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Clothes for the woman, not the age

(ran CI, TP, PT, HT editions)

Talking to fashion designers about clothes for older women is risky. They bristle. They say their clothes work for women of all ages. They don't want to be known as an "older woman's designer."

They and their customers may be over 50, but they don't want to advertise it.

It's clear, however, that they're aware of this market segment and what these customers need.

New York designer Jackie Rogers produces chic, sophisticated evening clothes. Rogers, who modeled for the late Coco Chanel in Paris, opened her New York design firm in 1968. She says the cut of a garment is most important for mature customers. And she knows older women like to have their arms covered.

Rogers likes jerseys cut on the bias, so they move with the body. Stretch illusion, a high-tech fabric that looks like heavy tulle, gives coverage but still shows skin.

Rogers does a lot of cocktail suits because she thinks "women feel more secure in them."

"Find things that make you feel good and don't overpower you," she advises. "The worst mistake is to buy clothes because of the label."

Marie Gray, owner/creator of St. John Knits, says she designs for women like her: professional women who travel a lot and like timeless, uncomplicated clothes.

"I need clothes that disguise what gravity and nature do to the body," she says. "I need clothes that make me look and feel well-dressed and feminine."

Although she admits to being over 50 (she started her company 35 years ago), Gray is not comfortable discussing clothing for mature women.

"It's not a matter of age," she says. "You've got to know what you're working with. That means knowing your body type, your shape.

"An 80-year-old with great legs may want to flaunt them. We're not always willing to see that a transition has taken place (in our bodies)."

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