ask a cool person

A 1,000-Senior Survey

We asked people 65 and over what they’re buying and what they’d rather not receive for the holidays (DNA test kits, apparently).

Photo-Illustration: Strategist; Photos: Amazon, Apple, Birkenstock, CeraVe, Curiana, Getty, Hoka, Madewell, Olay, Peloton, Penguin Random House, Skechers, Universal Standard
Photo-Illustration: Strategist; Photos: Amazon, Apple, Birkenstock, CeraVe, Curiana, Getty, Hoka, Madewell, Olay, Peloton, Penguin Random House, Skechers, Universal Standard

Last month, we put together a 57-question survey for Strategist readers ages 65 and up. On it: questions about their most beloved clothing brands, their most coveted electronics, and the gifts they actually use. In just two weeks, more than a thousand people from across 47 states answered. They ranged from working attorneys to retired costume designers with hobbies and interests too long to list (nearly all identified as women, but 6 percent identified as men and one percent identified as nonbinary). Below: 22 takeaways, including a widely beloved anti-aging moisturizer and the mystery book everyone is reading.

1) They shop online (a lot).

As for the sites they prefer to peruse: 69 percent like Amazon the best, followed (far) behind by Nordstrom (5 percent) and Target (3 percent). Etsy, Bloomingdale’s, and eBay got mentions too.

2) And they tend to trust ads over other seniors.

Sixty-two percent said they’d recently bought something after seeing it advertised on Instagram or Twitter. Meanwhile, only 23 percent of seniors said they’d ever bought something off the recommendation of another senior. Patti, for instance, discovered this Haruharu toner while scrolling on Instagram a few months back. (She loves it: Its “addictive” fermented mossy scent reminds her of Japan, and it has made her skin “clearer and fresher.”) She’s gone on to recommend it to plenty of friends.

3) Not surprising: Eileen Fisher is their favorite clothing brand.

We weren’t exactly stunned that 100 people mentioned perennial senior favorite Eileen Fisher as their go-to designer. But we were curious about the specific pieces Fisher obsessives say rise above the rest. We talked to three.

Lisa W. likes that Eileen Fisher’s clothes are comfortable and well made, meaning they “don’t have hanging threads or shitty seams.” She has Fisher cocktail dresses, jackets, and tunics, but the jeans, which she’s had for about a decade, are her most-worn piece of clothing in the past two years. “They’re high-waisted with a narrower cut but fit around my more-generous-than-I’d-like fanny,” she said.

Carol owns several pairs of straight-cut linen and cotton pants; she said the length is perfect for her shorter frame. “Eileen Fisher at this point in my life really suits me,” she said of the brand’s simple, well-cut styles and high-quality materials. “It’s a little expensive, but that’s okay. I sometimes wait for sales. If clothes are one season past their prime, that’s fine because they are so classic.”

“For a long time, I exclusively wore Eileen Fisher,” said Patti. She likes that the clothes “last forever,” come in solid colors, and “feel elegant” without being fussy. A long wool tunic, similar to this one, is one of her favorite pieces.

4) Slightly more surprising: Universal Standard’s popularity.

Universal Standard, a direct-to-consumer fashion line that makes clothes in sizes 00 to 24, was brought up more than a dozen times. Martha said she appreciates its inclusive sizing and minimalist styles. “I get very angry at brands that don’t have sizes for the average American. I just think it’s unconscionable that they can make all this money and not include a large percentage of the population.” Per Carol, “Their whole stance seemed right to me. They understand that the average American woman is a size 14 or 16.” She said she feels “like a million bucks” in her Universal Standard denim jacket.

5) Athleta beat out Lululemon.

Athleta was brought up 56 times, Lululemon only 24. “I still wear a fairly small size, but your body does change when you’re older,” said Jane. “And their clothes aren’t cut too narrow like some of Lululemon’s stuff, where you have to be a gym rat for it to look good on you.”

Three people we spoke to own multiple pairs of the Brooklyn Pant, including JoAnn, who has them in “just about every color.” She likes that they are comfortable like a jogger but also have a subtle rib-knit waistband, which makes them look a little dressier. “They’re an attractive senior pant,” she said. Jane, who owns four pairs, said they’re also really durable: “You wash ’em and throw ’em in the dryer, and they come out perfect.”

6) They’re largely Arizona loyalists.

When it came to specific Birkenstock preferences, Arizonas got the most mentions by far. Reena, a self-described “greeny” with “low-key style” said she’s been a fan since the early ’60s. Still, there were some outliers, like Lisa W., who described her style as more “urban.” (She prefers the slightly more streamlined Florida.) And Barbara, who said that her other favorite shoe brand is Gucci, tends to go for the label’s designer collaborations — like the leather Proenza Schouler Arizonas.

