few things. Have they even once considered that the decline in subscriptions might have something to do with their target market and the content offered? Baby boomers are constantly bemoaning the lack of attention in the media given to fashion, wellness, relationship and other issues of interest to us. Not everyone who reads is having babies, taking mat leave, buying their first home or trying to get their post-baby bodies back in shape. American retailer Chico’s gets it and so does Eileen Fisher who targets boomers. However, Eileen Fisher’s prices are out of range for many and her casual designs are not everyone’s taste. Imagine the potential for business and retailers if they recognized and capitalized on our enormous buying power. Conversely, being a baby boomer does not mean I’m a natural market for denture adhesives, incontinence products, frumpy fashion or questionable pharmaceuticals.

I’m no financial expert nor do I have any knowledge of the business side of the publishing industry but I am a big fan and a customer with a strong interest in its future. While the bean counters are busy juggling overheads and measuring the pros and cons of shared revenue streams, have they ever considered asking us, the consumer what we want to spend our money on? Print advertising sales are down and I can’t help but wonder if the advertisers too are out of touch with what we want and can relate to. Very few of us are in the market for four thousand dollar handbags, expensive stiletto heels or kicky fashions designed for genetically mutant teens. Boomers want kicky fashion too but we need advertising we can relate to. Have print publications outlived their magic formula? Where’s the imagination and creativity? Where’s the reciprocal communication with readers?

Publishers. Need help? I’m at your service.

While Canadian publications do not benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed in the United States which has ten times the population, there’s a huge discrepancy in pricing with Canadian subscriptions often costing four times what U.S. subscribers pay. In order to boost sales, American magazines frequently offer subscriptions for twelve dollars a year and even special promotions for five dollars a year can be found. Is this a bad time to bring up free trade? There must be a more workable solution than gradual annihilation. I’ve been waving this banner for years and have been ignored for years. Jane Francisco? Karine Ewart? Moses Znaimer, Mr. Hearst? Any other publishers and editors out there? Call me or email me. We want you to succeed and I’m here for you. Is anyone listening?

Here are links to blogs and websites (click on the link or “like” on Facebook) that baby boomer women can relate to (some are better than others, but judge for yourself):

susanafter60.com

notdeadyetstyle.com

styleyourwaytosuccessover50.com

styleatacertainage.com

stillsexyafter60.com

babyboomermaturewomenclothing.com

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What’s with the falsies?

Oh dear!

It’s been more than four decades since I wore false eyelashes so I totally understand their current appeal. I even remember the name of the drugstore brand I preferred back then—Eyelure, applied with Andrea glue. They were long, delicate and gorgeous. Sometimes the weight of the lashes even made my eyes feel sleepy. Back then, I didn’t wear glasses but if I had to put on sunglasses, the fake lashes annoyingly brushed against the lenses leaving little wispy streaks. I became expert at running a tiny ribbon of glue along the base, waving the eyelash strip in the air a couple of times for the glue to become slightly tacky, then deftly applying it, starting in the middle and using the end of my eye-liner brush to tap them into place. Presto. No mascara, no liner required and my eyes looked like a million bucks regardless of how little sleep I’d had.

In the sixties, we all wanted to look like Twiggy or Jean Shrimpton.

What differentiates original baby boomer faux eyelash wearers from how millenials wear them now is the degree of obvious faux. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, our preference was for a glorified natural look with a dash of Twiggy. Our falsies were obviously not natural but we trimmed and groomed them before we applied them so they would look dramatic but not ridiculous. We wanted to appear starry-eyed and bright. Today’s look tends towards goth and grotesque. It doesn’t seem have occurred to current faux lash wearers to use manicure scissors to trim the inner and outer corners and perhaps texturize the tips.

I love makeup, although now it’s more flattering for our generation to employ a minimalist, natural look. When I see young women with flawless skin, I’m envious for sure. After I lecture them on the evils of smoking and exposing their skin to sun (advice I’m sure they’re thrilled to hear from a past-her-prime old boomer broad), I compliment them and suggest they take care of their gift. But I find it hard to keep my mouth shut about the state of their false eyelashes. Are they meant to resemble an industrial strength car-wash brush?

Much better.

Am I so out-of-date that I don’t get the current craze for bear bristles? When I stand in front of the checkout clerk at the grocery store whose false eyelashes resemble a golf-shoe scraper, I can’t stop staring, wondering how on earth she could possibly think they look attractive for everyday wear. As I said, I’m a fan of faux lashes, but like any fashion accessory, it’s important to learn how to wear them properly and save the drag queen lashes for professional entertainers. In the sixties an advertising slogan asked “Does she or doesn’t she?” It was considered preferable to keep ’em guessing while looking great. Or, perhaps it’s just a matter of personal taste and I’m the weird one.

