How the over 50s are changing the face of fashion

You won’t be surprised to hear that the fashion industry has often been accused of being ageist. Certainly it’s clear that historically, fashion has been obsessed with youth.

 

Skinny models, often barely out of childhood, dominate the style magazines and sites we read and on the catwalks of fashion shows. As soon as a woman hits a certain age (largely undefined but in reality at some point during our forties), it seems that brands simply cease thinking about the mature woman, as if we lose our appetite for fashion and style. Out of the blue, clothes suddenly become more generously cut, looser and more conservative.  However, the times, they are a changing. There is now evidence that the fashion industry is finally waking up to the desires and power of the so-called older generations and moving away from their preoccupation with youth. Over 50s are now changing the face of fashion – read on to find out how!

On the catwalk

Fashion is clearly responding to the times we live in. Not just in the way we want to look, but the way we feel about things. We all know how models tended to look in the past – thin, tall, young and in the main, white. But societal norms that once locked in this interpretation of beauty as the only thing to aspire to are changing. Diversity is the order of the day; women of colour, curvier “plus-size” women and trans/non-binary models are now far more prevalent. And without a doubt, older women are part of this revolution as well, as can be seen in magazines and on the runways of fashion shows. Recent Fashion Weeks in New York, Milan and London have seen their catwalks graced by over 50s models such as Christy Turlington, Patti Hansen, Tatjana Patitz and Stephanie Seymour. Figures released by Fashion Spot are telling – there were 39 women in their 50s modelling at the 2020 spring/summer shows, up from a paltry 5 in 2016.

Meanwhile, huge brands like Alexander McQueen, Versace, Saint Laurent, Gucci and Calvin Klein are putting older women front and centre of their advertising campaigns. We’re now used to seeing the likes of Madonna, Jane Birkin, Helen Mirren and Vanessa Redgrave grace the adverts we see on TV, online and in magazines.

The rise (and rise!) of mature influencers

Social media has become a colossal force for change in our lives; unfortunately, for bad as well as good. But its impact on fashion has been huge, and for older women, hugely positive. Although celebrity endorsement has always been important in the marketing of what we buy and wear, fashion has been driven primarily by key stylists, buyers and magazine editors. Social media has led to the rise of the “influencer” – individuals who influence us to buy products by promoting them and recommending them. And make no mistake, their power has become enormous. Platforms such as Instagram have liberated older women and allowed them to throw off the old stereotypes and show that fashion simply doesn’t have an age limit. And fashion brands can’t get enough of them, as they’re creating authentic content which can be far more compelling than traditional ads with huge budgets. Older celebrities such as Celine Dion (who documents her daily outfits to nearly 3 million followers) and British blogger and author Alyson Walsh are breaking down barriers, giving mature women the representation they deserve while empowering them. They’ll wear what they like - and damn the consequences!

Increasing spending power of the over 50s

It’s not just changing societal norms and the internet that’s helping to make fashion more age diverse: simple economics is playing a huge part too. When all is said and done, fashion is ultimately a business like any other, and they need to follow the money. And in today’s world, the over 50s have money that is making the fashion houses sit up and take notice. Almost every nation is seeing a rise in the proportion of older people making up its population, and while we may be getting older, it’s clear our attitudes are aging more slowly than our bodies. Spending by older generations is in the process of overtaking the young, and the fashion industry cannot afford to ignore that trend. Indeed, a recent UK study revealed that that households headed by someone aged 50 plus will increase spending on clothes by over 75% from 2018 to 2040.

Final thoughts

Let’s not kid ourselves: right now, the fashion industry is still preoccupied with youth. And no doubt, the young are still a huge market for fashion, and that’s not going to change. But enormous progress is being made in age diversity. It’s not happening overnight, but change is happening. More and more, mature women are taking the bull by the horns and their influence is becoming ever more important. The fashion industry can no longer ignore them, and as a result, trends and styles are becoming suitable for all ages. Being over 50 no longer means you can’t get and wear contemporary clothes from luxury brands like Alexander McQueen. We’ve got the attitude, the confidence and the money to buy them and wear them.