What (Else) Retired Women Wear, Part 2: The Transition

One of my most-read posts—and still read—was published in late November, 2012: "What (Else) Retired Women Wear". I've learned a few things since then, as more friends join that cohort.

What I didn't foresee over a decade ago: the work-from-home revolution narrowed the gap between leisure and career dressing, led by women in bunny slippers and pyjama bottoms. That wild freedom seems to have faded now, because they sense there is a psychological benefit to wearing real clothing. 

With retirement in sight

Today's windows hold ideas for those still working (in a business-casual setting) but planning retirement. You don't want to spend money on clothes you are unlikely to wear in a year or two!

The 'soft trouser' is a more refined style than the shapeless sweatpant. Spend enough to get a well-made pair or two, such as the Tailored Ponte Pant by Encircled, available in regular or ankle length. They also appeal to women who find jeans too constricting. 

Notice the closeup of the pocket and the front seam, and the neat waistband sans drawstring. The leg is finished with a small slit. Sizes to XXL, fabric is washable viscose/spandex; price, $CDN 178. Designed and made in Canada.

I'd also pick a dress for its psychological lift; we say "dressed up", not "trousered up". 

Apparently I'm not the only one who noticed this merino peplum-detail dress at Poetry; it is s/o now, but I'm showing it as an example because it's neither boxy-baggy nor shapewear-demanding tight.

From fall through spring, my friend Gisele, who in her years in a global accounting firm wore bespoke suits, layers knee-length dresses over warm tights or slim, knit trousers like the Ponte Pant. ("Knee length" is fashion-speak for mid-thigh.)

She says the snuggly fleece or "sweatshirt" dress is a star piece:

Left: Athleta's Coaster Lux dress has zip pockets and is made in sizes XXS to 3X; Price, $CDN 105.

Right: I've long praised Veronique Miljkovitch, now based in Lunenberg, N.S. Her Billy dress (now on sale; $CDN 195), made of single-loop terry, is an elevated version.

Marina, an artist, has no plans to retire, but made a transition when she moved from city to country. She spends many days in paint-covered jeans and tees, but also needs clothes for her meetings and openings. Her colours are saturated greens, plum, and a burnt orange that glows against her olive skin tone. 

This two-piece outfit from Muriel Dombret, which she tried on when we dropped by the Ottawa boutique, reflects what Muriel told me: her designs have shifted significantly from the jackets she once designed to this softer, looser approach. "This is what my clients want to wear now", she said.  

When you add a base layer, you can wear heavyweight linen into winter. (That's Marina's own green tee.)  She was captivated, but asked herself, "What do I need?" She left it behind, choosing a winter coat instead, but knows Muriel makes these pieces seasonally.

A coat for changing conditions

For me, the biggest change in retired life was how much time I spend outdoors; I'm walking more often and farther, rather than using transit. I find a tight-woven wool such as melton cloth layers up and down this new temperature-bounce climate.  

A mitten clap to a favourite family brand, Anían, whose woolens are washable. Maintenance is not how you want to spend your free time. 

I have admired their Loft "Florenzia" coat on women from students to elders; it is also made in solids.

If you prefer a full-length style, I'd choose one like this graceful alpaca, mohair and wool coat from Poetry, though it does require drycleaning. I hope you can see the ethereal colour mix in what at first glance looks greige:

Rethinking colour

Friends mention that after a few years of adjustment, their relationship to colour has changed. Initially, after decades of neutrals, they pranced into their new wardrobe-lives and bought red tartan trousers or a bright, oversized-print skirt.  

They're over it. They found that a highly-charged pattern tired their eye, or they felt not themselves. They did not return to their professional palettes, but have shifted to more nuanced hues. 

They are also toning them down by adding a neutral with some depth and personality. This is the new piece that Lou chose, the Uniqlo cord jacket, which she wears over her electric blue crewneck or  green, gold and turquoise print shirt.

Marina said that, if seized by a desire for a vivid print, she visits her local consignments where there are always other women's "I can't wear that again" clothes for sale.

Switching it up

In a comment on December 12, Laura J. said, "...what I wear day to day is so determined by activity, Pilates, walking, volunteering, etc and it’s the same round of clothes. It’s a real challenge to remember to wear other pieces!" 

What's helped me is to rotate items so they are visible in a closet or drawer; if I don't see something, it won't be worn. 

Workout clothes all day is an option, but when I go to an appointment, I hear my childhood friend Beth's Dad saying, "Spiff up a bit!"  I was at an annual eye exam and saw a woman who wore the perfect winter retirement top: an almond quarter-zip sweater, over slim charcoal trousers. Simple, comfortable, versatile—and I would really like to wear Sheep Inc.'s version ($410), especially if there's a sale!