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Cheerios – not just for little fingers

Gone but not forgotten.

General Mills is missing a major marketing opportunity. I keep filling out customer surveys from Kellogg’s and other companies hoping someday they’ll actually listen to me about consumer preferences. They continue to ignore my pleas to reduce the amount of sugar in breakfast cereals and instead choose to blatantly defy me by offering new ‘honey-flavoured’ or ‘crunchy’ product lines which is marketing speak for more sugar. For years I have been eating Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs which contain zero grams of added sugar, four grams of protein and only 100 calories per cup. Add my half cup of organic Canadian wild blueberries with almond milk and a sprinkle of Kellogg’s Bran Buds and I’m a happy girl. While that breakfast sounds reasonably healthy, the shocker is that the seemingly healthy Bran Buds contain a whopping seven grams of sugar (about two teaspoons) in a mere one-third of a cup. That’s just disgraceful Mr. Kellogg.

Consumers must be super-vigilent about what we eat.

The current problem is that no one carries my beloved Kashi 7 Whole Grains Puffs any more, other than Whole Foods and I refuse to pay their exorbitant prices. The solution has been to use my trusty Amazon Prime account and find the cheapest supplier on-line and order a case of ten boxes to be shipped to my home. But that’s accompanied by complications if it’s coming from the United States. The cost of exchange and duty can be prohibitive.

So I spent a considerable amount of time perusing the cereal aisle reading labels to compare ingredients and nutritional value in search of an alternative. Surprisingly, one that came up a winner was every toddler’s favourite finger snack, General Mills Cheerios. One cup of plain, old-fashioned Cheerios contains only 100 calories and one gram of sugar (¼ tsp). With three grams of protein and three grams of fibre in this tasty oat cereal, I think we have a winner.

Works for me. And I’m a tad older than this consumer.

Instead of General Mills targeting only little fingers (Donald Trump notwithstanding) they could and should be marketing to Baby Boomers. Our sluggish digestive systems would enjoy the boost and our budgets would appreciate having more cash freed up for wine. Cheerios are inexpensive and come in boxes large enough to last more than three days (unlike Kashi whose boxes are now so reduced in size at 6.5 oz. they barely stand up by themselves). The boxes are light in weight for hefting home from the grocery store and for those who care, they’re also gluten-free.

I think I’m going to write Mr. General Mills and suggest they redirect their marketing to a previously ignored demographic, Baby Boomers. They may want to consider paying me a royalty. So, if you happen to see commercials on television of a boomer couple sitting side by side in matching bathtubs watching the sun rise over the ocean while munching a bowl of Cheerios, then you’ll know they heard me. I’m no expert but it works for me, minus the tubs. And since I retired, I make a point of not being awake for sunrises. Until then, I’ll hold off investing in General Mills stock. As if anyone listens to me.

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Are the fashion experts crazy or am I?

Boomers just wanna have fun with fashion too.

Call me a bitch but one of my favourite old lady past-times is sitting in my LaZgirl chair mocking and debunking the fashion advice I see on television and in many ‘women’s’ magazines. I love watching CITY TV’s CityLine as well as CTV’s The Marilyn Denis Show and The Social. I truly enjoy those shows but lordy lordy, am I the only one who thinks much of their fashion advice is a lot of hooey? To their credit, many of the models and makeover candidates featured have normal (a.k.a. not stick thin) bodies which makes it easier for we mortals to relate to the fashion challenges presented, but, the ‘before’ pictures are sometimes better than the ‘after’.

The Marilyn Denis show. My favourite host and everyone’s girlfriend.

Peter Papapetrou and Alexis Honce on The Marilyn Denis Show are my favourite targets. Sometimes Papapetrou nails it, but most of the time the outfits he comes up with are jokingly inappropriate. I like Greta Monahan but much of her fashion advice is just plain weird. Last week she took a top-heavy, tall, solidly built woman who wanted to minimize her ample bust area and Monahan put her in a faux-fur vest. Granted, it was in a dark colour but wouldn’t a light-weight fabric have been more flattering? And what woman alive can tolerate the heat generated by spending the day in a fur vest unless you live above the sixty-nineth parallel? Tracey Moore’s fashions could be better. I love her clothing supplier, Freda’s, but her choices often miss the mark. And, I have to seriously question the sensibility of anyone who would be a fan of jumpsuits, which she is. Have you ever tried going to the bathroom in one of those things? I’ll spare you the details.

