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“Ladies, never let anyone tell you you are past your prime,” Michelle Yeoh told the world as she accepted her Oscar, making history as only the second woman of color to win Best Actress in a Leading Role in 87 years and the first Asian woman to win the category in that same time span.
Fashion brands have made significant strides over the past few years toward greater inclusion, diversity and representation. But they have been slow to shed their fixation on youth and celebrate women of all ages in their marketing. As a marketer of a brand that serves women over 40, I think constantly about how to meet our consumer where she is—to understand more deeply what she wants and what she needs.
At J. Jill, we surveyed women aged 40 to 70 to inform our brand research in 2022 and shed some light on this demographic’s real persona and sentiments. What we found was that brands that talk to her about giving her confidence are getting it wrong.
Women over 40 don’t need affirmation and empowerment; they already have it. They don’t need to derive confidence through a brand’s offerings; they’ve already got that. With a firm sense of self, she is looking for an informed style partner, rather than an authority. At J. Jill, we aptly operate by the maxim: “It’s not the outfit that makes the woman, it’s the woman that makes the outfit.”
What else does she have?
Based on our research, most women have two things that brands must understand: discernment and dimensionality. These two stood out to us because we felt fashion and society were all too often putting women in boxes. Our feelings were then supported by the data—and that was an exciting moment.
- Discernment: Women over 40 know what looks good on them—they are selective and choose trends over chasing them, with a particular attunement to fit, style and quality.
- Dimensions: Women over 40 today are multifaceted, active members of their communities. Whether they’re at the height of their careers or entering retirement, these women wear many hats and pursue new experiences and discoveries—with the financial means to realize them.
What does she need?
- Consistency: This group is time-starved as part of the sandwich generation between millennials and boomers, and as such, is juggling myriad responsibilities, interests and desires. With limited time, ease of browsing and the confidence a retailer will have what they’re looking for in terms of size, fit and quality is of upmost importance. Reduce the risk of disappointment, and these customers will stay with the brand. For J. Jill, we accomplish this by remaining customer-obsessed, ensuring that our store associates are informed style partners, not style authorities.
- Versatility: Women over 40 are specifically interested in apparel that can move with them throughout their day and holds many use cases—basics that can be dressed up or down, take them from office to home and season to season.
- Authentic representation: Women over 40 consistently state that they are tired of trying to relate to marketing messages targeted at younger audiences (or conversely, marketing that represents them in a stereotypical and patronizing way). These women respond to realistic, authentic representations of women like them—women who span different ages, shapes, sizes, backgrounds and societal roles.
If the offering is right, the potential is huge
In an age of diminishing brand loyalty due to social media, fast fashion and choice overload, this customer will stick with brands they can trust and consistently rely on to meet their needs. To drive the point further, a survey we ran in the first quarter of 2023 found that reliability is one of the key drivers behind women’s purchasing decisions:
- Who/what is most influencing your apparel purchases right now? 76% said: The product is made/sold by a brand that I am familiar and comfortable with. (We believe this is tied to trust in the brand and trust that the retailer will have what she is looking for in quality, style and size.)
- What would you expect from a retailer that wanted to meet the needs of your dynamic lifestyle and your unique needs? 72% said: They are reliable/I consistently find what I’m looking for.
In short, women over 40 are an unequivocal force in the consumer market. When it comes to marketing, brands would be wise to take note of women’s evolving roles, understand this audience’s expectations and give them attention through marketing that celebrates their totality, honors who they are and the stage of life they’re in and serves their unique needs.