How to win with the second biggest segment in the lingerie business
It might surprise some listeners to learn that, after millennials, seniors are the biggest customer base for lingerie brands.
But how they approach the buying process is very different. Why that is and how to reach them is the focus of today’s conversation.
An internationally recognized expert, Elisabeth Dale knows a lot about breasts and the senior market. This week, we tap into that wealth of knowledge to bring you insights on what motivates the senior market to spend money on quality lingerie, the two things this market secretly, desperately wants from lingerie brands, and how to grab the attention of seniors – a big opportunity since few brands are doing it well.
Mature Market Extras
How to win with the second biggest segment in the lingerie business
Brandon: Elisabeth Dale is an internationally-recognized breast expert and author and the founder of TheBreastLife.com. She has appeared in many different media, including Good Morning America, BBC World News, NPR, The New York Times, Cosmo, Glamour, and so on. She is also a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.
At the same time, at 62 she has some great insights to share on the so-called senior market of the lingerie industry. It might surprise some listeners to learn that this segment is actually the second-largest of the business, after millennials. Why that is and how to appeal to them is the focus of our conversation today.
Among other things, we’ll discuss what motivates the senior market to spend money on better-quality lingerie, the two things this market secretly desperately wants from their lingerie brands, and how to grab their attention, which is actually a very big opportunity since hardly anyone is doing it in the right way. With that said, let’s jump on in.
Brandon: Elisabeth, can you give us a quick overview of who a mature lingerie buyer is?
Elisabeth: I think that’s really a misconception in the lingerie world, like there’s an age cut-off to when you become the mature lingerie buyer. I would basically say that no matter what your age, it’s anyone who’s sort of had changes to their breasts over their life.
Say it’s a woman who’s had a couple children and she finds that when she walks into the lingerie department, her bras don’t fit her the same way that they used to. Or she’s a little bit older and inevitably with time and aging your breasts change in the way they are, so sometimes you need a different kind of bra, a different style of bra.
I would say it’s also this maturing of yourself and understanding that, unlike when you were younger and you were more self-conscious about your body and your breasts and you compared them to other people, you don’t tend to do that anymore. You tend to accept your body as it is and you’re fine with it. You’re not trying to be a Victoria’s Secret model. That’s not something that’s going to happen at a certain age.
So I would say basically it’s any woman who’s seen any major breast changes after they first developed. It could be through pregnancy. It could be through weight gain or loss. It could be through surgery. It might be the woman who’s had a breast lift or a breast reduction or breast implants. It could also be the woman who’s had a mastectomy and reconstruction. There’s lots of different ways to look at it. It’s not like, “This age is where the mature buyer starts.”
Brandon: It’s based on life events more than anything else.
Elisabeth: Exactly, and that’s really what a mature woman is, isn’t it? It’s someone who’s had more life events.
Brandon: That’s a good way to put it. I was doing an interview not too long ago and we were talking about how 40 years ago there were simply not a lot of options out there. The lingerie business was fairly well-defined with a fairly narrow band of products available. Given that there are so many different segments now, how has the market really changed, now that there are so many segments that do attract their own solutions, let’s say?
Elisabeth: I think that’s a good point but I don’t know that everyone knows about those different segments. My biggest challenge both in writing a book about bra fit, as well as running a website on lingerie, is how few people realize that there are options beyond the D, DD, DDD cup size, or that there are options across bands. I don’t think the average woman understands that.
Not to call anyone out in particular, but let’s take a look at the only real viable solution for most women in the mall, which is to go to Victoria’s Secret, where they’re still not offering the AAA to K sort of options for women. Women think, “Oh, they don’t have my size and therefore I must be freakish and not normal.”
That has been my goal, to spread the word on the different segments that are out there – the fabulous post-pregnancy bras or nursing bras, the fabulous post-mastectomy bras, the fabulous full-bust bras, the fabulous plus-size bands out there – because that is not something I think the average consumer is aware of. We still see this younger perfectly pert boob as the norm, and anybody after at least their first child is going, “Whoa, wait, that’s not happening. I’ve aged out of that.”
Brandon: If I understand you correctly, definitely the consumer isn’t so aware of the different options out there because of what they’re exposed to in different mainstream lingerie departments in department stores, as well as dedicated shops, but does the industry have more knowledge? Do the people in the industry understand this or is it a question that they just don’t care at this point?
