Help Aging Parents Look Better

Aging and Appearance: Shopping for Clothes

Today’s focus: helping aging parents in the middle group—those between Prada and Dumpy—to look better. That’s the group Eloise, an unforgettable friend of my parents going back to high school and college days, compared to an old car.

In her mid-eighties, she laughingly told me: First, the rear view mirror comes loose, next there’s a dent in the fender. Then the tail pipe falls off. Not major problems for older people really, they just need a little fixing and a paint job, she quipped. The paint job, while painless, does require thought and planning.

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Energy is a prime consideration when shopping with aging parents. If we tire them out, they may never attempt it again. And for our own well being it makes sense to factor in our available time. We want to avoid pressure caused by time constraints if the shopping experience is to be a good one.

If a younger woman announces “I’m shopped out,” to her friend as they emerge from the dressing rooms, arms full of clothing, what’s it like for much older men and women to go shopping, especially those who don’t–or no longer–make the effort to dress better?

R’s wig shopping experience can provide an insight and a model. Initially it took a few tries to settle on the day. An unexpected problem occurred, thus we had to reschedule. While flexibility on our part is important, having a plan in place is more than important. It’s a necessity. It saves time and prevents “running out of steam.” R planned the schedule with me. She knows herself well and decided one wig shop, a break for lunch, then the cancer center’s open-to-non-patients, well-known wig shop was all she could handle at age 96. It all worked. When our goal is realistic and we accomplish it, we feel good!

Because we had a specific goal, going to a mall wasn’t in our plan. However to save time and energy, shopping at a mall with parents is practical. Weather isn’t an issue and parents get some exercise without walking huge distances. If we prepare ahead–deciding what new clothing is most needed/wanted, where we think we can buy it and where we want to eat–it works! And it can be fun too.

Although R doesn’t wear them, good looking, elastic waist pantsuits are comfortable and easy to find for aging mothers with less-than-perfect figures. And there are slacks with adjustable waistbands, for aging fathers, that look great. These may be excellent choices to replace comfortable, baggy sweat pants (or worse) especially when parents go out.

Since we know nothing succeeds like success, a successful shopping trip can trigger an older parent’s interest in his or her appearance. When old people look good, the chances for demeaning remarks from strangers decrease and the chances for compliments increase. And while we might not realize it, our aging parents don’t get that many compliments any more. So when they make the effort to wear new clothes and look good, we need to recognize that and tell them. Who doesn’t like a legitimate compliment! And it reinforces behavior (in this case looking good) too.




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