Iris Apfel recently turned 100. The exuberant interior designer’s love of maximalism and exacting eye for details proves that age is just a number. Though the fraternity celebrated her in a grand way, Apfel is a fashion unicorn. For age is not something fashion celebrates.
I recently turned 48, which means that “golden” landmark is not far away. I much prefer the woman I am today to who I was 10 years ago, especially when it comes to how I approach my sartorial choices. I enjoy the joy that fashion brings me more than ever—happy to buy pieces I can wear on repeat. Fashion itself, however, seems to have a tone-deaf approach to age.
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Fashion is ageist. More so in India, where the bridal market (read: target clientele) has become the bread and butter of most designers. Most campaigns and runways feature size-8, barely 20-somethings when the average size of an Indian woman is 14.
Despite all the talk of diversity and inclusivity, few brands choose women over a certain age in their campaigns. Although Manish Malhotra did feature 50-something supermodel Nayanika Chatterjee in his film for the recent India Couture Week—perhaps a nod to the older and second-time brides—it was sadly unnoticed by most media houses.
Fashion is obsessed with youth and targeting millennial and post-millennial clients, placing them as the top concern. Barring the likes of actors like Neetu Singh and Neena Gupta, who have become the fashion role models for “older” women, 50- and 40-plus women are almost invisible to fashion. Just take a look at this year’s summer collections. The latest trends include bra-like tops and cycling shorts, styles even a 30-year-old would find hard to wear. In fact, when you walk into a store or log on to an e-tail website you will find that their target client is always someone in their 20s.
Some women designers are beginning to buck the trend. Indian contemporary label 431-88’s recent campaign featured women from a diverse age set.
“I’ll call a spade a spade and say yes, most of us often think of a certain body type, age, etc., when we shoot our clothes,” says the line’s 30-something designer Shweta Kapur. “When it comes to the commercial side of things, it is the 35-55 age group that spends the most. This is where I feel the gap comes in. Often when these women see the clothes on the body of a fashion model, they cannot relate to the images shown.”
The power of image is even more important now as fashion goes digital. Since fashion is happy to take the money of an older woman, it may just be in their interest to realise there is a need to cater to their needs.
New York-based designer Normal Kamali, who wrote I Am Invincible, a handbook to aging with power, is one of the few designers who makes clothes that work on women of all ages—comfort-driven but still so sassy. “Dressing to age is, according to me, about dressing to your spirit,” says Kamali, 75.
Since more women only feel more confident about their style as they age, they make wiser yet more feisty wardrobe choices. And yes, your body changes, and just because you become fuller that does not mean you want shapeless and unattractive clothes.
Which brings me back to my 48th birthday: I checked out numerous websites, visited my favourite stores and struggled to find anything that felt special to wear to dinner.
I ended up buying a wrap dress by Australian brand Zimmermann, founded by two sisters. I often find that brands created by men tend to be the most ageist in their approach to fashion, with the late Alber Elbaz being one of the exceptions to that rule.
It is a time in your life when you want to dress up, says the founder of resort-wear brand Verandah, Anjali Patel Mehta. “ Women at my age are comfortable in their skin and will wear clothes that range from well-tailored separates, easy pieces and fitted dress with fine jewellery. After all, if you don’t wear them now, then when,” asks Mehta, 42.
Roohi Oomerbhoy Jaikishan, Anaita Adajania and Vinita Chaitanya are examples of women who truly have ageless style. As is the executive director of Ensemble, Tina Tahiliani Parikh, who’s in her early 50s. She says: “I think older women are very fashion forward as they are ready to experiment with new labels. They also have an eye for quality and are ready to spend it.” The best example of this perhaps is the reboot of Sex And The City. A 56-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker aka Carrie Bradshaw is proof that a woman in her 50s can give any 20-year-old a lesson in style.
So why is it then that fashion remains so targeted towards the young? Instead of a “youthquake” (the movement that called for fashion to become younger in its outlook) we need a “maturityquake”, one that captures that confidence and joie de vivre that women acquire as they become older. Perhaps it’s time that all designers sit up and take notice.
Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what they mean to us.
Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and a mindful fashion advocate.
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