Elisabeth: I think it’s interesting. The industry has been fighting for a long time this whole idea of being on the internet and having a social media presence, but by not doing that, by not being active on social media, which I understand – it seems like a waste of time to be posting to Instagram every day, like what are you getting out of it money-wise? – but I also think they’re missing an opportunity because everybody is online these days.
I’m 62 years old and I’m online all the time, and most people I know are also online, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to ignore that segment because it’s a great way to market yourself to different populations and to get involved, whether it’s through Instagram or Facebook, and to see that there are a bunch of mature buyers.
I know from my experience on Instagram alone that there are many, many, many sort of senior pages, people who are promoting that your life isn’t over at 50. You have Senior Style and you have all of these different hashtags, so there is a way to find that group of people that a lingerie brand can do.
In a recent study they showed that the two most active buyers of lingerie are now millennials and baby boomers, because baby boomers have the money. We have the disposable income and, to be honest with you, we’re willing to spend it because we’re not going to take it with us when we go. We’re willing to spend it now for something that’s quality, that makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s not a matter of the male gaze viewpoint of lingerie. It’s more about making ourselves feel great at every age.
Brandon: It’s spending the kids’ inheritance, right?
Elisabeth: Oh, screw the kids. They didn’t work for it. They can make their own money, I don’t care.
Brandon: Actually that raises an interesting point. There is a misconception among the general population that the senior market, from an underwear perspective, isn’t really interested in anything other than the granny pants and the like. I’m curious, has this actually ever been true?
Elisabeth: No, it’s never been true. It’s just a myth. It’s the whole myth that once you hit a certain age you lose your sexuality and you lose your vibrancy for life. The opposite actually is what’s true. You have better self-esteem, better self-image, and more independence.
My 60s have been the best part of my life so far. I’m done with child rearing. I’m actually done with taking care of my parents, rest in peace, and I have the freedom to do whatever I want now. Just because you’re older on the outside doesn’t mean that you don’t feel 25 still inside.
That’s the biggest misconception. Everyone I know my age for the most part – yes, some of us had to deal with medical issues, but we’re happier and more content in our bodies. We’re happier and more content with our lives. We’ve cut out all the extraneous crap. We don’t care about consumerism as much as we did when we were say 30 or 40. I spent the first 50 years of my life buying up crap, and I’m spending the second 50 years of my life getting rid of it. You realize what’s important and what’s not.
You realize that, “Yeah, what I wear underneath everything else is important to me.” It’s probably more important to me than when I was 20, because I want to feel and look good. I understand what foundations mean and I also understand that I’m doing it for myself and I’m not doing it for anyone else.
So yes, there are lots of things about being older that we have just kind of written off people. “Oh, she’s old.” My daughter is a millennial and she calls us “the olds.” We’re far more exciting and self-assured than any of these millennials. We’re not depressed, we’re fine. “Okay, time’s coming up so I’m going to do everything I can right now while I can.”
Brandon: You mentioned previously that the concept of aging and the expectations around the mature woman is very different in Europe. Can you explain a little bit more about what you mean by that?
Elisabeth: I know when I go to Europe and I see women my age – 50s or 60s – there just seems to be an acceptance that they are seasoned. They’re respected for their knowledge, for their wisdom, and also their maturity. That is something that is still sexy and attractive. You see that in women on the street, the way they look and the way they’re treated with respect.
It’s not uncommon for an older woman to have an affair with a younger man in Europe, let’s say, whereas in the United States it’s fine for an older man to date a woman who’s 40 years younger than him, but you don’t hear about the opposite. And when you do, it’s more like, “Oh, she’s got a boy toy” and it’s frowned upon. I do think culturally in Europe versus the United States there’s more respect for a woman of a certain age.
Brandon: Then the next question I’d have to ask is, given the fact that the baby boomer generation is so big and there are so many different variations within them, why is it still a misconception that the senior markets just don’t care anymore. Where did this come from and why hasn’t it changed, given that the baby boomers have changed so much about culture over the years that they’ve been active.
Elisabeth: I still think it’s the marketing. What do you see out in the market when you look at lingerie? You see younger women in their early 20s. You see them in advertising, you see it everywhere else. Yes, there are a few television shows in the United States that show older people, that they aren’t dead, but for the most part I think we just accept this because we see it everywhere. It’s part of the culture.
Yes, baby boomers exist but when we see them, we see them as trying to still be younger. We see the woman and we can’t really tell what her age is. Her face looks 40, her breasts look 25, and her knees look 70. That’s the “ageless beauty.”
