How the High Street Could Serve the Mature Woman Better

How The High Street Could Serve The Mature Woman Better
I was emailed a little while ago by a young lady writing a project about style for the older woman, and was asked a few things to give her my view on style and age. I was asked some really great questions, and when I went back and read what I emailed her, I thought I’d share it here.

She asked me how I felt about the current range of choices on the high street for mature women, and whether I’ve noticed an improvement in recent years due to campaigning from the likes of Mary Portas, etc. Did I feel there’s still a long way to go, and what are the best shops/worst offenders?

Personally, I think what is available in high street stores for mature women concerns not what they sell, but how they sell it. I think women of all ages only shop in places they feel comfortable in – Topshop is marketed towards younger girls, so the shop layout, outfits, music, etc. reflect that; likewise, places geared towards mature women have softer music, mannequins in safe outfits, and so on.

Take Topshop, Zara or New Look for example: I think that mature women could easily shop from about 50% of their ranges if you presented them in, say, the Mary Portas store. She presents an environment geared towards their age group.

As a general rule, if women aren’t comfortable in a store, they won’t even step inside, even though many, many clothes would be suitable for them.

Although shops like Mary Portas and even Marks & Spencer have done a lot to highlight the fact that older women also need clothes geared towards them, I still think there’s a gap in the market for an equivalent store selling more reasonable, on-trend clothes for older women.

I’ve been to the flagship Mary Portas store within House of Fraser, and although I liked quite a lot of the clothes, it just wasn’t adventurous enough for me (I don’t always want classic pieces). Plus, it was still somewhat rather out of my price bracket, even though I have a reasonable amount of disposable income as I don’t have children and my husband and I both work full time.

I would be very confident that I could easily shop for my 78-year-old mother, for example, in Zara, Next, New Look, Topshop… even ASOS. They’re not ALL selling mini skirts, cut away tops or neon sportswear. So I continue to shop in these places even though I do feel “old enough to be everyone’s mother” – that doesn’t bother me – but it won’t help women who want guidance and are stuck in a rut. They could get fabulous clothes from these high street stores but just won’t/can’t shop there.

I was also asked, in terms of fashion advertising/campaigns/magazines, whether I thought there is a gap in the market for mature women. Some magazines are making an effort (Bazaar/Madonna) and adverts (Marks & Spencer/Twiggy); did I think that there needs to be more of this, and if so, why?

I would love to see many more older women in marketing campaigns and magazines, and I don’t just mean the still-working 90s supers who are now in their forties like Linda Evangelista, Yasmin Le Bon or Cecelia Chancellor (whom Mary Portas used in her first campaign). They are still supermodels, after all.

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I find magazines for older women far too mumsy (ugh, that word!) – I think it would be a great idea [and this is hardly a surprise to anyone reading this post] to use style bloggers because they love fashion and style so they’re used to dressing up, they’re comfortable in front of the camera and are usually willing to try more daring outfits and experiment more.

This is the sort of inspiration the ‘woman on the street’ needs: Other non-supermodel women. I truly believe it could work because of the popularity of fashion blogs and street-style photography. If we all love the style of fellow bloggers – and very few of us look like supermodels – who’s to say other women (who have never seen a style blog before) wouldn’t react in the same positive way?

High street (as opposed to couture) is what we wear in real-life – what we are going to buy and actually wear so this is what needs a fresh approach. I’d like to see one of the big retailers do something much more daring where an advertising campaign is concerned; New Look touched on it a little last year with their TV advert that showed ordinary girls of all shapes and sizes… age needs to be addressed next.

Think about how much an advertising campaign showing fabulous women of all ages not dressed like the archetypal mother of the bride would get people talking…!



Image credit: McArthurGlen


  1. 4 May 2016 / 9:38 am

    What a terrific article Catherine! I love your blog and heartily agree with all the points you've made. I've just turned 40 and have an edgy, adventurous style. Everything I love to wear is sold in stores that I feel 'old' to walk into. I can just imagine how more 'timid girls' would struggle and therefore miss out on clothes that would look really good on them. Thanks heaps for writing this! Petrina

  2. 21 December 2014 / 3:38 am

    Well, I'm not there yet age wise, but 9 years ago when I was studying in the UK I bought presents for my mother who was 51 at the time. I did shop from Next and Jane Norman and yes with some searching I could even find something in Topshop. But if my mum when into Topshop, especially the Oxford Circus flagship in London, I think she'd have a heart attack (I'm also confused by this store)!! I agree that some brands don't market at mature women at all. From personal experience (see Mum) I do know that there are German brands for example (Basler comes in mind) that are targeted in mature women. Also in Greece there are local brands that use a bit younger models but still their clothes are for women above the age of 45 (heck I couldn't even find my size there!!)