7) They’re actually quite tickled by the coastal grandmother trend — and shopping it

Photo: Sony Pictures

Martha said she first learned about the whole “coastal grandma” thing earlier this summer in an article and thought immediately, “Oh yeah, that’s me!” When asked about products she associates with the style, she mentioned Eileen Fisher and Birkenstock Arizonas plus “a roomy, rectangular straw or canvas tote from places like Target and Madewell.” And when asked if her own friend circle emulates the look, she responded, “My friends are the look. They don’t really emulate it since they lived the style. A younger trendy person just gave it a name.”

8) Senior women really love Skechers.

“When you’re younger, you’re more interested in how a shoe look versus how it feels. Your preferences change. We all go through this; it’s just part of aging,” said JoAnn, one of the 64 people who said they own Skechers. She prefers the slip-on sneakers (a popular answer for the brand) because they’re versatile, easy to wear and take off, and, vitally, “don’t look like old-lady shoes.”

$140

Other comfy-sneaker-purveyor Hoka was mentioned nearly as many times. Triathalon runner Judy has been wearing various styles for more than five years — currently the Arahis. “I’ve had two hip replacements and have to be really careful about cushioning,” she said. “I find that they really do the trick. Hokas keep me healthy.”

9) But not senior men.

Skechers were not mentioned so much as once by any of the men in the survey. But Nikes were brought up by 18 percent of our male respondents. Stuart loves his Nike Pegasus sneakers, which he said he wears “as much as a style statement as for comfort.” His are a blue-and-black camouflage pattern that “allow me to wear both blue jeans and black jeans,” he said. He found them after searching “like a hundred stores” in person about a year and a half ago. They’ve become such a staple that he bought a second pair recently: “When the first pair eventually disintegrates, I’ll still have a pair in case they’re not being made anymore.”

10) Only 10 percent dye their hair at home.

But 22 percent of those who do like L’Oréal the best. When Martha’s beloved hairstylist retired about 20 years ago, she asked him exactly what she needed to get the job done herself. Per his recommendation, she’s been using L’Oréal Excellence Créme gray coverage in two shades (light blonde and medium golden blonde) every three weeks ever since. “In fact, before my road trip this weekend, I just mixed up a batch, slapped it on for about an hour or hour and a half, and I was good to go,” she said.

11) Olay makes the best anti-aging moisturizer.

Thirty-three people wrote in to recommended one particular Olay product: the Regenerist anti-aging moisturizer. Lisa H. uses it day and night and appreciates that it layers well with makeup when she wants to “feel a bit more finished.”

CeraVe also had plenty of callouts. Lynne uses the AM lotion, the PM face moisturizer, and the cleanser religiously on her very sensitive skin. “I break out in a rash if a product is irritating, and none of these products have been a problem,” she said. Meanwhile, Martha, a recent convert, said the cleanser has worked wonders for her late-life acne.

12) They’re influenced by Helen Mirren.

Photo: Broadimage/Shutterstock

Twelve percent of seniors cited Helen Mirren as a style icon. Last year, Carol saw a photo of Mirren wearing a long day dress and Cariuma sneakers, then promptly bought a pair of Cariuma sneakers. She styles them with jeans, shorts, and leisurewear. (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Oprah Winfrey, and Jamie Lee Curtis all got multiple mentions as well.)

13) The stationary bike is a big post-retirement buy.

Eighty percent of seniors said they work out daily or a couple times a week (many mentioning that they got going after retirement). And stationary bikes came up about 150 times across three categories: “Best Last Splurge,” “Last Purchase for a Hobby,” and “Items on Your Wish List.” (As for more-affordable fitness gear, 301 people said they’d recently invested in weights and resistance bands. Brands weren’t so important: Most just bought the best-rated sets on Amazon.)

Peloton Bike
From $1,445
From $1,445

Judy, the triathlon runner mentioned above, has two exercise bikes: the iFit and the Peloton. While the iFit is automatic, she prefers her Peloton, mainly for the classes. The instructors — her favorites are Ally Love, Robin Arzón, and Jenn Sherman — have “lots of personality,” she said.

Stuart bought his less expensive Schwinn bike about two years ago, during the pandemic, and has been riding it five times a week since. It’s “no Peloton,” he said, but he likes that it has multiple adjustable settings and workout programs for a customized ride and displays his ride history. “It checked all the boxes of what I wanted, a basic exercise bike,” he said.

15) A neck pillow is nonnegotiable.

