Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on age and ageing

Mirror Mirror

Sue Kreitzman give Alyson from That’s Not My Age a style make over – remember Alyson “beige will kill you”

Ageing seems to be front of mind for London’s universities at the moment, with the RCA hosting a symposium titled ‘Dressing the Ageing Demographic’ and last weeks Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on age and ageing’ at the London College of Fashion.

Both events aimed to provoke fresh perspectives on age and ageing in relation to culture and fashion – which hopefully marks a shift in mindset around fashion and the older consumer.

I attended the LCF event, which started with an conversation between Alyson from That’s Not My Age and Ari from Advanced Style and after 83 year old super model Daphne Self warmed the audience up with some gentle stretching exercises, Alyson and Ari shared their thoughts on blogging and ageing. The evening ended with artist Sue Kreitzman giving Alyson a style make over.

Sue’s advice included “When I get dressed in the morning, it’s one of the most exciting times of my day… I curate myself. Less is more? Ridiculous! More is more, in fact, more is not quite enough!”

International scholar, Dr Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Declining to Decline and Aged by Culture, opened the second day of the conference with her paper, “How (not) to Shoot Old People: Changing the paradigms of portrait photography”.

Dr Gullette highlighted the negative representations of older people in popular culture and how photographs of them are either comic, deathly, strange or completely absent. She focused on four key words that need to drive contemporary images of age in the future: desire, identification, admiration, and companionship.

“Food is often photographed more carefully than old people are. We need to fight every day to reclaim the image culture around old age.” she said.

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Jeff Wall’s The Giant, used by Dr Margaret Morganroth Gullette to illustrate a positive image of an older women

Professor Julia Twigg, presented “Moving Younger: Dress, Age and Fashion” and talked about how we react to ageism in the way we dress, the invisibility of older people in fashion imagery and how this impacts on how we identify ourselves through fashion as we age. She asked  “Do we want to appear younger? What does this say about our view of age? Are older people now ‘allowed’ to be fashionable”?

Professor Twigg has recently published Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life, which draws on the views of older women, journalists, fashion editors, clothing designers and retailers and aims to widen the thinking of fashion education to include the everyday dress of the majority and shift the debate about age away from its preoccupation with dependency, towards a celebration of the experience of age.

We might have to send this one out to the powers that be on the British High Street!!

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The new fit model for an ageing figure

Other interesting talks included Professor Jane McCann’s “Style Trend for Active Ageing”, Dr Lorna Warren’s “Storying Ageing through Visual Media”, Professor Roberta Mock’s “Joan Rivers’ Body of Performance” and Dr Ros Jennings’ “Women, Later Life Style and Popular Music”.

There will be a documentary with interviews from all the speakers on the LCF website soon, if you want more detail.

The afternoon kicked off with a live performance from the Manchester performance group Small Things called How Do You See Me? – A moving look at how how our sense of style changes as we get older, when we live in a culture obsessed with youth.

Mirror Mirro 3 copyThe conference ended with a panel discussion between LCF’s Amber Butchart and four of the stars of Channel 4’s recent documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas, Bridget Soujourna, Sue Kreitzman, Jean Woods and Daphne Selfe, who discussed their unique style and shared their thoughts on youth and old age.

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The Fabulous Fashionistas with Amber Butchart (image from LCF)

Highlights included:

“I didn’t do anything exciting until I reached 70”
“The documentary brought old friends out of the wood work”.
“I used to make my own clothes as I couldn’t afford anything else. Now I buy vintage and my daughter calls my style, classy funky'”.
On botox – “If you start, you have to keep re-doing it. What a waste of money! I’d rather go to the theatre”.

Her advice for younger women: “Recognise your differences and accommodate them. Be curious, be yourself, take care of yourself, growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional!”

“I had an ephiany and became an artist in my  50’s. I blame it on the menopause”.
“I’ll retire when I’m dead. We are interested in what we do, why would we want to stop that. Every once in a while I’ll take a nap’.
“We’re famous for being old ladies”.
“There’s are lots of us, we’re living longer, we’re more interesting and passionate, we have our own style. Young people are excited about us as we give them hope. It’s going to be good getting old”.

Her advice for younger women: “Look after your health, then you can enjoy your old age”.

“I run for 15 mins a day 3 days a week” –  she’s 76.
“There has been an unbelievable response across all age groups to the documentary. I’ve had bunches of flowers sent to the shop. One young woman came into the shop and took me out to tea. She said – you’re and inspiration and I want to be like you now – she was 21”.
“When I moved to bath in 1972 it was very bohemian. It started me on my journey into vintage and I started putting my own looks together. I like shops like urban outfitters and Top Shop but maybe only one item and I’ll mix it up with bits from boot sales”.
“People like the way I dress. I’m probably the only person who dresses the way I do in Bath”.

“I’ve spent my whole life combating racism and sexism and now I’m doing the same with ageism”.
“One has to work, it’s economically justified”.
“Since the tv programme, I’m asked to cut ribbons at charity shops”.
“A strong sense of style is more important as you get older. I was a hippie, I suppose I do stand out a bit”.
“Charity shops and travel have influenced my style and I’ve always loved colour”.
Is money important when dressing well? “Not at all, I love car boot sales and they are environmentally sustainable”.

The conference was both thought provoking and inspiring and hopefully marks the start of a wider conversation around the issues that face an ageing population. While fashion and visual representation are only a small part of a much bigger picture, it’s re-assuring to see academics and education experts take positive steps to enable change.

I really hope that these important conversations filter down to both the young designers of the future and the retailers and brands that still refuse to acknowledge the importance of the ageing consumer, because quite frankly we are going nowhere and whether they like it or not –  ageing happens to us all!


  • Andrea says:

    Great article Jane, you should send it to Heidi Klum for ridiculously thinking that being old is scary and ghoulish as photographed in the newspapers last week. Wonder if her publicity stunt was to counteract her own insecurity about getting old? If so, she should spend some time with the fabulous, confident and gorgeous women taking part in this conference!

  • Jane says:

    Don’t get me started on Heidi Andrea – kind of sad I think that she thinks it’s so scary! Makes me glad that my success in life isn’t defined by my looks! Jx

  • Fantastic round-up and lovely photo of the Fab Fashionistas. I wanted to keep the outfit Sue styled me up in – it was brilliant – pictures coming soon! Oh and the Heidi Klum thing was really effin’ stupid and offensive.

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