I keep returning to the full-page spread in The Sunday Times that startled me a few weeks ago: the quintessential American family in a Land’s End ad. Great ad. But I have a bone to pick.
What caught my eye: Three generations were represented. And that begs the question: Whatever happened to multi-generational ads? For that matter, whatever happened to a mix of ages in movie scenes, or in real life social gatherings?
I’ve noticed this before; in classic films, it’s not unusual to see gray-haired men and women enjoying a night out at a club or bar; crowd scenes are filled with them, along with the younger players we may be more focused on. By the late 1980s or early 1990s, those who appear to be 50+ are thinning out. And contemporary films, certainly those I’ve seen, are devoid of any such diversity in the background.
Is this a reflection of a growing trend, or now the norm, that keeps the generations separate?
During my periods of living, working and visiting family in Europe, I recall loving the generational fluidity in the gatherings I attended. There were twenty-somethings up through sixty-somethings (at least), and often the age range extended beyond that. To me, this felt rich, layered, fascinating. It felt “normal.” And this was the case in the circles that I traveled in, right up until a few years ago.
But here, in the US?
I no longer work in a traditional corporate environment, but I did up until 2002. From the early 90s onward, both in the workplace and at client sites I visited, I might see the occasional 50-something administrative assistant and a few silver-haired male executives. But that was it. In art circles, I still see more of a generational mix, though less than I once did.
While I don’t socialize as often as I used to, on those occasions when I do, I often feel out of place. I may be the only person (or one of very few) who is a “woman of a certain age.” In contrast, this was never my experience in Europe.
Mature Women in Fashion Ads? Not So Much.
Now about that Land’s End ad and others like it, and the bone I wish to pick.
Curious to see if this inclusion of a silver-haired woman and similarly aged man — neither “old” by any standard, but both likely around 50 — I searched for other Land’s End advertising online. I came across an ad — clearly the same scene — and was pleased to see that the same female model was in the shot, though barely.
I poked around their site some more, and was delighted when I found that their sizes reflect a more realistic appreciation for the female form, and include petites, plus size, and even a category referred to as petite plus. Fantastic!
Then I decided to scan the Land’s End Pinterest Board for its Fall fashions, and I saw items that are clearly wearable by women of any age. I say again — fantastic!
Now I fully understand the value of target marketing by age (and income and lifestyle), yet I would never have considered looking at Land’s End before, and it was precisely the silver-haired model that got me to do so.
It’s worth noting that as I explored the Land’s End site, and Women’s Blouses makes my point, most of what is shown is easily wearable by a mature woman. Much as I don’t mind seeing 25-year-old models for the most part, why couldn’t there be a 50-year-old in the mix? If not a 50-year-old, a woman of 35 or 40?
Don’t we leave the house? Don’t we buy clothes?
Here’s a perfect example of something I would purchase and love — a gorgeous cashmere boatneck sweater, which I’ve chosen to show on a “plus size” model (whose figure more closely resembles mine and likely that of many women in their forties and fifties). Yet the model herself, beautiful to be sure, is a typical twenty-something.
Even more ironic?
If you look at the reviews for this luscious cashmere sweater on the Lands End site, they are written by women in the 45 to 54 age range, and one who is 65+.
Hello? The women who are buying this sweater and care enough to post a review are themselves mature women. Why not show the occasional equally beautiful silver-haired model in these clothes?
Most of us seek books, movies, and situations that are “relatable” — scenarios in which we can picture ourselves or might like to. It’s bad enough that wide swaths of American society can’t find themselves in film or on television except in a comical or dismissive way, but as corporations seek to sell us their goods, to dismiss us outright seems like bad business.
I would love to purchase clothing (and other personal items) from brands that mix the generations, and do so unabashedly because this mix represents their customer base.
Here’s something else I found, and I love love love this style (and I know it looks good on me). It’s their women’s cotton open drape cardigan. It comes in several colors, and not only in regular sizes, but in plus size and petites. The more I explored the merchandise for Fall, the more I found numerous items that were beautiful, versatile, perfectly sized for a wide range of body types, and ideal whatever a woman’s age.
There are white, black and Asian women. There are blondes, brunettes and redheads. There are women with long hair and short hair, straight hair and curly hair, skinny women and women with fuller figures.
But not one who is a mature woman. Not even a 40-something!
We’re a large consuming slice of this country! Why aren’t there more ads that mix generations? There is no need, to my mind, for every apparel company or fashion house to target by age slice.
And you know what?
We’re just plain crazy for ignoring both ends of the age spectrum, for not mixing them more in “real life,” and for not understanding the extraordinary richness of experience that comes with greater blending of people who are younger (new insights, an infusion of energy), older (vast stores of experience and perspective) and in the middle (the advantages of experience and still energized and focused on creating, contributing, learning and helping).
Why would we not seek to connect?
Of course we are in different stages! Of course that means that our goals are different! And yes, time is limited — terribly limited — for many of us and throughout our stages, from college to first jobs, from starting our families to the heart of juggling middle schoolers, spouses and work, to dealing with empty nest and elder parents and still working, or looking for work, to transitioning into retirement.
I can’t help but think of opportunity — potentially opportunity lost — in commercial enterprises, and in our lives. We seem to be living a sort of ageism by omission that is pervasive, and we are all the poorer for it. And I say again: We’re crazy for not understanding and availing ourselves of the extraordinary richness of experience that comes from mixing the generations.
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