Naming senior sizing

I had a whole lot more to say in Fit used to be so much better than I wrote. One thing I did hope would arise in the ensuing conversation was the matter of fitting older people. This market wasn’t appreciable before but with baby boomers aging and being such babies about it (we are) and having the expectations we do (the first spoiled generation), fitting this demography will become increasingly critical. I think there’s a bigger problem tho, namely the packaging.

How will we designate “mature” sizes from the rest? Think about it. It has to be palatable because -haven’t you heard? Fifty is the new thirty. I certainly wouldn’t be inspired to shop the old hags rack. Ten years ago, my uncle suggested “Silver Sizing”, it seemed catchy but more appropriate to his generation than mine. With boomers being the first brand generation, whatever will we call it? You can’t sell it unless you’ve got a catchy way to package it. It’s something that we as an industry have never dealt with before. Like it or not, we will be soon. So… what would you call it?

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Shams says:

    This is a very good question. I usually say I have a “mature” figure, but “mature sizing” is not very enticing when it comes time to shop. The brand “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans” conveys the concept pretty well with their naming, which does not offend. Maybe humor is the best way to go.

    This is tough. :)

  2. woolcat says:

    Well, you can’t really call it silver sizing since I don’t meet many ageing boomers who are going grey gracefully! I think humorous is a good way to go.

  3. Xochil says:

    This is not very creative, but maybe how Petite’s are notated with a P after the size (ie: 10P), “mature” sizing could use B for Boomer (ie:10B)? Boomer is better than Mature, at least people would know they are defined in that category, without being offensive.

  4. Darlene says:

    Yes, I like the “B for Boomer” idea, Xochil. And later, “X” for Gen X and “Y” for Gen Y.

    But it’s also dawned on me that Boomers have been hitting their 40’s and 50’s for a while, so it’s surprising that this name issue hasn’t already been resolved or at least narrowed to a few choice phrases. I realized this when researching my target market–I spent a lot of time looking at Boomers, until I realized that Boomers will not fall in the 30-50 range for much longer. Which, of course, also means that I’m getting closer to 50 (I’m an early Gen X).

  5. Kathleen says:

    Ha Xochil, you’d have us go back to this?

    Apparently, sizing wasn’t so hunky dory in the late forties and early fifties either… a new scale was devised, the so-called “Brief” sizes… Also…Precision size, Tween size, Miniature Miss, Diminutive, Short Cuts, Happy Mediums, Mid-size, Average Size, Petti-size, and last but not least, P.A.T (Perfect American Type). My my my.

    Sizing numbers were quite complex. Consider these: 12A-20A, 10D-20D, 10S-20S, A.A.12-A.A.20, AH8-AH18, 12B-18B and 10+ to 20+. Very confusing. I suppose it’s not much of a mystery why these size scales don’t still exist today.

    Having a penchant for calling a spade a spade, I’d call it “old hag” sizing and be done with it. Tongue in cheek of course. But I may do it yet…

    Woolcat: I was looking forward to grey hair thinking it’d make me look blonder from a distance. I’ve never colored my hair and can’t imagine I ever would, too much work. My idea of grooming is brushing my hair in the parking lot on my way into the store. My husband once threatened to give me a gift certificate to a day spa and I told him I’d rather sit out in the parking lot and read, smoke cigarettes and drink cheap beer all day and just say I went in.

  6. Beth Laske-Miller says:

    It seems that (until now) this group has defined its shopping patterns by brand, rather than sizing demographic. It’s been generally referred to as “moderates” in the retail world, including Norton McNaughton, Alfred Dunner, Worthington, etc . . . It’s the great “un-talked-about” category at this time. I think the great difficulty is in the fact that The Group does not want to be named. We are terribly youth-obsessed, and buying an Old Hag garment is equivalent to admitting that you are, in fact, old. The only brands that will survive, are either; those that treat it with a sense of humor, or those that we already have that “don’t ask & don’t tell”

  7. I have found a certain degree of truth to this …

    It’s the great “un-talked-about” category at this time. I think the great difficulty is in the fact that The Group does not want to be named.

    The thing that astounds me is current product categories would have us believe we have less difficulty categorising ourselves as overweight (‘plus’ sizes) than we do calling ourselves older (no category as yet). Or do we … ?

