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 couldn’t have said it better

I just came across a shared article on Facebook’s Style Your Way to Success Over 50 written by Rebecca Huval in January 2017 entitled We’ve Forgotten How to Dress Like Adults which expresses the sentiments of baby boomer women and our relationship with fashion better than I ever could. I loved it and I think you will to. Here’s the link:

https://www.racked.com/2017/1/18/14112366/dressing-like-an-adult-sophistication

What do you think? Do you agree with Rebecca?

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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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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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Fashion . . . are we in or are we out?

Diane Keaton. My style inspiration.

In my mind’s eye I have the quirky fashion panache of Diane Keaton, the adorable personality of Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, the casual savoir faire of the mature Lauren Hutton and the smarts of Samantha Bee. In reality, there’s a significant spread between what I am and what I would like to be. Let’s just say my fashion style is more aspirational than inspirational. In reality, I resemble the hapless middle-aged lady from the television commercial who falls off her exercise ball or crashes down from the pole as she attempts the latest dance moves. In my attempts to remain current and relevant, will I ever get it exactly right?

Perhaps my frequent missteps are the result of fashion magazine overload a.k.a. fake news for gullible boomers. In our efforts to remain au courant, we sometimes misinterpret what works and what doesn’t work. Obviously, no one since Caroline Bisset Kennedy (late wife of the late John Jr.) has been able to successfully pull off a slip dress. And now the fashionistas are telling me all I have to do is pop a saucy little tee shirt under it, pair it up with some strappy sandals and I’m all set to go? Or that a one-shouldered pin-striped blouse with acres of ruffles across the front and on the single sleeve will qualify me for the eternal hall of fashion shame? Both looks are too horrifying to even contemplate and I really don’t want my picture circulating on the internet’s “Seen shopping at Walmart”. . . again!

Some things that may look great on supermodels are not quite as successful on real-life boomers.

I don’t need to paint a picture of what boomer gals would look like in a spaghetti-strapped mini length sun dress or, conversely, an oversized chunky knit boyfriend sweater with a cowl neck the size of a tractor tire. Spare me the embarrassment of trying to wear wasp-waisted sailor pants, a tube dress or the agony of five-inch platform heels. It’ll be a frosty day in hell before I expose my saggy knees in ripped three-hundred dollar designer jeans or my sun-damaged décolletage in sheer, gauzy plunging necklines. Rompers and jumpsuits don’t even warrant discussion. I have a drawer full of fabulous leather belts that will never again see the light of day. But I hang on to them in case I get lucky and acquire a parasite that causes me to lose twenty pounds and the return of my long-departed waistline. Haircuts are predicated on making the most of a losing (literally) game.

Despite the challenges, I keep subscribing to fashion magazines and poring over their ridiculously Photoshopped glossy pages in the vain hope they might feature something boomer women can confidently strut out in. We may not be the chicest or the trendiest nor may we ever be short-listed for the Best Dressed list, but most of us have finally found our groove despite being a demographic that is completely ignored by the fashion industry. It’s more about personal style than wearing what’s the latest fashion.

I think the best we boomer gals can hope for is a little bit “in” and not too much “out” sprinkled with a dash of fun and originality. Walking a balanced line of fashionably stylish and stylishly comfortable suits me just fine. And if I manage to capture even a teeny slice of Diane Keaton’s style, then I’ll count myself “in”. In the meantime, I think I’m talking myself into those weird silver earrings I saw yesterday but didn’t have the nerve to buy. Yes?

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