On a recent Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, Anika, 26, an investment banker, was doing what many women of her generation do on weekends: she was shopping with her mother. And enjoying it. No surprise, either, that both mother and daughter ended up considering the same pair of J Brand jeans. Initially meant for Anika, the jeans caught her mother's eye too. "I'd wear those to your father's club with a blazer and heels," she said.
Retailers of the world, take note: If you want to get into a boomer's pocketbook, you've got to win her daughter over first. According to Resource Interactive, an Ohio-based marketing company, young adults influence 88% of household apparel purchases. It makes sense since members of the millennial generationthose born between 1980 and 2000are closer to their parents than are members of any previous generation. Millennials and their parents not only take vacations together and text each other several times a day but also consult each other on what to buy. And more often than not, the millennials are the more informed consumers.
"They've never known life without a computerthey can take in 20 hours' worth of information in seven hours," says Nancy Kramer, CEO of Resource Interactive. "There isn't a brand or a trend these kids aren't aware of." Which is why boomer mothers who want to keep abreast of the trends turn to the experts in discriminating shoppingtheir daughters.
NPD Group's chief retail analyst, Marshal Cohen, estimates that the number of 18-to-24-year-olds shopping with Mom has grown 8% over the past three years. And what goes on in the dressing room is markedly different than in past generations. Unlike their mothers, boomer women don't want to adopt the ladies-who-lunch look, but at the same time they want to avoid that mutton-dressed-as-lamb look.
"What we hear women say," says Doug Harrison of the Harrison Group, a research firm that conducts surveys for LVMH, Neiman Marcus and others, "is they want clothes that 'make me feel like I've still got it but acknowledge that I'm mature and I've accomplished something.'"
Conventional retail wisdom holds that you can't sell clothes that appeal to both age groupsit takes the edgy element off the brand if Mom is wearing it, and when a store skews too trendy, it alienates its older customers. But not everyone is playing by the rules. Bergdorf Goodman threw this thinking aside three years ago when it restyled its contemporary floor, rechristening it 5F. With a DJ playing world music rather than rap, a café open to the floor and a mix of clothing labels designed more for an aesthetic than for a precise age, the department store has managed to appeal to boomer women without losing its younger customers. Shira Lauter, V.P. of merchandising for the fifth floor, notices that when a mother and daughter shop together, the store tends to get a bigger sale. The most striking area of influence is in premium denim, which daughtersfor whom low-rise jeans serve as both day and evening wearhave nudged their mothers into trying.