VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

The Evolutionary Shopper | What They're Doing Now

The ‘New Old Age’: Why Old People Are Hot

 

 

 

 

In an age when suddenly everyone is living longer and looking younger, age is now a sliding scale where looking fabulous and 50, 60, or 80 is largely judged on how well you do it. Aging well has become an art in itself.

 

Old people are hot. If you’re over 65 and wear crazy makeup and wild hats, you’re sizzling. If you’re 80, run marathons, and then go out that night wearing every piece of jewelry you own along with a biker jacket and red stilettos, you are epic.

 

The Grays got it going on.

 

In the media, they’re no longer just shilling laxatives and medic alert bracelets, they’re fronting Viagra and voguing Lanvin.

Senior Cool is about being utterly at ease with one’s true self and doing it stylishly, which is why those of a distinguished age have seduced luxe fashion brands like Celine, Saint Laurent, and Marc Jacobs. Say hello to author Joan Didion, songstress Joni Mitchell, and Cher.

 

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Joan Didion

 

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 Several major luxury brands got on the Grayhair bandwagon with stern shots of decidedly not young icons: At Saint Laurent, Joni Mitchell; at Celine, author Joan Didion; while at Marc Jacobs, it’s Cher.

The Olsen Twins, designers of the luxury label The Row, are in their twenties yet they pointedly assert that their target audience is not the Millennial but the woman over 40 – well over 40. They showed up at one of their fashion shows with their muse-of-the-moment, model and actress Lauren Hutton, who is proudly 70.

{ Consumers over 60 spend more than $8 trillion a year, and by the end of the decade, that number is expected to double. }

But it’s not just a fashion ploy. The “New Old Age” (as a New York Times blog is entitled) is more vital and engaged than ever before. The growing number of aging – and healthy – baby boomers means that there is a sea change in how the aged — a horrible word that few like to use —  are living and looking at themselves.

 

That means they’re spending differently too. The latest research shows that consumers over 60 spend more than $8 trillion a year, and by the end of the decade, that number is expected to double.

 

Which is why being “fabulous and 50” – as women’s magazines used to love to highlight only a decade or more ago — is no longer that impressive. 80 is the new 20, especially when the hype over 20-something Millenials has turned out to be such an empty promise.

 

(Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

(Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

A publicity still from the documentary “Advanced Style” who’s cast was discovered by blogger Ari Seth Cohen.

What’s “in” is the Old and Bold: those who are unapologetically geriatric and subscribe to the kind of sartorial abandon that screams ‘fuck you’ in the face of Forever Young.

 

What’s “out” is the suspiciously youthful: the Christie Brinkleys and Demi Moores and all the other Botox babes who tell us they look that way because they drink a lot of water and have good genes.

{ What’s “in” is the Old and Bold: those who subscribe to the kind of sartorial abandon that screams ‘fuck you’ in the face of Forever Young. }

Take Iris Apfel, the recent focus of a documentary called Iris and self-proclaimed “world’s oldest teenager.” She, along with a larger group of aging fashionistas (who together were featured in the film, Advanced Style and a blog on which it is based) is an in-demand icon of style with a legion of giddy online fans, many of whom are less than half her age.

 

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France’s Le Monde recently featured a dramatic cover story on older women who fit neatly in the mold of the popular U.S. blog Advanced Style, although the styling is more edgy and less kitsch.

Yes, the “young old” – those roughly 55-75 – are media darlings. It’s a trend that is transcontinental, although Europeans have always approached aging as an act of becoming more distinguished rather than dissolute.

 

In France, for instance, a recent Sunday issue of Le Monde magazine played upon the Advanced Style theme with a cover feature with bizarrely made up women being fierce and unapologetically old.

 

In Western Europe, the age group with the greatest rise in average annual gross income between 2006 and 2011 was those over 65, a growth of 3.9% in real terms.

 

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The media has increasingly given attention to sports fan clubs made up of “Grannies,” such as the Lebron James Grandmothers Fan Club.

Even in the world of sports, “grannies” are golden. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is the focus  of the LeBron James Grandmothers Club, women who have been vocal participants at recent games. “Grannies gone wild!” one shouted in a restaurant full of fans.

 

The New York Times’ T Magazine recently featured a pictorial spread entitled, “Works in Progress” about artists who “are women in their 80’s and 90’s we should have known about decades ago.”

 

Chances are, the editors did know about them “decades ago” but back then, they were young and female in a notoriously chauvinistic art world. Now that they’re old and female, they make a far better story. As if to say, “hey look, old ladies who make art!”

 

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A feature story in a May, 2015 issue of the New York Times T Magazine showcased several women artists in their 80’s and 90’s. Which is the “hook” — being old or women? 

Of course, it is women who are almost always the subject of aging. Their faces and bodies are obsessively examined for signs of transmogrification. Meanwhile men get to shuffle off in socks and sandals and call it a day.

 

How a society looks at aging tells us everything about its values and social structure. Being old in America today is not just about fashion and appearances, it’s about a society that is aging better than before and in turn, allowing the context of older people to evolve.

{ Being old in America today is not just about fashion and appearances, it’s about a society that is aging better than before and in turn, allowing the context of older people to evolve. }

Ultimately, this evolution is affecting not only how we perceive each other but brands are being forced to decipher how to speak to a generation that does not feel old as those before them did – or were told to feel.

 

carmen-dell-orefice-2014-photoshoot01 Madonna Photoshop

At top, Carmen Dell’Orofice is the world’s oldest working model and working more now than when she was a 17 year-old rookie (she’s 84). Below, Madonna does everything to defy gravity but in today’s world, nobody’s fooled.

“How we discuss age depends on the context and the underlying ideology,” says Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America. “Society mostly adheres to a decline ideology that equates getting older with getting worse, usually from a health and often from a financial standpoint. Countering this is positive aging ideology that insists that many things get better with age. You’ve got a tug of war between these two views and over the direction of change that aging represents.”

 

To Gullete’s point, with the scrutiny of social media and the blatant use of technology to enhance images, there is an unavoidable transparency, with fewer and fewer consumers willing to accept the inherent falseness of using 17-year old girls to sell products to 50 year old women.

 

Women, I would suggest, are increasingly willing to see themselves across a broader spectrum of ages and appearances and more importantly, accept each other for who they are as women. How we define ourselves as older people will also mean a radical revision to the vocabulary and marketing of aging.

 

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