[Written by Hannah West]
[Illustration by Grace Elder]
“I don’t feel old, I have never felt old. I think you can dress any way you want to”, said 89-year-old Instagram sensation Baddiewinkle during a Refinery29 interview in 2016. Baddiewinkle didn’t become the face of Missguided and gain 3.8 million Instagram followers by ‘dressing her age’ – this we know for certain. Instead, she became a social media megastar by sporting neon crop tops, multi-coloured fur, and platform boots that I would never even attempt to pull off. In recent years Baddie has been a part of the evolution of an ‘ageless’ fashion. By this, I mean that she has, within herself, totally debunked the socially prevalent idea that older women ought to ‘dress their age’ – a phrase which is really just a polite way of saying that women should conform to a societal norm that they don’t necessarily agree with.
Having said this, and being a huge admirer of Baddiewinkle and what she has done for ideas of ageism in fashion, it remains clear that the idea of fashion being exclusively for young people is still prominent in our society. Evidence of this can be seen everywhere; clothing aimed at older women is often boring. It is aimed at covering the body far more than embracing it, focusing on ‘flattering’ fits for older women which are, generally, frumpy and unflattering. To me, this screams ‘YOUR BODY IS UNACCEPTABLE TO SOCIETY’ – but why? Unsurprisingly, and like so many societal norms, when you question this notion you are likely to come up blank. There is no real reason why older women cannot dress exactly how they want to; ageism is so deeply ingrained into our society through the notion of what we should be consuming, that we assume these expectations of women are normal, yet there is no reason why it should be.
In a Guardian article written by Jacynth Bassett, founder of The-Bias-Cut – a clothing line for women over 40 – under the tagline ‘Ageism is Never In Style’, she states what she found when she conducted a survey before starting her brand. She found that most women did feel the need for a fashionable brand targeted at making clothes for older women, but that didn’t purely aim to cover the body; women wanted a line with diversity, emphasising the fact that beautiful clothes can be made for anyone. She also found that those who weren’t so keen on the idea generally felt this way because they assumed the line would only feature “the same old-fashioned clothing they’d grown accustomed to” (Bassett 2017). The same went for those who felt reservations about seeing clothes modeled on older women. The ageism we see in fashion affects everyone’s point of view, even brainwashing those experiencing the ageism themselves.
This leads to my final point about ageism in fashion, potentially the one that holds the most weight: advertising. It is utterly astounding how little fashion aimed at women over 40 is actually modeled BY women over 40. This is arguably because those in the top spots of the fashion industry assume that if something was modeled on someone older then no one would want to buy it, but this view only perpetuates the idea that the older body is undesirable and unacceptable, resulting in an endless cycle. Even when older models are used (Jessica Lange for Marc Jacobs, Joni Mitchell for Yves Saint Laurent), I can’t shake the feeling that it’s purely a ‘diversity, CHECK!’ move, solely for the purpose of keeping criticism over their brand at bay. I would argue that all of this stems from what we view as ‘beautiful’ and ‘acceptable’ in our society; there has, of course, been progress in the fashion industry, but it’s still hard to ignore the fact that those who don’t conform to the stereotype of beauty are seriously overlooked.
[Image Description: An illustration of Baddie Winkle, 90 year old American internet personality, showing a peace sign and wearing a stripy top, against a background of clouds and butterflies.]