This year's apparel rebound owes a lot to the boomer generation — people ages 57 to 75 —who are spending more on apparel than any other age group, according to research from the NPD Group's Consumer Tracking Service.
Between January and July, boomers increased their spending on new clothes by 28% compared to pre-pandemic 2019 — five times more than millennials, and twice as much as Gen Z, according to the report.
They've headed back to stores, but their newfound comfort shopping online for clothes will likely last, according to NPD Director of Market Insights Kristen Classi-Zummo. "For the past year, $1 out of every $5 spent on apparel online came from a Boomer's wallet, and their online apparel spending grew faster than any other generation," she wrote.
Millennials and, more recently, Gen Z have preoccupied marketers in recent years, and old-fashioned retailers like department stores take pains to assure their investors that they're working hard to reach America's youth.
But they ignore baby boomers at their peril, considering that generation has accumulated vast wealth and continues to wield massive spending power, outdoing millennials well into their sixties. Three years ago, consumers over 50 accounted for more than half of all U.S. spending and outpaced all other generations in spending growth, according to research from Visa Business and Economic Insights.
There are just more boomers around, plus they're hanging on to their spending power by retiring later — two reasons the Visa researchers in 2018 concluded that boomers would remain a powerful consumer cohort for five to 10 more years.
Moreover, at a time when apparel retailers are struggling to sell much beyond athleisure, joggers and knits, many baby boomers dress to express themselves. The top-growing categories stoked by boomer spending over the past 12 months include comfort, sportswear, sleepwear and basics, a sign that these consumers are refreshing their entire wardrobes, according to NPD.
"Brands and retailers love to focus on Millennials and Gen Z vying for their share of wallet, but Boomers should not be overlooked," Classi-Zummo said in the emailed report. "Fashion is something that defined this generation, representing their beliefs, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Maybe this is part of the reason why Boomers like my dad hold tightly to their fashionable roots and, amidst a challenging time in our history, maintain a steadfast focus on fashion."