Fashion is so much more than the fabrics we choose to keep warm, to cover our skin or wear on special occasions. It can define an era, a movement and can completely encapsulate who you are through what you wear. Fashion can be as much of a part of your identity as your birth certificate, fingerprint or blood type if you really want it to be.
For decades, or centuries even, fashion has been a young person’s game. In a way, this makes sense. Not only were young people the ones with the most disposable income, but, retirement, was seen as a time of ageing gracefully, not dressing fabulously. Far from fading quietly into the night, women in their 50s and 60s are embracing fashion and makeup and living life to the full.
When thinking of mature women in the limelight at the moment within fashion, it’s bigger, bolder and more extravagant than ever. Women like Iris Apfel and other icons of Advanced Style, an online blog celebrating older fashionable women, are renowned for their bright prints, headpieces and statement jewellery. It has become central to their personal identity and is part of who they are and every connotation that goes with that. Apfel once said: “I don’t see anything so wrong with a wrinkle. It’s kind of a badge of courage.”
Of course, women should embrace their age and style, but why is it taking the extreme to break through and get older women noticed by the fashion industry and not forgotten? Women like 88-year-old Baddie Winkle, who has starred in the recent online fashion website Missguided campaign, are smashing ageist fashion stereotypes. But what do these women mean for everyday women?
Lisa Hale, aka the Silver Stylist, is a 55-year-old online blogger who blogs with a difference. Hers is focused on encouragement of older women. Like many of us, Lisa developed a love for fashion and make-up by watching her mother get dolled up when she was a little girl.
A self-confessed tomboy, she spent her youth riding horses, motorcycles and climbing trees as she grew up in Atlanta. Two years ago she turned to the online world and began blogging. She started up after asking clients, friends and family whether they followed anyone over 50 years old, as she was looking for women to inspire her.
“I felt like women my age needed a voice, and a blog seemed like a way to give them one. When I worked at Gap, I really paid attention to my customers and what was going on in their lives. I began to notice that many of their identities were wrapped up in their kids or building their families and after being wrapped up in their kid’s and their husband’s lives, they had lost their identity as a person. They didn’t know who they were.”
So, the Silver Stylist was born, a place to encourage those women to rekindle their love for fashion with confidence. She recognised that everyone has a unique body type and personality, which should always be acknowledged whilst building up looks and wardrobes. Lisa wanted women to have fun with styling but to also be comfortable with them.
“It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. We used to worry so much about what others thought about us. Now’s the time to be yourself, do what you love, and find ways to encourage and help others.”
We must ask ourselves, are older women like Baddie Winkle and Iris Apfel actually serving older women everywhere by challenging ageing stereotypes in fashion by dressing so extravagantly, or is it making it harder for normal women to be noticed amidst OTT fashion.
Lisa explains: “I believe they are expressing themselves; I look at it as a form of art. I think it’s great to be able to have the freedom and confidence to be you. That inspires me and I would hope it would inspire others.”
Other mature fashion bloggers like Accidental Icon are also championing giving mature women more presence in the fashion industry. Lynn Slater, 63-year-old blogger known as Accidental Icon with 111,000 Instagram followers, is immediately recognised by her minimalist classic fashion and sleek grey hair. She has recently appeared in the latest Mango Spring/ Summer 2017 campaign that has been advertised within the pages of fashion magazines, featuring seven people aged between 20 and 63, showing that fashion has absolutely no age limits.
Slater has become a fashion influencer and style icon thanks to her fashion blog, keeping loyal to her motto “age is not a variable.” She started her blog because she could not find any blog or magazine aimed at people who live “normal but interesting lives.”
However only now older women are becoming properly noticed by the fashion industry. Whether it is through fashion campaigns or on the cover of a magazine, such as Harper’s Bazaar Milan using an older mother and her daughter on the May cover. Perhaps it is down to older fashion icons drawing attention to the older fashionable generation through their daring proud choices, or perhaps it is due to our society today being more liberal and celebratory of being you.
“I really think everyone should be able to dress as they want, and if this gives them exposure or a voice, I’m all for it.” Lisa smiles. “I think older women should still be just as bold as younger women – age doesn’t mute your fashion voice.”
Older women who are using the combination of a strong social media outlet and their passion for all things fashion are proving to both the industry and society that women are in no way invisible and won’t merge into the background as they get older.
