(This article previously appeared on Elisabeth Dale's The Breast Life.)
Fashion websites have been falling all over themselves to celebrate the latest advertising trend: Women over 50, 60 and even 80, fronting for brands in the fashion world. Joni Mitchell, Joan Didion and now Twiggy, are the current hot senior commodities selling stylish designer products.
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I love to see older women celebrated and honored in this way. Now in my late 50s, I'm content, and even more in love with life. But I'm curious to know what these mature models are wearing underneath their outfits. Are they still able to find pretty, feminine and well-fitting lingerie?
Look at any bra brand — including those championing diversity in lingerie like the recent Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign — and you rarely see a model who looks over the age of 30. It's great for younger women, but it doesn't do much for those of us who only see our daughters' bodies reflected in these ads.
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I aged out of Victoria's Secret push-up padded bras sometime between the birth of my second and third child. None of their styles seemed to fit my post-baby body. Soma, and other companies, have stepped in to serve the 35-year-old and up customer. But their products are geared to achieving an "age-defying" bra look. That's not my goal anymore. I'm OK with where my breasts rest on my chest. They match everything else that's gently given into gravity.
There's no effort made to design or sell lingerie to postmenopausal women. The few older women one sees in lingerie ads are either modeling shapewear or pocketed mastectomy wear. A 50-something woman in her bra and panties is an attention-grabbing anomaly. But it's more of a gimmick and not a long-term plan to cater to this group of consumers.
Here are four reasons why the lingerie industry should pay more attention to female baby boomers and consider designing for and catering to our lingerie needs:
1. We're not hanging up our bras anytime soon. Women my age haven't lost their desire to wear stylish clothes. Given my genetics, it's likely I'll be buying lingerie for another 30+ years. That's more than a decade longer than my regular visits to Victoria's Secret (including shopping for my teen daughter). The silver-haired, lingerie-loving generation is a lucrative, untapped market. The only difference between my younger bra-wearing self and my older bra-wearing self is that I have more disposable income and a willingness to pay for quality garments.
2. We still feel and act sexy, but in a whole new way. Our bodies may not be youthful, but surveys show older women live happy, active sex lives. It's less about wearing tight dresses or necklines to our navels. Plunge bras or ones that push boobs up around my neckline give me "creasage," not cleavage. I want pretty, feminine designs that won't dig into any part of my softer flesh. Forget trendy strappy looks and sell me elegant styles with fabulous trims. Give me underwires wrapped in soft fabrics and hardware that doesn't dig into my body. Heavily padded cups aren't necessary because this senior doesn't care about "nipping" out.
3. We have realistic expectations. I have no illusions about my aging body. I'm more comfortable and confident with myself because I no longer aspire to look like anyone else (including a younger version of myself). I know that, short of major surgical intervention, there's no turning back the clock on appearance. Less firm skin around my middle, flabbier upper arms and heavier boobs may be a strange price to pay for my wisdom. But I'm still healthy, fit and fabulous. I just want designers to delicately engineer and carefully camouflage my more wrinkly bits and pieces, please.
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There's no need to feature nearly naked bodies of women over 50 in every lingerie campaign, either. Just sprinkle in a few into your photo shoots, to highlight the variety of body types and ages. I'd even be happy with a few lined faces in full-length silk robes. Just show me you haven't forgotten that my generation loves pretty underthings, too.
4. Beautiful lingerie is about so much more than attracting the male gaze. The Victoria's Secret annual parade of lingerie supermodels strutting their stuff in prime time is a throwback to less modern and liberated times. In reality, lingerie is worn for a variety of reasons. First and foremost it is worn to please the wearer — be it for fashion, comfort or enhancing one's sexuality. As an older women, I am secure in my femininity and aging body. Don't intimate apparel brands want models to exude a similar sense of self-confidence?
Maybe it's time for the lingerie industry to join with other fashion labels and recognize the power of older women to sell products. It's a market that's been ignored for too long. We're not done living, learning or rocking the world. We'd just like to do it while wearing beautiful and comfortable bras and knickers, too.
Elisabeth Dale is an internationally renowned breast expert and founder of TheBreastLife.com. She is the author of bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls and is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Her blog is syndicated by RealSelf.com.
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