What About Us?: Do Women Over 50 Care About Slow Fashion?

Among those who care about slow and ethical fashion, there’s a question hanging in cyberspace like one of those cartoon balloons: Do women over fifty care about slow and ethical fashion? It’s something I wonder about a lot, because I do care.

I think that before we can answer the question, we have to define “slow fashion”.

The term “slow fashion” was coined by Kate Fletcher, professor at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London, in 2007. She is the author of the highly respected book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2008).

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Although there are many aspects to the slow fashion movement, its two main areas of concern are human rights and ecological sustainability.

The slow fashion movement is analogous to the slow food movement; in this case the mass-produced and abused meat is cheap, expendable clothing, made primarily by women whose rights are most often abused.

Having delved into and observed the growing slow and ethical fashion movement, I can’t help but notice that most of those actually involved in the movement are millennials. Why?

First of all, it’s fashion in general and retail specifically that’s the problem.

Until very recently we seldom saw a skin wrinkle on the runway. It’s no secret that women over fifty have felt largely neglected by the entire fashion world. That has resulted in the abandonment of fashion by many 50 plus women. We’re simply tired of the whole bloody thing.

Second, I think that the “boomer” generation is burned out on what appear to be short-term “causes.” We’re skeptical – we don’t jump on bandwagons as quickly or readily as we may have in the past. This is understandable: after marriage, children, a career, and half a lifetime one wants to put one’s feet up and rest. Who made what’s on those feet may not seem that important.

But boomers were rebels! We went through the Vietnam War, the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and lots of sex, drugs and rock and roll. We embraced change. So what gives?

What gives is that the slow and ethical fashion movement is currently playing out on social media, and while many of us have embraced social media, the majority of boomers are not as involved in the Twitter-Instagram-Snapchat-Pinterest-Blog spaces.

Furthermore, just like a lot of fashion, slow fashion is being sold online. It’s much easier for a small, emerging brand to sell on a website than to go bricks and mortar – A LOT easier. And while boomers too are shopping online, they still know and feel that there is nothing like the experience of touching and trying on apparel. This is something emerging slow brands will have to consider.

But if women over fifty are still shopping in stores, what they’re seeing there does not make them happy. We have a list of legitimate complaints regarding what is too often not available to us in any marketplace.

Some examples are: skirts that measure more than 12 inches in length; sleeves of some sort on everything from t-shirts to blouses and dresses; shoes that are comfortable, not dowdy and positively orthopedic looking.

I believe that the slow fashion movement is potentially a fantastic solution to many of the grievances women over fifty currently have about fashion.

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I’ve had the real pleasure of attending meetings, workshops, and panel discussions with both advocates and makers of slow fashion. These events have been well-organized, fun, and inspirational. The individuals involved are impressive. There’s just one thing- everyone involved is really young.

There’s near zero participation by, and consequently little attention being paid to, people over, say, 30.

What struck me is just how very narrowly focused the designers, makers, and even advocates appear to be. In every aspect of their emerging businesses, they seem to be exclusively targeting millennials. While this may be pragmatic and or even economical in the short term, it does not seem wise for the long term. It’s definitely not good for the slow fashion movement.

Young, slow-and-ethical fashion makers need to understand that there’s a whole cohort of us out here ready to buy your designs!

But, you have to be willing to design for us too. While we may be on the way out, we’re not dead yet! We might even be able to help you develop your ideas, products, and businesses. After all, unlike our mothers and grandmothers, the boomer generation worked in the marketplace. And finally, please remember that millennials, too, will be over fifty eventually…

I believe it’s inevitable that slow and ethical fashion will gradually gain the attention and serious consideration it deserves, and that boomers will eventually play an integral part in spreading the word. Here’s why:

The very skepticism that at first holds us back when meaningful shifts in social consciousness occur allows us time to become fully informed, to gain a deeper understanding of the issues, to bring true passion when we commit.

Despite that bit of burnout I mentioned earlier, women over fifty care deeply about human rights. When they fully understand that it’s mostly women making those $10 t-shirts for a couple of dollars an hour, they will do the right thing. I don’t think any woman wants to know she is wearing something made by an impoverished little girl who should be in school.

Women care about the environment. When they learn about the chemicals in their clothing, the dyes in the rivers, and the tons of discarded clothing rotting in landfills, they’ll look for sustainable options.

Women care about quality and we are increasingly interested in quality over quantity. I talk with women everyday about how brands we once relied on for reasonably priced, quality apparel have failed to retain that quality. It’s a cost-per-wear nightmare, and the thoughtfully curated “capsule wardrobe” is here to stay.

Women over fifty understand the concept of slowing down. We get it. We know that we inevitably pay a price for fast, cheap, and obsolete. We see the writing on the wall. We want to be around in a safe, pleasant, and sustainable world that’s going to last for our children and grandchildren.

Do women over fifty care about slow and ethical fashion? Yes, because it’s the right thing to do.

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Anita Irlen

About the Author

Anita Irlen is the woman behind lookforthewoman.com, a blog for women of style and substance, who want to age differently. She lives in New York City with her husband and is often seen stalking the streets of Manhattan looking for beauty in any form. She tries to balance her love of fine things with a commitment to social good. Anita is an advocate of slow fashion and quality over quantity in all things.

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