I personally cannot stand the word “ageless.” I am very proud to be 62, and half the time I tell people I’m 63 because I forget because I’m old, right? I forget my age. But I think it’s important to keep that in mind and we’re not seeing this out in public.
We’re starting to see more of it. Again, social media is really making a difference with some of these baby boomers in creating basically “we’re not dead yet” magazines and Instagram pages. That hasn’t really landed.
I’ve seen it in my work as a stand-up comic. When I get up and talk about being an older woman and being vibrant and still dating, people are like, “Oh my god, that’s great. I didn’t realize. I’ve never heard anyone say that,” so they’re not hearing the message.
Brandon: That’s very interesting. Then kind of to that point, when it comes to serving this market better, what do they secretly desperately want from companies that are selling these sorts of products to them?
Elisabeth: I think they want respect and also they don’t want to be patronized. That is the really important thing. Senior women know what they want. For instance, our physical needs are different than say a 21- or 25- or a 30-year-old. We don’t like really, really tight bands, and the industry is all about “The band has to be tight on a bra or it doesn’t really support you.” We’re more sensitive. Our skin is softer. It digs in more. We are interested in things that are comfortable, but yet stylish as well.
I think of some brands, like the way they deal with their underwire, is some of them triple-wrap them so it’s more comfortable. We’re going to notice that. Whereas a younger woman is upset about back fat, we realize it’s skin but we don’t want anything pushing on us and we don’t want scratchy fabrics. At the same time, we don’t want to be told that we don’t know what we want.
Some women like that whole “smushed together crease-ish” look, where their boobs are all together or whatever, but when you’re an older woman you know your style. It’s changed over the years but you’ve settled on a certain style, so you know what you want your foundations to do for you. I don’t want to be told by a younger woman in a dressing room that I should be doing X, Y, and Z, as if I’m stupid enough to not know how I want my boobs to look. I think that’s the respect, and don’t patronize me.
To be honest with you, as an older woman I’ve been patronized at the doctor’s office, at the dentist’s office, and I’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’m looking at them like, “What do you think, I’m stupid? I’m not. I’ve lived a long life, longer than yours, so give me a break here.” I think that’s one of the things. We’re very independent.
I would love to see more older women in lingerie advertising because I think it’s an important message to send to both younger women and women our age. We know when we look at these advertisements that our bodies are never going to look like that again, and never did actually in the first place. I’ve never been 5’10”. We are well aware of that, but it’s nice to see occasionally when a lingerie brand takes the time to show women not only of different sizes, but different ages. That’s what we’re not seeing. We’re seeing the diversity of sizing right now, but we’re not seeing the diversity of ages.
Brandon: Do you think that’s from the consumer perspective, that they want to see the younger models, or do you think it’s the industry just dictating what should be seen and what shouldn’t, irrespective of what consumers think?
Elisabeth: I think it’s the industry dictating it for the most part. I see where retailers or smaller brands will take the risk of doing it, but bigger brands aren’t going to take the risk. Look, it’s 2019 and people are still calling pink and beige bras “nude.” That’s a problem. The industry is not keeping up with the rest of society and the diversity that’s out there.
They’re still saying, “Oh no, I don’t want to change the SKUs on those” or “That’s just too much of a hassle.” I’m like, “Come on. That isn’t nude. That’s pink or beige.” They just don’t like the word “beige.” Beige sounds so boring.
Brandon: It’s nude for one skin color, basically.
Elisabeth: Exactly, and that’s never been my skin color and I’m white.
Brandon: I guess with all of that said, what are some of the biggest opportunities right now for lingerie brands who want to cater to this market or who already do cater to this market but just aren’t doing it very well?
Elisabeth: I think it’s really a matter of reaching out on social media and getting involved and talking about it. Maybe don’t call it the mature woman and maybe don’t call it ageless. I think ageless is an insult. Really it’s only used for women, never used for men. Ageless means you can’t tell my age because I’m trying to hide it from you in some way.
I think to embrace your age and also to realize that we want beautiful luxurious lingerie, to understand that we’re willing to spend the money. It’s showing up in the statistics for sure, so why not cater to us? Why not cater to us by following us on social media and by using older models occasionally?
