You don't have to have youth to have style

Alyson Walsh / 09 January 2015

Saga Magazine's Style Editor, Alyson Walsh takes a look at the rise in using older models in the fashion industry.

Joan Didion is the face of Celine at 80, Helen Mirren, 69, is the new face of L’Oreal, 93-year-old New Yorker, Iris Apfel is starring in a mainstream fashion advert; Tilda Swinton, 52, is taking over from Charlotte Rampling as the face of beauty brand Nars and, at 86, legendary model Daphne Selfe is busier than ever.

And now we have the Saga Stylists, our very own examples of the huge change sweeping the world of women – and men – over 50.

Wearing purple 

Our five wonderful readers were just a handful of dozens of fabulous dressers who responded to our request for people who dressed with pizzazz and confidence - and with a dismissive flick of the hand to their chronological age. To paraphrase the famous Jenny Joseph poem, it seems that when we are old we will indeed wear purple, and a red hat: but only if it suits us.

Having spent years in the industry, I’m aware that fashion is a fickle business and so try not to get too carried away when a handful of fashion and beauty brands use older models. But I am also genuinely excited by this revolution. Since the 1960s fashion has been fixated by youth and it really does feel like the times they are a-changing.

It’s partly down to economics – by 2020, 50% of the UK population will be over 50 –and partly down to the attitude of a generation of women. After a lifelong interest in fashion and popular culture they are not prepared to sit at home wearing beige.

As artist Sue Kreitzman, 74, one of the stars of the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas points out, ‘I’ll retire when I’m dead. We’re living longer, we’re living healthier, we have our own style and it’s so much more interesting than what’s on the catwalk. I call it the Old Lady Revolution!’

Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren 

With age comes confidence and the knowledge that grown-up style is not about chasing trends. Women in the spotlight such as Mary Berry, Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren are arguably more appealing now than in their younger years, now that they’ve found their true style. Confident, intelligent and creative, they are steadily redefining the ageing process.

And age shall not wither fashion mavericks like Vivienne Westwood, Helena Bonham Carter and Zandra Rhodes who continue to celebrate life and style with equal measures of energy and eye-popping outfits. These are our role models and they provide inspiration for women of all ages, all over the world.

The internet too has played a huge role in increasing the visibility of older women. Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog (now a film and a book), in particular, has had a massive impact. The New York-based photographer’s street-style snaps and coterie of flamboyant friends triggered a Senior Movement in the US and here too.

As Sue Kreitzman adds: ‘We should dress to feel good about ourselves. I dress to please myself. What is most inspiring to me is that young people are inspired by us and they think that old age is going to be OK. We do become freer as we get older. We shouldn’t be afraid of ageing. I’ve never had so much fun in my life and I believe the future is very bright.’

I’ll drink to that.

How to become a Saga Stylista

1.    Style your wardrobe: spend time experimenting and trying different combinations of the clothes you already have.

2.    Choose figure-flattering basics but don’t get stuck in a style rut. Regularly update your look with a new colour or silhouette.

3.    Forget matchy-matchy shoes and handbags – mixing things up is much more modern.

4.    Don’t be colour shy. Adding a bold accent is a quick and easy way to perk up any outfit. As Sue Kreitzman says, ‘If you want to wear beige, go ahead, but it might kill you.’

5.    Take the maximalist approach to accessories. Pile on the jewellery, add an eye-catching scarf and some metallic shoes. Make like Iris Apfel!

Read more from Alyson on her blog

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