Over the past couple of years (maybe longer), whenever the fashion or beauty industry want to flag something for older women they will call it 'ageless.' So Vogue's annual issue for the older demographic bravely features someone like 47 year old Christy Turlington on the cover to signal that they really get this ageing thing and that fashion is for everyone - even if you are unlucky enough to be nearly 50! Nothing proves more conclusively that we live in a world that cannot come to terms with getting older than taking the word 'age' and adding the word 'less' in order to make ageing go away. It's just as bad as 'anti-ageing' because it implies that there is something profoundly wrong with this natural and inevitable process. So we must 'fight ageing' at best with a face cream (Olay's latest ad: 'For Beautiful Ageless Skin - so you don't have to show your age') or, at worst with plastic surgery.
I think the proponents of 'agelessness' would say that the term encapsulates a freedom from rules associated with being older. We can wear whatever we like, behave as we wish and throw all the old rules out of the window. I am all for that! Want to dye your hair green? Go for it! Want to buy a motorbike and zoom around the world - fantastic idea! Want to get your first tattoo, dance like no-one is watching and 'find yourself' in an ashram in India - yes to all three if that's what takes your fancy. I don't see this as agelessness however. I see it as re-inventing the notion of what it means to be old. Often it's only when we reach 60 plus that we have the time, money and opportunity or even the desire to do many of these things. There is no right or wrong way to age and we are the first generation privileged to be experimenting with all of this - just because we are living for longer as fit, engaged and healthy specimens of the race.
The problem I have with telling older women (and men) that we are all 'ageless' now is that it neatly side-steps all the very real changes that happen as we get older. It has been dreamed up by people in the fashion and beauty industries because they wish that 'ageing' would go away. Designers make clothes to look good on young, lithe, tall, slim bodies. As 95 year old style guru Iris Apfel (right) says: "I think designers are all entirely too youth-oriented. I think a lot of designers create very expensive clothes for women in their 60s and 70s — people who wear them — and they create them on 16- and 18-year-old bodies. The kids can’t afford to buy them and the women look like a horse’s ass if they put it on. So it’s all out of whack.” In a similar way makeup is created to look best when applied to perfectly youthful smooth and flawless skin. Calling something 'ageless' is intended to blur the boundaries between the ages so that (according to this theory) grandmothers, mothers and daughters can all wear the same clothes, have the same (long flowing) locks and wear the same makeup on our faces. From the back we can all look as if we are about 20. Job done. Ageing has gone away and we can all forget what it means to be 50, 60 or 70 .....until we turn round.
The trouble is, I don't want to emulate the style of someone in their twenties or thirties. I want a style that is distinctive to me as someone approaching 70. I'd like to be thought of as elegant and sophisticated rather than cool or trendy. I want to channel Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and Christine Lagarde (left) not Alexa Chung. I want clothes that have arm-holes big enough to accommodate my flabby arms and sleeves to cover them up. I want tops which are cut to flatter my lower-slung bosom and with necklines to disguise my less than smooth décolleté. I want dresses and skirts which cover my fat knees and allow for my rounded tummy and I want shoes which don't cripple my poor, sore, tired feet. I want a haircut which works with my thinner, greying hair. I want makeup which looks subtly enhancing in soft non glittery colours so that I look like a better version of myself, not like some tragic pantomime dame. Above all I don't want to look as though I am desperately clinging to my younger self.
I'd really love to come up with a better terminology to signal that something is for or about an older person. In magazines or newspapers we are described as retirees, or pensioners or grandmothers, or in the USA 'seniors'. I have even been described as a granpreneur! Or we are silver surfers spending the grey pound. Then there are the euphemisms of 'woman of a certain age', 'golden girl', baby boomer or maybe 'game old bird'. Then there are the insulting terms like 'crusties' or 'the blue-rinse brigade' or 'mutton' (as in 'mutton dressed as lamb.'). And in advertising we are sold things described as 'timeless' or 'classic' or ....'ageless'.
Maybe we should hi-jack a word and make it our own - just as the gay community has done. Homosexuals used to be called vile and insulting terms like 'queer' or 'pansy' until the word 'gay' was widely adopted. We forget that 'gay' used simply to mean 'happy.' Our new word for 'older' would need to be positive, upbeat, celebratory, a bit rebellious and joyful to encapsulate the distinctive spirit of our generation which has always refused to accept the status quo. So how about 'awesome' ? Then we could say: "The best thing I find about being awesome is that I can wear whatever I like as long as it's cut to fit my awesome body. I really enjoy my life now that I am awesome as I feel happier and more confident than I have ever felt. I'd say to anyone worrying about becoming awesome - truly this can be a great time to do new and interesting things and the chances are you will meet lots of other awesome people! " What do all you awesome women think?
- Tricia Cusden via Look Fabulous Forever