Fashion’s New Muse.

by Debbie White

Middle-aged women are healthier and more fit than ever before, and desire to look and feel beautiful. Yesterday’s hippy momma or prepster girl’s preferred aesthetic may have changed, but they’ve got to wear something to work. Right now, women over 50 are the most significant demographic out there earning over $100,000, and they also control 85% of all household purchases. And what’s eye-opening is that, according to Marketing Week, 49% of women 50 and over say that they’d avoid brands who ignore them.

49% of women 50+ say that they’d avoid brands who ignore them.

However, the majority of fashion brands are featuring models in their early twenties. Pick up Vogue, Elle, or scroll through Pinterest. Twenty-somethings. Everywhere. And so much missed opportunity, for the brands themselves, and women of every age.

My 23-year-old daughter, Olivia, who works in the fashion industry at a company that targets the younger set, sent me a WGSN trend forecast about the glacial shift from this age homogeneity. Enter the Greynaissance. A movement that started around 2016, which uses 40-year-old-or-more models in ad campaigns and on the runway. While it’s great to see brands and designers representing the demographic that actually buys their pieces (45+), only time with tell if it is will be a real sustained diversification of the talent pool.

Even if the industry as a whole doesn’t embrace mid-life (or older) models, social media is changing the way women engage with brands and exposing all women to mature fashion icons. It’s having a positive social effect on Olivia and young woman everywhere:  here are inspiring role models and new ways of looking at beauty. Young woman can look to the Instagram accounts of models like Maye Musk (a CoverGirl ambassador at 69) and Lyn Slater, a 64-year-old college professor in New York with over a half million followers @Accidental Icon, and know that there is indeed life after youth. 

A couple years ago belief-driven buying was seen as a Millennial phenomenon, but according to a 2018 survey by Edelman, 64% of buyers (and rising) will buy or boycott a brand based on a social or political issue. And, most consumers think that corporations are better equipped at making social change than the government. 

So what does this 50+ group that actually has the money to buy high fashion want?  Not to be told, “they look good for their age.” Not to only be shown 20-year-old models with the hope that somehow it will speak to them. They want to see themselves, authentically. Savvy marketing directors and CMOs will be jumping on board to speak directly to these older women consumers and to build honest relationships with them. 

While placing the solution to ageism on the shoulders of the fashion industry is not totally fair,  it will improve their bottom line. There is a rich tradition of this, however; fashion has been an integral part of social change from making sure that women’s skirts don’t get caught in bicycle spokes, to the suffragette movement, to today’s pink marching hats.

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