The Gender Battle of Salt & Pepper

By Gaba Najmanovich

Sometimes it is hard to be analytical towards what one sees on a fast moving screen. Still, a few weeks ago, while quickly dashing through my feed, I saw one of the (recently) most classic GQ shots: a slightly wrinkled good looking grey-hair man arise sensuality and coolness. I repeat,  coolness, wrinkles and grey hair, all together on a fashion shot. I cannot say this is unbelievable since, for the past few years, (almost) every issue of GQ features a mature man as an uber fashion icon. In this case the main character of the spread was Bryan Cranston (best known for his Breaking Bad character Walter White), but let’s not forget the now famous grey-background shot where John Slattery stopped being Mad Men’s Roger Sterling and became an icon himself of sensuality and style.

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Nick Wooster, fashion consultant and  J. C. Penney’s vice president of brand, trend and design, is another name that must be brought into the discussion. Not only is he a street style photographer magnet, but he has now established himself as a trendsetter. Camo and denim, cropped jeans, perfectly tailored jackets, tattoos, sneakers, loafers; every texture, every colour, and every shape are featured in his body as a strong style-fashion statement. This 53-year-old body displays in the most natural and stylish ways all the young fads turning itself into a showcase of trans-age trends.

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In GQ’s pages as in street style blogs, mature men are in focus. They are cool, they are stylish and they are experienced. Everyone can be a GQ man, as long as you are stylish and well-groomed. All in all, the relation between age and style in men’s spreads is pretty much inclusive. This could on one side acknowledge the (sadly) famous phrase which states that men age better. Do men age better? Or are aging signs more accepted in male bodies? In these mature men spreads the main character is always depicted as a fit, stylish and sensual fellow. It could be said that they are pictured as jovial, as they were not in their 50s, but, following this track of thought, what are the hints that indicate a person is half-a-century old? And, is there any need to sit oneself in a age-group when it comes to style? And most of all, what would happen if women were the main characters of  this fashion shots?

In contrast to this GQ phenomenon (which is particularly inclusive since the age of the model is not highlighted and these are not special spreads), Vogue has its own Age Issue. Once a year this glossy celebrates women of all ages both in its title and its cover. This is the only chance mature women have for being featured in the magazine far from the beauty section, this is the only they have for being celebrated for they are or do, this is the only chance when wrinkles do not star a picture of fate-horror. What is curious in this case is that, so as to a study developed by University of Georgia gerontologist Denise Lewis, 20% of women’s magazines readership is more than 50 years old, whereas 9% of the spreads represent this age range in the printed media they purchase.

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In these sort of spreads what is celebrated is the beauty or the health of the older woman (specifically the word older, which does not have the same connotation as mature) instead of the beauty of the woman. Although beauty is the clearest highlight in this gender-age battle, another issue to be risen is sensuality: the older woman is never perceived to be sensual. Older women can only be regarded as healthy, whereas men are sexy; the stains of grey amongst their full-coloured hair are sexy, these are marks of their experience.

Fashion For All Ages, a weekly column by The Guardian, is a good counter-example to the previous two cases. This feature does not exclude based on neither gender or age: its style pictures wearable fashion, portraying male and female models of all colours and ages wearing stylish clothes from all sorts of brands. By doing so, this section states that retail age-ranges do not exist and everybody can be stylish in their own way. However, even though this is a good example of non-excluding press, their circulation status brings the point down: this section is almost unknown.

It took me several years to give up that passive-consumer attitude towards magazines and mass(and not-so-mass)-media. Anyhow, just a few formative years of buying and dashing through glossies allowed me to realize that there are no honest mistakes in printed magazines: whatever is printed in their bright paper is a simple reflection of an ideology. These gender excluding spreads are nothing more than a symbol of society’s conception of male and female roles and their position within itself.

Photos: Iz Andrew, GQ,  Vogue, Highsnobiety

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2 thoughts on “The Gender Battle of Salt & Pepper

  1. “Do men age better? Or are aging signs more accepted in male bodies?” – Definitely the latter, in my opinion. You’re right that it’s a shame age warrants a special issue of Vogue but is something that is tackled by GQ all the time. Ageing is always something that womens magazines tell us to avoid at all costs, rather than embrace.

    I wrote about Guardian Weekend’s ‘Fashion for All Ages’ a while back on my blog. Although it is great to see older models being used, it’s disappointing that they’re always slender. Our bodies change shape with age and so a UK size 10 is probably even more unattainable to a 60 year old than it is for a 30 year old, yet The Guardian has chosen to ignore that. Still, they are to be applauded for their age diversity, and their columnist The Invisible Woman covers fashion for the over 40s in a very irreverent fashion, so it’s not all bad 🙂

    Great article, Gaba!

  2. Pingback: An Ode to Aging (Through the Eyes of a 22-Year-Old Newlywed) | Sand & City

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