I’ve seen this, and it’s kind of a freakish thing, but you’ve seen J.D. Williams has done it and some of the smaller brands as well have done it, like Lonely Lingerie. Even Berlei has done it. Why not show different body types? I think it’s something that people enjoy seeing. They’re not put off by it at all.
In fact, I think what’s more insulting is showing us this 1% of the population over and over and over again. We know there’s no chance we’re ever going to look like that, and we don’t care. We don’t think those people’s lives are happier than ours because their bodies are different. We understand that that’s not the most important thing.
So I think they can reach out via social media. I think they can reach out with their advertising. I think they can reach out through their retailers, to see how their retailers are promoting their brand as well.
I do think there are many brands doing a good job with the older consumer, only because they understand that the older consumer has different needs than the younger ones, and I think that’s important.
Brandon: Can you give us a few examples? Which brands are doing a great job right now?
Elisabeth: I would say some of the major brands. I’m thinking of the ones that I wear all the time, and I don’t find it insulting when I go out and look for their products. I, of course, am a fuller busted woman so I appreciate the brands like Chantelle, Empriente, Primadonna, all of those. They’re sort of giving me an elegant look and it’s not this pushed up “give me cleavage, the male gaze” thing, because I don’t care about the male gaze. I mean yes, I date and I’m active, but I’m not wearing lingerie for someone else. I’m wearing it for me.
I appreciate that high quality of design, the high quality materials, and understanding that yes, these things are expensive but I’m willing to pay the money so I can get something that makes my body look its best. Being a DD cup, those brands are doing it because that’s what they’re interested in. They’re interested in high-quality materials used, and also to offer women something that is beautiful and gorgeous, but underneath it all is a foundation that’s going to work for their older bodies.
I would also say that brands like Wacoal with all their sub-brands like Freya and all of those are doing a good job. Maybe their advertising doesn’t show older women, but I think the quality for the price point is really very good.
Brandon: So of all the brands you mentioned, most of it comes down to product design. That’s what makes them stand out to this demographic. Is there anything marketing-wise that they’re doing to appeal to the senior market, or is it strictly and solely about the product design?
Elisabeth: I think the marketing with different bodies is really important. The Polish brand, Ewa Michalak, show their products on different heights and different body types and sizes. So even if it’s not the age, you have an idea of what this bra might look like on you if you’re not a 34C, which tends to be the typical marketing.
I really appreciate that. I really appreciate seeing the height differences, the body type differences. When I’m looking at a product I’m more likely to take a closer look or try it on even if it’s a brand I haven’t tried before because of that kind of marketing.
Brandon: I also wanted to ask you – and I love asking this question because it definitely opens the door to conversation – if you were sitting in front of a veteran creative director or marketing director of an established lingerie brand and they asked you, “Tell me something about the senior consumer that I don’t yet know,” what would you say?
Elisabeth: I would say that the senior customer has her own point of view about her body and her own style, and she’s not going to change radically at this age. After going through all sorts of different fashion things and trend things, I’m not into the trends. I’m not going to wear a strappy bra that digs into my softer flesh, for instance. I’m not into that kind of look. What I want is something for myself that is still beautiful and sensual.
Remember that the senior buyer, most likely, is still having a whole lot of sex. I don’t know if you’ve heard the fact that in these senior homes now they’re having a huge problem with STDs. Seniors are not stopping, so they do want to look amazing when they take off their clothes, no matter how old and wrinkly their skin might be. And they want to wear it for themselves. I think that most people assume we’re dead inside, but we’re not. We’re just getting started.
Brandon: That’s a great way to end the interview, so thank you for that. I just have one more question for you. What do you think of senior discounts?
Elisabeth: I love them! I take them all the time. I had to lie about being 62 on Tuesday so I could get the 15% off at my grocery store, but now I don’t have to lie about that. I love senior discounts. Give them all to me. I joined the AARP as quickly as I could. You get student discounts so why not senior discounts? We deserve it. I don’t go to a movie without checking the senior box.
Brandon: It’s the people in the middle of life that have to pay full price, I guess.
Elisabeth: Well, they should because we had them. Remember we birthed them, so it’s their time to pay. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about getting older. I love my age and I don’t think as a woman I’ve loved it more than I do now. There’s just no pressure to get married or have kids or anything else. I can just be me now. I get to be me and do whatever I want for the most part, what I can physically do. It’s a great time of life. It’s the best time of life.
Brandon: Very good. Thank you very much, Elisabeth. It’s really been a pleasure to have you on the program today.
Elisabeth: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.