When it comes to the discussion of beauty and style, fashion is known for perpetuating ageist attitudes. By way of a fresh stance, a group of sharp-minded and feisty women are seeking to offer an alternative message that prompts a wider debate regarding body image and stereotypes. They do not fear old age, nor do they wish to fade gracefully into the background of society dressed in tones of beige. Thanks to a Channel 4 documentary of the same name, these women have become known as ‘The Fabulous Fashionistas’. They exude self-confidence whilst exhibiting colourful ensembles to match their vivacious personalities. Together they share the collective aim of challenging the ways in which we perceive beauty, aging and style, especially within the fashion industry.
In late October 2013, London College of Fashion hosted a conference called ‘Mirror Mirror: Representations and Reflections on Age and Ageing’. As the Fabulous Fashionistas were participants, Gaba (coursemate and editor of [In]Tangible) and I had the opportunity to hold an impromptu interview with four of the Fashionistas: Sue, Jean, Daphne and Bridget. Before long, Sue – a journalist turned artist – inverted the roles and started interviewing us. She wanted to uncover the inspiration behind restarting the [In]Tangible project and was equally interested in our own thoughts on the topics being addressed in the conference. The conversation then returned to talking about Sue’s journalistic career. She cites the importance of keeping herself informed, utilising the accessibility of online media as well as recently writing a blog for The Huffington Post.
Whilst discussing today’s consumer-driven society, the group agreed that having strong business acumen seems to be more highly valued than academic achievement. This sparked conversation addressing beliefs that anyone can be a journalist or work in fashion these days. This is a big departure from when Sue trained as a journalist, having had a more formal introduction, which she used to be able to sustain a living from. She reflected on how journalism has changed over the years, becoming very digital and instantly accessible. Particularly in reference to contemporary blogs, she remarked, ‘everybody has a blog but you don’t make any money through that. People expect you to write exquisite prose without paying you because they think you’re going to get exposure, but where is the money?’
The conversation then shifted to debates surrounding the ethics of the industry and associated real-life effects. The Fashionistas commented on how, within the group, their individual interpretations of style and fashion differ person to person. What they seem to share is a general attitude to dressing; they are not slaves to fashion but rather dress for themselves and to feel good. This is not something that has come with age. A strong sense of self and desire to not simple “fit in” has been a constant in the lives of the Fashionistas. This is exemplified by Jean, a frequenter of youth-populated Topshop, who, at age seventy, became The Gap’s oldest employee. Her style is admittedly inspired by Vivienne Westwood, ‘I absolutely love her and customising things’. Rather than choosing to fade quietly into the shadows, these women fashion themselves to express their personalities.
The last topic of conversation was the debate between aging naturally or with the use of cosmetic procedures. The response, unsurprisingly, was unanimous: no artificial methods.
As Sue explained, ‘We don’t have Botox, or plastic surgery. Our lives and our characters are on our faces and we want other people to believe in that too. You would just look like a mummy, dead already. It doesn’t make any sense!’
The Fabulous Fashionistas act as a breath of fresh air, giving a new outlook to an industry that fetishizes youth and an unattainable quest for perfection. This group of larger-than-life characters so clearly demonstrates that when ageing, one doesn’t have to become invisible in society.