    Here’s my slightly controversial comment … it’s not meant to cause anxiety, just something to reflect on. If we had an “older” category, would we find have less people in the younger plus size category? I already know the answer to this question … (btw I’m only a year or so off being a baby boomer and I used to be overweight so I can say this with integrity).

    So what % of the younger market is plus size and what % of the older market is plus size. Is the plus size % uniform across all ages? An honest look at this question may well help create better sizing intervals.

  8. dosfashionistas says:

    Actually, that study has been done and you read it right here in Kathleen’s blog. I think last year. We do get heavier as we get older. And plus sizes has always been the way the fashion industry tried to address that issue. Indeed, the first plus sizes were not called plus sizes, but half sizes. They were actually fitted to the older figure and they started with 14 1/2 or 16 1/2. Now I don’t think Half sizes is a good way to market, but back in the 50’s everyone knew what the market for half sizes was. (Oh no, I was just a little girl then, really. I developed an interest in fashion very early, in the cradle. ……OK, I was a teenager and I was interested in fashion.)

    The three mythical archtypes of woman are maiden, mother, and crone. And while I am embracing my crone years, enjoying being grandmother and wise woman, I cannot recommend Crone Clothing as a label for mature sizing.

  9. Lindsay says:

    It’s a good idea to come up with a snappy label for mature sizing. I don’t know many people who enjoy aging — everything starts falling DOWN, the derriere moves OUT, and we start to resemble our parents and grandparents — something we thought would NEVER happen! Yup — it’s time to get in shape again SERIOUSLY — my body’s turning middle aged and I don’t like the changes.

    Gee — how about DOWN and OUT sizing? Fighting Gravity Sizing? Mirage Clothing — creating an optical illusion to make the dumpy looking figure look better. Ugh!!! Ahhhhhh!

    Kathleen — you’ve touched on several issues that people can get wound up about — aging, getting fatter, body image and fashion. Aging is not always cool, and hard to accept our bodies falling apart, and losing our youthful looks. Perhaps there might be a sizing label that allows us to laugh at ourselves — might as well have a sense of humor. Ideas anyone????

  10. A few years ago “relaxed fit” jeans were generally recognized as boomer-size. Vogue Patterns calls it Today’s Fit. There’s also Women’s sizing.

    These sizes I think are for the lumpy and middle-aged. Women being taller than Misses are definitely not senior.

    True Senior sizing would fit dowager’s hump; what else? A complete lack of waist due to hormones, gravity, muscle tone and collapsed vertebrae. Long droopy breasts that can no longer be made to look perky without excessively restrictive undergarments.

    Clothing that used it would probably also be made for people with arthritic hands who have trouble with small buttons; who have trouble reaching up to pull on a sweater; who wear only flat shoes; and who have cataracts that give everything a yellowish hue and make it difficult to distinguish red and orange or blue and green.

    I think these clothes exist today. I don’t think aren’t defined by size, but by store or by brand. I’d call it “comfort fit” or something.

  11. dosfashionistas says:

    Vintage sizes. With the word “vintage” you have the idea of something that has aged, but become better and more valuable with the aging, like a fine wine. Easy to designate too. 12V etc.

  12. sabine says:

    crone sizing, omg, I love it. it could be C-sizing, officially the C could stand for Classy or Comfort, or both, or even creme de la creme of consumers, unofficially for crone.

  13. Penny says:

    Allison is right on the money. Back in my freelance days I was contracted by a client to develop a line of clothing for senior women. They were all knits, easy to wash and dry, pull on elastic waist pants, knit blouses with velcro closeings in the front (arthritic hands cannot button clothing easily), and the colors were bright because your skin color is more washed out and the bright colors make you look more”alive”. Nothing was pull on over your head due to limited range of motion. It was interesting working with her and she knew exactly what she wanted to develop, which was refreshing! She mostly sold thru trunk shows in assisted living centers and nursing homes. We decided on S-M-L regular sizing and it was mostly about the styling, fabrics and unique features geared specifically for an ageing clientele.

  14. Great question! Personally I’d like to see clothing divided between children, girls, women and seniors. Girls would probably be up to about 35 yrs old, women 36-60, and seniors 61+.

