The ageing face of fashion

Francesca Salisbury says it’s time for the fashion industry to grow up

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year at London Fashion Week, a group of models aged 47 and above took to the streets to protest the lack of age diversity represented on the catwalks. Bearing signs reading “Fashion Has No Age Limit” and “Fight For Real Age Models,” these women vehemently opposed the idea that fashion should be targeted at those under 25, as part of their #GrowUpLFW initiative. The concept does seems absurd when numerous surveys provide evidence that older women make up as much as fifty per cent of consumer spending. 63-year-old campaigner Jilly Johnson said, “People seem to think that once you reach 40, you’re not interested in clothes and you don’t buy anything but that’s simply not true. A huge percentage of clothes are bought by older women so fashion is making a huge mistake by ignoring that grey pound.”

However, in recent weeks the industry does seem to have paid more attention to the so-called “grey pound”. The Simone Rocha catwalk at London Fashion Week featured four models over the age of 50. One model, Jan de Villeneuve, 72 years old, said to the Telegraph, “Life doesn’t end when you start getting a pension. Older women love fashion too. I’ve always thought it would be nice if people of all ages, shapes and sizes were included because that’s more relevant to day-to-day life.”

Moreover, to mark Dries Van Noten’s 100th show, three supermodels who had walked in his first catwalk in 1993 were welcomed back alongside the usual fresh-faced teens, and 43-year-old Amber Valetta was the star of Isabel Marant’s Paris show.

The older woman has made an appearance in lesser-known labels, too. Lonely Lingerie’s latest campaign features 57-year-old model Mercy Brewer, photographed in a variety of sumptuous lingerie pieces and underwear sets. This is an important campaign, not just because it recognises the need for age diversity among models and acknowledges the older woman’s presence as a consumer, but also because it allows someone classed as ‘middle aged’ to be powerful, sensual, and sexy. Lonely Lingerie—a brand also known for promoting body and ethnic diversity—is a world away from the typically drab collections aimed at the “grey pound”. What’s important about this campaign is not just the fact that it includes older women, but also the way in which it demonstrates that older and younger women do not need to be viewed as separate consumer markets at all.

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Of course, these age-blind movements are niche. As the #GrowUpLFW campaign illustrated, older women still feel shut out from the industry, and there is a long way to go before full diversity—in terms of age, ethnicity, and body types—is recognised in the fashion world. That said, it is undeniable that progress is starting to be made; older women are becoming increasingly accepted and moreover, represented, in the fashion world. Better late than never.