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New Book: Has Fashion Changed For Women Over 60?

 

Fashion and Age
Yes and no, according to a new book. Fashion and Age traces the changing relationship with clothes and fashion.

Author Julia Twigg is a professor of sociology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. She based her study on interviews with fashion journalists, design directors of major clothing retailers, as well as with women in later life.

Twigg claims that dress codes for women today are less influenced by age and more by lifestyle. As a result, older women have more possibilities to wear the latest styles. And they are shopping for clothes more often. Indeed, women over 75 are now shopping as frequently as did 16 to 30-year-olds in the 1960s.

The women in the study described their lives and attitudes as different from those of their mothers or grandmothers. Many refused to give up their jeans or settle for sombre colours.

Nonetheless, Twigg’s research shows fashion offers us an idealized version of the self – slimmer, richer and invariably younger.

Respondents talked about the need to be "careful" about what one wore: short skirts and low necks are taboo.

Clare, in her late 70s, said, "I can no longer buy clothes that fit, or that suit me."

And some women expressed sadness at having to put aside the sorts of clothes they liked. "I mean some of the styles are quite gorgeous and I’d love to be able to wear them," Sarah said.

However, others were happy to leave fashion behind, and develop a new sort of life.

Magazines for older women

Fashion and Age provides an eye-opening look at how media shapes women’s identity in later life, focusing on the role of women’s magazines.

Magazines for over-50s see their role as helping women navigate the new territory of fashion. There is an emphasis on being positive and remaining part of the mainstream.

As the author writes, " They offer a moment of escape, a space for fantasy and for imaging different and better lives."

Magazines feature glamorous images and makeovers showing older women how to achieve a modern look.

The editor of Yours, a U.K. publication popular with older working-class women, claims the magazine includes fashion because it helps individuals to assert their presence in society and be noticed.

Whether you’re a Gran, whether you’re a carer, you might still be working, whatever you’re doing, wanting to make the best of yourself is part of that. And that’s what fashion helps you do.

Not all welcome the push toward fashion. As one reader wrote to the editor: "Oh, for goodness sake! I really don’t need all that. I am fine in elasticized trousers . . . I really don’t need all this silly nonsense."

In 2007, the high fashion magazine Vogue adopted a new ideal of "ageless style" to appeal to well-off women. But the publication refuses to include older models in its fashion spreads.

Vogue editor, Alexandra Shuman told the author: "I don’t think people do really want to look at older women as . . . exemplars of fashion and beauty." Why? Because they would look ridiculous, absolutely hideous.

But it’s not just Vogue.

Astonishingly, Twigg found that even companies, which designed garments specifically to fit older shoppers, didn’t want them labeled as targeted at this market or modeled on older women because it’s so stigmatized.

Doing my way

In one of the book’s most captivating sections, the author examines the link between dress and identity, focusing on the lives of three fashionistas.

Angela

Angela, who is in her 60s, insists on wearing boldly coloured clothes. "I like to be noticed," she said.

Angela escaped a conventional and confining marriage to a physician, to forge a new life on the alternate music scene.

The day of her interview, she wore a dramatic bright pick nylon wig. She recalled wearing the same wig when she went to meet her current partner, a musician, after they had become friends on the Internet.

According to Angela, society views older women as drab and unsexy. "But that is dictated by young people," she said. "I mean those of us who are our age know damn well we’re bloomin’ sexy."

Helena

Helena adopted a romantic and poetic look, in her 20s, inspired by her love of literature.

After having children, she finished a doctorate on James Joyce.

Today her clothes express her inner truth and sense of self, "Provided I am happy . . . I don’t give a monkey’s what anybody else thinks," she said.

Helena noted her looks have become less important, as she has grown older, and she has acquired new strengths, born of her rich interior life.

Joanne

Similarly, Joanne, a 59-year-old goth, is determined to dress as she likes. She wears floor-length outfits in black or purple, elaborately decorated skirts and tight corsets with heavy boots and metal flanges.

She claims goth style is ageless, and capable of flattering all shapes through its ability to create an erotic hourglass figure.

And Joanne is critical of women who "fade to grey" after 60: "It’s a case of just making an effort and being positive about yourself, and not relying on anybody else to dictate what you have to wear or how you have to be," she said.

Thumbs up

In this imaginative volume, Twigg gives us a fascinating look at aging through the lens of fashion and dress for older women. This is a book well worth reading.