It seems like everyone is working harder than ever. I work primarily with professional women and all of my clients, including myself, are barely treading water. My client, Ms. Incandescent, a CEO who runs a company that employs hundreds of people, was out of touch for months simply because her workload had been unsustainable. When we were finally able to connect, she told me her company has been understaffed by about 25%. Much of this was due to the great resignation, many of these resignations being Baby Boomers.
This is a far cry from what we anticipated the workplace would look like when the pandemic started in 2020. I can vividly recall my own fears that March when NYC first went into lockdown and I was tormented by chilling memories of the 2008 economic collapse that took me nearly 10 years to claw back from after my business barely survived it. Back in 2008, I was 34. I had time. In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I was 46, and without nearly the amount of time, energy, or runway I had back then to come back from another scathing financial disaster. It would be over if things went south. There would be no second comeback for my business.
The Great Retirement is a Subset of the Great Resignation
Yet, here I am in 2022 having just calculated my business growth for the first quarter, and my business is up 109% compared to the first quarter of 2021. I hired an assistant and, like my clients, I am struggling to keep up with my workload. Maybe people in the ‘financial know’ may have seen this coming, but to the average person, like myself, and without an ear to the finance train trestle, nobody anticipated that there would be no financial collapse, there would be a great resignation, or that more than half of these people would be over the age of 55 who would leave the workplace. The pandemic pushed more than 3 million Baby Boomers into premature retirement. Some left due to layoffs, others left due to being part of the vulnerable age group for illness, and others felt it was the right time to just leave having built up enough of a financial cushion to do so.
I’m not going to lie, as a moody middle child Gen X’er, a generation that prefers to do its thing with less fanfare and who can find the whole Baby Boomer presence overwhelming at times, on the one hand, I’m like, “finally, something that will make this huge, loud, sanctimonious group of people shuffle off. Make haste already, won’t ya?” But I realize, this comes from the fact that I am part of the commonly overlooked and ignored generation that grew up unsupervised and from broken homes, and who usually gets skipped or doesn’t even register on lists that cite all the different generational years. The outward response to my generation being ignored is usually met with the typical Gen X shrug, partnered with our classic, “whatever, man,” like we don’t care, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t looking forward to finally getting our moment in the sun after years of Baby Boomers getting theirs. To make matters worse, we Gen X’ers also contend with our much cuter and younger siblings who get all the attention, The Millennials.
That said, the Great Retirement, the subset name for the Baby Boomer population who are part of the Great Resignation, has had far greater negative consequences than the positive side effect of Gen X finally getting its moment in the sun. Baby Boomers outsize my much smaller Gen X generation despite the fact that Baby Boomers are dying off and Gen X will finally outsize the Boomer population by 2028. Baby Boomers were the largest living adult generation until 2019, according to Pew Research. Currently, as it stands, Millennials are the largest living adult generation, but Millennials are a young generation, comparatively, and not all ready to fill the shoes of the exiting Boomer retirees. In 2021, the latest data available, Millennials approximately numbered 73.2 million, Boomers 70.2 million, and Gen X only 65.2 million. Employers are dependent on the outsize Baby Boomer cohort, whose exit is contributing to growing shortages of workers everywhere.
Boomers Want Career Flexibility Not Career Ends
Credit where credit is due, I have always been grateful for how Baby Boomers redefined retirement and aging. I clearly recall my grandfathers—both of The Greatest Generation— retiring at around the age of 65, as if the clock ran out and they had to leave their work to putter in boredom until they died. I think about my mom who was born smack in the middle of the Baby Boom generation and won’t be retiring until she’s in her early 70s and has plans after retirement to consult or work part-time in her profession in some capacity. Part of working this long has been because she’s been a widow for over two decades and is an educator who needs to work in order to get maximum benefits. Yet, that aside, the other reason is indicative of how Boomers are redefining what aging looks like and how they want to use their retirement years. According to a Gallup poll, a solid 10% of Americans claimed they planned to work long past retirement age. Certainly, part of that is due to most Americans famously not having enough money set aside for their senior years along with an obsession with the American way of finding meaning through work, but we also have to credit how Boomers have redefined aging and vitality. As the generation following behind them, on this, I applaud and am grateful for what Boomers have paved. See? I’m not entirely salty about Boomers. The pandemic curtailed this Boomer retirement plan of working past retirement for a variety of reasons and that’s disappointing because if there is anything Boomers don’t put up with it’s standing idly by while life is decided for them.