What did they do with their career clothes?

Unless you spent your days in a uniform, chances are you'll have things to divest. 

If the outfit is all business, they donate to an organization that addresses the needs of women entering the workforce, such as Dress for Success. Then there are the charity thrifts, and faith-community jumble sales. We all know some charities are better than others in terms of how they do business.

I don't recommend holding a garage or sidewalk sale because most shoppers are not looking for business clothes there (but board games and old sound systems fly off the table.) Then there's the man who wanted to trade a rutabaga for my high heels.

Several friends have found other routes.

Harriet was a municipal elected official with a chic, professional wardrobe; she now lives in the country, in leggings and cozy sweaters. She let her still-serving colleagues know that she had a bundle of good business clothes, for the taking. (Women in office cannot default, as their male counterparts do, to the same classic dark suit for every event.)

Joanne, a retired retail manager, had a designer blazer that looked current but conservative. Her niece, Bevan, has begun to work in an accounting firm and needed jackets. A dressmaker friend replaced the navy lining with a landscape print (shown, similar style by Jean-Paul Gaultier) and altered it slightly; now the jacket is completely cool.

Another solution is the straightforward giveaway, without an intermediary: leave wearable items at the curb, with a sign inviting passers-by to help themselves, or post on a site like Freecycle, Trashnothing.com and the Free Stuff section of Facebook Marketplace. 

Whether one retires or continues to work, at this point we look at possessions differently. The last word goes to Mom, who said, "I couldn't wait to get this stuff, now I can't wait to get rid of it." 

 Holiday time!

Time to take a short break; the Passage reopens on January  2, 2024.  

You found your way here; I met you, and that's been a boon. The Passage is deliberately a little retro, as far as the Internet goes. As Neil Gaiman says, “I miss the days of just sort of feeling like you could create a community by talking in a sane and cheerful way to the world.” We strive for that here.

Given the state of the world, "cheer" might feel like a stretch; it certainly did when I snapped this selfie last week in Quebec City in -20C wind chill!  

Even so, I hope we greet the new year with optimism and do what we can to build our communities so that we foster peace.  



Unknown said…
Lots of good ideas here. I recently donated a variety of high quality clothing to a high school drama department. There is always a need for costumes for all sizes and shapes of kids.
LauraH said…
Love that you featured Encircled, I wear their Dressy Sweatpants for travel and and around town in the spring and fall. Also loved your Mom's take on the deaccumulation phase:-)

Over the years I learned so much from you about how to dress for my real, as opposed to fantasy, retirement life. Result is that I'm pretty happy with what's in my closet and can keep my shopping to a minimum. However, the idea of a cloth coat that can be layered for our up and down winters is one I will explore. Cloth coats can be so lovely although not enough in really cold weather...but then we seem to be having less and less of that despite your cold snap. Like you I do a fair amount of walking so need to keep that in mind...very different needs from driving. Maybe you could expand on the cloth coat for outdoors in a future post?

Merry Christmans and Happy New Year to you, le Duc and all your family.
Duchesse said…
Unknown: Great idea! I often recommend theatre companies for furs, and costume jewellery. Anything that's become "too much", like bugle-beaded dresses or wild prints can find a home there, too. They will also take mens' clothes.

LauraH: Anian's melton cloth and Loft wool jackets are fantastic for that layering. I like the styles that cover my butt.

Also, I have worn this Breton coat for nearly 8 years, another example of how specially-treated wool shakes off snow and rain: https://boutique.dalmardmarine.com/en/women/kabig/olympie-2-100-kabig-women-made-of-wool.html I don't ever want to be without one of these coats.
Under these items I wear a thick cotton hoody or if it is milder, a lighter hoodie and a longsleeved tee. Big scarf if I need to keep chin and nose warm.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Correction: The Dalmard jacket model is the "Cannes", in navy.
Patricia said…
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you Duchesse!
I find I prefer coats with a hood - trying to block all routes of ingress of the cold winter wind!
Tom said…
I was able to dress like this when I was working, so no great change now. I do have to remind myself to wear my nicer things every day.

One needs a warm coat more than one would expect here in the deep South. I find my warmest coats are vintage/semi vintage wool with lining. My warmest has lost several buttons and has a bit of moth damage, but it's ok to look eccentric in New Orleans. These do get heavy on long walks though.

