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Older Women and Fashion: A Little Less Tokenism, Please

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Older woman, in the words of Paul Simon, your time has come... at least in fashion terms.

Suddenly the fashion world seems to have woken up to the idea that, past 45, 50, or 60, or whatever its personal threshold is for "older", fashion is still relevant to you, and as a result newspapers and shops are clamouring for your attention and your cash.

On the High Street, M&S is probably the biggest brand to be conspicuously courting the older woman with its high-profile advertising campaign using Annie Leibovitz images that include the 50-year-old Tracey Emin and Dame Helen Mirren (who, incidentally, looks like a mildly eccentric Joan Littlewood figure in most of them).

In The Times' Saturday magazine, fashion editor Laura Craik has won the battle to drop "What I'm Wearing", which required her to endure what was clearly the agonising process of being photographed wearing a key trend. In its place has arrived "Am I too old for..." In this new feature, she takes a trend and in her characteristically entertaining and highly informative style tells the typical Times reader (likely to be well north of 46, if you extrapolate from a 2009 survey by Business Insider magazine) whether a specific seasonal trend (i.e. ankle boots, leopard-print, etc) can be made to work for the older woman.

It is the clearest acknowledgement yet by The Times that the older woman is a key target demographic, and is no longer out in the cold, in fashion terms.

Over at the Daily Mail, of course, the older woman has been the subject of some ardent wooing by editor Paul Dacre for several years now. The astute Mr Dacre knows his market, and he knows it is disproportionately female. Indeed, the old Fleet Street joke about newspaper readership (The Times is read by the people who run the country; The Telegraph is read by the people who used to run the country, etc) had The Daily Mail read by "the wives of people who run the country".

And not only disproportionately female, but older, too, since every industry statistic shows that readership by the young has fallen off a cliff. So it is the older woman who clings to newsprint, and loves her daily dose of fashion, beauty, relationship features and celebrity gossip courtesy of Femail.

The Sunday Times dipped its toe into the older woman demographic at the end of October with a feature in its Style magazine which extolled the on-trend fashion choices made by home secretary Theresa May and other high-profile older women. The Guardian and The Telegraph have run similar features in the past year; Vogue has its annual 'Ageless Style' issue every June.

The only problem we have with this at SoSensational.co.uk is that is tokenism. Many of these publications treat older women as if they were an exotic species. As if, when women hit 45 they need to be viewed as an isolated minority, a separate group requiring special treatment, when in fact we are just the same women who still want to look fabulous in beautiful and on-trend clothing. As evidence, I again cite Anna Wintour, editor of US Vogue and one of the most powerful women in fashion.

She was 64 last week and there is no evidence that she feels the need to dress in a special way "for her age". She remains utterly, impeccably and superlatively stylish and on-trend because she chooses the shapes, colours and styles that work for her, albeit she has the pick of Prada, Lanvin, Dolce & Gabbana, Celine, et al, while the rest of us have to make do with Zara, Hobbs, Reiss, M&S, et al.

But the reality is a stylish woman is a stylish woman, at 25 or 65. The trick is learning how to make fashion work for you, and using The Times, The Daily Mail or, of course, SoSensational.co.uk to help you find the gorgeous clothes you want.

For now, the UK economy and demography means that the older woman has more buying power and more influence than the young demographic, at which 'fashion' is traditionally targeted. It's a situation that - without a sudden outbreak of plague which strikes down only the over-60s - is going to pertain for at least a generation, so the reality is that newspapers and brands are going to have to carry on making nice to the older woman, which means less tokenism and more regular features like "Am I too old for..." and probably more shopping sites like SoSensational.co.uk. Just remember, please, that we thought of it first...

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