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Generation X Are Not Your Grandma’s Grandma


MullenLowe London strategy director Hannah Hayes-Westall considers the surprising similarities brands should understand between generations x and z

Generation X Are Not Your Grandma’s Grandma
Overlooked middle-child cohort generation x might not be far off getting their freedom passes but their ideas about what’s important in fashion are closer to those of headline-grabbing gen z than you might expect, and that means businesses have an opportunity to rethink midlife fashion. 
If your style references include Kurt’s cardigan and Reverend Run’s shelltoes, the chances are you’re right there in the middle of generation x, and while the idea of your kids having kids is pretty great, you may well be less happy with the way society thinks about fashion now you’re a grandma. Not surprisingly, you wouldn’t be alone in this.

Gen x may well be the cohort that social media most often forgets, but it’s also a substantial chunk of the population and, according to a report by retail research firm GlobalData, a significant contributor to the fashion retail industry in the UK. In 2020 the gen x age group accounted for 26.9% of the total clothing and footwear market value in the UK, representing an estimated £16.4 billion in spending, and while that was hit, as all spending was, by the pandemic, there are signs that the share of market has remained similar. According to the recent Invisible Powerhouse study by MullenLowe, 63p of every pound will be spent by the over 50s in 2040. So what generation x feels about style is important, and where they have those feelings is increasingly online. 
“We literally invented the internet” is the inaccurate but heartfelt argument for recognition that x-ers sometimes pull out and it’s true that from a tech standpoint, gen xers were at the forefront of the transition from analogue to digital. As a consequence they are well-versed in using social channels to research and discover new products, with research from ESW’s Global Voices study in 2022 showing YouTube (47%), Facebook (46%) and Instagram (30%) are the most popular channels over more traditional outlets, such as TV (21%) or newspapers and magazines (15%), a shift brands and retailers must consider when developing content and customer engagement strategies for the gen x demographic. And researching is important to generation x because the things that are important to them are increasingly values driven.
Gen x consumers are more likely to be motivated by a brand's commitment to social and environmental issues than other generations. McKinsey & Company’s 2021 sustainability report found that gen x consumers are the most willing of all generations to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products. They are also more likely than other generations to expect everyone to be included. The generation that grew up listening to grunge and Britpop, the Fugees and Missy Elliot is more likely than other generations to prioritise clothing that flatters their body type, rather than following trends. Mintel’s 2021 report into the UK’s fashion retail industry also shows that they are also more likely to seek out brands that offer extended size ranges and to be influenced by diversity and representation in marketing. And if you think this sounds familiar it’s because it is.
Reporting on the UK’s fashion market, particularly its online fashion market, often focuses on generation z, those social media savvy 11-25 year old kids with their digitally native mindset and righteous outrage at the state of the environment they are inheriting. Often, it focuses on the progressive values embodied by these young people as if their values are a radical departure, but diving into gen x quickly shows us that these two generations are connected by more than a shared love of rave music and making fun of millennials. 
The behaviours and attitudes driving both generation x and generation z are driving a focus on a kind of individuality that is hyperfocused on impact on the wider community. Radical inclusiveness, sustainability and transparency allied to authenticity and commitment to a better future are perhaps the logical outcomes of coming of age during great financial and political instability and in fashion they signal something rather beautiful. When the easy options aren’t available both these generations have, and in gen z’s case, already have, prioritised creativity, kindness, and togetherness, and the brands that align themselves with these beliefs will continue to grow in relevance with both of these important audiences.

Offline Sources:
‘Clothing & Footwear 2020 - Sector Analysis,’ GlobalData, December 2020.
‘Gen X Fashion: Is Comfort the New Casual?’ Lyst, August 2021.
‘Sustainability 2021: Insights into Gen Z and Millennials,’ McKinsey & Company, January 2021.

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MullenLowe, Fri, 10 Mar 2023 15:55:30 GMT