Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Senior Discount: A Matter of Fashion?

Photo by dharma

I like to believe that appearances do not matter to me. Nevertheless, I can remember the first time a store employee called me, “Ma’am.” I was only in my late twenties when a teenage bag boy said, “Would you like me to take these bags to your car, Ma’am.” What a brat.

I also remember the first time I took my daughter out of the house at one week old. The middle-aged cashier at the grocery store remarked, “That baby is very young. The mother probably only let you take that baby out because you are the grandmother, right?” Um, no. I was her 39-year-old mother. I cried all the way home.

However, these moments were eclipsed the day that my mother-in-law and I took my two children to a soup and salad buffet.
The twenty-something hostess offered us both the senior discount. 
This happened the summer of 2011. I wasn’t going to qualify for their discount (age 60+) for eleven more years, but it was a huge wake up call for me. This time I didn’t cry. Fueled with adrenalin, I went shopping.

I am not very visual, but after that day, I have tried to pay more attention to how attractive, mature women dress. I am short, and I maintain an active lifestyle, so without putting my time, money or thought into my appearance, people used to guess me as younger.

I recognize some salient changes: my skin color has gone from pink/white to ash, my hair has gone from golden blonde to ash gray, and my figure has softened--or as I like to say, “my real estate has moved south.” These visual cues clearly mark me as being my driver's license age or older.

Embracing Fashion in Midlife

I have observed that women in their 20s and 30s can get by with just throwing on jeans and a t-shirt because they have firm flesh and vibrant skin/hair color working in their favor.
Now that I have turned my attention to this art form, I can see that mature women look attractive by drawing attention to the wisdom and skill they have developed in putting together a look.
After decades of practice, older women know how to foreground their best features, how to select clothing that has fine detail, how to select flattering accessories without over accessorizing, how to select colors beyond the basic Crayola 8--choosing instead colors that are either more rich or more subtle. Some of my more visual friends have even introduced me to magazines, blogs, and books, dedicated to the art of looking fabulous when 50+.

Now that I have added a little more “umph” to my wardrobe, I get a little more positive attention. It doesn’t always happen, and I shouldn’t care so much about how I look. Nevertheless, when I have a friend cross the room to tell me that she likes my jacket or my dress, I am much happier than being treated like wallpaper. I also have noticed that I get better service in stores and doctors' offices if I attend to my appearance. My trademark “rumpled” nerdy look as a college student now translates too readily to “bag lady” as I move towards older adulthood.

Give Others Compliments

Since the day I was offered the senior discount, I have made a better effort to compliment other mature women on their appearance.

I was shopping at an office supply store in Enid, Oklahoma last fall when I saw a woman a generation above me enter the store. She was wearing a beautiful coral wool suit with matching handbag and shoes. Her makeup was expertly applied, which is no small matter. (I struggle to apply eye makeup now that my eyes are growing weak.)

I crossed to the entry way and touched her on the elbow, telling her: “You look fabulous!” And she did.

Do you think appearance matters in middle age and beyond? Has anyone ever guessed you to be older? Do you notice the fashion choices of mature women? Share your experience, and as a birthday present to me, please share this blog entry with anyone who has ever talked to you about coloring her hair.

Daphne and Carmen: Octogenarian Supermodels
Embracing My Age
Raven Lunatic: My Worst Fashion Mistake


  1. The first time I did NOT get carded for buying wine. That hurt, but the wine helped me get over it.

    The major turnaround in my own health/life/appearance that I've been working on over the past two years has helped, of course. But even so--I bought 10 miniatures of Baileys for Christmas gifts yesterday, and helpfully (hopefully) started to get out my driver's license, when it became painfully obvious that the just-barely-out-of-her-teens waif behind the counter was not concerned about my age.


  2. Nice post Karen!
    Yes, I'm 58 and starting to feel like I really should finally start wearing eye make-up, etc. We really do kind of "ash" out with age. I started dyeing my hair ten years ago and always enjoy it when I re-do it. I do it myself and still see no reason to stop in spite of all those on the Internet who insist that it is dishonest or somehow self-hating.
    Whatever works for you, I say! Love the idea of complimenting others on their good choices though!

    1. Laura Lee: Yes, I think each mature woman needs to forget her own style. There is no "one size fits all." I love it when people throw me a compliment, so I'm trying to practice the golden rule. And, truly, I am charmed by many who have great personal style, so why not let them know? Thanks for stopping by the blog. :)