It’s Not All Downhill Once You Turn 50! The Former Rebels Of The Wild Jeans Years Still Dominate The Market. And Both The Retail Sector And Jeans Labels Have To Adapt To The Demographic Shift.

“Over 50? That’s over the hill.” Let’s not talk  about getting old.

In the fashion world, being young is everything. At least that’s what the advertising suggests; and fashion trends are focused on young people only anyway. “Getting old” is still a taboo topic. But why? Our research shows that the fifty something age group has become an exciting growth market.

Everyone’s talking about the changing demographics but hardly any company has really changed its approach. Studies show that in only a few years more than half the population will be age 50 and over.

But the craze for youth still holds sway. Marketing expert Hans-Georg Pompe has had a closer look at the fifty-something target group in his book   Marktmacht 50plus [Market Power 50 Plus]. As he says:

“Customers over   50 can get very enthusiastic about personal esteem and the appeal of the salespeople or people advising them. They are more mature, more discerning, more capricious, more erratic, more sophisticated and more sensitive, but in terms of their deep- down needs they’re also more simply wired.” The fifty-something’s are the baby boomers who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s with jeans brands such as Levi’s, Wrangler, Lois, Mustang, Gas, and Lee. And they helped those brands grow! The “young-at-heart” fifty something’s also loved the Elwood model from G-Star, the Saddle from Diesel and also Replay. They put on their blue jeans to rebel, demonstrate and protest against the establishment and to dance their butts off at rock concerts. Around the world blue jeans were the symbol of youth. They  were the garment they wore to set themselves apart from their square parents.

But now the rebels of yesteryear have reached a certain age. But none of them really feels old–they feel younger than ever before. As Moreno Giuriato, president of Ital services, puts  it: “The consumers ages 50 and over are a target group that is very open in terms of fashion; even in times of crisis they are willing to spend money on fashion.” Giuriato is not the only one making that compliment to women  in that age group: women around 50 today look 10 years younger, are confident, have found their own look, often have their own money and are also younger in their approach to life. Today, being 50 means feeling like you’re 40. Perfect examples of this are “rock oldies” such as Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen, recently re-elected American President Barack Obama and Hollywood star Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise), who, at 60, is sexier than ever. “For us, it’s not just about the age of people but who wears the brand,” says Citizens of Humanity boss Corrado Masini, who invests in offbeat testimonials from people such as dancer, choreographer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov, 64. But it’s not just celebrities who are cutting a good figure: The many fresh- ooking fifty somethings at the Bread & Butter trade show are still looking  very good, despite the first signs of a tummy and their beards.

It’s simply a fact that today’s 50+ age group are dressing younger and want to shop in cool stores. They rate jeans brands highly, even if their shopping habits have changed. Innovative jeans stores such as 14 oz in Berlin, Jades in Düsseldorf, Luisa Via Roma in Florence and Crämer & Co. in Nuremberg gear their exclusive brand offerings to just this target group. The traditional fashion departments in department stores are likewise increasingly adapting to the “oldies” and are now offering an ever-growing selection of fashionable jeans brands; American classics alone simply won’t cut it anymore. Jeans departments have to move forward, with hip brands such as True Religion, J Brand, G-Star, Diesel, Replay, Mavi or Tommy Hilfiger. If they overlap with the younger boutiques under the same roof it’s not really a problem because fiftysomethings are cross-shoppers.

