What (else) retired women wear

I enjoy LPC's posts on her blog, Privilege, and, at her urging, eagerly clicked through to Pinterest some time ago to see contributions under the heading of "What to Wear When You're Retired".

That particular Pinterest board reflected the taste of the pinner, which runs to skinny jeans and equestrienne looks (left). I do see 60+ women here in the narrowest pants tucked into boots, but they are a tiny (in all respects) minority.

The clothes didn't represent the range of what I and other retired (or semi-retired) women in my large city are wearing. One reason is our age, rarely under 55. (The majority of women in Canada retire between 60 and 64, with many working longer due to the recession.)

Style differences aside, there seem to be several requisites–what women seek when they no longer have to "look the part" for whatever occupation they had, regardless of where they live.

The Non-work Wardrobe: What Women Want

1. We want to repurpose still-wearable work clothes, merging them with more casual wear when we can.

We're making a transition in our wardrobes but not our personal style. The preppy sales manager does not go all floaty boho, the crisply-tailored banker keeps her immaculate shirts. 

This ensemble, one of those pinned by Laura Lewis, shows a number of pieces that could have been in a classic dresser's career closet and are still going strong (though I'd donate the boots, too high for me).

Not everyone is this classic. Many of my cohort prefer the softer lines of ethnic inspired wear or Eileen Fisher-type pieces, like this woman's jacket (from the Denny Andrews web site):

Those busy with boards and committees find a cardigan like White and Warren's Cashmere Curved Hem supplies enough "dressing", but feels cozy and comfortable. However, for those meetings, they will pair it with pants they once wore to the office rather than pale-wash jeans. Price, $320.

2. Our bodies have changed from tip to toe. If it didn't happen at 50, it's happened after 60! We are not necessarily bigger, but we have different proportions

We seek the ease of stretch fabrics and knits, and don't want layers that bulk up the torso or the widest horizontal stripes. We avoid accessories that evoke pain: high heels, oversized, heavy bags.

We are museum docents, breakfast-servers at schools, hospital volunteers. We do not dress like a Kardashian for such activities. The holey jeans below won't  work, and few will choose a plaid untucked shirt.

This outfit from J. Jill, ponte pants and a silk/poly/cotton sweater with flats, goes out or stays home gracefully:

I have nothing against the discreet use of elastic used at the waist, as a flat-front or side insert, and don't understand the venom reserved for it: what do you think is holding up those yoga pants? (The J. Jill pants have a tailored waistband and zipper.)  

3. Maintenance costs count

Nearly all of the 60ish women I've polled spend less than in their working years and avoid added expense.

The pale ensemble below, while undeniably elegant, says hi to the cleaner's after every outing.

Give us a long sweater-jacket that will see us through three seasons, in a gorgeous ethereal shade, in washable cotton knit. (From Poetry UK; price £119.)

4. Retired women bump utility up a notch or two on our list of criteria, and are less blown about by the vagaries of fashion. But we know a standout piece is a good investment. We don't want only stalwart basics.

My head is turned by a shearling cape by Poetry–it has what Janice of The Vivienne Files calls "whoppage". When I ask myself "What am I doing when I'm wearing this?" and the answer is "Oh, who cares? I would sleep in it!", I'm in trouble. 

Price? All right: £695. Feels better in pounds.

I might point out, too, that it will always fit.

Am I buying it? I think not, as where I live, those open sides would invite hypothermia. That's another joy of being more-or-less-retired: taking the time to think about a big purchase. 


Judy C said…
I am retired from a humdrum job in which I wore humdrum clothing. Now I am taking pleasure in color and comfort. I'm enjoying boho and some classic stuff but in general if it is comfortable I'll dress it up a bit for fun. Now dressing can be fun instead of being dictated by the job.
I will be 60 in just a few months and I am having more fun with my clothing than every before. You did make some great points here. I find myself more drawn to the Eileen Fisher looks more and more, and I would avoid the all white and cream for exactly the reason you said. I want to spend my work days (don't see retirement in the future) feeling fabulous!
frugalscholar said…
What I wear to work will probably be my retirement wear also: skinny black pants, a black top w/ colored cardi or jacket OR colored top with black cardi or jacket. Flats (can't wear heels at all) or boots. Plus a big scarf (hides tummy). I ONLY wear elastic pants now--I suffered my whole life with waistbands.

I figure I look OK because two 20 something students dressed as ME for Halloween--one in 2011 and one in 2012. I guess that's a compliment.

Comfort is the way to go and there's so much available now that is comfortable and chic-ish.

Don't mourn that shearling. Shearling is incredibleyheavy--it's like wearing your heaviest handbag on your whole body.
I have been thinking about this subject for sometime. I am preparing for retirement myself and have pondered how I'll transition my wardrobe. Your ideas are in sync with mine Duchesse although you've written them down so succinctly and mine are still a muddle in my head!

Love that curved bottom cashmere number.

