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Designs for the ages

A NSCAD professor is creating a fuss-free clothing line for seniors with style

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When Gary Markle’s mother Joan asked him to help with her wardrobe several years ago, he didn’t hesitate. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design assistant professor in the textiles/fashion department knew she needed practical yet stylish guidance. Markle created a cheat-sheet with wardrobe pictures on a clipboard that could be easily mixed and matched.

“My mom has always been the type of woman who enjoys dressing,” says Markle. “And my interest in fashion always stems from how it empowers people. Our first project was a documentation of all the pieces of her wardrobe for fall and how they worked together.”

Markle’s pictures gave examples of different outfits and pairings, making the task of daily dressing much easier for his mother, who is living with dementia. Another project was a soft bathrobe with three quarter length sleeves that Markle created about five years ago. She picked out the material in marzipan pink-hued polar-fleece. Fast-forward to a few years later and Markle has taken this concept to another level. He received a $100,000 grant in October 2013 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funding to create clothing for the elderly that will be stylish but also specifically designed for their needs.

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Over the next two years, Markle will work with students to create a clothing line that is fuss-free with easier-to-use zippers and less tedious buttoning and hooking. He also plans to source out materials that may be senior-friendly such as natural fabrics that resist bacteria. Markle maintains that his designs will be classic and he doesn’t see why seniors need to look any less style-savvy than younger generations. Through applying the Universal Design approach to clothing that encompasses all ages and ability levels, Markle hopes to create looks that are simple, timeless and not age-specific.

“The way this project would show its ultimate success is if the clothing appeals to a wide age range,” he says. “It’s important to emphasize respect and dignity with this project and there’s also the reality that aging is something we will all have to face. It’s not that far away for many of us.”

Markle believes baby boomers will have higher expectations, greater accumulated wealth and a continuous desire for autonomy, which he hopes will make his project appeal to the current aging population. He also notes that popular fashion blogs such as The Sartorialist showcase men and women, young and old, putting their own spin on dressing fashionably.

“A lot of people I know have been influenced by fashion,” he says. “But I think that there’s this expectation that at a certain age you just give up trying. So, there’s a real gap in that area of design. The baby boomers out there now are simply not going to accept that their interest in fashion should just stop.”

The grant will allow Markle to take time out from teaching to research and hire students to do paid research to source out practical materials. He plans to examine the longevity and maintenance requirements of certain fabrics and envisions age-appropriate looks with silhouettes that will flatter middle-aged and older body types. He cites A-line dresses, tunics and wrap-around coats as examples of universally classic designs that flatter a wide demographic. Markle and his team will create pre-market ready male and female looks including tops, bottoms and jackets.

Wenda MacDonald believes that this project will provide valuable options for seniors, especially those living with dementia. She’s manager of client services/research liaison at Alzheimer’s Society of Nova Scotia.

“What Gary is doing nicely complements our approach to person-centered care,” she says. “Dressing comfortably and easily certainly allows for more independence, and dressing with an option to be stylish promotes dignity. It is one important piece of moving toward a dementia-friendly society.”

Markle hopes that retailers will pick up the line at the end of the two-year development process. It’s an area that is often neglected by the fashion industry and he hopes to dispel the notion that the older generations lose their sense of style as they age.

“With this project, I hope that we’re able to extend social acceptance while at the same time realizing that as a population that we need to make more allowances for the elderly,” he says. “Respecting those who are older is essentially respecting ourselves and the place that we’re all heading towards.”

  • Joy Pennick

    This is wonderful and about time. I wonder if consideration will be given for those who suffer from arthritis, a frighteningly common ailment for this age group! Loss of mobility and strength in shoulders, arms and hands makes it very difficult to manage zippers and buttons and can make it challenging to slip clothes on and off shoulders. I would like to see this issue addresses too!

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