NEW YORK — – Just because Grandma's getting on in years, that's no reason to stick her with an unfashionable gift.
So jettison those loose cardigans, golf caps and velour sweatsuits and give your favorite golden girl or boy a spiffy gift instead.
Not every senior citizen is a fashion plate, but today's silver set is more vivacious, active and, yes, fashion-conscious than the generation before them. From red leather hearing-aid cases to floral accessory bags for walkers, senior style is going glam.
"A year ago there wasn't anybody approaching [this age group] with style or optimism," says Connie Hallquist, founder and CEO of Gold Violin, a Sharper Image-style company that caters to senior citizens. "There are retail businesses that sell to seniors, but they are low-end and focused on medical products. They are bleak and bland."
When people age, they often require special aids to accommodate loss of hearing and vision and movement difficulties, but only recently have companies started to add panache to the traditionally dull duds and medical devices made for seniors.
Gold Violin, which sells their products through a catalog and Web site, adds a bit of sophistication to the often dismal array of products made specifically for sassy old-timers. From a tortoise-shell magnifier for reading, to a four-wheel "cruiser" walker, to a festive candy-cane walking stick, Gold Violin's items take on a modern look, while still catering to seniors' unique needs.
"I try to understand the lifestyles of seniors," says Hallquist. "They like to travel, garden ... But they often suffer from some common disabilities like arthritis."
Still, products — particularly clothing — targeted at people in their golden years are often more function over fashion. Alexis Abramson, CEO and founder of Mature Smart, a company that specializes in senior lifestyle products, points out that seniors don't lose their sense of style, but have limited choices when it comes to fashion.
"Major clothiers need to make clothes that are senior-friendly," says Abramson. "You don't have to re-work everything in the line, just add some changes and make them more functional." She notes that as people age they have more trouble with clasps, buttons and zippers — things that can be easily remedied.
Abramson is passionate, verging on fanatical, about improving seniors' lives, and she is impatient with clothing designers who she considers behind the times.
"To me it's crazy," that seniors are ignored, she says. "You can make a billion dollars if you are aware this market is available."
She hopes couture designers and people like Donna Karan will take a second look at the senior market.
"I believe we are beginning to embrace seniors," Abramson says. "We can't avoid it. Seniors have leverage, disposable income, sheer demographics. If we continue to ignore their existence, we won't be successful."
It may not be what Abramson had in mind, but Gold Violin just launched a new line by 92-year-old designer Pauline Trigère, who has been a couturiere since the late 1930s. She has created nine products for the stylish senior, including a French Bukhara weave walker bag, and a series of hip-looking red leather accessories including a pill case and an eyeglasses holder.
Gold Violin products are mostly high-end accessories. Their most popular items are the varied walking sticks they carry.
"We approach them like a fashion accessory," says Hallquist. "People should have one for evening, daytime, visiting the grandkids."
While trendy seniors may be showing up on the golf course, at the theater and during bingo, fashion-forwardness doesn't mean they want to take on the tastes of younger generations. So hold off on the body glitter and Charlie's Angels hoops as holiday gifts, and get grandma something she can use — like a not-so-dowdy cane with a pillbox in the handle.