There are many things that change with your mind, body and outlook on life as you grow older, but some things do catch you off guard, you don’t imagine to get thrown off by them. As time goes by, you can feel yourself making safer fashion choices and not getting as many seconds looks as you walk down the street.
Lisa started her blog two years ago after noticing a gap in the blogging world as older fashionable women who care about what they wear weren’t being catered for by mainstream fashion brands and online websites as they were aimed at a younger audience.
“The 50+ demographic is huge, and fashion should work to include them, not forget them.” She explains, honing in on how women want to keep on staying noticed without dressing as OTT as famous female fashion icons. She touches on how these older female fashion icons are playing a very important role for everyday women all over the world, even if they aren’t wearing the same clothes as them.
“Older fashion icons are playing a vital role because they want to maintain relevance for all women, showing you can be mature and still exhibit style, beauty and even edginess.” When asked on whether these women are doing as much as they can to represent everyday mature women in the fashion industry with the hugely popular platform they have, she explains that no one should have that job.
“I don’t think they have any responsibility to conform to what is perceived as everyday fashion. I would want them to be themselves and push who they are and what they like.” She sings their praises highly, in fact.
“I think that many are challenging ageism, showing the public that people of all ages can express themselves with style and individualism is an important function, and I salute them for their efforts.”
How do these women make it look so easy? It takes a lot of self-confidence to step out of your comfort zone of your comfy jeans, favourite sleeve top or wearing any other colour than the safe choice of black is unthinkable. This begs the question as to whether it is down to the fashion industry not supporting older women through styling and trends like they do within their pages of runway looks and fashion rules aimed at a younger audience.
“I feel like fashion is truly geared toward younger women.” Lisa agrees. “I wish the industry would be more inclusive and include women of all ages in their art. To ignore age groups that everyone will eventually join is naïve and ignorant. Everybody has a desire to express beauty, style and personality in their fashion. Fashion has a place in everyone’s life – there just shouldn’t be an expiration date on a person’s style.”
The industry could always do more to support all groups in society with fashion, not just older women. However, that’s not to say that the industry hasn’t come a long way over recent years with breaking down age stereotypes in fashion.
Just last year, the luxury department store Harvey Nichols marked the 100th year anniversary of British Vogue, by running an advert that showed the older generation can be fearlessly stylish too. They broke down conventions of the youth-obsessed fashion industry by featuring a 100-year-old model Bo Gilbert, who was born in 1916, which then featured in the June edition of British Vogue. It was the first time that the magazine had featured an older model and it sure highlighted the issue of ageism in the fashion industry and challenged preconceptions within that.
The progress doesn’t stop there. An industry report from 2015 revealed that models over the age of 50 were the least represented group of people on the runway, even more so than different races, sizes and gender identities. Despite this, 11 older models appeared on catwalks and 22 were featured in ad campaigns that year. Women like Harriet Close are making a difference, as she founded her agency, Close Models, to represent older models aged 25 to 82.
As well as this, the iconic 73-year-old Lauren Hutton is still a fashion model cover girl and has appeared on the cover of Vogue a record-setting 26 times. She has recently starred in an advert for Calvin Klein underwear, which is set to reignite the debate about ageism in the fashion industry, showing us that there really is no age limit on being a model for high-end brands. In 2005 at the age of 61, she posed nude for the first time in her career, telling Good Morning America: “my generation of 60’s women are not going to stop wanting to be attractive.”
“The really important is that women understand not to listen to a 2000-year-old patriarchal society.”
However, despite Hutton appearing on the runway for Italian fashion house Bottega Venetta last September, it’s not all that positive. New Zealand publication Stuff pointed out how whilst she looks beautiful, her screen time is a mere fraction of what it would be if a younger model starred in the same advert, she appears for no longer than a couple of seconds.
The fashion industry as we know it is constantly evolving and changing. There might be a long way to go until we see a woman over 50 on more than one big name magazine on the newsstand at any one time. But, it’s clear that the industry is more embracing and empowering than ever to women of all ages, as we have seen with 63-year-old Christie Brinkley recently appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
It’s predicted that by 2018 there will be 20 million over 55s in the UK and over 50s already account for around 47 per cent of all UK consumer spending, so that’s an economic incentive for businesses to target more mature customers.
Older women are more visible than ever in society, whether that’s in politics, business and now in the world of fashion, which was once exclusively youth-obsessed. Runways have never looked more different than they do today. Diversity has improved not only in race, gender and body shape, but age too. Only time will tell if this shift stays in the fashion industry. One thing is for sure, we hope it does.