There’s revolution in the air and it’s not caused by angry teens: in something of a backlash against the dichotomy of how older women are presented in the media, either as tight-lipped cougars with Botoxed foreheads or as beige-loving cuddly grandmas who find themselves ignored by popular culture, there is a defiant middle ground figure emerging. She’s confident, glamorous and liberated: get ready to embrace the not-so-invisible lady who has wisdom and style within her years.
One of the biggest influencers to make a trend out of mature women is the blogger Ari Seth Cohen, of Advanced Style, who primarily focuses on New York and tracks down its best-dressed pensioners. As well as shooting straightforward street style images of his subjects, Cohen also takes some of them to Fashion Week with the aim of showing that great sartorial icons don’t have to be pre-pubescent waifs. One of his favourite people to work with is Iris Apfel, who has worked in the industry for decades but has been introduced to a whole new audience thanks to the popularity of Advanced Style.
Unlike Iris, model Daphne Selfe only truly began achieving recognition in the public eye at the age of 70. She’s now racked up appearances in Dazed & Confused and 125 Magazine, gaining the kind of coverage that she never managed to achieve in her younger years. What began as tokenism, such as being featured in Vogue‘s age issue, has now flourished into a successful career where she is one of the go-to choices for striking women in editorial shoots. She’s regularly featured on the fashion pages of the Guardian’s Weekend supplement, alongside Pam Lucas of Ugly Models, whose wrinkles are a welcome reality check in an industry where we’re so used to seeing the effects of age being conveniently Photoshopped away. Pam herself has recently starred in the make-up brand Illamasqua’s celebratory Beauty Before Age campaign. Another familiar face who you may recognise is the glamorous Carmen dell’Orefice, who has been frequently painted by fashion illustrator David Downton (amongst other mature icons like Joan Collins and Anna Piaggi) and has modelled for any number of major glossy magazines ever since appearing in Vogue at 15. Can we look forward to seeing Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss holding themselves with such grace and dignity aged 81? Perhaps not.
In the design world it’s often bemoaned that fashion is largely created by men for young, skinny women, but there are some important icons on the front line who fly the flag for any woman – not just those who are under 30. Diane Von Furstenberg, famous for her wearable wrap dresses that don’t need to be confined to an age bracket, is a prime example (she also has her own charitable foundation which celebrates women in leadership positions). Dame Vivienne Westwood, now in her eighth decade, is my personal idol for her irrepressible sense of self-expression and her amazingly cool designs, which still carry the punk spirit that she introduced to the world back in the 1970s. Never one to shy away from giving her opinion, Dame Viv recently proclaimed that “I don’t notice anybody unless they look great… every now and again they do, and they are usually 70.” Suggesting that everyone else looked like “clones” due to disposable fashion, it’s fair to say she might have a point if you take the average teen on the street and compare them to one of Ari Seth Cohen’s fascinating subjects.
Beyond professional models and fashion designers there are plenty of mature ladies making their mark in the public eye. Helen Mirren received a surge of support when images of her in a bikini hit the tabloids and public opinion deemed it fine for her to flash the flesh instead of ordering her to cover up in a black swimsuit with a control panel. She’s now something of a poster girl for women who want to grow old gracefully and not feel pigeonholed into the ‘dentures and comfy slippers’ category. Mirren has not bowed to the usual pressures of over-50s women such as plastic surgery, hair dye and Botox but neither has she changed her image to fit in with the outdated stereotypes associated with her peers.
Meanwhile the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, turned heads with her individual style and suddenly became a role model for chic dressing as well as for career ambitions – being the first woman to hold the position at the IMF, there’s plenty to envy about her. Without so much as a navy nylon two-piece business suit in sight, even her haircut is in high demand; it was also no surprise when Vanity Fair placed her on its Best Dressed List in 2011. Lastly, Caryn Franklin is a major advocate for diversity in fashion; her website, How to Look Good, has a dedicated section for the over-40s. The site’s Ageless Style e-book helps the average woman on the street to stop feeling marginalised and keep thinking positively about her appearance.
Ok, so it’s all very well knowing that these ladies are out there, but what about the pressures of advertising to make us feel life might as well be over at 40? Here are three examples of adverts in the press that have used older women to great effect:
● Marc Jacobs – Aged 46, Helena Bonham Carter was the ideal candidate to showcase Jacobs’ quirky designs. Her unique style often places her on the ‘worst dressed’ lists of gossip magazines, but she refuses to water down her image and is always able to express herself through clothing.
● Lanvin – using Ari Seth Cohen to track down ‘real’ men and women, the luxury label found itself making headlines thanks to an 82-year-old former dancer, Jacquie Murdock, who is perhaps an unlikely Lanvin ambassador but makes a jade green pencil skirt and peplum top look even more incredible than on the hanger.
● Marks and Spencer – signing Twiggy (63) was a major coup for the high street brand and it led to a collaboration on the shop floor as the original supermodel was asked to design her own collection. Like Carmen dell’Orefice, Twiggy has been able to sustain a career throughout the years and we’ve loved watching her at any age.
It’s not just those brands who have ensured that we aren’t consigned to the scrap heap; everyone from Bulgari, using a rather exposed Julianne Moore (51) posing sedately with a leopard, to Pringle of Scotland, opting for the unforgettable Tilda Swinton (also aged 51), has got in on the act.
Evidently there are plenty of older women to look up to in the media, but we need to make sure that this goes beyond tokenism and becomes standard practice. If you see a positive role model or an image that champions natural beauty – wrinkles, silver hair and all – then share it on social media, let the brand or publication know you appreciate it, and tell all your friends. Let’s keep the revolution going and salute these brilliant ladies.