The shearling looks luxe but IMO it's limited in it's ability to be incorporated in daily wear.
But if it speaks to you with passion buy it!
Duchesse said…
Judy C.: What a pleasure that must be! Do you feel like a different person?

Pam: Retirement not in future because you love what you do? I hope so!

frugal: It may be a compliment- but what I would venture it definitely is, is that you have an identifiable visual identity. People would look at the outfit and say, "Oh, you're Dr. X!" We tend to costume ourselves not so much as a compliment but to create a character and the things you describe are not hard to put together, as opposed to, say a Delek from "Dr. Who".

Shearling can be extremely heavy (thank for reminding me that I gave away TWO shearling coats) but the new variety like those by Christ are astonishingly light. (Oh no, now someone is going to scold me for swearing. Shit. It's a German brand, ok?)
Kristien62 said…
I agree with Hostess about the cashmere sweater. Would love to have it.

I have given away so many "iffy" items that got me through my employment. I now rely on
simple T's, trouser jeans, scarves and jackets. I invested in comfortable low heeled boots and several pairs of ballerinas. In the spring, I've decided to buy a few simple, casual dresses to wear in place of capris.
Being retired, I am still trying to find myself. I love fashion and trends. My reality is that I still love what I wore to work. Jackets, tops, and pants (although now they are jeans.) I don't have the unique looks that some bloggers have nor have I ever had that. I am incorporating the clothes I had at work and adding a few pieces. But my biggest requirement is NO IRONING and minimal dry cleaning.
It took me a while to allow myself to wear the clothes I wore to work in at home outfits. I had that feeling I should 'keep it nice'. Then I realized there was no need to do that.
I'll have to check out Pinterest on that board.
Duchesse said…
kristien62: It's got that "little something"- a detail or interesting stitch in a sweater, so am in line for that White & Warren, too. I've settled into trouser jeans when it's cold, skirts when it's warm, and am always looking for dresses like you describe.

Debbi: Just when we have time to look endlessly at fashion and trends, they are either too young for us, or we no longer can justify the cost. But that doesn't mean we can't have fun looking and adding some refreshing choices.

Sometimes I find myself reflexively pulled toward something I no longer need (e.g., a businessy suit)- it's like phantom limb syndrome.

Nancy K said…
I never understand the popularity of capes. Even here on Long Island it's too chilly. It's hard to wear a shoulder bag with it and how does one drive in it?
I love the rest of your choices and this is how I dress, though I am not retired, just in a non office non corporate profession and I am over 60.
Anonymous said…
Such a relevant topic for me! I've combined retirement with a significant weight loss (back nearly to my age thirty-something weight), so this creates interesting questions for me. I quit working about 7 years ago, at which time I was 50 lb overweight. Yeccch. My at-home attire then consisted of jeans or sweatpants, or shorts in summer, with t-shirts. Very unattractive, but I didn't want to buy "nice" clothes in a size 16.

So now, 50 lb smaller (but with a bigger midsection than back then) I am trying to decide how I dress now. Went shopping at the upscale mall today; wore NYDJ skinny jeans in the coated black finish, with a black cotton ribbed top and a leopard print scarf. Thought I looked pretty good, although slightly nervous that I am too old for those pants.

But for around the house? Summer is tough here because it's so hot, and you don't want to wear long sleeves or pants, but still want to cover stuff up. This time of year, I like knit pants and a cute knit top, like a henley or scoopneck style. I am still wearing my old knit pants, which are kind of baggy, so need to find something more slim fitting, ideally with pockets.

For going out to lunch or other casual social events....I have a couple of Eileen Fisher pieces, but generally that line is so oversized, and I want to wear more fitted pieces now. I am revisiting some of my old work tailored jackets, worn with jeans or corduroys and a simple fitted tee. Cardigans are also working now, and I have lots of them! I find myself drawn to dressy items this time of year, though, and have to keep reeling myself back; DO NOT need any more dresses or skirts!

---Jill Ann
Wendelah said…
Since I'm a retired RN and wore a uniform to work for thirty+ years, I am wearing the same clothing now that used to wear while off duty, i.e. whatever I please.
SewingLibrarian said…
Nancy, come to San Diego, and you will understand the appeal of capes and wraps. We have the perfect weather for them.
Unknown said…
This was a thought-provoking article. I consider myself retired at 51, and I'm still searching for my "look." I still have formal events that I attend, and in my capacity as a volunteer, I sometimes am called upon to give presentations in front of audiences large and small, ranging from college students to professionals, and sometimes a mix of people from all walks of life. It's difficult to know what message any given outfit is relaying to the audience and to the other people with whom I'm working.

But for casual wear, I tend to gravitate towards boot-cut jeans, dressier t-shirts and cardigans or jackets.

