The fashion world is a mirror that reflects the culture of society. But what happens if that mirror neglects anyone over 40?
Recently, fashion has prided itself on its progress towards being more inclusive. There’s positive change with more women of colour on magazine covers and all sizes on the runway. But, the Annual Runway Diversity Report, found that this is not true for age diversity, counting only seven over-50 models at London Fashion Week Spring 2020 showcase.
So, if age is only a number, why do women over the age of 50 become invisible?
Jacynth Basset campaigns for the visibility of women over 50 in fashion. She is the founder of The Bias Cut and nicknamed the ‘Ageism-Fighting Trailblazer’. This is the first age-inclusive online independent fashion boutique.
Whilst studying law at Cambridge, she became passionate about starting a business.
“Diversity is a popular buzzword, but age is often forgotten about. It’s something we need to talk about more.”
Soon after completing her degree, she became aware of the ageism faced by older women in fashion. This sparked her business idea as she wanted to change their discriminatory treatment.
“I started my mission to fight ageism by setting up my business. Following that, I launched the ‘Ageism is Never in Style’ movement. This aimed to discuss and challenge age-diversity in the fashion world. “I saw how the industry tailored itself towards younger women when my mum was often dismissed in shops. She struggled to shop online as there weren’t any clothes modelled by women her age.”
Fashion’s focus is towards the younger generation, which further alienates older people. This risks not profiting from the multi-billion-dollar industry that older people bring.
International Longevity Centre-UK claims there’s a price to pay for dismissing older people. According to their study ageism could cost the fashion industry £11 billion over 20 years. Albeit, there have been progressive changes to ageism in fashion. There is more inclusivity of older models on runways and magazines.
Joan Didion starred in the 2015 campaign for French luxury house, Celine, at 82. Then, 76-year-old singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was part of Saint Laurent’s 2015 campaign. Yet, for Jacynth, the fashion media continues to promote age-old clichés. Such as older women’s expression of style later in life.
“There’s a lot of fear-mongering of being ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ which become ingrained in us from an early age. And there are not enough older models on our runways to represent that market of fashion lovers.”
Ageism is present in the modelling industry with strong views on older models. However, there have been a few celebratory cases. This includes Iris Apfel, the 92-year-old who signed a modelling contract with IMG.
Supermodel Cindy Crawford received criticism for continuing to pose nude in her 50’s. But, younger women and men trying to break into the industry also face age discrimination.
Nicole Russin-McFarland is a 32-year-old model from Los Angeles. She experienced ageism before her career had even started. At 21, Nicole knew she had to get networking for modelling agencies to scout her. 10-years-ago, Nicole experienced the cut-off age for new models was 22, the cusp of adulthood.
“That is the setup. You have a ticking time limit on how long to get modelling representation”.
Nicole found that ageism had affected her on both ends of the spectrum. Throughout her 10-year career, she was always too young and too old.
“I am never the right age. When I was younger, I got told I was ‘too old’ or ‘too young’. Now, I’m seen as ‘too old’. I am never the ‘right’ age for anything.”
Over the last decade, there has been a steep rise of Influencers, dubbed the modern celebrity. More 40-plus women have blogs to encourage women to express their inner fashionista.
Karen James-Welton, a 55-year-old blogger from Norwich, first began her blog to aid this. The Fabulous Miss K has been running for almost ten years, championing women over 40 who love fashion.
“I’ve always had a quirky sense of style. I wanted to show other women that you can still have fun with fashion despite your age. “My philosophy is ‘if you love it – wear it’. At the end of the day it’s meant to be fun and if you’ve got great legs at 50 then wear a mini skirt. It shouldn’t matter.”
Karen believes that the fashion world’s lack of age-representation has progressed. This is despite the low figures on recent runways.
“It’s getting there. When I was in my twenties, there was no diversity whatsoever but now we’re seeing more and more.”
Jacynth does not see the industry making any drastic changes in the next few years. Her mission is to continue the conversation in hopes that it won’t fade into the background, unlike what many women currently experience. She said:
“The conversation is still fresh and often misunderstood. We’ve only been talking about it for the last three years. “It’s going to take a long time to permeate through the whole of society.”