Fashion & Beauty

Why ageism needs to go out of fashion

By Lucy John

I wear short shorts. Crop tops. Dungarees. How old am I?

I wear chunky knit cardis. Blouses with lacey collars. Mid-calf length dresses in flowery fabrics.  Vintage bags.  How old am I?

From the lists above you could hazard a guess anywhere between 15 and 70.  I turned 38 recently.

So, does what I wear define my age, or should my age define what I wear?

With 40 looming on the not too distant horizon, I have recently started to question some of my fashion choices.  I personally don’t have a problem with wearing pretty much anything. At 38 I am fitter and more confident with my body than I ever have been and see no reason why I shouldn’t wear a cropped top or skimpy shorts if I want to.  Often this confidence is something that only comes with age. But what do other people think (and should we really care)?

I’ve had close friends comment on the inappropriateness of an item of clothing that I was considering buying, deeming it ‘unsuitable for our age’. Other people have commented on my ´granny chic’ style after a particularly successful trip to the charity shop. It seems that I should only be dressing for my actual age (except I don’t know what 38-year olds ‘should’ wear). So, who decides what´s age suitable or not?

The fashion world has long been guilty of perpetuating ageism, using stick thin prepubescent looking models who seem to get younger and younger every season. But when your customer demographic doesn’t include teenagers, shouldn’t the models representing your brand reflect this? For men, ageing has always been seen as a positive – men become `silver foxes’ and ´distinguished’ whereas women are encouraged to disguise the signs of ageing with makeup and hair dye.

A revolution seems to have started in recent years with some of the big fashion houses choosing to feature a host of iconic women over 40. In 2015, 93-year-old fashion icon Irish Apfel starred in Kate Spade`s fashion campaign; last year Lauren Hutton was, at 73, chosen to be the body of Calvin Klein`s lingerie campaign; and Kate Moss, along with the other supermodels who emerged from the early 90`s such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, are working just as much now in their 40’s as when they stormed the fashion world in their teens. But these women once were those pre-pubescent girls so they’ve put in the groundwork. And isn’t the fact that we are acknowledging their age, ageist in itself?

The Metro recently reported[1] on a 50-year-old London lawyer who quit her job to start a career as a model “to prove that women over 50 exist” making the valid point that women in their 40s and 50s are a valuable market that shouldn`t be ignored. At the end of the day, fashion – whether couture or high street – is about sales, and who is more likely to have a higher disposable income – a 50 or a 15-year-old. Most major household financial decisions are made by women aged 40-60, and more women over 50 are in work than ever before. The average age of a UK citizen is 40, and this is expected to rise to 65 in the next 30 years[2] . With stats like this isn´t it about time that the fashion world started tapping into what will only be a growing market?

Ageism is a concept that we don’t think about until we start getting older. At 38, I am not, and don’t consider myself to be old, but ageing is definitely something that I am becoming more aware of. The ironic thing about ageism is that yes, it targets a particular group of society. But, unlike racism and sexism, it’s a group that we will ALL be part of one day (if we make it!). So, it’s something we should definitely be all be thinking about whatever our age.

Twiggy once said `it`s not about age, it’s about attitude’, and it seems it’s the fashion world, along with the rest of society, that needs to change its attitude towards age.


[2] Source: Office of National Statistics