I don't know how "practical" the shearling cape would be, but it is definitely sassy, and I think you could rock it! You would just have to be sure to wear something warm underneath it on cold days.
Viktoria Berg said…
This is an excellent post for anyone who, for different reasons, doesn´t have to dress up for work. I went from an office to a more hands-on, part-time job (that suits me and my family better) and trying to find an off-duty style that is comfortable and still good enough for an impulsive restaurant visit, has been hard, for some reason. And I expect, as the menopause and body change is coming up, I will have to keep working at it. Your blog is very inspiring and your advice always well worth considering.
Duchesse said…
Nancy K; You're right about capes; in the only cape I ever owned I carried a briefcase and took the subway. But this is more of a poncho, isn;t it? Isn't it?

Jill Ann: So you have multiple requirements now. First, congratulations! Losing weight is a harder job as we get older. You are not "too old" to wear coated jeans, one of the very few jeans effects that is truly ageless and really updates a look.

For summer, I'd look for capris or skirts. Here it gets up in the 90s and I prefer skirts. Some women with good legs wear long )just above knee) shorts, another option. But I find skirts the coolest.

Knit pants are the greatest thing since the underwire but perhaps you can find sales to replace the baggy ones; I do appreciate it that replacing your entire wardrobe is a daunting, expensive task- but fun!

Wendeleh: My retired nurse friend Joanne says she cannot bear to wear white, or tunics!

SewingLibrarian: So. Californians are always surprising me with how often they need items that I imagined would be too heavy. (I am not referring the the shearling.)

Edith Scheie: For nearly all presentations (so, unless in a boardroom in front of "suits") you need only swap the jeans for trousers... I keep a few pair for the same reason. Even dark-rinse trouser-style jeans will work nearly all the time. You are spot on, what you wear as you present sends a message.

Viktoria: Good rule of thumb is to always be dressed (when leaving the house) so you could nip into a restaurant where you are served at a table!
KSL said…
I don't fall into any category, because although I don't actually work (in a traditional way) I go to my studio and paint most days. It's a real clothing challenge, as I get paint on everything, and generally look a mess. So right now, I'm experimenting with changing into painting clothes when I get to the studio and changing back into street clothes when I leave? It's a moderate pain, and I'm still trying to figure it all out.
Gretchen said…
I think back to the advice you gave your friend, whose wife had just retired (and the gift of a new wardrobe, which was so clever). Pieces that can do double-duty, and more tailored versions of former casual wardrobes is what I think I'll lean towards. Being unemployed for 17 months and just now back in the workforce, I took close watch of what I chose to wear during each season for the inevitable day I'm completely out of the working world again, and what I found is I lean towards "business casual" for my everyday wardrobe, too. Button oxford or linen shirts during the warm weather, turtlenecks and crewnecks or cardigans in the cooler weather, combined with skirts, trousers, or jeans. Or shirtdresses. Lots of loafers or simple pumps. I cannot imagine ever not wearing these. And nice lingerie and perfume!!
SewingLibrarian said…
I was surprised, also, when I moved here, Duchesse. I believe that we Midwesterners of a certain age had our view of California weather formed by Gidget movies and the like. The reality is that I find my raincoat very useful as well as shawls, wraps, and scarves, during November to May.
barbara said…
Duchesse, beginning with your Stung Post I could not read your blog anymore. Now I see your Post, but the right side of your blog is completely white. Even your pic disappeared.
I am the only one?
As always, you give such great advices for those of us in transition times!
Duchesse said…
barbara: Thanks; I have gone in to do some cleanup but since all looks OK on my end it is nearly impossible to know if it is OK without readers' feedback.

SewingLIbrarian: My parents lived in Naples, FL for many years. If the temps dropped to 55F women would wear fur coats, "because it's so cold". We Canadians (or Midwesterners) would stand there, still in our shorts, staring.

I have spent a fair amount of time in CA, along the coast from the north to south borders and am often surprised by what friends there think of as "cold weather", though the dampness makes layers and cashmere feel wonderful.
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: Very smart in both senses of the compliment. "hard" taioring limits a piece to business unless a woman wears those equestrienne looks.
Love your comment about perfume and lingerie.

I have taken to wearing an ligth (but gorgeous) all-natural fragrance (L'Artisan Parfumeur's "Cote d'Amour") when I am in the workplace, because of people's real or imagined sensitivies.
SewingLibrarian said…
Ha ha, Duchessse! When I moved here, I had to learn to stop rolling my eyes when people said it was "cold." I tell my kids it's not cold, it's cool - because that's what it is to someone reared in Illinois. I agree about the damp, a reason I'm glad I don't live right on the ocean. We are about 12 miles inland, and it makes some difference in the climate.
LPC said…
Well thank you so much. And it's always a kick to hear your precise perspectives:).
An Edwardian lady in full dress was a wonder to behold, and her preparations for viewing were awesome.silks saree
ToRouxo said…
I really liked this blog. I love when I see retired women dressed with style and in fashion because it shows how good they feel about themselves. Fashion doesn't know any age and women who love clothes and dressing beautifully really take care of themselves. ρούχα

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