Why is it still a rarity to see older men and women represented in fashion?
The idea that fashion is for the young and looks better on young bodies is still deeply entrenched. Is it really the case that seeing trendy clothes worn by an older man or woman will put consumers off buying them? The incompatibility of older age and fashion is a myth to be debunked.
Acceptance of ageing as a reality of life is an acknowledgment of our diversity as people, a feature of our contemporary society, where diversity is part of the social fabric. The fashion industry must make provision for models to represent more realistically its diverse consumer base, without necessarily giving up on being aspirational. There is a fine balance to be struck here, but it certainly can be done. Inclusivity means having older men and women modelling trendy clothes.
Some designers have made an effort to break the mould and have tried to be as diverse as possible in their choice of models for their fashion presentations and lookbooks but somehow, when it comes to older models, it still feels like a box ticking exercise. We see them and the very fact we notice their age means that they are definitely not the norm. Ageism in fashion is still rampant, despite the effort made by a handful of brands to include older men and women with an attitude, defying conventional notions of age and beauty.
A few model agencies now represent older models but, by and large, and with some exceptions, they tend to go for ‘safe’ choices in terms of the models they recruit, women and men that can easily fit the stereotype of a well groomed grandma and grandad.
I should know. I have been modelling for nearly 12 years, having started in my late forties. Though I am now represented by an agency that is all set to disrupt preconceived notions of older age and pushes for edgier and atypical older models of both sexes to be in roles usually given to much younger ones, it has been, and still is, an uphill struggle. The typical jobs for older models continue to be the ones for which advertising clients are casting lovable and warm-hearted grandparents.
There is only sporadic fashion modelling for us ‘oldies’. I participated as a model in London Fashion Week last September but it felt like a one off. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely people in fashion who are trying not to be ageist and their attempts are fully deserving of praise. There will always be one or two older models at any given fashion week show. But it seems to me that it is all down to individual initiative, when it is actually a general mindset that needs to be challenged and changed.
Recently, fashion columnist Lindsay Peoples wrote an impassioned article about the lack of diversity and inclusivity in street fashion which we so avidly consume through images on social media. Impeccably dressed women over the age of thirty-five, says Peoples, are totally ignored by photographers together with anyone else who does not conform to the stereotype of young, skinny and white.
We should really stop believing that growing old is a one-way ticket to decrepitude and senescence. Ageing is not a curse, it does not have to be seen that way. We must realise that beautiful clothes and fashion are not just for the young. We all wear clothes, at any age, and older men and women can be sassy and carry off with great panache most fashion trends. Style is nothing to do with age and genetics and all to do with oozing confidence and being bold in one’s choice of what to wear. Often that stylish confidence only comes later in life, through a process of trial and error and an attitude of daring based on knowledge of one’s body and one’s preferences.
Models of Diversity, an organisation which has been at the forefront of the battle against the ‘isms’ of fashion is currently endorsing a campaign against ageism in fashion, started by The-Bias-Cut. Supporters are invited to wear a badge which says ‘Ageism Is Never In Style’ - more details can be found on their website - and to use on social media the hashtags #ageismisneverinstyle and #nowomanisinvisible.
I would like to invite you to wear the badge and use the hashtags, no matter your age, because not only is ageism never in style but plainly, unless one insists on diversity becoming the norm, nothing will ever be done.
This blog first appeared on Medium