Boomers refusing to shuffle off has also been good for the economy. Gen X has long worried over the fact that the outsized generation before them will basically sop up most of Social Security income before any of us X’ers will have the chance to benefit. Now with more Boomers retiring earlier than planned, these worries are becoming more fully realized even quicker. Adding to that, Boomers’ presence in the workplace helped compensate for things like reduced immigration and the falling birth rates. Additionally, The Great Retirement is potentially inflationary. Employers will be competing for a smaller labor pool and will have to pay higher wages, which means raising the prices of their products. This could contribute to a wage-price spiral, where rising prices lead empowered workers to demand raises to keep up, fueling even more inflation.
Employers who are smart are considering how to retain their Boomer-aged employees from being part of the Great Retirement by improving labor conditions, evaluating age discrimination in the workplace, and how they can make their workplace more appealing for workers, not just Boomers, but all employees who want to stick around. I’ve been saying it for months, it’s an employee, not an employer-driven workplace currently. Companies that are examining how they support their aging employees post-pandemic are likely the ones who will maintain retention as polls are showing that many Boomers do have an interest in remaining connected to their jobs at some capacity in semi-retirement through things like reduced hours, consulting, or flexible hours. Yet, sadly, only one in five retirees of a large pool polled by the Harris Poll for Express Employment Professionals, a staffing agency, claimed their company had any interest in options like this.
All That Said, You Decided to Retire. How to Rebuild Your Wardrobe Now
For whatever reason, you decided to retire during the pandemic. I received a request from a reader who was part of The Great Resignation and couldn’t be happier with her choice to retire. As with many women entering this new phase of life, 90% of this reader’s wardrobe is work-related and she is now in the process of rethinking what she needs in her closet. She requested a blog post on the topic. As luck would have it, I recently built a capsule for a client who is going through something similar and as luck would have it again, she agreed to let me share what I have done for her so far.
My client, who I have named Mrs. Ebullient due to her very cheery, personable, and affable personality, reached out when she realized that her retirement wardrobe was lacking and was struggling to figure out how to reshape and correct it. Mrs. Ebullient is a young Canadian retiree and former government employee. She wasn’t specific in her reasons for retirement but being only 55 —actually a cool Gen X’er, not a Boomer — she is in a position where she still has decades of enjoyable retirement years ahead and deserves a wardrobe to match all the possibilities to come.
We all go through phases in life, at all ages, where we have to reconsider what we wear, where suddenly what has been working no longer does. Our personal style may not change but what we need to wear and what fits changes. It’s like we need to get to know ourselves all over again. In Mrs. Ebullient’s case, this seemed very true. How does she take her style and transform it for this new life? It was time to get professional help.
