Why Do Men Stop Buying Clothes After 50?

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Census data show a sharp decline in clothing purchases by men once they hit their early 50s. Is it that they already have everything, dislike their appearance, or something else?

Financial newsletter writer Harry Dent noticed a mystery: Statistics show that our clothes shopping peaks around age 50 and then drops off.

It’s true for all kinds of clothes, and for both men and women, though it happens much faster for men. NPR’s “Here and Now” took a look at the data and tried to come up with theories about why it happens, focusing particularly on the guys.

“In the early 50s, [men] are just shirt-mad, and then it just stops. The line plummets,” said guest Robert Krulwich, a Radiolab host who has been puzzling over the figures for months.

The same is true for men’s coats, jackets, shoes, pants — even underwear. The trends are similar for women in their early 50s, but what happens to men takes more than twice as long to happen to women.

Krulwich had several theories about why it happens to men so quickly:

I first thought this has to do with body shape. … When men turn to their mid-40s, early 50s, you can really change. You can grow outward, so maybe that’s a discouraging event.

So maybe men stop shopping because they don’t like the way they look. Or “maybe you just fall in love with what you have,” says Krulwich, who buys the same shirt over and over.

There’s also the wife-won’t-do-it theory. “It may be simply spousal. The woman says. ‘I’m tired of this, your turn.’ And the men, dumbfounded, never shop,” he says.

In general, maybe the reason for the decline is simply money. “Your purchasing power goes down, you just don’t have that much more money to spend,” host Meghna Chakrabarti suggests.

That theory seems the most plausible when you look at all of Dent’s other data graphs. The same drop-off occurs for many other things, including cellphone service, cigarettes, gasoline, computers and software.

Why do you think men stop buying clothes? Let us know on Facebook.

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