Fashion Says to Hell with Ageism

They don’t call them the golden years for nothing


I remember very clearly sitting down with Lynn Dell, one of the many octogenarian style champions that Ari Cohen has galvanized through his blog, Advanced Style, and thinking to myself: this is youth.

It seems that lately, fashion has had a similarly visceral if not contentious reaction to the textbook definition of the anterior term and the true paladins of a subindustry within fashion: modeling, which is currently one chiefly run by fresh — faced and aged — indwellers.

Jessica Lange, age 64, recently became the face of Marc Jacobs beauty. This comes almost a year after her having appeared in an editorial spread wearing the anterior for Love Magazine and separate news of Jacky O’Shaughnessy, 62, modeling for American Apparel.

Catherine Deneuve, 70, appeared in Jacobs’ last campaign for Louis Vuitton. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen used Linda Rodin, 65, in their pre-fall lookbook for The Row while Leslie Wiener, 60, was the subject of Vivienne Westwood’s SS14 ad campaign shot by Juergen Teller. Kristen McMenamy, 46, fancied herself the subject of a Tim Walker spread for W Magazine in December 2013, which was immediately followed by participation in Balenciaga’s SS13 campaign.

She also walked Chanel’s Resort runway in 2012.

Daphne Selfe, 86, just covered S Moda, a Condé Nast publication based in Spain and Jan De Villeneuve, 69, modeled for Moda Operandi last year in collaboration with their participation in The Met Ball. Carmen Dell’Orefice, 82, landed her own spread in Vogue Italia last July and most recently, last week in Paris, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Rick Owens used not the pretty young things we’ve grown accustomed to watch traipse down runways for their shows but rather, they used “real women,” with their impeccable flaws and all.

The high contingent of older female models appearing in campaigns across the verticals of both fashion and beauty is refreshing. It finally adheres to an old tenet of the industry — that style transcends age — but the involvement does not come without a little bit of skepticism.

For a decent chunk of the fashion engagement, there seem to be ulterior motives that are tethered to the concept of shock value and spectacle; you see an 80-year-old woman on a runway and yes, it’s stimulating, but it’s also a point of conversation.

It’s really where beauty campaigns are concerned that you can find the most value in the recent influx of well-seasoned queens to meaningfully liter the stratosphere.

Why? Because an older woman, who has gracefully aged and proudly boasts the badge of time well endured in the form of subtle wrinkles, maintains the ability to broaden a brand’s appeal, cornering an older clientele while manufacturing a clause of highly attainable aspiration (one that says, to get older is beautiful) for a younger consumer.

This seems like something far more feasible to aspire toward when considering the insurmountable battle against gravity, but then again, maybe I’m wrong. Only your comments can tell — how do you feel about locating, exploiting and celebrating the nuances of youth and beauty, ones that are de rigeur, in advanced age?

-Leandra Medine and Charlotte Fassler

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  • It’s so refreshing to see NORMAL people who are so beautiful, I wish the fashion industry did the same with people of all body shapes… Beauty doesn’t come with age or shape, it’s universal!

    Mafalda ❤

  • I am all for it! Actually, so long as the women have aged gracefully. I think in order for this tactic (and I do believe with a tinge of cynicism that it is just that in certain aspects) to be effective, the women have to have rejected the chemicals and scissors that supposedly make them look younger. Or else they’re just ad campaigns with older women who WANT to hold onto youth in an outlet other than their spirit. Part of the undeniable appeal is in the attitude, but still, I have a certain respect for women who can just take things as they come, letting the clock show on their face slightly. It really has nothing to do with taking care of yourself and everything to do with accepting the fact that things, like faces, do change with time. And a nice amount of the above women seem to live by that!

  • Tru’ Lavina

    Spot-on! I love Lynn Dell Cohen! When I met her it was so refreshing. And yes yes yes she is youth! Now, I look forward to getting old because of her.

    Check out Lynn Dell Cohen style tips on my blog

  • me

    JCrew featured Lauren Hutton in its catalogue a few years back: she was(is) stunning & perfectly captured the essence of the JC brand.

    Beauty/fashion is more than simply youth …. it’s about looking & feeling fabulous & healthy, at any age.

  • Agreed with Mafalda that beauty doesn’t come with age or shape, it’s universal, but it does come with types. like you can be in certain beauty in a certain age group, Though with the help of all this beauty products and fashion apparels,,,people is certainly look better and young than used to.