I do love the community you have gathered. A good holiday to you, le Duc, and all the rest. e
Duchesse said…
Patricia: I love hoods but they do have to fit, neither too shallow nor deep. Now you'll have me looking. If my out-walking coat has no hood, I often wear a hoodie under it so I can have a hood when I need it.

eva: I remember seeing a woman in a fur jacket (worn sincerely) in 65F weather, in Florida! I am sure you can find new buttons, if not replacements... but I am reacting as someone from deep cold, where missing buttons could mean hypothermia. The women in the Passage are interesting, lively and expressive and I am lucky to have met a number of them in person.
Laura J said…
Have a calm, joyous and healthy holiday. All the best for the new year…looking forward to another year of your interesting,informative and enjoyable posts!

Off the Peg said…
I love reading your blog, and in particular the two posts about what retired women wear. I gave all my office clothes -- suits, mainly -- to Dressed For Success almost 20 years ago (in Melbourne, Australia) and since then have bought and worn clothes randomly until at last I started to think about a way of dressing that suits me, and targeting my buying only to those things I know I'll wear. This includes in warmer weather ¾ length pants, short sleeved or sleeveless tops, and long linen dresses. In colder weather, it's pretty strictly jeans and sweaters with various hoodies, raincoats and puffer coats depending on the cold. I've now added another dimension to the wardrobe, and that is that I won't buy anything I can easily make (tho of course often I don't even make!). The New Year's resolution will be to cull the wardrobe and dispose of everything else. The goal is to only keep what I wear -- although of course I'm going to hang on to some lovely, mostly unwearable clothing that holds memories.

Thank you for this year's worth of pleasant meandering and reading about pearls, scent and the clothes that we wear.
LauraH said…
Thanks for the link to Dalmard.
Jill Ann said…
Thanks for mentioning Dress for Success. I’m a volunteer at the Houston location, and we can always use donations of “gently used” professional clothing. And we don’t just accept suits; as workplaces have become more casual, so has our inventory. Blouses, pants, dresses, shoes and bags are welcomed, and not just in neutral colors! In addition to suiting a woman for a job interview, she is invited to return to select some “business casual” attire once she’s landed a job. DFS affiliates are in most American cities (no idea about Canada) so please check us out if you are downsizing your wardrobe.
Duchesse said…
Jill Ann: Yes, there are Canadian chapters including one in Montréal. Always a fan of DFS, which also takes overstock from Canadian manufacturers. Thank you for volunteering.
Duchesse said…
Off the Peg: Forgive me if you already do this, but I will repeat the method I learned somewhere online of reversing the hanger when you wear something during a season. That way at the end of the seasons, you see what was unworn and then it's time to divest or alter it.
Ms. Liz said…
I enjoyed your original post and this post as well. Your thoughts are all so very relevant. I am very mindful of my personal shopping desires as I am attracted to colour and a slightly more dressy vibe - which isn't always practical. I mean, how many lunches out with friends can one have? I have recently purchased a cinnamon colour wool blend to the knee coat from Danish brand Junge. It is so very nice to wear something other than a puffer and I am okay (I think) with the cost of dry cleaning. I am also getting tired of wearing jeans and recently discovered that anything in a pant from the brand Olsen that is labeled "cropped" fits my short stature perfectly as a full length pant. Retirement is a journey and my taste in fashion and clothing is changing along the way.

I so enjoy your writing, Have a peaceful and happy holiday!
Allison said…
Having retired from healthcare where I had transitioned to scrubs with the coming of the pandemic I had little to rehome in the way of ‘business clothing’ Items that I wore prior to scrubbing up were the typical allied health uniform of easy to to maintain with walkable foot wear. The only difference in retirement is my increased addiction to cashmere:) Even then I wash it at home with nary a shrink.
Coats, though…I have a Lolë puffer ( they are not THAT puffy but it’s light weight, warm, breaths well. When I walk it’s a minimum of 5k and I sweat)…of course my Canadian wardrobe has an ubiquitous down parka with coyote trimmed hood..but that coat is not light and can be a bit of a sauna. I am looking for something that can go out on a date night, attend a funeral or other such ‘dressed’ event. I live down the road from Muriel Dombret’s atelier so will check her stock. The Poetry coat is similar to what I am searching for but the $$$ not sure I can justify spending off shore. Would prefer to spend locally if possible or in Montreal (still kind of local)
Best wishes to you and yours that 2024 brings days of peace.
Duchesse said…
Allison: Muriel has a few coats, some are good for transitional or layered use. (I read you generate 10C degrees of heat when walking briskly). I too find the Kanuk-styled superheavy parkas too hot. Mostly I wear a lighter down puffer like your Löle or a tight-weave wool like Anian's. The weather is so much more changeable here than when I worked in Mtl in the '80s, when it would freeze solid by early Dec. and stay frozen as an ice cube till March.

Do you know the secondhand store The Clothes Secret? I saw good coats there in the fall when Marina and I checked it out.

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