One of my biggest beefs is the choice of shoes with wide ankle straps on women with short, heavy legs. Then, the fashion experts compound the disaster by putting the ladies in flouncy skirts or dresses. Or, what about the short-waisted women they insist on outfitting in belted dresses or tops with the sad little belt peeking out two inches below the bustline? Much as I criticize Marilyn Denis’s inflexible choice of jeggings and maternity tops on nearly every show, at least she recognizes she has issues with her waistline and tries to accommodate it. Once in a while she opts for a skirt and shows off her gorgeous legs but she should do it more often. And I rarely see anything on The Social’s ladies that I would wear, but then I’m not their age. I do admire their courage though.

CityLine’s Lynn Spence can generally be counted on for good advice.

Lynn Spence is a generously proportioned woman and she understands the difficulties normal women have in trying to dress fashionably. Most of her choices are not too bad but often she seems to favour promoting the retailer more than the interests of fashion for real women. I miss Sandra Pittana. Her taste is more off-beat but always fun to watch. Lisa Rogers has a reasonable fashion sensibility and I generally enjoy most of her choices. Jessica Mulroney’s tastes lean toward styles geared to women who look like her—wisp-thin young working mothers who could wear a tea towel with a bit of string and look great. She shouldn’t have done whatever she did to her upper lip though.

When these so-called fashion experts have access to an entire mall full of clothing or even a single retailer, how can they make such dreadful choices. I’d love to have the resources they do. I find myself screaming at the television, “Is that the best you can do?”. And the fashion magazines are even worse. Where’s the inspiration for real women in a sea of anorexic teenage genetic flukes?

And while I’m ranting here, does anyone recognize that there’s a whole generation of women out there called Baby Boomers who are completely ignored as a potential target market? The majority of makeovers are new mothers returning to the workforce, looking to regain their business chic while coping with postpartum bodies. Boomers are a huge demographic with the time and the money to spend on fashion, not to mention the time to watch daytime television and cruise the malls after a ladies’ lunch. But who am I to criticize? Are the fashionistas living in some parallel universe that I don’t get or is it just me being a fashion-illiterate bitch?

It’s only because we care, sweetie dahlings. Just want to keep the economy rolling along.

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Mother Nature can be very unkind to Boomer women

What’s a girl to do?

This morning I tried on all my summer pants. It did not go well. Extensive therapy may be required, followed by copious quantities of wine, or more likely the other way around which doesn’t help the situation. At the very least, I’m looking at another extended spell at Weight Watchers. A recent essay in The Globe and Mail about the horror of trying on and buying a bathing suit (click here to read Is the perfect bathing suit possible?) resonated deeply. Writer Leslie Hill is sixty-seven years old and I could so empathize with her ongoing frustration to remain confident under duress. When you’re a Baby Boomer woman with a successful career behind you, no serious health issues, a network of amazing girlfriends and family who loves you, why are we still knocked off balance by our less-than-perfect (a.k.a. normal) bodies? Oprah Winfrey gets it. She’s admitted many times how she hates that her weight struggles have often superseded all her other massive successes in life.

Fashion inspiration for Boomers is hard to find. We like to look like we’re still on top of our game. When we look good we feel great.

There’s miniscule recognition of our demographic in fashion mags and it’s always with stick-thin models with glorious manes of thick silver hair. Who among us can relate to that? What’s a girl to do? Most of us stock pants in two (or even three) sizes to accommodate our good days and bad days. I’ve always had the best luck with the fit of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans NYDJ but even they wouldn’t button up this morning. We want to look the best we can, be fashionable and attractive without resorting to frumpy, uninspired “I’ve-given-up” pastel polyester with a forgiving elastic waist. Mother Nature is not making it easy.

Fifty-four-year-old French writer Sophie Fontanel has some excellent advice for women on how to achieve a personal style without slavishly following trends or the dictates of youth-centric fashion gurus. She suggests women our age concentrate on a look that’s not overtly sexy.  In an interview in Vogue, Fontanel recommends “Softness, gentleness, sense of humor”. To read her full interview 9 Steps to Style Superstardom in Vogue magazine, click here. Her own personal style would definitely not work for me but her message is inspirational.