    I just published a article, if you have time to read it that will be great!

  • isida
  • RuthHarris

    Well, no kidding! Who do they think has the money—and the time—to buy all that “fashion” and “beauty”?

    Years ago Issey Miyake sent “women of a certain age” down the runway. It was wonderful and I wondered why every designer didn’t follow. Guess change comes slowly. Or something. 🙂

  • RuthHarris

    Ditto-ed. Sorry.

  • although the initial reason may be purely commercial – the outcome will become more personal. i hope.

    much like lena dunham forcing the mainstream to become comfortable with the idea that women are not reeds of skin and bone; but are meatier and tougher – both inside and out. and that we can revel in seeing a woman age, as opposed to being shocked and dismayed but the reality of time.

    there should be comfort in the knowledge that beauty is ever-changing, the concept cannot stand still at the age of 23. it’s not reality, and so the business of fashion has to understand that. we don’t stop looking (or, buying) the fantasy at the age of 25, what the dream looks like just changes as we grow.

    that got a bit existential. need a nap now.


  • Shannon

    If this became the norm, I’d certainly be less afraid of aging. I think it’s wonderful.

    • normality

      me too. it has to become the norm! it is reality.

  • We are all beautiful no matter how old we are.

  • Connie Snow*

    Well Hello! I spent a year in France when I was a mere 24 years old and I was soooo inspired by the beautiful older women with their scarves and their grey hair and the way they proudly displayed their aging faces and bodies. La Femme d’un Certain Age Alors!!!Now fast forward, here I am back in the USA, and I just turned 60! I find there are so few role models for people my age. Cute cute young young EVERYWHERE. So I say Hello. It’s about time!

  • Hayfa

    I understand the scepticism but at at the same time, she looks absolutely phenomenal! And as it’s been pointed out in the comments, surely the definition of beauty should not, cannot and is not a frozen point in time in a person’s lifetime where everything is still looking perky and tight and whatnot.


  • Well first of all this is the greatest news EVER. Hah! Even though I am in college and young it gives me hope towards the future. Beauty and fashion is forever!

  • The real attraction to these women for me is their confidence (although they are admittedly beautiful women). It may be cliché, but it’s something I begun to notice in myself. The contrast in comfort I feel with my own body, from when I was say 23, to now, is monumental. I can only imagine what another 30 or 40 years will do for me.

    You can see it in the way these women sit, hold themselves, or smoke their cigarettes. They are sexy, and they know it.

  • En Casa de Oly

    I am delighted that the fashion industry has decided to pay attention to older women. We are the forgotten by fashion. No clothes, no large collections designed for us. I have a blog for women over 50, and in, I’m trying to help these women, who like me, want to go modern and trendy. Something, indeed, very difficult to get.
    Will see if it’s true, this is starting to change!

  • anonymouse

    Jessica Lange exudes TONS of sex appeal, no matter what age she is. I’m 20 years younger and wish I had 1/10 of what she’s got.

  • Johanna

    Do we really need the fashion/beauty industry to tell us that old women are OK?
    If so, what does that reveal?

    • Leandra Medine

      Not that they’re OK per se but definitely that aspiring toward aging gracefully as opposed to…aging down is

      • diane

        Right on, sister! Only, truth be told, you are young enough to be my daughter (note that I did not say I am old enough to be your mother).

  • Summer Edmonds

    I love Jessica Lange! I hope this campaign shows more women that aging naturally and gracefully is beautiful.

  • Anonymous

    While I think that using aged models is great, and as you say “refreshing,” am I the only one who noticed that every single one of these women are white? ://////

  • MargaretInArabia

    My thoughts go to mind vs. body. My body is aging, a fact reinforced by daily stiffness and my new dependence on glasses, among other symptoms. My mind, however, is growing younger as I reap the bounty of an interesting and fortunate life. I can’t wait for the next adventure, whether in work, fashion, travel, or romance. I feel more beautiful than ever.

  • SabrinaSL Nyc

    Inner beauty rules! Period. Love this post!
    @mafalda love your comment! Absolutely agree!

  • 1Alouette

    That’s nice. She is still the generally upheld (white, blond, blue eyed) standard of beauty. I’d like to see black women of colour and other women of colour in these sorts of ads. This doesn’t really encourage me at all. She’s pretty though.