Almost everyone we spoke to on the subject of travel said they always carried a neck pillow but were basically brand agnostic. Except Carol, who was very enthusiastic about the “tremendous” Trtl pillow she found online. (We’re also fans: We named the Trtl the best overall travel pillow for its compact design and ability to prevent lateral bending in the neck.) Carol brings it with her on every flight, including her most recent nine-hour trip from Los Angeles to the south of France. “It made my flight so easy,” she said.

16) Echo owners don’t seem to care much about their Echos.

Two hundred fifty-six seniors said they owned one, but when we reached out to ask if they actually used them, responses were mixed. Christine’s has become her go-to alarm, speaker, and meteorologist in one. Jane, who was gifted an Echo, uses it for weather reports and the odd recipe, but “if it broke, I wouldn’t buy another one.” And Barbara admitted that she turned hers off years ago and never turned it back on.

17) There’s a tablet debate afoot.

Though more people said they owned Apple tablets, Kindle readers were more passionate. Martha, who owns both, said she likes her Kindle because there’s no glare and she can “make the type as big as I need it to be, so I can continue reading as my sight diminishes.” (The iPad, she said, is “very glare-y. But the photo quality is much better, so I will use it for magazines and cookbooks.”)

19) They love a mystery.

And none more than Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens (it got 22 highly enthusiastic mentions). “The characters just became real to me,” says Christine, a retired English teacher. Others mentioned Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus, and The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Sue liked the former because it’s “the first mystery book I’ve read that didn’t have an alpha guy lead. The female protagonist was quirky, very smart, and not the prettiest girl. She wasn’t a Reese Witherspoon type, and I like that.”

20) Don’t get them a DNA-test kit.

In our gift guides for grandmothers and grandfathers, books, digital-picture frames, socks, massage tools, and gardening tools come up time and time again. So in the survey, we asked seniors which of these products they actually found useful.

Books and gardening tools came back as the most-appreciated gifts. People were torn on massage tools and socks. But when it came to digital-picture frames and DNA-test kits, it was nearly unanimous: not useful.

The Old Gays suggest some gift alternatives.

Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

The Old Gays (Bill Lyons, Michael “Mick” Peterson, Jessay Martin, and Bob Reeves) have become well known on TikTok, where they dance in bikinis and fringe, hop on the latest viral challenges, and debate everything from internet slang to face masks. We asked the Palm Springs–based content creators for their opinions on a couple of our most controversial gifts: socks and digital-picture frames.

Bill: Socks sound boring.

Jessay: Yeah, and it’s kind of hard to wear socks in this warm weather.

Bob: I haven’t received socks as a gift, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re useful. The older I get, the more I encounter issues with feet swelling throughout the day. Ankle-compression socks are very useful at alleviating the pain and swelling. So when I buy socks, that’s what I’m migrating toward.

Mick: Yeah, during the winter I wear these copper socks. They go over the knee, and they’re very good for circulation. In the winter, it helps with my neuropathy. But I also have a fetish for socks. I encourage my fans to send them. I go through a lot because the washing machine always eats them. I’m really thrilled about athletic socks, especially ones with a really thick weave and a bit of padding in it. My favorites are Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss tube socks. But I’ve even accepted fishnet socks.

Bob: For his more dramatic moments.

Mick: For going out.

Jessay: Now, I’d be interested in the digital-picture frame. My family is in Tennessee and I’m here, so I don’t get to see them in person that much. I adore them, and I’d love to see pictures of them.

Mick: Just like how you like having pictures of your gay family?

Jessay: I have too many pictures of us and our work.

Bill: We see so many pictures and videos of each other, so a digital-photo frame is not really that exciting to me. We do photos and videos every day.

Bob: Yeah, I’ve never received one, and it doesn’t interest me that much. We see so much of each other in the flesh. We don’t need pictures to remind us what we look like.

Mick: Actually, I beg to differ. I do think pictures of us is a great gift. I would like to give out digital frames with photos of us in it to important people — like Channing Tatum.

22) Maybe try “mature people.”

Photo: Customized Girl

A few people bristled at the term senior, like Danna, who suggested we use “mature people” instead. “Senior is diminishing for a huge swath of the population,” she said. “I’m not ashamed of being a senior, but I don’t self-identify as a senior.” She also found our questions about preferred electronics “a little infantilizing. Kind of like, ‘You’re a senior. What technology do you like?’ As though we woke up this morning and went, ‘Oh, there’s technology!’”

Patti didn’t take issue with senior. “I love being a senior, an elder, a crone — whatever you want to call me,” she said. “My dad died young, so I’m very appreciative of every year that I have. I think it’s a privilege to age, and not everybody gets it, so I’m happy to own it and embody it.”

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

A 1,000-Senior Survey