Older Women – the “New” Faces of Fashion?

by Kathleen Duhamel

I was somewhat surprised to read an article last week about the “new” faces of haute couture: 80-year old Joan Didion modeling for the French fashion line Celine; musical icon Joni Mitchell, 71, posing for St. Laurant; and 60-something actor Angelica Huston in a Gap ad. Finally, I thought, we get to view positive images of older women instead of some stick-thin teenager sporting fake breasts and a sullen expression. Granted, none of these ladies are young, but they are all vital, attractive and fashion-oriented. What could be wrong with that?

Plenty, according to the media backlash. Another article called the trend toward older women in fashion ads “an act of desperation.” These individuals are role models, the author claimed, who should be concerned with more serious issues afflicting the over-60 demographic: poverty, declining health, etc., instead of something as trivial as fashion. Few of us can afford to buy the designer clothing featured in these ads, so therefore the over-aged models are being disingenuous.

Seriously?

Could it possibly be that the media is overthinking this trend? Maybe it’s as simple as wanting to look good – at any age.

Earlier this month, I spent several days visiting my 96-year-old mother in a long-term care facility. She is fragile, deaf, and can’t remember what she said two minutes ago. Despite her health issues, she still gets dressed up every day, choosing her outfit from a collection of print blouses, knit tops and pull-on pants in every shade imaginable. The only saving grace of her new room, she informed me, is its location just down the hall from the beauty shop. Now she’ll never have to miss her usual Friday morning appointment.

Most of the women in her wing were no different. I ate lunch with several of her friends, and many were dressed to impress in coordinating outfits accessorized with necklaces, bracelets, wedding and engagement rings from long-departed husbands. One perfectly-coiffed lady wore a lime green knit scarf that enhanced her pale skin. When I complimented her on it, she beamed. That afternoon, there was a virtual stampede of walkers and motorized wheelchairs to the community room, where free manicures were being offered.

Back at home, I got an update on the spring color palette from one of my water aerobics buddies, a woman in her 70s who puts my knowledge of fashion and pop culture to shame.

From my perspective, fashion is about inspiration and self-expression, not having a closet full of expensive clothing. However, If buying a new outfit or getting our hair done boosts our self-esteem, no matter how old we are, how could this possibly be a problem? I’d love to see even more clothing manufactures feature their garments on models that look like a thinner, idealized version of me. Case in point: Angelica Huston is hardly what I’d call skinny, but if her Gap shirt fits a mature woman with generous breasts and a butt, it might look good on me, too.

We should be celebrating the awesome Jessica Lange, 64, as the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty instead of criticizing the ad campaign as nothing but crass commercialism. Sure, they’ve got makeup to sell. So what? The more images of mature fashionistas that society views, the sooner we can move away from the stereotype of older women as hags and crones of little value.

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