From young to old, Jessica Carvalho speaks on the way age impacts trends and the fashion industry, and explores whether there is an age limit for style.

It is no secret that fashion has become an intrinsic part of our lives. Necessity turned form of expression, one size does not fit all when it comes to clothes, which mirror the diverse nature of our society. Rules which once set the tone for brands are now being actively defied, as gender, size, and race are finally celebrated rather than tucked away out of sight.

The shift impacts every sector of the fashion industry and the rest of the world, too – seeing people with similar characteristics as you infiltrate spaces that were previously accessible only to a select few triggers a cascade of empowerment and hope for the fashion industry.

Though, the passage of time has yet to chip away at the clear divisions within the industry; admittedly often socioeconomically motivated, these are also accentuated by age.

Sure, the belief that style loses value with age is one that is severely outdated, but the change is yet to be seen implemented across the industry. Too often, people are told that as they grow older, they are to favour sophistication and timelessness rather than trends; that greying of
hair and other changes that occur with age are all indications that it is time for an age appropriate wardrobe purge. Realistically, yes – ageing and style changes can go hand in hand, but this doesn’t have to always be the case, as fashion was – after all – made to cater to everybody.

To simply believe that anyone can dress the way they wish regardless of age isn’t enough, as this is yet to become a widespread belief in the industry. Luxury and average alike, brands typically target items towards a younger, slimmer audience. An example of this is the Y2K (standing for ‘Year 2000’) trend that gained infinite traction in the past two years. The ideal body type for this trend was found to be that of teenage girls. The revival of early 2000s fashion trends caught on almost instantly, Prada going as far as re- vamping their 2005 nylon bag, a staple piece of the era.

Although catered to a younger, more aesthetically desirable demographic, certain items like the Prada re-nylon bag are ironically more comfortably afforded by those that are older. Despite this, superficial and blatant preferences like these impact older people, enforcing the idea that ageing correlates with less of a desire to be trendy and in style; there are inclusive options for all the aforementioned characteristics, apart from age. SunLife, a financial services company, stated that 78% of people over 50 in the UK have yet to witness age representation of their demographic in the past year, whether that be in fashion or elsewhere. Portraying people as perpetually youthful feeds into a self-hatred and deluded narrative, given that the only certainty in life is growing older.

Furthermore, the belief that fashion loses meaning the older someone is almost enforces that the older we become, the less we should self- indulgence. Despite primarily serving as a means for protection, clothes have also become just that; an outlet of self-indulgence which often has shallow and selfish connotations pinned to it. Women in particular fall subject to this, indoctrinated with the belief that the older they get, the more they should shift their focus to big life changes such as professional progression or starting a family, and being fashionable and trendy is no longer important. Whilst that may be so in the grand scheme of things, ageing isn’t a defining factor on whether one should stop dressing up – or even start. There is no expiration date on fashion!

Watching the industry come to grips with this statement has been interesting. In a quick search online, I was immediately met with an extensive list of “don’ts” for women aged 40 and over. Though innocent in appearance, adding rules to something as abstract as fashion is foolish, even more so when they only apply to a certain demographic.

In addition to this, it isn’t exactly uncommon to see one older model in a fashion campaign, or in some form of advertising, and though it may be argued that this is a form of representation, it’s frankly just tokenism. In fact, it makes one wonder why there can’t be more; if one older woman can be included in this campaign, why can’t another? Why can’t several?

On the front lines combatting ‘lookism’ in fashion is blogger and journalist Alyson Walsh, who founded That’s Not My Age, a style blog catered to women over 50. The blog, twelve years strong, has given older models and fashion enthusiasts a platform, using a clever mix of social media and fantastic sense of style to ultimately tear down misconceptions about age and fashion. This positive ripple of change seems to finally be reaching the rest of the industry now, becoming the most diverse it’s ever been with every season. Older models have started to be more widely used by all kinds of brands – a remarkable example being Penelope Tree, an icon of the 1960s modelling scene, making her runway return with Fendi just last year.

The decision to showcase an older demographic doesn’t only stand for a legitimate cause. It has been reported by the International Longevity Centre that brands who use a more inclusive range of models will ultimately be favoured, as an £11bn increase in spending on clothing by those over 50 is expected by 2040.

Despite the widespread positive change, there is still plenty to work on. Tokenism of older people in fashion is still rampant, and negativity towards people who refuse to conform to the rules of their age group is still very much alive. Fashion was made for every person on this planet, regardless of age, gender, size, race, and ethnicity. It’s time we see the fashion industry mirror the beautiful mosaic that is diversity, with real, long-lasting change.

To read more of Jessica’s work, visit her Instagram page @whatjesstypes.

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