    Obviously women would shift between groups according to their own needs on the day, but the separation would be quite specific. None of these groups would have to include that kind of dead-fashion that we’re served up, but the fit and presumed lifestyle would be within them.

    The Women’s group, naturally, would have ‘grown up, fun, happening’ values attached to it!

  15. I asked my grandpa ( who happend to be sitting next to me) and he said call it “Cruise Wear”. Funny enough I told him there was already such a category. To which he remarked – “I don’t care what you call it as long as it’s warm.”

  16. Lynn Mally says:

    I once wanted to start a line called “crone couture.” But on the “things used to be different” topic, I am collecting old photos of older American women, and they don’t look slim at all. What sizes were they wearing and where did they get their clothes?

  17. Liz says:

    I don’t think there’s a word out there to describe the women who want classy, “better” clothing for their mature bodies. At least, there’s no word that hasn’t been loaded with a lot of extra meanings that classy women with mature bodies would accept.

    So, I’d take a less-used word and attach a new meaning to it. And the word I’d choose is: Sophisticated.

    Sophisticated has fallen out of use lately, but has always implied conservatively fashionable rather than trendy, with an adult rather than youthful aura. It implies a better class of clothing than polyester double-knit pull-on pants. It is size-neutral (you can be a size 8 and still have a mature figure), and doesn’t scream “old hag”.

    There are several sub-markets for old lady clothes. There are the elderly women with impaired mobility who Allison talks about, but there is a much larger market of fit, active women in their 50s and 60s who wouldn’t be caught dead in nursing home clothing, but have to fit a body with gravity issues. I know, that’s my body.

  18. Marianne says:

    If we have to name the group for whom the clothing is made, I like “Wise Woman.” Seriously, that is the part of aging I like the best, feeling as if I have finally accumulated enough experience and knowledge to know who I am and what the world is really like. (I’m 53.) It’s even kind of an inside joke for the group since we all know we are not actually seen as “wise women” by the rest of the world.

    Crone? Old Hag? Not for me. Those give me the image of the wicked witch in the Hansel & Gretel story. Senior? too bland and sexless. Vintage? old and dusty. Humour doesn’t always translate well — for example, I’m sure the For Dummies books were named with humour but I dislike the title so much that I will never buy one unless it is my ONLY option for getting the info I need on something.

    As a description of the clothing itself, I like “comfort fit.” It’s gentle, non-judgemental and descriptive. That would work if the clothing itself is beautiful, so that it is clear that we don’t have to trade beauty for comfort.

  19. Kathleen B says:

    Not Your Daughter’s (NYD) … is my favorite. I think it says it all without any of the negatives of any of the other suggestions.

  20. Elaine says:

    So, are we talking here about the 50, 60 and 70 year olds? That’s a very different market from the 80 and 90 year olds, though there is some overlap between the two. My mother is not going to be wearing NYDJeans…but I’ve found some of the traditional fit Lands End knit pants work really well for her.

  21. Liz, if she has a waist and no kyphosis she doesn’t need senior sizing. Middle-aged sizing will work just fine. My mother is fit and active at 66; my grandmother is almost as fit and active at 91. My mother has a waist but my grandmother does not. My grandmother has pain and stiffness in one hand, and her senses are generally less acute than her daughter’s. Both have excellent posture.

    My father is 69 and has a dowager’s hump that means that if he lies on his back his head doesn’t touch the mattress. He needs a pillow. He’s otherwise fit and active: he recently came back from evaluating an education initiative in Liberia.

    I wasn’t necessarily referring to nursing-home clothing. My grandmother lives in a two-story condo by herself, but nevertheless prefers her pants with elastic in the back waist.

  22. Liz says:

    I’m not sure which sizing Kathleen was asking about: senior sizing (for the typical 80+) or aging boomer sizing (for roughly 50-70). I agree the two groups have different needs and design preferences.

  23. Elaine says:

    Eric, your alliteration and rhyming are admirable but…
    “It has to be palatable.” I think you missed the mark on ‘palatable.’
    I’m guessing we’re going to have to be a lot more subtle with our wording.

    uh…actually, I like “Where’s my Wear?”

