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Beauty Over 50 – Is the Fashion World Finally Catching Up?

Beauty Over 50 – Is the Fashion World Finally Catching Up?
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pictured: Carmen Dell-Orefice

By Naakai Addy

Though it’s no surprise to most adults that beauty has no expiration date, the fashion industry may finally be getting the memo. Due to an influx in fashion and beauty campaigns featuring women in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, media outlets have been abuzz with the topic of “older” women in fashion. The pressing question floating around is whether the celebration of mature beauty in fashion is a fleeting trend or a welcome change with staying power. Though the truth is hopefully the latter, the fact remains that experienced women are finally starting to get their share of the glamorous spotlight.

For some brands, featuring mature models may be a one-off, but for others, such as L’Oreal, it’s becoming a welcome pattern. The famed beauty brand has featured Diane Keaton, Twiggy, Jane Fonda, and now Helen Mirren as cover girls and spokesmodels. In an industry that centers largely around the idea that one can and should magically reverse the aging process, it is a meaningful choice to feature models who are living and embracing that very process.

The fashion industry has traditionally had a bad habit of either treating women over 40 as invisible or, at best, portraying them as nonsexual and nurturing. It is especially gratifying, therefore, to see a sexy, independent octogenarian taking the fashion world by storm. This February, 83-year-old supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice made headlines when she landed the cover of New You magazine. Dell’Orefice is widely considered the oldest working supermodel, and her accomplishments span more than seven decades. Having appeared on the cover of Vogue at only 15, she has deep experience in the fashion industry and the wisdom and wit that only a mature woman can claim. In the New You feature, Dell’Orefice makes it clear that her age is in no way a deterrent to living fully, loving often and seeking happiness unapologetically.

Barneys New York and photographer Bruce Weber are approaching the celebration of mature beauty with a decidedly playful attitude in their recent “Better than Ever” campaign. The photo series, featuring fashion icons such as Veronica Webb, Stephanie Seymour and Christie Brinkley, shows the models having fun with adoring groups of fit, young men. The backdrop is Miami and the theme is a colorful celebration of the beauty, experience and timeless charm of these women. While one could argue that the spreads further fetishize the older woman/younger man dynamic so dreadfully associated with the word “cougar”, they also show older women laughing, feeling sexy, having fun, and generally looking full of life. Such a portrayal visually combats the absurd yet prevalent notion that a woman’s vitality mysteriously drops off after middle age.

The industry isn’t just limiting itself to models for examples of mature beauty. It’s starting, here and there, to celebrate women whose beauty comes through in their talents and minds, beyond just their physical appearance. Legendary writer Joan Didion was recently dubbed the face of French label Céline, causing quite a bit of noise among fans and fashionistas alike. Some felt the choice was bizarre and even cheapened Didion’s legacy, but others saw her appointment as an extraordinary moment in fashion. Joni Mitchell has caused a similarly divisive reaction as a recent collaborator in the Saint Laurent Music Project. Mitchell is set to appear in a series of ads for Yves Saint Laurent, and she’s bringing her personal style and hard-earned sense of self with her.

From the most cynical perspective, fashion is cyclical, so these changes towards greater acceptance of mature beauty could be temporary. One can rightfully hope, however, that putting women over 50 center stage will spark a change that resonates more deeply within both media and culture. After all, everyone ages. Portraying aging as a continuation of beauty rather than an end to it, therefore, can only benefit our society as a whole.


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