Looking at Marks & Spencer's current collections, I wonder whether the charming and rather stylish Marc Bolland is actually paying attention to the clothing on sale in the high street giant he has been running since June 2010.
Transforming the fashion offering was never going to be a quick fix, but two years should be enough to at least have begun to make improvements if the will and the fashion expertise existed in the M&S boardroom.
But looking at the merchandise, in-store and online, I can't help wondering whether there is either. As someone who has covered M&S fashion for more than two decades, I have seen them at their best and their worst; I have seen them criticised for being overpriced and I have criticised them for, among other things, their policy of producing key styles in a single colour as if they were Lanvin or Dior rather than a high street chain. But I have never seen anything quite as depressingly awful as what is on offer right now.
With the exception of their lingerie, notably the Rosie collection, they seem to have got their fashion heroically wrong. I assume their success in bras and pants means they have some fresh blood in the lingerie-buying team, or perhaps Mr Bolland's shake-up is working its way outwards, starting with undies.
And while little of the outerwear is good, the Twiggy collection aimed squarely (and I use the word advisedly) at the Twiggy generation - i.e. purportedly stylish women aged 50-plus - is beyond appalling. The words 'frumpy' and 'unflattering' don't even begin to describe the awfulness and irrelevance of most of what's on offer.
And even if some of the clothing is passably okay, the styling for the website images and in-store displays is so unutterably off-trend that the stylist should be sent away and only ever allowed to style furniture in the future. And in an era of online shopping, the styling is hugely relevant. It is worth remembering that the first impression - via an image - is what propels us towards (or away from) an online purchase.
With its Twiggy collection, M&S is behaving as if it was living in 1975 - and I'm not referring to the poorly executed 1970s trends. The people behind the collection - and I am guessing here, but I suspect they are in their 20s and 30s - have an image of women of over 50 which is dangerously out of date for a commercial organisation where 50-plus is a key target demographic.
Their vision of a woman of 50 or 60, personified by Twiggy's recurring semi-bouffant hair-do and frumpy shoes, so profoundly fails to mesh with the reality of what women in this age group wears and behaves - and SoSensational knows, because we, too, cater to the demographic and have done our research - it is not surprising that women of that age are turning away in droves, and derailing M&S's profits at the same time.
And where are these women going?
Why, to Zara and Primark, of course. Which is, in itself, an interesting development, because it demonstrates that it is not a specific attribute, i.e. price or quality, which is the determining factor for this age-group when shopping. After all, Zara prices are similar to M&S, and Primark is perceived as offering poorer quality. The appeal of those two chains in particular is the delivery of stylish, perfectly on-trend clothing, much of which will be loved by a woman of 50-plus.
If M&S wants to appeal to that vitally important demographic - the Twiggy generation, which currently, and for the foreseeable future, has greater spending power than any other socio-economic group - they really need to put a bit of effort and research into creating clothes they will want to buy. Stop relying on 20-somethings with a distorted view and start speaking to the right people.
Also on HuffPost:
In an attempt to hide or cover up our bodies, especially if we've packed on a few post-menopausal pounds, we end up looking heavier. No matter what our size, a woman over 50 should have the right fit--not tight, but a fit that defines the waist. Best way to do that? Make a great tailor your new best friend.
We live in a world that's constantly shouting in our ears, "Young is better!" ... but don't listen! We've earned every crow's foot we have, and buying into that nonsense is the perfect recipe for a fashion fail. In Barbara Hannah Grufferman's book, "The Best of Everything After 50," she interviewed Diane von Furstenberg, who said the key to looking great is to be comfortable. If you're tugging at your too-short skirt you'll be more focused on covering your thighs than on what you should be engaged in. There are no style rules, but there are definite guidelines, the most important one being this: Just because you're over 50 doesn't mean you have dress like a frump. Update your wardrobe with a few essential basics and build from there.
The majority of American women wear the wrong bra size, and it shows. We just don't take the time to get properly fitted by an expert. The right bra can make all the difference in how your clothes fit, and how you look in them. Make sure to get a few different ones for specific clothes, including one specifically for wearing under a t-shirt or other smooth shirts, and buy them in colors that are close to your own skin color for wearing under white or light-colored tops.
There are no magic amulets for reversing skin damage, but products such as Retin-A are as close as you can get. They work to exfoliate the skin while you sleep, and help build collagen. (Using a retinol product on the skin makes it even more sensitive to the sun, so a product with an SPF of at least 40 is essential).
Women over 50 often try to cover everything up by applying too much concealer, foundation, blush, everything. Foundation should be applied very sparingly, and only then will you be able to see if concealer is even necessary. Keep it light, with pinkish tones for the lips, and rosy for the cheeks. Try a waterproof eyeliner and very lightly follow the last line, top and bottom. A lighter touch is key to a fresh, pretty face.
Using the single process approach to covering gray can create a single block of color, very often either too light or too dark, without any contrast. This can drain the face and be aging. Consider highlights along with your natural color (including the gray), or mixing highlights with the single process.
Diets don't work. Eating, and eating often, does. Diets that focus on a specific category of food (protein, for example) aren't sustainable. Eating small meals consisting of whole grains, lean proteins, dark leafy greens and lots of water go a long way in keeping hunger at bay, and the pounds off.
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