Dear Fashion Labels, Coolness doesn't have an age limit

Last August, before's founder Jacynth discovered the fantastic designers featured today, she set out to understand more about age-prejudice within the Fashion Industry. What she discovered was disappointing, but only spurred her on more:

A few days ago I went to some trade shows to uncover labels ideal for But, whilst I was presented with hundreds of stunning collections, I left bitterly disappointed.

Expectantly there were a limited number of designers whose outfits would be ideal for women past their 40s. But I was also dissatisfied by the clothing that supposedly spoke to the over 40s market. There was the odd label that accomplished the perfect combination of chic, sophisticated and contemporary, but much of what I saw was dowdy and old-fashioned. Any attempt to seem modern and stylish was through the addition of rhinestones, often achieving the opposite effect.

Undeterred, I made it my mission to uncover labels which produced clothes that weren’t directly targeting a woman over 40, but would succeed in flattering her, whilst making her feel confident, stylish and current. Through careful filtering, I did discover some brands that fulfilled this target. But what left me frustrated was the apparent attitude of some of the designers. When I discussed with them the concept of dressing women over 40, they immediately appeared disinterested. Some even proceeded to protest by trying to prove how hip and ideal their styles were for 20 somethings.

"The suggestion that women past their 40s can't be trendy or cool is offensive - and utter nonsense!"

It seemed as if the designers were concerned that dressing women past her 40s would taint their brand’s image of being trendy and cool. Because apparently these women can be neither of these things! First, we know this to be offensive and utter nonsense. But, on top of this, what these designers seem to be missing is they’re the ones feeding this stereotype. It appears they to object to women past their forties wearing their clothes as they perceive them to be unfashionable and frumpy. But they perpetuate older women being less stylish because they don’t want to dress this demographic. If they happily made their designs more accessible and appealing to these women, they would see them as equally stylish as the younger consumer, and wouldn’t fear damage to their brand’s image.

What if a label contends that dressing a woman past her 40 will put off the younger customer? Well this argument doesn’t have legs. Take a look at Sandra Bullock (51): her style is emulated the world over by people in their 20s. Another example is Meryl Streep (66) who just wore a dress by Valentino. The label’s ‘rockstud’ heels are one of the most coveted pair of shoes amongst younger consumers, and Streep’s long relationship with Lavin hasn’t stopped them wearing it. And the list goes on: Emma Thompson (56) in Alexander McQueen; Susan Sarandon (68) in Stella McCartney; Sigourney Weaver (65) in Dior; Kristen Scott Thomas (55) in Armani…. These labels are some of the hottest amongst 20 and 30 somethings, so you can’t tell me these ladies are harming the brand. Instead, they give exposure and credit to these labels, showcasing them as ones that design classy garments with a widespread appeal (it’s just a shame they cost thousands of pounds to buy!). And designer Jason Wu’s name was on every ‘fashionista’s’ lips after Michelle Obama (51) wore his gowns for both inaugurations of her husband. His desirability is thanks to her, not in spite of.

‘But it’s because they’re famous, stunning women, they’re an exception to the rule!’. Except that today women also take inspiration from bloggers, who are just normal women with enviable wardrobes. So why should it be any different with stylish women over 50? I don’t believe the 20 something customer who truly appreciates style is put off a brand if she sees an older woman wearing it. She will like the clothing, and won’t care about the age of the person wearing it. For example, my mum wore a particularly chic coat by Devernois lately, and had several young women asking her where she bought it.

So it appears that it's the fashion industry that’s fostering the idea that an older woman isn’t cool, not the consumer. Indeed, I went to a leading fashion event a year ago and started talking to a lady in her 60s who told me she was there because she loved style. But, with the event mainly full of trendy twenty-somethings, a member of staff had said to her ‘Why are you here? This isn’t for you’. Similarly, other women have told me how they’ve been ushered away in shops as if their presence conflicted with the image the shop was attempting to portray.

The problem is, since the fashion industry is an undeniably successful one, it seems unnecessary to those within it to challenge the stereotype they're being told to believe. However, just because it’s successful, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. Conceptually, fashion can remain aspirational by actively including women past their forties: it’s just that these women can now realistically hope to own these clothes, whilst the younger consumer won’t find them less desirable as proven above. And financially, the industry will become more profitable because many women over their forties have the money to buy more clothes and are more likely to be able to afford higher prices. Stella McCartney's recent comment for the #HeforShe campaign indicates some do recognise this. Yet, words need to be translated into actions and, regrettably, it seems that it’s going to take a struggle to get this point across. But I’m not afraid of a challenge.

Leave a comment