What Ever Happened To 'Dressing Our Age'?
The Debrief: Somehow I've found myself simultaneously dressing like a 13 year old and a 60 year old. What's going on here?
At school, my year group was carved, quite neatly, into cliques. For my friends and I, baggy jeans, studded belts, Etnies and multi-coloured shoelaces wrapped around our forearms (seriously) defined our teenage years. Not to mention girl boxers and sweat bands. We were ‘alternative’ (you might have called us ‘emo’), the ‘chavs’ were easily identifiable by their Ecko hoodies and Nike Air Max, and the ‘geeks’ stood out in lace-up shoes and conservative slacks. It wasn’t quite American high school levels of disparity, but it existed. It was there. And we were ‘dressing our age’.
Things are different now. Walking down the street I’ll see a 13-year-old girl in the same pair of trainers as me. The cropped top? Got that too. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m borrowing clothes from my extremely fashion forward – sure – but 60-year-old, mum. Did she borrow from my nana’s uniform of button-up shirts tucked into long skirts back in the day, though? Absolutely not.
Trend Watching took an in-depth look at this phenomenon of cultural agelessness and and came up with ‘post-demographic consumerism’. The idea is that consumers (that’s you and I) are no longer behaving according to traditional demographics (location, age, gender), so these have lost their relevance. Instead, things like the type of person, how they live and their interests are more important. But how exactly did we arrive at a time in which age matters less than ever before?
Leaving out the role of social media and the internet in shifting attitudes would be naive. We’re more informed than ever; we know the daily habits, wardrobes and opinions of people in different time zones. Immediate access to up-to-date global information has opened our eyes, and teenagers no longer rely on the solitary village clothes shop and Byker Grove for fashion advice.
As Vicki Loomes, senior trend analyst at Trend Watching, pointed out, ‘Before, it was harder to know what people outside of your generation were doing, but I don’t think that barrier exists any more.’ Suddenly, we all have a voice and we might even get heard.
‘We’ll listen to a 16-year-old girl writing from the middle of Siberia and an 84-year-old New Yorker and then we make up our own mind,’ Kate Nightingale, psychologist and founder of Style Psychology, explains. The cacophony of voices is license to dress however the fuck we want. And that can only be a good thing.
Social media is no longer the playground of teens like back in the day. Try and imagine your mum on Bebo or your uncle’s MySpace profile. Not a chance. Yet Twitter’s fastest growing demographic from 2012-2013 was 55-64 year olds, growing by 79%, and Facebook has seen a 21% increase in 65+ users between 2012 and 2014. In 2014, George Ergatoudis, then head of music at BBC Radio 1, noted that the 1,000 favourite artists for 60-year-olds and the 1,000 favourite artists for 13-year-olds had a 40% overlap. The gap between how generations act, think and feel is lessening.
We, Generation X, are doing our utmost to destroy traditional perceptions of age, and we’re doing a pretty good job. We’re getting married older – the Official for National Statistics reports that (as of 2012) the mean age of marriage has increased by nearly eight years since 1972, and since 1996 the percentage of 20 to 34-year-olds living with their parents has increased by 25%.
And as those younger than us grow-up in an increasingly liberal society, it’s likely that the disparity between these figures will continue to grow, and it'll become even more alien to behave in a way that limits them – like the kind of clothes they wear. ‘Kids that have grown up not having to shop in “boys” and “girls” coloured coded pink and blue isles might think, “Why should I have to shop for clothes in this really kind of backward way,”’ Vicki pointed out.
Soon, it could be that retailer off-shoots like New Look’s 915, Zara’s TRF and H&M’s Divided become defunct, because we’ll have fully fallen out of love with clothes being too ‘old’ or too ‘young’. ‘There’s more permission to simply be who you are rather than follow trends or define yourself by age or a social role,’ says Kate.
Retailers are already taking this shift in thinking on board. Kirsty Riva, senior buyer at Warehouse, told me just that. ‘It’s not about an age range, but the end use of the garment and where it’s being worn.’
People want clothes that they can style and adapt to their particular needs, not fashion that’s based on the brittle notion of ‘age’. Uniqlo, for example, were way ahead of the game with their 2012 ‘MADE FOR ALL’ ethos. More brands are getting in on this new wave of thinking as well. Big time. In their Spring/Summer 2015 campaign, Dolce & Gabbana featured grey-haired grandmothers flanked by supermodels – the same season that Celine cast 80-year-old Joan Didion for theirs. Charlotte Rampling and Nars made a fine pair in August 2014, as did Jessica Lange and Marc Jacobs Beauty. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
In the most basic of terms, it makes monetary sense to market products at a broad audience – why cut out an entire age group when you could be appealing to the masses and making a shit load more money in the process?
It’s easy to regard these as courtesies, token gestures to indicate that the fashion industry is adapting, diversifying. But there are too many examples for me to comfortably palm it off as that. It’s actually happening. I can’t remember the last time I saw the phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ in a magazine. Dame Helen Mirren is regularly evoked as the pin-up for an older lady not dressing as a typical ‘older lady’. The blog Advanced Style, founded in 2008 by photographer Ari Seth Cohen, showcases stylish older men and women and was even made into a documentary to portray the ‘fashion and wisdom of the senior set’. Ageism, it seems, is dying a death, and that’s cool with me.
Age will always factor into our lives. At a base level, the law dictates that our age be a marker for things we can and cannot do; so, in that sense, it’s inevitable that age will shape how we feel and act. I always want to know how old someone is – it gives context, helps me relate and, more than anything, affects the way I perceive myself. That said, it’s undeniable that we’re in a period in which fashion is transcending traditional parameters of age.
There will always be things people won’t wear for one reason or another (I’ve hung up my 2004 sweat bands and my editor avoids frills) but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might have the same trainers as a 13 year old, while simultaneously rocking the same coat as a 60 year old. Let’s all take pride in the fact that we’re no longer defining ourselves by our age. And if Blink 182 (a favourite of 15-year-old Etnie-wearing me) asked ‘What’s your age again?’ I’d answer: who the fuck cares?
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