    • 22 December 2014 / 1:27 am

      It goes to show that marketing and perception of a brand has so much to do with it, Anna… and yes there's no way my mum would dream of going into Topshop because of the music!! Mind you, I can't bear clothes shopping in the shops which is why I do all my shopping online. Maybe that's why I shop in high street brands that generally have a younger target customer because they way the shop is presented makes no difference to me…!

      Great food for thought – thank you for your comment! C x

  3. Anonymous
    25 January 2013 / 7:21 pm

    I visited the Mary Portas in-store flagship store, and what saddened me about it was that their smallest size is too big for me. I am not super-thin, just on the lower boundary of normal weight for height, but I am not tall (5'5") so obviously I need smaller clothes than a 5'10" woman. There is basically nothing I can buy from M&S either, because they only cater for taller/bigger women. Their minimum size was 8, which is any other brand's 10, when I last looked.

    This really annoys me, because as people get older they often lose height, so any short women trying to shop in either M&S or Mary Portas will have to be overweight or at least on the upper end of the normal weight for height range.

    On the other hand, I wouldn't be caught dead in the sort of clothes M&S were selling last time I looked, so perhaps I should not be complaining about them. I prefer more youthful clothes, like you wear, Catherine. I am not ready to give up on having fun with clothes yet.

  4. 11 August 2012 / 4:44 pm

    I think there is a big gap between the so-called youth market and the market designed for older women (which is often too boring!). When I am in the UK (I now live in Spain) I tend to head towards the department stores as they have ranges to suit all age groups, and I can buy from "younger" ranges without feeling out of place. I love shopping with my daughters, who will encourage me to try more modern styles. My task is made harder by the fact that I am petite, though sadly not as slim as I was!

  5. 7 August 2012 / 10:07 pm

    Great answers, Catherine. Once I hit my 50's, I began really trying to revamp my style because I had fallen into the 'mumsy' rut… and it felt awful! And I was so shocked at how hard it was- stores do no know what to do with a more mature woman who is interested in staying stylish and looking attractive on a budget. I'm not sure I understand the logic behind "budget-clothing that is hideous". I mean, why? Anyway, there is definitely a hole in the market and I hope someone comes up with some other options. Also- not everyone over 50 is overweight! One 'mature' store I went into had nothing in my size- and I know plenty of women my size or smaller. We always commiserate about not finding our sizes in the stores!

  6. 7 August 2012 / 5:50 pm

    Great post Catherine. The great thing about fashion bloggers is their willingness to take risks and be unique. I know I get most of my inspiration from other bloggers and not from store displays.

    I just ordered a top from ASOS, so us oldsters do purchase from stores focussed on younger women.

  7. 7 August 2012 / 4:32 pm

    I think you had definitely answered all the questions well! I agree with you on the branding. It is the brand's decision on how they would like to attract the age group. With the popularity on blogging lately, bloggers are definitely a good choice to market fashion these days. I see more of brands approaching common people on the street to appear in their magazines these days. I think fashion is slowly changing. More day-to-day basis than living in the dreams to be that "model" when 1 flip through the pages.

  8. 6 August 2012 / 11:07 pm

    These are such great responses, Catherine, and I totally agree. I often hear people dismiss stores like Topshop, River Island etc as "just for teenagers", and it always surprises me because I buy a large percentage of my clothes from those kind of stores, and I'm far from being a teenager, and tend to favour fairly classic, "safe" pieces. I think most of those stores have a reasonable mix of clothes, which *could* work on women of different ages – as you say, the main reason they're not worn by women of different ages is partly down to the way they market themselves. I know a lot of women, for instance, who say they wouldn't set foot in Topshop, and I suspect that has more to do with the atmosphere of the store, and the age group that tends to frequent it than it does with the actual clothes…

  9. 6 August 2012 / 8:02 pm

    I totally agree with you Catherine. What a good idea to use a blogger as a model. Of course we still want to see a picture which is nice for the eye. But that can also be achieved in the way you suggest it. And it would make me feel so much better.
    One reason why I don't dare to shop in f.i. Topshop, is because I have difficulty in seeing what I can still wear and what not.

  10. 6 August 2012 / 6:28 pm

    Since I do most of my shopping for clothes on the internet I never get to experience the loud music, or the feeling that I'm everybody's mom. Had I lived in the UK though, I would probably have been to the shops, and not bought much!

    There's a huge gap, and the older one get the more obvious it is. If you're past 50, young shop assistants think you're shopping for a present for a daughter or niece (H&M, an older relative!), which will take some really low prices to make one come back for more!

    The same goes for advertising – you never see a grey haired woman modelling a biker leather jacket, although I've seen some wearing it in "real life"!

  11. 6 August 2012 / 3:26 pm

    I was in a store geared toward the younger market a few months back looking at some lovely knitwear. The music was so , so loud it was unbearable. I was with a friend so asked for it to be turned down – how old am I !!? It just wasn't necessary – the shop was empty apart from us too! Lol. They were very kind and turned it down straight away! xx

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