    • Gabi

      I think a lot of older women of various ethnicities are prominently featured in media and the beauty industry, Leandra just didn’t include any of them in this particular story. But I feel like I do see a lot of older asian, Latina and black women in beauty features because, if we’re being honest, they tend to age slightly better that white women. Thank God for better cheekbone genes

  • diane

    I am so inspired by women who keep their muscles taut by exercising and laughing–as opposed to shooting their cheeks full of synthetic fillers!

  • Laura Robinson

    I’m happy to see older women in ad campaigns, but it’s a double edged sword. These are women who “look good at their age.” They’ve been able to afford the best skin care for most of their lives and probably have gotten a lot of help from laser treatments or even “the knife.” This writer’s opinion piece is an interesting take on the topic of the pressure to “age gracefully.”

  • Gabi

    I LOVE THIS. Jessica Lange… just… no words. I am appalled that she is not featured by everyone in everything all the time. Because she absolutely MURDERS IT in AHS (figuratively and literally, of course). But Jacky… She wins it all in my book. She is one hot lady.

  • Captive Louise

    Older ladies are beyond chic. I love everything about these pictures. They’re gorgeous.

  • Loknarr L Silvercloud

    The hypocrisy abounds in the fashion and beauty world. Being 50+ is desirable if you are TALL, FAMOUS, SKINNY, WHITE/EUROPEANl. So much for equal opportunity if you’re “petite”, the politically correct term for short, of if you’re a normal weight, Native American, African American, over 25 years of age.
    Equality, really? The fashion and beauty industry still whores after the emaciated androgynous look where the slightrest hint of feminine curves are still looked upon as being “fat” and undesirable, just ask Coco Rocha or other truly beautiful women like her.

  • Yes, Leandra, it seems to be happening. People are paying attention to the fact that we all age. And look at those beautiful aging women! And I want to be and look like them… I hope this trend continues, and never goes away because this is diversity. I love the young, they keep me young. But the older, experienced sophisticates are oh so cool too. Attention must be paid! Love what you do, always.


  • Rangerhunter

    Leandra, at what point did you start writing like an ambitious grad student instead of a relatable human? “Vertical”? “Indwellers”? “Anterior” x 2? I have a doctorate and even I am a bit lost by the use of words over substance. (As for the subject of the article: given the concentration of wealth in the aging, urbane and few, it makes sense to target. No one else can afford it)

    • Leandra Medine

      this story is about 10 months old, and i think i tried it on for size and ultimately determined that it was both too big AND too small just about then

  • sarah

    I’m certain Jessica Lange’s comeback as an actress has much to do with her reappearance, and the PR circus that surrounds that, whatever, I’m glad to see it. You need to go away to comeback and I think that is more pertinent here for her especially. Unfortunately I think this is a passing trend, that we are somewhat bored with the current (past) ideas that youth is perfection, especially when that comes in the form of a 16-18 year old package, targeting an over 40 audience. But we will get bored again. That said, I’m looking down the barrel of 50, and I ‘m excited to be living in an age (no pun) where finally the ‘golden years’ are less the ‘invisible years’ as my mother-in-law so succinctly puts it. And doctorate or no Leandra, your writing is perfectly fine for me;-)

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  • Ajnira Muminovic

    It’s the new age of branding, that is all I can say on this subject. I will know that fashion has evolved once we don’t use age as main attraction in fashion advertising!! It should be about the clothing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore that they are being creative with the ads, but I don’t like how we jump into praising the same. It should be embrassing for the fashion industry that it took them this long to put older models on campaign.

    But I do love the fact that they are finally doing it, I’m getting exciting to grow old :)))


  • I love the words you used “proudly boasts the badge of time”. The Advanced Stylers (myself included) are gaining cultural traction on social media too especially Instagram. I have probably more young followers than older ones and I think it is about retaining your edge, even as you age. I think I show you can still be rebellious and push it no matter what age you are. For me it comes from constantly growing and finding new experiences and from hanging around young people (which I get to do because I am still a professor). I read your blog every day for this reason, staying in the cultural loop and of course because you are hysterical and a very good writer.

    Accidental Icon

  • Gigi

    Joan Didion for Céline was overlooked (in case someone already hasn’t mentioned it) BUT inspiring piece and slideshow.

    Just read an article, too, on the grande dame Chita Rivera in this week’s NYT. At 82, she’ll be performing in the play, “The Visit”, opening on Broadway. It defies reason to think women of a certain age should just “disappear” when they have so much more to offer.