In this new regular series, we share first-hand shopping experiences of customers who have been overlooked far too long by retailers. Here, Leanne Zimmermann shares what it’s like shopping for fashion when you’re 53 – and fabulous. Imagine this: You’re over 50, dressed head to toe in black – fabulous designer black clothing and accessories, just to be clear! – bold makeup and hair, feeling like an absolute rockstar. You have earned the right to feel this good in your skin. But when y
n you walk into a gorgeous little designer boutique, you are greeted with a smirk and sideways glance from the staff. Many of us who are over a certain age experience this every time we go to the shops. And yes, I get this all the time – you are not alone. I am 53 years old, I have been married to the love of my life for 26 years with two gorgeous boys aged 25 and 18. I own two pre-loved fashion stores in Brisbane – Empire Revival, Paddington and New Farm Antique Centre, Teneriffe – that fulfil my love of all things fashion and align with my social beliefs and values. I started my career in fashion retail around the age of 19. Back then, it was an honour to get a job in the retail industry. I was very lucky that the small companies I worked for also employed other specialists to train us to be stylists and top sellers. It was a hard industry to be in and stay in and you had to prove your skills every day. During the ’80s, fashion was incredibly misogynistic and stereotypical, and my style stood apart from this. I found I had to be strong and resist the constant pressure to conform to how the media and retail said I should dress. I have always loved fashion, as it is an expression of my creativity, and I see it as a means of helping other women shine bright – as we all should. I have always worn black, because black creates a sense of power and mystery. It also gives me a sense of confidence like none other. If I had to describe my style, I would say it’s avant-garde with a little edge. I have always loved pushing boundaries of style and as I have become older, I have begun to feel I can stride with confidence in who I am, what I wear, and what I say. A few of my favourite things I absolutely love bricks-and-mortar stores over online shopping because you get to see, feel, and try on clothes, and interact with real people. I rarely buy from online stores, the only exception is when the store is overseas, in another state or doesn’t have a shop in Brisbane. Shopping aside, online can be a great source of inspiration and apps like Mys Tyler provide a simple and fun way to see what clothing items look like on someone a similar age, shape and size to yourself. I am a sucker for good quality classic styles from brands such as Decjuba, Sass & Bide, Tony Bianco, Aje, Cos, and Dinosaur Designs. I also love to purchase from smaller Australian retailers such as Camargue in Fortitude Valley, which offers European brands with powerful style, Melbourne-based Tiffany Treloar for contemporary fashion, and Two Threads for sustainable pieces. Where retailers get it right – and wrong Retailers and brands need to stop thinking of over-50 customers as old. That word implies that you’re traditional, dated, and ancient, but these words do not reflect accurately who we are. We are women with disposable incomes, who have often raised families, and we are finding our stride as more than just wives, mothers, and employees. We want to look fabulous and feel treasured. Finally, after all the hard work we have done in our lives, it’s time for us to invest in ourselves. Age isn’t a barrier. It’s a limitation society puts on us. I feel fashion brands have come a long way in recognising the value of the ‘mature’ customer. They have become more inclusive of mature fashion; however, there is more to be done and we need to see brands using more mature and inclusive size models in their campaigns and marketing. Retailers need to mix it up and get better at employing saleswomen of varying ages, sizes and stylings so that every woman feels comfortable and inspired in their stores. No woman should be made to feel unwelcome in any store. A message to retailers The challenge with customer service is that you can receive completely different service from two salespeople in the same store, on any given day. In a well-known fashion store recently, a salesperson approached me in a slightly standoffish manner, not taking the time to hear what I was looking for. As a result, she directed me to their floral range, which couldn’t have been of less interest to me. Later that week, in another of this retailer’s stores, I encountered a salesperson who warmly welcomed me, engaged in conversation about their new collection and listened to what I was looking for. On this day, the staff were a fabulous range of creative women of all ages, who were able to show me what would be perfect for my wardrobe and in the right size. This is the experience that I wish all women could have when shopping in any clothing store, but most of the time, we’re on our own. We serve ourselves and style ourselves, then we pay for this – and the stores wonder why we don’t return. If I could share one thought with retailers, it would be to invest more in customer service training. I feel this area is why physical stores don’t do as well as they could. One of the best examples of service in-store is from Decjuba. From the moment you enter the store, to entering the changeroom, to checking out at the register, the customer service is friendly and attentive. It is this experience that will get you going back every time. A message to my ladies I’d like to finish with a shout-out to older women. Celebrate who you are and get creative with fashion. Have fun and enjoy life. You have earnt it. Confidence makes us beautiful, and it comes from accepting yourself. The moment you accept yourself. It makes everything better.