“Forever Young” – The Inside Scoop

Sue DonnellyIf you’ve seen Sue Donnelly speak, you know how exciting her presentations are.  If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat.  Sue will be presenting two new topics at our Education Conference in February, so even if you’ve heard her speak before, you won’t want to miss out on this new information.  Sue answered a few questions for us about her topic, “Forever Young? Grown-Up Style – Helping Clients Transition Through the Decades.”  (By the way, early-bird deadline for Conference is January 16.  You can get full information about the Conference and register here.)

What prompted you to choose this subject as a topic for educating image consultants?

I’ve always had a desire to help mid-life women as, many times, I have watched them collectively struggle for recognition, power and an innate confidence in themselves and what they do. In other cultures, growing older is a sign of a women’s wisdom and, therefore, brings respect. The world I live in seems to be entirely focused on youth, not maturity. I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure my ‘older’ clients still had their ‘mojo’ and the opportunity to live a full and interesting life. The catalyst for change would come via their clothing so we could create an authentic image that was totally empowering for them. When I myself reached 50 (nearly 6 years ago), little did I realize just what a transitional period this would be. So many unexpected things can happen that, for the most part, we are not prepared for them. I wanted the mid life women to come out from the shadows, cast aside the beige and say ‘Here I am. Just look at me and what I can do’.

What do you see as the primary fashion/style challenges that women face as they begin to move into their ‘middle’ years and beyond?

There are actually quite a number:

  1. The changes I referred to incorporate the environmental as well as the physical. Not only does the mid life woman no longer recognize herself in the mirror but she may also need to take on a completely different lifestyle. She no longer understands what is required to fortify, flatter, function and fulfill her in the closet
  2. A lack of suitable role models. When we have no-one to guide us (image-wise), it becomes more difficult to judge what is and isn’t appropriate. We end up even more lost.
  3. Although there are retailers and designers that sell great clothes for this age group, the ordinary woman in the street may not be aware of them. Clothing choices can be overwhelming.
  4. We understand that we have far more on offer to us than in previous generations but one of the biggest problems is HOW do we need to look? We sure don’t want to look like our mothers or grandmothers, but we don’t want to look like our daughters either. The ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ versus frumpy syndrome is one of the biggest fears of the mid-life woman (see my video).

How can we, as image consultants, provide value to this client?

This is the time when we no longer need to look like part of the ‘crowd’. This is the time when we can focus on who we are and what we want to achieve in this next chapter of our lives. But we need help. Image Consultants are the experts. We are able to help define who she is NOW and how to dress to reflect this so she is comfortable in her skin and radiates confidence. We need to find ways of bringing this information to the fore. This client may be so lost that she has no real clue of her identity so color and style analysis, on their own, may not be enough. A different approach may be required. We need to know WHERE to shop, how to put outfits together so they are uniquely hers and to help her acquire clothing suitable for every occasion. Her needs will be very different from someone ten years younger, so we need to be in tune with what they are so we can fully accommodate them.

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