Brands are now competing for pole position in the sought after traditional fashion departments and the older dominant brands are not about to give up their place in the shelves without a fight. La Rinascente in Milan is a good example of how a department store can regenerate. Or Selfridges in London. Peek & Cloppenburg in Düsseldorf has given its ladies fashion department a facelift with brands such as G-Star Raw, Tommy Hilfiger, Mavi, Lee and Fuga Denim on sale alongside classics such as Mac, Brax and Angels. Brands such as Diesel and Levi’s are getting men’s attention. Katharine Kreifels, a ladies’ fashion buyer at Peek & Cloppenburg KG in Düsseldorf, tells us: “As far as jeans are concerned, in addition to trends, for the young at heart fifty somethings the fit plays an important role.” New innovative concepts are hitting the mark. At its flagship store in Stuttgart, Breuninger offers contemporary fashion with brands such as J Brand, Current/ Elliott, Cimarron, True Religion, Rock Review, Silver, Drykorn, Hugo, Cambio and Closed on over 2,000 sq. meters (21,000 sq. feet). Holger Blecker, a member of the Breuninger management team, says: “We find our customers to be very fashion and trend-conscious. And it’s not just the lifestyle aspect of a brand that is important but also the best quality and an excellent fit. The products have to be convincing in terms of design and also as a whole package.” “This trend toward revamping the traditional fashion departments has been going on for some two or three years now,” explains Axel Schukies of G- star Germany. Consumers buy their shirts and sweaters in the traditional fashion departments and also want to see their preferred jeans brands stocked there too. Schukies adds: “It is not an overly large market share for us but it is constantly growing. It’s a process that needs time to unfold.” Oskar Sommarlund, co-owner of Denim Demon in Stockholm, adds another viewpoint: “Today’s fiftysomethings know their stuff. They know what they want, which is not always the case with younger people.” Of course, the Swedish denim label is also looking to secure a place in the core denim departments. As Sommarlund says: “There’s nothing better than a well-stocked denim department–the smell, the feeling, it’s great.” Mirco Rota, sales manager at Cycle Italy, says: “Men aged 50 and over like to wear jeans and they want to find them in the stores where they buy their Cucinelli cashmere sweaters and Dior shirts.” Mavi is another brand in constant growth that has had a firm foothold in ladies’ fashion departments. Mustang has revised its brand concept and is now parting ways with the “youth” and beginning to appeal to adults ages 25 to 50 as its main target group. But talking about aging is still not so easy for many. What brand really wants to commit to a more mature target group? Some jeans brands avoid the topic completely and others say “it has no relevance for us.” Others again say they cater for all age groups and thus avoid taking a stance.

Many multibrand stores, however, are going out of their way to cater to their new older-aged target group, who long ago became faithful customers.

Paloma Hatami at Oscar & Wild in Melbourne says: “In our case it’s female professionals who know what they want and appreciate good service and quality. They are a joy to serve.” Women in particular like to dress younger but still remain elegant, for no woman at that age wants to look like they’re off to the disco. At high-end Düsseldorf store Jades More, there seems to be an unending stream of fiftysomething women coming through the door. Everyone wants to be a part of it. Top sellers are premium deluxe items from J Brand and Pierre Balmain, or anything that is tight, sexy, stretchy, made of leather or has an understated glow. Coated Current/ Elliott jeans are very popular just now.

Store manager Biggi Heider, who’s in her fifties herself, says: “It’s all a question of figure and attitude. We have so many customers who are well over 50. The super-thin pharmacist will be after those super-tight jeans just as much as the creative architect type.” Men, on the other hand, are a bit more restrained. They prefer their jeans more discreet, for example from True Religion.

Generally speaking, the fashion divide between the generations is getting smaller and smaller–both in Europe and America. So no one really wants or needs to bow to any specific trend. As Cecilia Steiner from Nitty Gritty in Stockholm puts it: “The older customers are simply a part of it all. That’s why we haven’t changed our strategy. We like to think we are more purveyors of style as opposed to trends.” It may no longer be taboo for father and son to wear the same jeans but grown-ups are still not looking to copy their children. Dressing like their daughter is simply a no-no for many women. Kyle Stewart from London’s Goodhood store throws more light on this: “Our customers are young in spirit; they dress smart and move with the times, but of course don’t go overboard with a young look.” Vinicio Ravagnani from Vinicio in Milan adds: “I’m 55 myself and I can relate to my customers very well. I will gladly sell them all types of jeans and designer fashion but they must never look like teenagers.” They mostly opt for clean, unwashed jeans. Jeans with a slogan on them or in-your-face destroyed washes are things they turn their noses up at.


It may be true that there are some daring fiftysomethings out there who wear skinny jeans or jeans with holes in them–but the rule of thumb is still that pants must be classic and wearable to the office. The “grown- up” target group values quality, sales advice and service but also has the purchasing power to match. Norbert Kaltenbach from Kaltenbach in Munich has been catering to this specific target group for decades in his main store, which is subdivided into Classic and Fashion departments. As he says: “We have noticed how our older customers have moved into the fashion department. They’re after the skinny jeans and unusual styles and washes. They used to just buy classics like Mac, Angels and Brax.” The My Jeans shop in the German town of Weiterstadt has likewise grown up with its customers. Tommy Igiel, over 50 himself, sees himself as a “role model for all of them. They see what Tommy’s wearing and want that style for themselves.” This year My Jeans celebrates its 30th birthday–so it’s not all downhill once you hit 50. Oskar Sommarlund from Sweden can testify to that: “My grandfather is almost 93 and he looks great in Demon jeans–even if he has swapped the button-up closure for a zipper.” So the jeans rebels still have quite some way to go …

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