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August 23, 2014
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Illustration by Shingo Shimizu.
Lynn posing for Advanced Style.
Source: advancedstyle.blogspot.com.

From the moment I turned 16-years-old, I began counting down to my 30th birthday - and not in a good way. Rarely have I looked upon my ageing fashion future with much enthusiasm. But then I see 80-year-old Molly posing in massive swathes of rich, purple fabric; 100-year-old Rose sporting a Hermès Collier De Chien belt slung around her waist; and 78-year-old Lynn topping off her outfit with a black-and-white ringed bracelet, necklace and hat. Their looks are loud, lively and hypnotising but, more than anything, they make ageing appear stylish.

Introducing the world to these expressive, older women is 30-year-old Ari Seth Cohen and his blog, Advanced Style. Through the women featured on his site, he reveals that remaining fashionable over the age of 50 is not only feasible, but can look pretty darn good too. With the industry, retirees and 30-somethings (like me) bewitched by the new trend, one wonders why ageing and fashion have - until now - been such odd bedfellows in the first place.

Our perspective on style wasn't always so skewed towards youth and, consequently, size. Before the '60s, mature and curvy epitomised sex appeal and good looks - so much so that younger models often aspired to appear older, more domesticated and womanly. But along with the '60s came a more youth-oriented market, prompting the popularity of a slender, childlike archetype - like Twiggy - to replace formerly fuller figures. In the last 20 years, in particular, models have shrunk like wool sweaters in a dryer and so have runway sizes - from 6/8 down to 0/2.

...for haute style to maintain its exclusivity, peddling a virtually unattainable look has become part of the illusive, fancy and often entirely unrealistic package... highlighting an older demographic just hasn't made the cut.

The fashion industry has perpetuated the trend, pinning the down-sizing on everything from the higher cost of producing larger sizes for shows, to agents and their perplexing supply of extra-thin models. But there's a more likely reason: for haute style to maintain its exclusivity, peddling a virtually unattainable look has become part of the illusive, fancy and often entirely unrealistic package. Coupled with our culture's insatiable need for the newest and latest, highlighting an older demographic just hasn't made the cut.

But this worn-out strategy doesn't quite fit reality. With women from the Baby Boomer generation alone spending almost US$47 billion a year on fashion, the industry - not to mention the public - evidently hasn't set its eyes on the right market. It's a market that knows what they want and is willing to spend to get it. "We are the wealthiest, we're the biggest, we're active, we're buying stuff," declares Cindy Joseph, a 59-year-old model who, despite conventional wisdom, broke into the industry long after going grey.

With credit to Cohen's blog, "advanced style" has grown in popularity as both the public and industry realise that age and fashion not only sells, but pairs pretty nicely. Best friends with his own grandmother, Cohen saw a lack of positive images around getting older, so he created his site to "inspire people to look at ageing in a new light," because, he says, "there are so many wonderful things that come with age." Demonstrating that fashion is ultimately a form of individual expression, Cohen's subjects captivate audiences through an already published book and soon in a documentary.

While Cohen has led the way in breaking down advanced style barriers, others are following suit. American Apparel, the hipster clothing brand known for its young, scantily clad models, just rolled out an unorthodox, even controversial, Advanced Basics campaign. The campaign features a 61-year-old woman in a mixture of classy and not-so-classy poses. Whether the company's goal was to tap into a new market, reach an unexpected existing market or simply grab attention, the unconventional ads affirm that ageing has its appeal.

One of the more racy shots from American
Apparel's Advanced Basics Campaign.
Source: fashionista.com.

Higher-end labels, like Marc Jacobs, might finally be growing up as well - at least a little. Jacobs' A/W 2012 line was not only influenced by mature style icons like Gloria Vanderbilt, Cindy Sherman and Anna Piaggi but also by the women on Cohen's blog. The full impact of his vision was never felt though, with some of the models used in his show younger than 16-years-old, causing more controversy than any provocatively posed senior. Jacobs justified the seemingly mismatched move by saying, "I do the show the way I think it should be and not the way somebody tells me it should be."

Chances are, many of Cohen's subjects might just applaud this kind of approach. Lynn, the flamboyant septuagenarian decked out in black-and-white accessories, does her own thing too, "Today I have a blast," she says. "I can do anything I want and I dress anyway I want, however I want, when I want."

Contemplating his own future, Cohen told the LA Times, "We all are going to get older. It's not about me looking forward to it, it's about me being OK with it." And with these women as role models, I'm becoming OK with it too. To agree with Lynn, "As we get older, we get better."

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