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Beauty and Age

01 May

As someone who loves fashion blogs that find ordinary, stylish people on the streets and document them as “fashionistas”, I was delighted to find this blog, Advanced Style, that specifically targets older women, praising them as fashionable and beautiful.

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So frequently beauty has been associated with youth and flawless perfection, which by default ignores older women both as beautiful and as a valued consumers in the fashion world. The media continuously reinforces this very notion of beauty, constantly bombarding us with images that define beautiful people as young, thin and stylish. Older women who experiment with fashion are often scrutinized (phrases like “mutton dressed as lamb” come to mind) or feel great pressure to go to extensive measures to prevent and slow down the “ageing process” through serums and creams or plastic surgery and Botox. However, this notion of “beauty as youthful” is not a new phenomenon, but rather it has been around a long time. As Kathy Peiss shows us in her book “Hope in a Jar”, older women throughout the 19th and 20th century “needed cosmetics to compete in a job market where office work required glamour and factory bosses expected women to present an “illusion of the necessary vigor and youth.”” (Peiss 256) Advertisers too urged women to maintain youthful beauty and many magazines ascribed a “youthful appearance as the cure for marital problems” (Peiss 184). In the 1920s, older women, particularly mothers, were pressurized to take up beauty work with the idea that thanks to cosmetics, they would look the part of “the big sister and enjoy and appreciate the pleasures of her daughters” (Peiss 141). Older women, in particular older women of color, therefore are rarely celebrated as beautiful whereas older men can carry the label of desirable and attractive.

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Advanced Style however turns this conventional notion of “beauty as youthful” on its head and celebrates older women as beautiful and fashionable. Advanced style is a fashion blog started in 2008 by a young photographer, Ari Seth Cohen, to draw attention and pay homage to the stylish senior citizens of New York City with the aim to “show a graceful portrayal of ageing naturally.” The blog portrays older women as fun, flirty, fashionable, and beautiful. Underneath each photograph Cohen complements the person featured, emphasizing the items of clothing that make her feel and look fantastic. In these ways, Advanced Style attempts to counteract the injustices of fashion and advertising.

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Whilst, this blog documents primarily white women, men too are appreciated and photographed. Women of color too are photographed frequently (although, admittedly, not as much as their white counterparts). However, the inclusion of both women of color and men demonstrates the underlying message of the blog that everyone, no matter the skin color or age, is beautiful and deserves to be appreciated.

Joyce Carparti featured in Advanced Style in an interview said:

“Everything except this (blog) has been marketed towards the younger generation, but even when advertisers have an idea something’s good for the older person, it’s always in terms of anti-ageing…how I hate those words, ‘anti-ageing’. They send the wrong message. It should be ‘look beautiful all your life’ or ‘look beautiful forever!’”*

I think Advanced Style therefore does a fantastic job at showing how fashion can be used as a tool to empower women to feel good about themselves. However, as I follow the blog more and more, I wonder just how class plays into all of this. Simply from looking at the dress choices of the women photographed, it can be determined that the majority hail from the middle to upper class sectors of society. Does this choice to photograph these specific women then reflect something about the construction of beauty and age?

*Smith, Tamsin. “The Fashion World’s Silver Stylistas.” BBC News. BBC, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 01 May 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22013245.

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3 Comments

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

3 responses to “Beauty and Age

  1. Lilly

    May 4, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    You bring up a great point about how class plays into this. When I first took a glance at these photos, I thought that it was great, and I always find it empowering when older women are fashionable. It puts a smile on my face to see them experimenting with colors and having fashion bring out their character and the youth they still possess. But then, I realized that all these items of clothing, the fashion, the variety… where does it come from and how do these women go about recreating a new look everyday? It must have at least something to do with class and who has access to clothing of, not luxury, but variety with no dullness. How accessible is it for someone in a lower class or poverty to be older, want to look fashionable with several designs and colors, but cannot put in the effort because of priorities and the like?

     
  2. Nikki

    May 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    That said, I certainly do not think class as a factor is somehow exclusively related to age and beauty. I think if someone was taking photos of “fashion-forward” young people – well, I suppose thrift-shop chic is a real trend, but I still think there would be cues as to their high socioeconomic status. It doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic in this context, but I do think it isn’t uniquely here.

     
  3. emilypatriciamarie

    May 23, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    The celebration of older women, especially as beautiful, is so rare in our culture. This is why I actually really love “The Golden Girls”. Yes, the 1985-1992 sitcom. Before I saw it, I thought it would be hokey and just like all other sitcoms out there. Instead I found a shockingly progressive exaltation of older women. The show follows four older, retired women living together, their (mis)adventures, and their strong friendship. The show portrays them not as haggard or spent or only living through their family as much of media portrays older women, but as individuals who find worth and fulfillment without stable/monogamous relationships with men, who are considered attractive despite their age and have active sex lives, and (following the theme of this post) wear lovely clothing (sequined ’80’s dresses galore!). Unfortunately, it is very much a product of its time, so it is not perfect (for example, the episode where the girls think that their black housekeeper has put a curse on them, though they end the episode by proving them wrong, with a feel-good anti-racism message! But it was still painful to watch). But I honestly can’t think of any other mainstream media that is so age-positive, even today!

     

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