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.
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.
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.
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.