Mrs. Ebullient’s Retirement Capsule
Shop Mrs. Ebullient’s Capsule
1 Linen Cardigan 2 Cookie Cardigan 3 Linen Boyfriend Cardigan 4 Soft Stretch Supima Tee 5 Pima Cotton Shaped V-Neck 6 Layering Tank 7 Linen Camp Shirt 8 Silvio Shirt 9 Irish Linen Shirt 10 Horn Gold Bracelet 11 Tortoise Hoop Earrings 12 Link Chain Necklace 13 Jasper Beaded Necklace 14 Buffalo Horn Beads 15 Interlock Drop Earrings 16 Rory Dress 17 Miastella Crossbody 18 Primula Hobo 19 Le Foulonné Crossbody 20 Perforated Leather Belt 21 Cotton Linen Boy Blazer 22 The Danza 23 Gizeh Sandals 24 The Cerchio 25 The Lizza Nuova 26 The Medio 27 The Felize 28 The Edetta 29 Ribbed Polo 30 Recycled Denim Skirt 31Denim Jacket 32 Hockley Jean in Hemlock 33 Sammataro Jean 34 Utility Straight Leg Pant 35 Suit(ish) Pull on Pant 36 High-Rise Girlfriend Chino 37 Original Cheeky Jean 38 Modal Scarf
I put together Mrs. Ebullient’s Capsule with a few things in mind. The first was her personal style, which I resonated with strongly. As with me, Mrs. Ebullient tended toward basics and preferred using fewer clothes, and likes neutral colors. She enjoys and wears nice things but was looking to cut back on her clothing spending in retirement. My strategy to choose luxury resale items was predicated on my feeling that there was no reason someone should have to lower their usual standards simply because their life is becoming more casual. The items that don’t have links are the items that are luxury resale and not available. These items primarily came from Max Mara’s more casual lines, like Weekend Max Mara, and Akris Punto. A retirement life does not mean having to pick through racks of cheap clothes you’d wear to early bird dinner at 4 pm. Why not go for elevated and polished casual? Mrs. Ebullient is a very long way off before she’s taking the senior bus to bingo night. Certainly, the type of clothing chosen would need to resonate with her new lifestyle, but the quality itself, why compromise? I was determined to create an elegant and upscale retirement look that was wearable and approachable and realistic, all while remaining within her target budget.
I also wanted to show Mrs. Ebullient how she could do more with less by manipulating the pieces in her wardrobe and showing her how to dress them up and down by simply mixing them differently or choosing different shoes and accessories. I certainly didn’t need to show Mrs. Ebullient how to style a t-shirt and jeans by themselves, but if I could show her how to take those basic pieces and looks and amp them up slightly with just a few tweaks, Mrs. Ebullient could maximize her wardrobe for all different needs.
Overall, my goal was to create a sporty, elegant, and refined capsule that looked polished and wearable and one that she could effortlessly throw together so she could wear the pieces to run to the store to grab a gallon of milk, get dinner with friends, attend a party, and also pack to go on an adventure somewhere fun with her husband.
The Looks Created Using the Pieces from Mrs. Ebullients Retirement Capsule
These are the looks I created as examples to show how the pieces I selected for Mrs. Ebullient could be styled so she could decide which of the selections made the most sense for her to purchase. While she likely won’t buy everything and not all of it will fit, this capsule creates a workable framework that she and I will use as we continue to flesh things out. It has become very helpful for clients to see beyond just shopping selections and to see how each piece would be used in multiple ways in their wardrobes. These outfit options also allowed Mrs. Ebullient to track each piece she was interested in and track how each one was used so she could easily figure out which additional pieces to buy. Take a look at all the looks I created.
Next Steps for Mrs. Ebullient’s Retirement Capsule
As I was finishing up this post, I received an email from Mrs. Ebullient. When I put the capsule together, she was traveling and ordered things while away so we didn’t communicate much. It was only in that email that I learned how pleased Mrs. Ebullient was with what she has received so far. She said she, “no longer looks like a middle-aged frump.” Next, we will review the purchases Mrs. Ebullient will be keeping, address what additional buys, based on those keeps, will be needed to round out her wardrobe, and Mrs. Ebullient will be off to enjoy her wonderful retirement life…until next season when we’ll be doing it all again for fall. Well, I’m pretty sure we will.
Mrs. Ebullient has been an absolute pleasure, joy, and ease to work with and I look forward to further fleshing out this incredible retirement capsule. If you are entering this next phase of your life from your own Great Resignation or Great Retirement, I hope you feel inspired to look great on this next leg of your journey.