Fashion and style are generally considered, in the context of mainstream media and business, as being for young, attractive, slim (or wanting to be) women. Those who do not fit this fashionably stylish profile – the +Black demographic – are ostracised by the mainstream, in thought and product offer.
Their conundrum is in desiring the beautiful garments they used to wear; the retail experience they used to love; yet now finding only product for the women they used to be or, worse, might dread to become – garish clothing, poor in fit and quality with frills, flounces, pockets, buttons, sequins, all at either very low or very high price points.
It seems to me that the principle reasons for this lie in out-of-date misconceptions about this demographic.
The first misconception is in the association of ageing, poor health and reduced income as being the principle drivers of style for women over 50. This leads to the assumption that this is a conservative population, more interested in function and price than style and happy to follow rather than lead the market as a toned down appendage of the fashionable youth demographic. There is no recognition of any of the specific demands that ageing and illness may impose. Most of the mainstream retailers adopt this philosophy – say, M&S or John Lewis.
Secondly, there are outlets who consider the +Black demographic to be fashion aware but demanding the same, seasonally changing, fashion product, as for the younger market. In practice, this usually means they provide a wider size range of, all or part of, their mainstream offer but, again, fail to recognise any other specific age/illness/life-change factors. With the rising rates of obesity in the UK, there are now many examples of these outlets, mainstream and niche, including department stores, large retailers such as Evans, newer online outlets like Poetry and niche outlets such as Wall, Box2, Walkers of Pottergate.
Thirdly, there are adaptive clothing companies selling to the disabled. This type of specialised product offer in the UK and elsewhere, is, generally, unattractive. Specifically, the perception of potential for styling and design in respect of the disability market is so negative and so low that neither businesses nor buyers want to be there. Those who do sell to this market apply little thought to design and quality issues; the product offer is generally presented and marketed with little positivity; the content is poorly presented. It is no more than a small niche product offer for those who are truly desperate for adaptive clothing, aids and equipment – a very small population of people. I am reluctant to provide names but a quick internet search would give you some idea.
I am not saying that existing sources do not satisfy our needs most of the time but I do think that a huge number of women, with changing lifestyles – shifting from full-time work to freelancing or retirement; good health to poorer health; undergoing menopausal/illness body changes; transitioning between work, home and caring responsibilities – are left scouring the mainstream ready-to-wear and niche product looking for what they need, at a specific time in their life, and failing to find it. And, I do include the unmentionable stuff here like incontinence aids, support stockings and whatever else anyone needs to function in daily life. I know none of us want to think about it but, when we need it and it looks horrendous … then, we care. Why not just get it out there?
In summary, it’s my supposition that, market wide, little thought is applied to the specific needs of +Black demographic – women who do not fit comfortably with staid functionality nor seasonally fashionable and most definitely not with negativity unstylish! We need a go-to place for women who want a stylish wardrobe that recognises their specific, and changing, design needs as well as their proclivity to buy everything … +Black.