In many ways we’re coping with aging better than earlier generations of women. We’ve embraced the magic of great hair colouring and styling. We are deft with makeup. We finally have the budget that allows us to purchase new clothes and accessories when we want. We keep fit, eat healthy and are intellectually curious. We know that when we look good we feel great so there’s payback. I refuse to shop for jeans at Shirley K Maternity to accommodate my Boomer waistline and I empathize with Ms. Hill’s Globe and Mail lament about buying a bathing suit. She’s braver than I am by even trying. We all know our figure faults and try to soldier on. Which means you may never see me in my white jeans this summer, and that’s probably a good thing. Or, more likely, I’ll go out and buy a larger size, specially engineered for my burgeoning waistline and for better or worse, strut my stuff, but with long tunic tops.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

Susan After 60 is one of my favourite go-to blog sites for Boomer fashion inspiration.

 

Click here for Susan After 60

 

Click here for 9 Steps to Style Superstardom

 

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Top 10 suggestions for Hudson’s Bay to survive

My love/hate relationship with The Hudson’s Bay Company (comparable to Macy’s in the United States) just took a turn. I want to scream “I told you so”. When I heard the news they’re laying off thousands of people in response to declining sales I felt an immense sense of sadness for the sales associates who work there at low wages and will be losing their jobs. But what about the customers? In all matters relating to retail, the number one factor that gets ignored in the equation is the customer. The experts and execs say the cuts are necessary because customers are resorting to on-line shopping. No bloody wonder.

I love The Hudson’s Bay Company and have their limited edition Barbie doll to prove it. As Canada’s oldest retailer (350 years+), Hudson’s Bay has been my default department store since the days when Robert Simpson Company occupied their stores. Over the years, I’ve written snail mail letters to the executives, emailed store managers and blogged about their abysmal customer service. Obviously they weren’t listening to me—the customer—after all, what do I know? Shopping at Hudson’s Bay Company is an experience right up there with shopping at Costco, minus the giant carts. Their stores offer an overwhelming inventory of great, good and not-so-good merchandise, crammed into unimaginative space with minimal eye-appealing merchandising, no visible sales associates to help customers and tiring lineups at the few available check-outs. What’s crucial is we expect better from Hudson’s Bay.

The bean counters have deemed that the problem with The Hudson’s Bay Company can be solved by reducing the payroll. Brilliant! That’s like closing the barn door after the horses have left. And replacing them with wooden replicas. I’m going to really love shopping at a store where the service is even worse (is that even possible?) than before. As the humble generator of business and the total raison d’être for Hudson’s Bay to exist, I, the customer would once again like to offer my suggestions for improving sales and ultimately the bottom line:

Some retailers get it.

  1.  Audit and edit your merchandise. Get rid of the crap no one wants to buy. Pare down inventory. This might require editing your buyers as well. Are your buyers truly tuned in to your customers?
  2. Use the money saved from getting rid of excess inventory to hire more sales associates to help me find sizes, assist with “looks” and suggest options.
  3. Put these new additional sales associates on the floor to actually help customers, not just be chained to the checkout desk attending to lineups.
  4. Expand the use of tasteful displays and mannequins. I’m often inspired to purchase by creative merchandising displays. Downtown flagship stores are lovely but suburban mall stores frequently resembles a jumble sale. Make the shopping experience more (dare it say it?) enjoyable. Unfortunately . . . see Item 2.
  5. Pay your staff enough that they enjoy what they’re doing and take pride in being a sales associate. Provide better training. Paying overworked sales associates minimum or low wages only causes resentment. This can be financed by following Item 1 above.
  6. Here’s a radical idea. A place for Boomer ladies to rest our old bones while we’re shopping or waiting for ASSISTANCE?

    Amp up the store environment. Improve strategic lighting and deep six the blanket fluorescent lights treatment. How about placing a few comfortable chairs with side tables offering inspirational fashion brochures from manufacturers or current fashion magazines. Maybe some videos of how to put outfits together?

  7. Send employees to the Nordstrom school of retail training.
  8. Always search above and beyond what’s available on the floor. When you don’t have my size, offer to find it. See Item 7 above.
  9. Don’t ever forget who ultimately pays your bills—me, the customer.
  10. Check with your customers once in a while to see how we’re doing? In all my fifty-plus years of department store shopping, I’ve never once had a retailer ask me what I want. It would be so easy to survey customers through accounts or on-line. I’d love to have the opportunity of being heard by serving on a customer council.

As someone who once worked for Eaton’s at their College Street store in Toronto, I have experience on both sides of the counter. Is anyone listening? Or are your customers irrelevant? Therein lies the problem. I told you so.

Here are some links to previous blog postings about Hudson’s Bay and general retail concerns:

How to improve sales at Hudson’s Bay

Retail rant hits home

The solution for Canadian retailers is as easy as 1, 2, 3

What on earth was The Hudson’s Bay Company Thinking?

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