All Dressed Up With Nowhere To Go

“I once heard someone say, “I shall die very young. How young? I don’t know. Maybe 70, maybe 80, maybe 90. But I shall be very young”. Diana Vreeland

It is one of these actualities that we are engineered to fear. Age is such a potent factor in which we navigate and function in societies. It defines where we rank, where we should go, what are we ought to do, how to dress, eat and even speak. And the more you add numbers to age the more the phenomenon of invisibility crystallises and becomes a dominant factor in your daily life, especially if, god forbid, you are a woman!

“When we get dressed we do so within the bounds of a culture and its particular norms. These norms include ones in relation to age. Within popular culture, and the related medicalized accounts that have come to dominate perception, age is primarily seen as a product of physiology, something rooted in the processes of bodily decline, evidenced by outward signs such as wrinkles, greying hair, and changes in figure and stance. But ageing also needs to be understood as a social and cultural construct.” — Julia Twigg in Fashion, the Body and Age.

Scenario Framing

The paradox with fashion and ageing lies in one of the primary functions of fashion as a tool for communication and a facilitator of identity exploration and projection. And while we reach the climax of self-knowledge in later chapters of life, it is irnoically when society expect us to stop using fashion in an extravagant way with whispers of many shoulds and shouldn’ts become a recurrent theme. In his book The Anatomy of Fashion, Colin McDowell explores the role of clothes in differentiation by stating that once everyone in a society wears clothes, how now dresses becomes a form of projection and distinction. McDowell though refers to dress and not fashion, and this is where the problem lies in the public eye. An older person and particularly a woman with a certain age, bare with us as we are not even able to underline when a person is considered “old”, is not supposed to wear a fashionable dress. More likely, she is expected to stop “differentiating” herself and become blurred to fit in an already designed beige box.

Source: Photograph by William Eggleston

Market Research

In a quest to dive in this theme and hear directly from women affected by it and living in on a daily basis, we met with several groups of women with different ages in Mexico City. It started as a way to remove the confusion surrounding women and their relationship with fashion after a certain age. Slowly, however, we identified a very peculiar persona. A profile with an intense appetite for living that calmed our anxieties about what it means to grow old.

The Eternal Feminine led an open dialogue about perceptions, dreams and fears revolving around fashion. With ages ranging from sixty to seventy, we listened to two different groups of abundantly enthusiastic women sharing their anecdotes and powerful statements about their relationship with clothes and fashion. Both groups shared many similarities. They are mainly single with daily lives revolving around family and friends. An agenda that stretches from breakfasts to brunches and lunches. Always surrounded by women within the same age group. When asked about their perception of fashion, they jumped to complain about the lack of choices as fashion brands continue to target thin young women. The lack of choice led them to abandon the pursuit of fashion and lose their appetite for it.

Interestingly, though, their reliance on and commitment to group dynamics revealed a pattern of behaviour similar to teenagers. Their social interaction is restricted to the confines of their selected social group making it act as a compass for their identity confirmation and action.

“If you observe and take notes over a sustained period of time, as I did, one thing is interesting: you see these women and their friends wearing virtually identical outfits give or take the details, just as teenage girls still finding their fashion feet tend to do” wrote Pamela Church Gibson for “No-One Expects Me Anywhere” Invisible women, Aging and the Fashion Industry.

Their appearance, while could seem outdated at first glance, is very much calculated. Each feature is studied to perfection from the hair and makeup to the outfit. A look that is so intact and perfected that they are never seen without their veil of beauty.
“Clothes are gorgeous, we are beautiful, and we look impeccable, and this makes us feel feminine and elegant,” said one of the eternal feminine.

Source: Photograph by William Eggleston

Source: People in Cars by Mike Mandel

But how do they deal with the fashion industry’s denial of their existence? Well with old-fashioned elegance encompassing weekly visits to their hairdressers, a serious amount of talc, and the help of their best friend: the dressmaker. They have created a new business model for haute couture with bespoke clothes with an affordable price point. Talk about building a personal style, sustainability through taking care of their clothes and most likely a dressoire covered with Shalimar, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder.

“For me, it is important to keep up with the sentiment of security, if I look good, I feel good, and they tell me I look good but most importantly is that I don’t lose it. Age doesn’t matter it is not an obstacle” another eternal feminine mentions. The attitude is not about enduring, it is more about la joie de vivre.

These ladies vibrated with elegance, accomplishment and security. They filled the room with overwhelming strength. The kind of energy that you could only obtain once you are in perfect harmony with yourself and surroundings. Confidence that shouted at you that age is totally boring!

“First, the apparel industry should provide fashionable apparel products to the growing number of older women. Second, the industry needs to provide apparel with that response to the physical changes of the ageing body and increasing vulnerability” Claire Lacoste-Kapstein on Aging and Demographics: Implications For The Fashion Industry.

Regardless of the general tendency of the fashion industry in ignoring that persona profile, there still some cases that merit mentioning. One of the most prominent and exciting ones is Advanced Style by photographer Ari Seth Cohen. It is a documentary project that eventually turned into a book, blog and a documentary film. Cohen follows fashion icons such as Iris Apfel, Ilona Royce and different other senior women that embrace fashion in spite of age.

Source: Ilona Royce by Ari Seth Cohen for his Advanced Style Blog.

Source: Photograph by Ari Seth Cohen for his Advanced Style Blog.

“Fashion is strongly—perhaps inherently— youth-oriented. It is beautiful, young bodies that designers aspire to dress and that are featured throughout the fashion system (Fine and Leopold 1993). It presents an idealised world in which age does not feature, or where it represents a dereliction, a corruption of the vision, falling or a failure, something to be excluded and ignored. Aging here takes on the features of Julia Kristeva’s (1982) objection, something to be feared, repelled, cast into darkness.”— Julia Twigg in Fashion, the Body and Age.

On the other hand, some fashion brands like Fanny Karst are entirely dedicated to senior women apparel. While others are inserting a taste of this persona profile such as Vetements portraying the “Decaffeinata” Milanese lady, MaxMara with their most recent campaign and Gucci with their Resort Campaign of 2018.

You might wonder like us about the lack of interest in building fashion brands around an age group that is almost entirely excluded? That it is even naive, if not absurd, to ignore such a huge market share of financially independent and style savvy women. Well, it seems that businesses are finally turning their heads into the right direction. Kimberly Anne Sawchuk, a coder in a marketing research firm, confirms that in the recent history and especially within the marketing scene, advertisers are attending seminars for advice on how to talk to the new seniors. Turning in the process what was assumed obsolete and without value is turning into gold.

Source: Vetements Fall 2017.

Source: Gucci Resort campaign 2018.

So next time you pass by a senior woman perfectly dressed and showered with confidence and ease, remember that she is neither trying to hide nor to grab your attention. She couldn’t care less about your opinion. We hope that you keep an open view on this breathtaking way of handling oneself, and use her as inspiration for our inevitably later stage in life.

Shout out to this gorgeousness!

fin. . .