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Fashion Forward: Silvert's Puts on a Show

Blame it on the flappers. The high-fashion culture of the Roaring Twenties and early 1930s set a standard that is driving today's demand for more contemporary lines, fabrics and colours in seniors' clothing.

"I think that, in the '20s, there was some money around and people were able to buy clothing and be stylish. But then the Depression hit, so they wanted nice clothing but didn't want to pay a lot," says Jeff Alter, president of Silvert's Easy-Wear Easy-Care Clothing Co. "That developed their expectations and today we find a market of seniors who are both price conscious and quality conscious."

Alter, whose grandfather began the company in 1930 with a chain of small department stores, joined Silvert's in 1979. Now one of North America's top catalogue and online ( retailers of seniors' apparel, Silvert's also operates a warehouse store and three travelling boutiques that visit seniors' residences.

Their target market is age 38-75 - active seniors and their caregivers, including children and spouses of frail, elderly individuals. Silvert's range of clothing is intended to address active seniors to immobile, older individuals. As well, their clothing must withstand the wear-and-tear of industrial washing machines and dryers in retirement residences.

"We can't use Lycra because it breaks down so we look for poly-cottons, or polyester fabrics," Alter says.

Top-sellers include the elastic/drawstring rugger pants for men ($43) and for women a back-opening undervest ($15) and nightgown ($28).

There are more stylish options as well. Slivert's brightly toned skirt suits, with contrasting camisoles, feature half-elastic waists and stylish, large buttons.

A pastel clamdigger set has side opening capri-length pants and a back-opening shirt. Conventional pantsuits feature elegant detailing. Men's gabardine and flat-front slacks offer comfort with back-gathered elastic waists.

"It's not crazy, but it's contemporary," says Alter.

At a trim size 8 - sometimes even a size 6 - Jean Godfrey, 95, finds it "truly difficult to find suitable clothes."

A resident of Forest Hill Place, a Lifestyle-owned retirement community, she prefers a casually elegant style of slacks, blouses and sweaters. "I like a lot of blues. I can wear red because my hair is quite white.

"I'm a little bit funny about my things and I think I have a tasteful wardrobe. But I don't think I could wear today's modern fashions - sometimes I'm disgusted when I see what they're wearing," she says of tight navel-baring, cleavage-revealing styles.

Sinney Sloven's sense of style begins at her toes. "I don't like flats," says the 85-year-old resident of Forest Hill Place. "If I dress for Friday night, I like a high, thin heel with a pointed toe. They also give me height since now I'm only 5-foot-4," she notes of her previous 5-foot, 7-inch frame.

As a fair-skinned blonde, bright colours and pantsuits are Sloven's current favourite. Yet she's careful to choose styles that can dress up or down. "For instance, if I get invited to the golf club for lunch, I need something casual that also has a dressy flair."

Yet for seniors with limited mobility, health or medical concerns, clothing must be functional first. Back- and side-opening gowns and pants are musts. And clothing companies that recognize this quiet market are having sales successes when they set up temporary, mini-stores in retirement homes.

"It's a fantastic service for seniors in residences. Rather than having to get out to a shopping mall, and deal with parking and crowds and trying things on in small dressing rooms, it's nice to know you can shop in the comfort of your own home," says Clara Bissett, manager of recreational services for Hazelton Place retirement residence.
Bissett says that although she's not seen any revolutionary new fads in the seniors' clothing market, she has seen some gadgets to help with dressing.

For instance, a sock assistant has a clip that attaches to the sock, which is then hooked onto a handle or string to help pull it up. Shoe horns with long, long handles help with shoes, "but I haven't seen anything yet that helps with shirts or sweaters," Bissett adds.
Clothes that are functional but more in keeping with contemporary fashions is the big message Silvert's hears from its customers. "Our focus groups have identified a new demographic that is more fashion conscious than the group before them," Alter says of the generation before the baby boomers.

"They have told us they don't want 'fuddy-duddy' clothes. Seniors don't want to be seen as "dowdy,' Alter continues. And "dark tones and big patterns are definitely out."

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