  24. Paula says:

    IDK, this is a hard one. As a plus size, and a former size 00, the old size 2, I’m tired of being offered “grandma” styling. That is, the big splashy flowers on blouson style blouses made of a polyester with a nasty hand. Yet, I know my mother would love it. Equally frustrating is that it seems there is so much which is styled to the 16 year old who adores hip huggers and belly shirts. The single biggest issue is the lack of recognition that there is more than one market in a size grouping and that many people want functional clothing and clothing that fits, i.e., bring back pockets in women’s pants, and “just say no to pants on the ground”. Please don’t make me look older or bigger than I am. I also object to the term “natrual waist”. My natural waist is high and is certainly not at or below my belly button. Okay, stepping down from soap box now.

  25. Barb Taylorr says:

    “My Generation”
    (as in the Who song “Hope I die before I get old”)

    I also love the NYDJ fit and was delighted to find the brand. They really do fit great, but I am waiting for their designer(s) to figure out that back pocket placement & styling can make a be used to create an illusion of a smaller butt. Most of their designs do just the opposite.

  26. fran roehm says:

    Next month I will be 64. I am not over weight. Just slightly past being a skinny old white lady. Flat butt and rounded shoulders. Cannot purchase a blouse with a stand collar because it rises to my lower jaw. Pants have to much fabric in the butt. I’m amazed and disappointed to try on so called zero sizes and have them be huge on my body. Vogue patterns no longer seem to have the thought and quality they had back in the 60’s and 70’s. Maybe just a simple B (for boomer on the tag) would discreetly tell me that it would be worth my while to try it on.

  27. anna says:

    I would love some guidelines about pattern cutting for the elderly. I was googling it recently with some funny finds. I don’t think there are any books published on it, but I hope I am wrong. Anyhow-most of my elderly customers have been men with skinny legs and a round belly. So we would Ease the waist, take in the back thigh, raise or lower the crutch. Sometimes take in sides bellow the pockets. In the worst cases-lower the waist band in the front.
    Now I have a 93 year old woman whom measures 42 at the waist, 36 at the hips and her legs are only 21 inches long. Most elder ladies slacks are polyester, with elastic somewhere in the waistband, two hip pockets and a perma-crease down the front lines. Anyhow-there is no waist to let out, the seams are closed together-so you can imagine that I was considering just drafting a pattern for her and whipping out a few pairs. When I drew it-it just looked weird, and I am sure it was wrong. I Can’t remember what I did for her in the past that to make her favorite purple pants fit.
    Any suggestions?

  28. There isn’t a book on it that I know of. Some books that could be helpful are ones that discuss design for the disabled. Reason being, the elderly have related range of motion limitations and possible figure variations that while normal, are not typical of younger figures that most clothing is designed for. This might be helpful, specifically you want D5586-01 Standard Tables of Body Measurements for Women Aged 55 and Older (All Figure Types). I haven’t found it particularly useful but you may.

  29. Quincunx says:

    I found one! . . .but again, in Swedish. (Now why couldn’t I have remembered its existence six months ago, while I was IN a Swedish library that HAD the book. . .but no, I had to go look at the back issues of BurdaStyle /headdesk) Generous thanks to ejvc of Stitcher’s Guild for finding it in the first place. Klädd: kläder för kvinnor med osteoporos is the book (Google Translate note: it says “models”, but means “patterns”) and this is ejvc’s review of its contents and comments on fashion for seniors in general. (Also thank you, Kathleen, for pointing out Google Translate, which has several words which are missing from my online dictionary of choice.)

  30. Linda Sherman says:

    I was talking to my 35 year old son (I’m his start-up “partner” i.e. work slave) and referred to myself as “middle-aged” (I’m 63). He snorted and declared, “Middle-aged? Hell. I’M middle aged!”. So now I’m calling myself “post-middle aged. :-) Not very sexy, tho.

    I buy almost all of my clothes at Chico’s. From all of the online comments where buyers give their ages, everyone seems to be about late 50s, early-mid 60s. I walk right in, put on my size pants (the defining garment for me) and the damn things fit perfectly. I never feel like I’m buying clothes for old chicks. They do, however, define my size as much smaller than I would define it. Size 1.5 = size 10 Hahahahaha! I’m 5’9” and 155 pounds. That has equaled a size 14 since 1961 when I was 10 pounds thinner. But i digress.

    They must be doing something right, tho. Seem to be pretty popular and doing well. Love the website usability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.