This Magnificent 86-Year-Old Just Put Two Fingers Up To 'Mutton Dressed As Lamb'
For anyone who thinks that women of a 'certain age' can't wear a slogan tee, maximalist animal prints and 4-inch heels, Frances is here to prove you wrong.
This week on Refinery29, we’re filling your screens and consciousness with inspiring women over 50. Why? Because living in a culture obsessed with youth is exhausting for everyone. Ageing is a privilege, not something to dread. Welcome to Life Begins At...
Fashion has a big problem with older women. It values smooth-skinned, baby-faced girls, commodities through which we’re sold an unattainable dream. While a woman’s love of fashion, clothes, experimentation and style doesn’t suddenly stop the moment they reach 50, the industry stops viewing them as a viable audience to be marketed to, and so stops trying to appeal to them, despite the fact the over 50s are accountable for 47% of UK consumer spending.
Sure, a few fabulous older women have been the face of brand campaigns in recent years – Joan Didion for Céline, Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent – but more often than not, fashion aimed at older women is less playful and thrilling and more cosy beige knits from Marks & Spencer and mail-order comfy salmon slacks. If we don’t celebrate freedom of expression in older women, how, when we reach their age, will we be able to celebrate our own?
One of the most sexist and cruel sayings that deters older women from experimenting with their style is "mutton dressed as lamb". When I read a press release telling me the ages that women should stop wearing certain items of clothing – trainers, apparently, cap at 46 years old (they've clearly never seen Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo don a pair of Stan Smiths), hoodies at 37, and skinny jeans at 45 – I called bullshit. We should be free to wear whatever we like, regardless of age, gender, size, race and sexuality, without having to take others' prejudice into account.
So, as part of Life Begins At, our week of content dedicated to inspiring women over 50, we dressed 86-year-old model Frances in selected pieces wrongly thought to be "inappropriate" for older women. From slogan T-shirts to animal print via denim and high heels, Frances makes getting dressed up look fun. Still unconvinced? Keep scrolling...
Apparently, women should cease wearing denim at 45, packing away their jeans in favour of "age appropriate" snug and soft fabrics like linen and cotton. Denim has forever been associated with youth and rebellion, from Cindy Crawford to Kate Moss, but this is absolutely baffling. Wear denim with thigh pockets and spliced hems and team with printed shirts for in-your-face maximalism. Extra marks for '90s double denim, too.
For the past few years, the slogan tee has reigned supreme. While the loud-and-proud statement T-shirt has been worn by everyone from Dior models (inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) to Rihanna, the item seems to be reserved for the young. Thirty-seven years old is the cut-off for wearing the playful piece, according to the aforementioned survey. We're saying no to that, and guide you to Christopher Kane’s joyous call to arms. "More Joy" in life? Yes please.
Thirty-seven is the age we’re supposed to put away the animal print. Thirty-seven. Women who wear animal print are bold, and bold women make people feel threatened, so shrug off Pat Butcher insults and instead look to Victoria Beckham’s leopard print coat of the season (she’s 44 by the way), and Balenciaga’s '80s-inspired zebra skirt suit. Mix and match your prints – think cheetah and cow – and make yourself seen and heard.
Apparently, women should kick off their heels aged 46, retiring into Crocs and Birkenstocks and a slow-paced life where no event requires them to dress up and feel glamorous. We have nothing against Birkenstocks and comfortable feet, but the fact that high heels are deemed inappropriate past a certain age enrages us. Wear heels as high as you can walk in – higher if you’re taking a cab – and go for shoes that make you feel confident, be they cult Manolo Blahniks or holographic ankle boots.
Women of all ages are made to feel bad about their bodies, but older women are made to feel even worse. Because ageing is a sin and from age 43 (yup) you must cloak yourself head-to-toe like you’ve been banished to a convent. Instead of viewing wrinkled flesh, dark spots and textured veins as things to be concealed, let's see them as marks of strength, character and a life well lived.
Here’s to being an octogenarian in Christopher Kane and Aries – and to a fashion landscape that, rather than isolates, includes and champions older women.